Ted’s background may give light to his mild eccentricities, which were influenced by his father, his father’s mother (Grandma) and his mother’s sister, Ethel. Ted’s mother’s father might have contributed a bad gene in view of the fact that he once bought 24 wooden lavatory seats because they were going cheap. One suggestion was that they could be used as picture frames.
Grandma was the one who wore the boots and did everything around the house, or rather, bungalow. Her husband couldn’t even boil an egg. Or peel a potato. Or make a cup of coffee. Ted’s father had this person as a role model, and he too couldn’t boil an egg or make a cup of coffee, and didn’t even know what a hammer was for.
Grandma was the person who made the dog kennel; who decorated; who did the shopping; who did the cleaning; who cooked; who did the washing (using the sink and the mangle); who fed the flies and visiting mice; who did everything.
Grandpa was the one who asked for his cups of coffee even when his wife was at death’s door; who read; who slept; who fornicated with Mrs Pipe.
Maybe Grandma didn’t actually do a very good job with the cleaning. When her brother once came to stay he commented on the number of wasps in his bedroom. Grandma would have none of it. “What do you mean, wasps? I’ve never seen any.” “Well, there are quite a lot.” “Nonsense. Eat your breakfast.”
After her brother had left, Grandma discovered that there was an active wasps’ nest in the mattress.
Grandma’s weaknesses were also evident when one day she invited someone round for tea. When they had gone, Grandma happened to notice something strange about the milk jug. Upon investigation she discovered that there was a dead mouse at the bottom of it.
As mentioned before, it was Grandma who did the decorating. One day, she decided that the dining room needed repainting. There were some French doors which opened onto the loggia (it wasn’t called a conservatory in those days). She started painting the frame, but the shade of brown wasn’t quite right. She added some varnish, but it still wasn’t quite right, and so she added some gravy browning. Perfect!
A month later the paint still hadn’t dried, and so Grandma hung the curtains on the loggia side of the French doors.
Twenty-five years later, after both Grandma and Grandpa had passed away, Ted’s mum’s boss’s son bought the bungalow. When Ted’s mum got into work one day, her boss said, “Paul has just moved in and tried to rub down the paint on the French doors in the dining room, but it’s tacky. Any idea why?”
Bernard was Ted’s dad, and he had a ‘thing’ about dust. It got everywhere. As a result of this, every possession of his was wrapped in at least one polythene bag, even his wallet at night. The problem with dust is that it gets into clothes, especially if the bottom of one’s trousers touch the floor. Bernard found a neat way around this potential source of contamination. When he wanted to put on a pair of trousers, he would stand on the edge of the bed, hold the trousers in front of him so that their top was in line with his feet, and then take a flying leap so that his feet entered the trousers. At the same time, he pulled the trousers upwards so that the downward force of the entry didn’t cause the bottoms to come in contact with the carpet. He did this for years without a single broken foot.
Bernard also had a ‘thing’ about wastefulness. If his wife instructed him to do some painting (!) he had the greatest reluctance to allow the paint leave the brush. As a result, the item being painted had a layer of paint which was a few nanometres thick (or rather, thin).
Bernard didn’t like to waste handkerchiefs, either. When Ted was in his early teens, he had to go to the local hospital to have an enema. Everything went according to plan until he was asked to sit on the toilet so that the fluid could be evacuated. A quarter of an hour later, nothing had appeared and he was sent home. He was accompanied by his father. Shortly before arriving home, Ted’s bowels exploded, and a brown liquid poured down his legs into his shoes. A woman walking on the same side of the street grimaced and crossed to the other pavement. Bernard really didn’t know what to do, and on the spur of the moment he fished out his handkerchief and wiped down Ted’s legs. He then put the handkerchief back in his coat pocket.
Bernard also had a ‘thing’ about wear. If his cassette player contained a tape that needed rewinding, he got out a manual rewinding device in case the cassette player’s motor wore out. It took him over half an hour to rewind a 90-minute tape.
He even developed a special walking style so that the heels on his shoes didn’t wear down so fast.
One night he had a dream in which he had two wives. Ted’s mum, on hearing about it, said, “I’m not surprised. The fact is that you want two of everything in case one of them wears out.”
DIY was not Bernard’s forte. Shortly after getting married, they lived in a flat in Streatham (south-east London). One day a damp patch was spotted on a ceiling, and so Bernard climbed up a ladder to ascertain the cause. It was simple – there was a hole in the flat roof. He did the obvious thing and poured some tar into the hole to seal it. “Ooh,” said Ted’s mother, “there’s tar running down the wall!” This was a bad omen.
