Friday, 3 October 2008

My Grandmother's House - Part Five

The parlour is the last room we come to. As mentioned previously this room was only used on special occasions such as Christmas or family parties. Oh, how I remember those parties when the house rang with song and laughter. Even as a tiny child I remember my cousins and I "hiding" under the large round table and watching the antics of the adults.
Balloons were hung, at Christmas a tiny tree, no lights, they did not have them but it looked as festive as they could make it. The dresser groaning under the weight of jellies, blancmange, cake and fruit.

Grand-dad would start off the proceedings. His favourite song was "Danny Boy" and he would reduce everyone to tears when he sang it. He did not have a brilliant voice but it was the emotion and passion that he put into it, he sang from the heart and even Bill had a tear in his eye. Grand-dad was originally a watchmaker but when he married he changed his employment and became a tea salesman for a well known tea company at first going round making sales with a horse and cart and then progressing to a van.
He had been born into a huge family in a very poor and deeply deprived area close to where Jack The Ripper committed his crimes. It is still hard to believe that when Jack was stalking the East End my Grandfather was twelve and would have known all about it. Oh, how I wish he had lived longer, there were so many questions I would liked to have asked him. He worked for the tea company all his life except when he was called up in the First World War where he experienced some of the very worst fighting. He was badly gassed and invalided home but he lost many friends and like most of the men who went to war, he did not like talking about it.

He would also sing to my Nan, he would hold her hands and serenade her with "Annie Laurie" or "Bonnie Mary of Argyle" and her cheeks would redden and her eyes would glow. I know it meant so much to her because it reminded her of her home in Scotland.

We all had to do a "turn". With us little ones it was usually reciting a nursery rhyme or a little poem as we got older. My Mother would always be asked to do the Charleston at which she was an expert. She was absolutely brilliant at it and indeed she could dance any dance, the tango being her favourite. She had wanted to be a professional dancer or an actress but the family forbade it. Uncle Bill usually came out with a monologue (often quite risque looking back). Others would tell jokes or do impressions of the famous of the day. It was hilarious.
My Father was always excused. He was a very quiet and I suppose shy man who much preferred to sit in a corner with a drink and hold a deep conversation with someone usually Uncle Alan who did not like doing "turns" either. The family were in awe of my Dad and always called him "The Toff" because of his smartness and his very good job in the City. I think they were very worried when Mum got engaged to Dad after a very brief acquaintance - they had the feeling that he would look down on them. It was just the opposite. My father's family might have had more money and been better educated but his home was lacking in the most important thing - love. Nan and Grand-dad had love in abundance and Dad adored them all, He did not even mind being called "The Toff". Mind you, when Grand-dad eventually got a car (yes although they were poor he did get a car as he was able to buy one through his firm and pay years of monthly payments) my Dad dreaded going out on trips because the damned car broke down more than it ran and Dad was always the one who had to push it! Grand-dad must have been some sight because I have been told that when he drove he wore a leather helmet, goggles and long gauntlets.

Then came Aunt Ada - she was one of Grand-dad's sisters. Ada was a true eccentric. All her life she wore ankle-length dresses with a cameo brooch at the neck and strings of jet beads. Even when she was ninety she was still dyeing her hair a bright henna red. She moved farther out of London into the market town of Romford. We used to visit her often as we went to the market a great deal, that was in the days when live sheep and pigs were still taken there to be sold. Her house was wonderful to me. Full of antiques and her garden was a paradise. Like a secret garden with lots of little nooks and crannies, half-hidden statues, mirrors, coloured mosaics dotted all around. It was wonderland for a child. Sadly, Ada lost her only child, her beloved son at the age of three to polio.

