I’m probably going to get into a lot of trouble for this, but I’ve been in trouble my whole life, particularly with my family, so it’s not a new experience.
This blog is one that I wrote more than three years ago about my Mum’s eldest sister, my Aunty Joan. She passed away at that time and these are some of the memories that came up for me.
I was always a little scared of Aunty Joan. She had seven children and it was always chaos at her house, so (of course) I loved going down there. It was always full of people, there was always lots of noise and there were always things going on. They also lived right opposite the local church so Sunday morning at 6.30, the bells would start ringing. All the family slept right through it and I could never figure out how they managed it.
Aunty Joan’s children's parties were legendary, at least, with me they were. She had to do everything on a budget: my Uncle Ernie hadn't been able to work since the older children were young; he was in a wheelchair and on oxygen for as long as I can remember. That didn't stop him from becoming Chairman of the Royal Deaf Children's Society, though. He worked tirelessly on behalf of disadvantaged children, as did my Aunty Joan.
Getting back to parties on a budget, Aunty Joan would always rope in my older cousins and their mates to run the games for us younger ones. I remember really clearly, it's indelibly printed on my memory in full technicolor, one party game called “The Blarney Stone”. We were taken into a room, blindfolded, sat on a chair, and told that we couldn’t leave the room till we’d completed a particular task that was essential to us living a long and happy life and having all our dreams come true. The only requirement for us having everything we wanted in life, all the success, all the love, the money, the things, fame, fortune, the whole lot, all we had to do was to kiss the Blarney Stone.
Knowing my Aunty Joan’s sense of humour, some of us were naturally quite reluctant to kiss – or even pretend to kiss – anything at all and certainly not while we were blindfolded. But, when the carrot didn't work, they brought out the stick and we were promised dire and terrible misfortune if we didn’t kiss this Blarney Stone. I suspect I was quite difficult to persuade because I went in there knowing something unspeakably vile was likely to happen, something that I was unlikely to be allowed to forget for the rest of my life, no matter how blessed it was going to be from the kiss I was being asked to bestow on this piece of rock..
Eventually I caved in, played the game and kissed the Blarney Stone. At which point, my blindfold was whipped off just in time for me to see my cousin, Craig, pulling up his trousers after I'd just kissed his backside!
Those of us who’d been through the Blarney ordeal were allowed into the big secret, after we swore not to share the secret with anyone who hadn’t kissed the Blarney Stone: the kiss was bestowed on someone’s folded up arm, not someone’s a**e. But I still remember that bloody blarney stone! Can you imagine if you played that game at a kids’ party now? You'd get done for child abuse! It must have been priceless to watch the kids’ faces as you whipped off the blindfold, though and there are several children that I'd thoroughly enjoy playing this game with. I'm sure I was one of those kids Aunty Joan was very glad to have play this game.
Another thing I remember was Corporation Pop. Aunty Joan and her family lived in the city: darkest Salford, so when I came to visit them from where we lived in the country, there were some things that they had access to that seemed just amazing to me. One of them was the Alpine Man. There was a soft drinks company called Alpine who not only delivered to shops but also came round to the houses in the city every week to sell directly to the customers' doors. He was kind of like the ice cream van of soft drinks; he stopped and all the kids came running up and got their orders. Aunty Joan used to get two bottles of pop a week (I think) between the seven kids. It was gone in less than 2 minutes. After that, they were on Corporation Pop: water (water corporation => corporation pop).
On one stay at Aunty Joan’s, me and my cousin Beverly, the fifth child of the family and a week younger than me, were walking home when a car lost control (or something, I can’t remember the details) and hit Beverly. In shock, I ran back to the house and told Aunty Joan (I was probably almost hysterical) that Bev had been “run over”. She gave me such a telling off afterwards because she'd been imagining Bev had been splattered all over the road. It was one of the few times she ever got really angry with me.
They had the most amazing cellar in their house, too. Well, it was actually a bog-standard normal cellar, but she’d had the boys turn it into their den. They coveredl the walls & ceiling with empty egg cartons in the hope that the cartons would help sound proof the room. I don't know that the sound proofing idea actually worked but it kept the boys busy for weeks. Particularly when they had to paint the cartons after they’d finished gluing them to the walls & ceiling.
I remember being amazed at the fact that making sandwiches for lunch for the family would involve at least two loaves of bread. She got everyone involved in buttering that lot.
Kira has a way of holding herself when she's analysing someone that I know is exactly how I used to look when I was trying to work something out. I remember looking at Aunty Joan that way one day. She'd been yelling at one of the kids for something or other and it must have been particularly bad in my teenaged opinion because I couldn't figure out why she'd want to speak to her children that way. She obviously saw the expression on my face because she sighed and said “What is it?” I'd always found her a bit scary and rarely stepped obviously out of line around her (I made sure any stepping out of line I did around Aunty Joan was entirely subversive) but I obviously felt very strongly about this because I asked her “Don't you love your children?”
Tact has never been one of my strong points.
What she said remained one of the tenets of motherhood for me and made things much, much easier than they might have been. I must also acknowledge the fact that she didn't just rip my head off and send me running, she took the time to answer my question kindly and honestly even though one of her friends was sitting with her at the time. She said, “I always love my children, I just don't always like them.”
Rest in Peace, Aunty Joan, you did good.