The final straw came when Bernard tried to fix a leak. “Lady,” said the plumber, “don’t ask yer ‘usband to do it, jus’ gimme a ring. It’s cheaper in the long run.” After that, just like Grandma, Ted’s mum handled everything to do with the house.
Bernard discovered what woodworm was in a very interesting way. Ted’s brother (Peter) had committed a sin, and his father ordered him to bend over the sofa for a whacking. For a mild-mannered man this was highly unusual. As Peter bent over, one of the legs of the sofa fell through the floor. This was good news for Peter, because he avoided his punishment, but Bernard subsequently discovered the existence of woodworm, a dread which haunted him for the rest of his life, especially as it cost £50 (in the early 1960s) to replace the floor.
Joan was Ted’s mum. She was intelligent and commonsensical and had a wicked sense of humour. The sad thing is that she knew she was bright and that she would have had a successful career. She learned Pitman’s shorthand when she was young, was literate and numerate, and her life was ahead of her. Like so many women of that time, she married and had children, even though that’s not what she really wanted. However, once she had had children, she put her heart and soul into bringing them up and forgot about any kind of career – but it’s not what she wanted.
At one stage Joan had an interest in weaving; it was one of the things in which she had always had an interest. Joan and Ted went to a shop in London which specialised in looms and related things. They got there exhausted – it was very difficult to find – and were immediately offered a cup of tea. Joan explained that she had always wanted a loom, and the staff pulled out all the stops so that they would get a sale. They were there about three hours, during which time they looked at various devices. However, the prices were astronomical; when they looked into the eyes of the chief salesman, they could see images of cash registers.
Joan was examining a wooden frame which consisted of four jointed pieces of wood, and asked for the price. “Four pounds, Madam” was the response. This was in the early 1970s, and the materials would have cost about three shillings and sixpence. “Edward, you could make one of those,” Joan said. “Yes, I could,” said Ted. “Hmmmph,” said the crestfallen salesman. In the end, they bought a relatively cheap book. “Will you be paying by cash or cheque?” said the salesman.
One day, a Mrs Dimmick at Joan’s workplace gave her a 10% discount token for Houndsditch warehouse. It was in Mrs Dimmick’s name. Always one for a bargain, Joan decided to go with Ted to redeem the token, fully aware that she would have to pretend to be Mrs Dimmick.
Joan found what she wanted to buy and was so excited that when the assistant asked for her name she gave her real one. Ted kicked her hard on the ankle, and Joan said, “No, it’s Mrs Dimmick!” The assistant possibly thought that she had just got married, but anyway the sale proceeded and Joan got her discount. It took two weeks for the bruise to go down.
Joan worked for many years as a secretary at a company which made trays. In order to get a nice finish, they decided to put real cloth in them rather than use a print. There was necessarily a lot of waste in the form of small pieces, and one morning Joan was sorting throuh a bagful of offcuts on the office floor (for her patchwork quilt) when Mr. Fowlds, a director, walked in. “Joan,” he said, “what on earth are you doing?” She came up with some excuse, to which Mr. Fowlds responded, “This is company property. These pieces of cloth are valuable. Find out what the scrap value is and let me know first thing in the morning.” And so she did – it was 30 shillings a ton. There was tacit approval for Joan to take home the scrap.
Here is the quilt she made:
Security at the factory was interesting. One day, one of the workers said to Harry on the gate, “Look, there’s another lorry load going out tonight…” and out it went with no inspection. Rumour had it that there was a market stall somewhere selling very cheap trays. On one occasion, someone got fined for theft and there was a whip-round for ‘poor old Joe.’
Joan was once offered some free plywood offcuts. It was good-quality marine ply, 1″ thick. When it was delivered (free), Ted realised that a new 8′ by 4′ sheet had been cut up into ‘offcuts.’
One excitement was when a computer system was installed – a decision made by some bright spark at the top. It was programmed by plugging in wires, used punched cards, and was to be used for stock control. Every item had an eight-digit code, and so instead of referring to an 8′ by 4′ sheet of marine ply with a certain finish, it woud be called, say, 15560987. Instead of saying that the first two digits defined the wood, the next three defined the size and the last three the finish, or something like that, so that it could all have fitted on a page or two, the manual contained all possible combinations and was 1½ inches thick. One day, Joan overheard someone asking for a sheet of eight by four. “Can’t do that, Fred,” she heard, “It’s all done by code now; it’s computerised, innit? Find the code and let me ‘ave it, and then I’ll ask Bill to deal wiv it.” So Fred found the code and passed it on, and Joan heard the man shout, “Hey, Bill, fetch a sheet of eight by four, will yer?” The computer system was ditched shortly afterwards.
