Sunday, August 24, 2014


‘Just rest, Agnes. You don’t have to talk.’
‘I know.... it just... keeps my mind occupied.’
‘Your SATS are holding up okay without the mask.’
‘Good! I don’t want that thing on. I makes me feel all ... hemmed in. I’ll be all right, love.’
‘And you say Joan might see you up the hospital?’
‘Joan? She’ll be over, you can bank on that. I don’t know where I’d be without Joan.’
‘Is she older or younger?’
‘Older. Only by a couple of years. We’ve always looked out for each other. Always. Had to. Dad was a drunk and Mum was no better. Joan used to make sure I was all right for school, fed and watered, you know. We had to grow up quick.’
‘Did you have children?’
‘I had five. Three that lived. Two died soon after they were born, both on their birthdays. Cot death you’d call it now. There was a lot of ignorance and suspicion in them days. It were bad enough losing the babies, but then there were all the funny looks. People stopping talking when you came in the room. After the first one was taken from me I knew there were problems with the second. I knew as soon as he started to go off his food. I told the doctor about it. He came round and he said “Don’t worry. It’s perfectly natural, after losing your first like that. You’re bound to be a bit anxious.” I knew it weren’t that, though. He was such a sweet little thing, golden hair, red cheeks – a cheerful little sprite, he was. But like I say, he went off his food, and then one morning I put him down to do my chores, and when I turned back to check on him I found he weren’t breathing. I blew in his mouth but it were no good. I ended up howling, running through the streets with him in my arms. I don’t know what everyone must’ve thought. I’d gone mad, probably. You don’t think you’ll ever get over these things, but you do. It takes a good long while, but you do.’
‘What about your husband? How did he bear up?’
‘Tommy? He were no good from the start. Tommy were a layabout, pure and simple. Drinking all his money away. Certainly never gave me any. I had to have a part-time job to run the house. Joan lived in the next street. I looked after her kids at night when she went to work, and she looked after mine during the day. Tommy said he were an electrician at the docks. I had to go round there to talk to him about something or other, and they said he hadn’t worked there these last five years. What he’d been doing I don’t know. Tommy was a terrible jealous man, n’all. I got friendly with Stan at work, and Tommy got wind of it. He came home drunk one night, threw the telly through the window and knocked me down. I never saw him after that, except at a distance. Which were fine by me. I found out a little later he were gay. He ended up living with the landlord from our local. I suppose it must have been hard for him, having to pretend all that time. I’m not making excuses. He could’ve been a bit nicer to me and the kids, but that was Tommy, for better or worse. Worse, in my case.’
‘Then what happened?’
‘Call me foolish but I got married a second time, to this miner called Fred. Fred started out lovely, but he had this bad accident at work. He were down the pit, and this young kid pressed something he shouldn’t have, and Fred was buried under tons of coal. Only survived because a prop fell in a funny way and kept a little space clear, just enough for him to breathe while they dug him out. It took days. He were never the same after. Became a hypochondriac. Always at the doctors worrying about this or that, convinced he was dying. And he stopped washing, too, which was the worst. He didn’t look after himself at all, and in the end I just couldn’t bear to be near him he smelled that bad. It was a terrible thing Fred went through, and I suppose sometimes it’s more than just the body that gets damaged, in’t it? But things have worked out pretty good. My kids have grown up healthy and happy, and I’ve got more grandchildren than I can count. And then of course, there’s Joan. What I’d have done without Joan I don’t know.’
‘I get the feeling you’d have coped all right.’
‘You’re probably right. But not nearly so well, though. Not nearly so well.’


tpals said...

What a life. A strong woman.

TomVee said...

What a harrowung, and yet very common biography. Her use of 'were' instead of 'was' is intriguing, is that a local accent?

Spence Kennedy said...

She was great, tpals - truly inspiring. And even though she was very ill, she was facing it all as bravely as she had everything else.

TV - She did have an accent. I just put a hint of it in there, but I won't say where it's supposed to be from! ;)

jacksofbuxton said...

I'm surprised Agnes has held up as well as she has,but then I suppose she's the Carry On generation (nothing to do with the Kenneth Williams version)

Spence Kennedy said...

She was amazingly resilient. She'd had a difficult life, to say the least - and still managed to come through it with energy & optimism to spare. Quite an example, really!