Cost Of Living

Entry by: Guesswho

1st September 2022
The Cost of her Living

Strange – We could spend hours on the phone but, put us in the same room and within fifteen minutes there’d be an argument. Of course, I should have been more patient and considerate but hemmed in, in the same room, I felt the claustrophobia of our mother/only-son relationship. But arguments or not, there was always love. Well, we had been through so much.

So, what’s that got to do with the cost of living and the media proclamations of gloom and doom and cries for help, importuning a government that (whoever leads it) only seems capable of rearranging the deckchairs…….?

We’re sinking, right?

I don’t want to belittle the challenges we face as we slide into a winter of discontent and genuine hardship echoing to the cries of “What do we want?....When do we want it? Like many, I’m in fuel poverty too and on a fixed income with a sick wife who could, literally die if the thermostat is turned down too much.

Still, as we rant and rave and damn Putin, Brexit or the pandemic (take your pick), I’d like to crave your indulgence and contrast life now with a life as it was. One particular life anyway – one that I am qualified to comment on; my mother’s life and....

the cost of her living………

My mother, Joan, married at the age of eighteen in 1941 to Flight Sergeant Tom and within six months was a widow. My mother was a hairdresser and she and Tom had rented an empty shop which was to be fitted out as a salon with flat above, which they were looking forward to moving into, in the meantime staying with my maternal grandparents. After Tom’s death, Joan could not bear the thought of continuing with those plans, so after a period of desperation, she did what some do in order to forget – she joined the Foreign Legion or, at least, a metaphorical equivalent – the Women’s Land Army. And off she went to Devon.

Running from her grief she became extremely ‘driven’ and quickly became a gang leader or ‘Ganger’. She and a new friend, Lillian from Ramsbottom formed an inseparable duo. The rest of the team, all Londoners, were even younger than them and unsuited to an agricultural environment. Joan would drive the truck with Lillian by her side doing their Gracie Fields impersonations as loud as possible to annoy the other girls sitting on benches in the back of the covered waggon. Lillian would suddenly interrupt Joan with, “Hey up, Joan, there’s a humpbacked bridge coming, put thee foot down!”

Unfortunately, my mother was invalided out of the Land Army with bronchitis and returned to the north but she and Lillian were set as friends for life.

She then looked after errant evacuee boys who proved too unruly to be controlled by their hosts, before becoming a quality control inspector at the Eveready battery factory.

Joan then met my father. He had lost his wife and so they had something in common. My father, unfortunately, had a drink problem which only got worse with time. His father, a wise and benevolent man, tried to persuade her not to marry him, but to no avail and they married in 1947.

As my father’s drink problem got ever worse, he had difficulty holding any job down and he started to assault my mother regularly. We never had any money and lived in a terraced one bedroomed (one box room – my bedroom) flat above the ‘Bamboo Coffee Bar’ where the juke box played till late accompanied by revving motorbikes outside. A threadbare strip of carpet led from the bedroom to the bathroom under which, at night, cockroaches from the bakery next door, crunched underfoot.

If there was no meal ready when my father came home she would be in for a beating, so my mother would prepare my father’s evening meal and put it in the oven, not knowing when he would return. My father would come home from the pub and throw his, by then, dried up dinner across the kitchen before assaulting her.

He once picked up a chip pan of boiling fat and threw it at her. I was standing between them at the time. Luckily, in his temper or drunken stupor (or both), he missed, the pan sailing over my head and hitting the wall.

I frequently lay in bed and listened to my father beat my mother to a pulp. My brave mother would not try to defend herself, but looked him silently in the eye. This, of course, just made him worse. On one occasion (I was five at the time) he beat her so badly the doctor had to be called the next day and he said that another such attack would probably kill her. He suggested that she divorce my father and helped her to that end, bucking the 1950’s taboo for domestic violence to be hidden behind closed doors.

After the divorce my father disappeared, reappearing once to assault my mother with a brass candlestick (sorry if it sounds like a game of Cluedo) but I still remember the bloodstains up the lounge wallpaper. Unsurprisingly, he never paid any maintenance.

Joan worked at the eponymous ‘Ogla’s’ a local hairdressing salon and quickly established her reputation as a really good hairdresser. She worked with determination and when I was seven years old she bought me a special present – a private education. As a day-boy I had to travel to school each day on the train and for the first week she made me (much to my embarrassment) ride on a first class ticket which I held up in front of me as evidence of my permission to be in that carriage, full of bowler hats and copies of the Financial Times.

In 1959 she bought one of the first ever minis (156 KTU) and we proudly took it to Blackpool and became the object of much curiosity.

In 1960 she bought her own salon, paying £1800 for the goodwill in a nearby business from the scheming Olga, to find there really was no business at all and so started from scratch to build it up again. This she did very successfully over the ensuing years.

When she was feeling cross, my mother used to say to me, “I work my fingers to the bone for you,” and indeed she did, as by Christmas eve, the repeated action of putting rollers in clients' hair would draw blood from her perm-stained hands.

The beatings she received around the head eventually caught up with her and she died with dementia in 2005.

Her life cost much but was worth so much more. Thanks Mum!