The company eventually went into liquidation owing to lack of profits.
People who eat very little can live to a ripe old age. Ted’s mum’s sister, Ethel (who died aged 102), ate very little, and because she had no children she had no idea how much children could eat – or other adults, come to that.
In all fairness, Auntie Ethel was a good egg; she really mucked in when necessary without any complaints. When she looked after Ted and his brother when they were young (when they visited her on holiday), she put up with an awful lot. She was strict but fair and never unkind.
Ethel never had any children, and the family believes that this was because of faulty genes on Frank’s (Ethel’s husband’s) side – after all, some of his family were …erm… ‘queer.’
Every now and then, Ted’s mum (Joan) and Ethel would arrange to meet in London – Joan lived in north-west Kent, and Ethel lived in the Isle of Wight. Whereas Joan was down-to earth and had no airs, Ethel used the meeting to display how posh she was. She would wear her best mink coat and put on a special voice. “My deaaaaah,” she would say in a loud voice, “How luuuuvely to see you!” Her face would be powdered and her cheeks would be puffed out; after all, she was the wife of a successful oil salesman and they went abroad most years for their holidays (in the 1960s).
For some years, Auntie Ethel bred chinchillas in her garage. She didn’t do it because she loved them; it was quite simply for the income.
Ethel’s Beauty Sleep
When Bernard (Ted’s dad) once went to stay with Auntie Ethel (with Ted and Joan – it was a family visit), it was explained to him that Ethel’s sleep was very important to her and that it was not to be disturbed. Bernard informed Frank that he had a weak bladder, and his response was, “Well, if you need to get up in the middle of the night, pee out of the window.” And so he did.
Ethel just did not believe in spending more on food than was necessary.
One evening the family (with Joan, Bernard and the boys there were six altogether) sat down to supper. A small plate of mince appeared in the middle of the table. They waited for the potato and veg. to appear. After a minute, Ethel said, “Well, don’t wait – help yoursleves.” Yes, that was the supper for six people.
Later that evening, Bernard (a small eater) said to Ethel, “Could I have a piece of bread before I go to bed?” Ethel responded, “My, you must be hungry, Bernard.”
The Guinea Fowl
One Christmas, Ethel invited a couple over for Christmas lunch. She had heard that guinea fowl was unusual and would be a treat and so she ordered one. Come Christmas morning, she went to the butcher’s to pick it up. She was quite shocked when she saw how small it was, but decided that it would do. Yes – one guinea fowl provided Christmas lunch for four adults.
Another Christmas, Ethel and Frank asked Ted and his parents to Christmas lunch. On Christmas morning, Frank said, “Joan, Ethel is feeling a little unwell. You’ll be able to do the lunch, won’t you?” What to do. Joan got everything ready, and then Ethel appeared. “Oh,” she said, “I’m feeling a little better now, and I’m quite hungry…”
Ethel also bred rabbits to reduce the size of the meat bill. Every now and then she would get the local butcher round to kill one of them.
One day she saw a rabbit running around in the back garden and realised that one of hers must have escaped. She managed to capture it. As a punishment, that was the next one to go in the pot.
Shortly afterwards, a neighbour popped round to ask whether they had seen their daughter’s pet rabbit. “No,” said Ethel. “What colour is it?”
This was one of Ted’s biggest mistakes. Auntie Ethel asked him one evening whether he would like an omelette. Now Ted had recently had the tastiest omelette of his life, and the immediate thought was, “Wow! This could be another one of those!” It wasn’t. If an omelette is cooked by someone who abhors wasted food, the whole week’s leftovers end up in it. The surface of it consisted of bumps of various sizes and colours, and the taste was…
Lorna was Ted’s mum’s other sister. There’s not much to say about her except that she got married to a ne’er-do-well and got divorced shortly afterwards.
By all accounts she didn’t have too much upstairs. During the war, she saved up her food tokens for many weeks, culminating in the acquisition of a joint of ham – quite a luxury. She put down her bag in a shop, and when she went to pick it up there was no ham in it.
Some time later, she saw some men carrying out a carpet from next door’s house. She asked the men what they were doing, and one of them said, “Cleaning it, Madam.” Lorna said, “Oh! Could you clean mine too?” “Sure thing,” said the man, and Lorna’s carpet too was loaded into the van. She never saw the carpet again.