When I was 11, my Great Uncle Harry made me a bedside cabinet. I’m unclear as to how this came about. Made of sturdy plywood with rounded tapering legs and a finish of clear varnish, it graced my single room above the stairs at Manor Lane, Lee Green, SE13. Several years and two homes later, it was gloss painted turquoise, to compliment my peacock tail design blue and purple wallpaper, (which I paid for from meagre Saturday job wages at an ice cream parlour in Dawlish, Devon, my dad deeming the redecoration an unnecessary affectation at the time , though he willingly painted and papered my room). Anyway, back to SE13, I had very likely been given a packet of stick-on alphabet letters, out of which I wrought the phrase ‘sock it to me’ and stuck it on the cabinet door, this being the mid sixties and me thinking how cool I was, more especially by proxy as my elder sisters were by that time earning a wage and buying Mary Quant if they weren’t sewing their own copies….
I had a best friend come over after school. Very likely we listened to my tiny transistor radio, very likely listened to I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, ( I still laugh at the Muffled Titter running through the crowd …). When my guest went home I can’t tell you how mortified and slightly betrayed I felt to find the phrase on my bedside cabinet had been altered to ‘cock shit to me’. I have no idea where she found the extra letters. Maybe they were a ‘thing’ at the time that all us first years had in our pencil cases. I think more probably I had the stickers trustingly available to abuse. Susan White nee Dodge I now out you as the culprit! And I’ll bet she has no memory of this taking of liberties…
In another home, in Colchester, Essex, around the same time, my husband of the future, being then approximately eight years old, was happy with his bedside table. This was an up-ended fruit packing crate complete with company stickers which he insisted were ineffably exciting. Their foreign languages and place names thrilled him with their promise and a sense of the exotic. That crate stayed in his bedroom for years. Maybe until or beyond his joining the Royal Navy as a baby sailor at HMS Ganges aged sixteen. And perhaps it was still sitting there on the night he came home drunk whilst on leave, to that Brook St sitting room and its lit paraffin heater , ( again, how poor were his parents?) which kept the room warm for his dad who often came to sleep downstairs during the night. I know the family home didn’t have any central heating til VJ ‘d been in the Navy for some time, but those exact details are lost to me now. As is the reason for his dad’s disturbed sleep, and I hate that I don’t know why that might have happened .
Apparently VJB in his sozzled state, with trousers damp from a rainy night, had removed said pants and placed them over the paraffin heater to dry. He then staggered to bed. When his dad rose next morning he was furious to find VJB’s trousers had melted onto the heater, and by sheer luck (or mix of flammable fabrics, or the heater’s paraffin well burned dry ) hadn’t been the cause of a serious fire.
I don’t speculate now about his parents income, or the how and why of his childhood home’s furnishing and heating, only find myself humbled by how creative the mind of Mr B was. And to a degree, how flippin’ lucky he was to get to 58.
turquoise blue in my early teenage life once we moved to a From somewhere I