Before I describe what she did at the parties I must mention Ada's dog. She had a little Pomeranian called Sylvia. Sylvia had a party piece. She would sit on the turntable of the wind-up gramophone, Ada would wind it up and the dog would go around and around gradually getting slower and slower then she would bark a signal and Ada had to wind it up again and off Sylvia would spin at a fast rate. The dog would spend hours like this and Ada never got tired of it. Ada was known to all the stall-holders in the market and because of her ladylike appearance including a fox fur stole (oh how I hated those awful things - how any woman could wear an animal with dangling legs, head and tail around their neck I could not imagine) so they nicknamed her "The Duchess" and treated her as such. She was still going to the market at the age of 100 where she proudly showed off her telegram from the Queen. She lived to the age of 102 equalling the age at death of her sister, Harriet.

Anyway, when it came to Ada's turn it was face pulling time. Ada always played the piano at all the family parties. She fancied herself a great singer so she would launch into some old song like Come Into The Garden, Maud. The trouble was that Ada had a very high pitched voice so she trilled more than sang and she was also very off-key. Teeth were clenched, eyes screwed up, nerves jangled and us children were nudged by the adults to stop us giggling. It seemed to go on forever but when the last note finally screeched around the room, nobody could be unkind. "Lovely Ada dear" came a chorus of voices. Of course this only spurred her on to further efforts.
Bill would usually come to the rescue, grabbing her by the hand he would say "Come on old gel, gis a dance" and before she could protest, Grand-dad had wound up the gramophone and Bill would whirl Ada around in the confined space. Ada would go coy like a teenage girl and say "Oh, Bill, you are a caution"!! Grand-dad would watch with great amusement, leaning on the mantlepiece and smoking his pipe.

As more and more drink was put away by each person it got more and more riotious. Then it would be "Knees Up, Mother Brown" with Nan kicking her chubby legs as high as she could and showing her long pink bloomers whilst Aunt Ada demurely kicked her feet from side to side, not wishing to show any part of her anatomy at all. Then it was usually the conga with all of us yelling it out at the top of our voices whilst we snaked through the other rooms, out into the back yard and back again. The finale was always the can-can where even most of the men rolled up their trousers legs and joined in. After that everyone would collapse in an exhausted heap, perspiring heavily and laughing fit to bust.
I have never heard laughter as loud and long as I did in those far off days. They were the real pleasures, people entertaining themselves and each other in the days before television became the norm. The days when people mixed and did not shut themselves away behind their front doors not caring whether they knew their neighbours or not. It is a world now sadly gone.

Parties went on until everyone was spent and too tired to stand or dance. Often us children would fall asleep under the table whilst the adults continued to sit and talk until daybreak.



  1. Have you ever seen that sitcom, Mama's Family, with Carol Burnett? Your Aunt Ada sounds just like Eunice! LOL.. What a happy and fun family you come from! Julie :)

  2. I so enjoyed this story of the way the world used to be. So much better than nowadays. Thanks for sharing that. It made my day. Have a great weekend!~



    P.S. My daughter loves your ghost stories about England. Hope you will make sure they get posted and let me know when you post any. She dreams of living in England one day.

  3. Just Fabulous, it's so hard to get people to come together now, when I was a kid we'd go visiting on a Sunday or someone would come to us it always seemed that the house was full of people and laughter I miss that. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I wish families still continued traditions of getting together for the least in my home it still continues. (Hugs)Indigo

  5. This entry made me miss my younger days when we would have a large family dinner every Sunday and then a BIGGER family dinner on the holidays.

    My husbands family has a big holiday dinner but that is the only time we all get together.


  6. They don't make family time like they used to do they? I listen to how simple life was for my Mom, it was hard work, but simple and they were happy. You come from a very loving family....and I love your stories. Your Aunt sounds like a HOOT and then some :)

    Thanks for sharing.

    Pooh Hugs,

  7. Hi Jeanette,
    I have thoroughly enjoyed this post!! So glad to have found you... what wonderful memories!

  8. Awwww what wonderful memories - it reminds me of family gatherings we used to have at my Nan's house and we all used to sing and have fun. Laine xxxx

  9. Jeannette I have been reading your last entry's and have enjoyed reading them very much. I would sit and read awhile, get up and do something to rest this back and would come back for more. It sounded like a fun time at your Nan's house. There were several of the women who lived to be a very great age. Helen


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