Saturday, 27 May 2017

Good Old Days

Claire slouched in the chair, her shoulders hunched in irritation. How she hated coming to Grandma’s house. It was always so boring. Every week was the same. She would be made to sit in the same uncomfortable, itchy, horsehair wingback chair. Her precious Sunday afternoons would have to be spent wishing the hours away until the visit was over and they could go home. Week in, week out she was forced out of her favourite jeans and into a dress – something hideous with frills or gingham – and her patent leather shoes, polished up with butter that morning. She drew the line at a ribbon in her hair, though, that was for little kids. Grandma would open the door dressed in her housecoat and beam her embarrassingly toothless grin. Claire would cringe when she was told how ladylike she was looking. Grandma would grab her and give her a sloppy kiss, stinking of fags and lavender talc, before ushering her into the chair by the draughty window. And then the torture would begin. Hours and hours of the grown-ups chattering on about stuff that held no interest for Claire. Not that it mattered. Grandma was of the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ school of thought and so all the conversations were aimed well above her head. She didn’t know why she let herself be dragged along. She was nearly thirteen for God’s sake!

It was no different this week. She had tried to entertain herself by counting the cabbage roses on the wallpaper or the holes in the net curtains, but her expression always betrayed her. ‘Stop scowling, Claire,’ her Grandma berated her, ‘If the wind changes your face will stick like that. Pretty young girl like you with a face like a wet week. Wouldn’t happen in my day’.

Claire groaned. Here we go, she thought. Now it starts.

‘You didn’t have any of this nonsense when I was a girl,’ Grandma sniffed, ‘All the kids sitting on their backsides all day, Walkman thing plugged into their ears listening to rubbish. Twiddling on their GameBots.’

‘GameBoys’. Claire muttered under her breath, rolling her eyes. Seriously, why couldn’t old people get anything right?

‘In my day, we played out from first light to sunset. Only came in for a sandwich at lunch and tea when Dad came home from work. All day we were out. No fat kids when I was young.’ She glanced meaningfully at Claire, who was reaching for another custard cream. ‘And don’t get me started on the bloody racket they call music!’

Nobody did, thought Claire, darkly.

‘It’s all noise. When I was a girl it was music you could dance to! Waltzes and foxtrots, that’s dancing. Oh, I remember going to the Palais on a Saturday night in my best frock with my friend Betty, listening to the band playing real tunes. We’d sit under the lights and wait for a young gentleman to come over to ask us to dance and then walk us home. All very nice. All proper. None of this ‘snogging’ in the dark and not even knowing their names.’ Grandma harrumphed and adjusted her bosom.

Claire sighed and glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. Had it really only been half an hour?

‘Kids respected their elders, they did. Stood up for them on the bus if there were no seats, opened doors for them. Ignorant little bugger on the 58 had to be told to stand up when I went to the precinct on Wednesday. The look he gave me! I nearly clipped him one round the ear, except you can’t touch the precious little darlings these days, can you? If you ask me that’s when it all started going wrong. Kids today think the world owes them a favour.’ She looked over at Claire again as though everything were her fault.

‘You could leave your doors unlocked, too. Nobody heard of anyone getting robbed. Everyone looked out for everyone else. Community you had then. You knew your next-door neighbours. Never mind a cup of sugar, they’d lend you their last farthing. We might not have had much, but we shared what we had. Those were the Good Old Days!’

Change the bloody record Grandma, Claire thought bitterly. What about rickets? You had rickets then. And polio. Kids dying. And smog and pollution. No telly, no videos, no MTV. Nobody got robbed because nobody had anything worth stealing. Husbands could beat their wives and kids and nobody cared. Married women weren’t even allowed to work! Good Old Days? Don’t make me laugh!

And she tuned out her Grandma’s chunnering, staring out of the window as the rain soaked the pavement, waiting until the clock finally struck four and she was free.


Claire slouched in the chair, her shoulders hunched with grief. How she had loved coming to Grandma’s house. Every week had been reassuringly the same. Choosing her prettiest dress and best shoes, waiting for Grandma to open the door with her happy smile and loving kiss. Glowing with pride as Grandma told her how grown up she was looking then showing her to her special chair by the window. She used to listen attentively as Grandma told her anecdotes about when she was growing up, how she had met Grandad at a local dance, the music they had danced to. She fondly remembered the fascinating tales of how the town used to be, when everyone had been friendly and took care of one another, how she used to wish she had been alive then and how she had laughed when Grandma mixed up her words when talking about new technology.

A hand on her shoulder broke her reverie. The undertaker telling her the cars were ready. She smiled sadly to herself as she looked around Grandma’s front room for the last time. She’d give anything to hear some more of her stories. Those Sunday afternoons had been her favourite times. Those Sundays had been the Good Old Days.

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