All Aboard for Morningtown for the last of the aunties

‘Auntie’ was the honorary title reserved for the closest friends of the family. Children in the 1960s were never allowed to call adults by their first names. Neighbours were Mrs Hubbard, Mrs McLoughlin, Mrs Sullivan, and so on – except for Auntie Joan and Auntie Pam, close friends to my parents, and with children that we played with all the time. It truly was a time when back doors were left unlocked; front doors, too, in warm weather. They were left wide open, so that aunties would just walk in without announcement, the first sign of their visits being a head and shoulders passing the front or back window on their way to the front or back door.

The woman gathered in the kitchen for coffee, Maxwell House or Mellow Birds, which my mother preferred. And I would sit on a stool in the corner, trying to be invisible, so I could listen to their talk and try to make sense of it all. What was a ‘prolapse’? What did ‘paying the milkman in kind’ mean? I would puzzle over these things, sometimes making up my own interpretation of the stories told. Eventually my mother would notice that I was there. ‘Little ears are flapping,’ she would say, and send me out to play.

I learned so much in that kitchen, and gathered material for stories and poems I would write thirty, forty and fifty years on. That time, those women, continue to haunt my writing.

Auntie Joan died a couple of years ago, and now Auntie Pam has gone, too. When I learned of Auntie Pam’s death, her daughter asked me and my siblings for any memories that could be retold at the funeral. Looking back through my notebooks and published work, Pam and her husband Uncle Dave featured strongly. In one story a thinly disguised Auntie Pam cuddles a young child whose dog has just been run over by a car, just as Auntie Pam did to me the day our dog died when I was 10 years old. I have a strong memory of my face being held to her bosom, and of the scent she wore. I can remember the colour of her lipstick and, on happier days than that one, her loud, uninhibited laugh.

Click on the image to hear Morningtown Ride by The Seekers

In ‘Rock On’, a performance piece that I debuted at the Confluence Sessions in Rochester, one of Pam and Dave’s parties is described. Pam was showing off the new radiogram and and TV that Dave had won on the TV game show, Take Your Pick. The audience would shout out ‘Open the box!’ or ‘Take the Money!’ to the contestants, and Uncle Dave had opened the box to find he’d won a big prize. The music played on the radiogram on the night of the party ranged from ‘Morningtown Ride’ by The Seekers to The Rolling Stones. It may have been from another party, another year, but I recall Pam in a long, halter neck dress with a drink in her hand, swaying to Demis Roussos, for all the world like Beverley in the Mike Leigh play Abigail’s Party.

Auntie Pam is the last of my childhood ‘aunties’ to go. I don’t have a picture of her, except those that I hold in my memory. Of her dancing at the Irish dances at Surbiton Assembly Rooms. Of her holding up my baby daughter with delight, the first time I brought her ‘home’ to Epsom. Of her showing off the radiogram at her party, singing along to ‘Morningtown Ride.’

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