Does this ever happen to you? You are having a conversation about one thing and then it switches to another topic and then another topic and before you know where you are the original topic of conversation is lost in amongst everything else that is being discussed?
I have a cousin, who is a few years younger than me and is more like a friend, who visits and we talk non stop about a thousand things all at once and we move from one topic to another and back again. Over the years we have almost refined it to perfection whereby no matter what distractions, interruptions or mishaps occur whilst we indulge in coffee, Earl Grey tea and home made cakes [her cakes that is, I’m afraid mine rarely turn out how they should and when they do even all cries of “Don’t eat the cake I’ve got visitors…” fall on deaf ears!] we continue our conversations right to the end. We start off slowly and talk in circles, smoothly changing the topics and covering everything from childbirth to weight loss or weight gain to house moving to education to health issues to decision making. We discuss more than a week’s worth of ladies’ magazines and in greater depth sometimes. As the day progresses we talk faster and try hard to resist the temptation to interrupt one another for fear of not finishing what we want to say. But always, well nearly always, we get back to the unfinished conversations that we had started off the day with after we had said our hellos and put the kettle on, several hours earlier!
Or does this ever happen to you? A conversation can trigger a memory which takes over the whole conversation all together. This was the case for me and the ‘Hubby’ this past week.
Even though we are in the same house and indeed the same rooms for the best part of our time together, we rarely get the opportunity to just sit and talk; uninterrupted; peacefully listening to one another.
We used to sit at the breakfast bar and chat comfortably with a glass of wine, a glass of lager and a dish of crisps. Nowadays the house is busy with the sound of computers as the boys do their homework, the sound of quotations floating through the air as the ‘Intelligent One’ revises his Literature, the sound of “bloody hell that’s how it works!” as the ’Cutie-pie’ solves a Mathematical problem and the sound of music above the whirring of the hairdryer as the ‘Bridezilla’ performs her beauty regime. Not a night passes without the phone ringing or texting occurring. The noise of the television is mostly a background to the rest of the house and our routines.
So it was a pleasant trip to the polling station at the local school that gave us a few snatched moments of peace and conversation.
I have no idea what we were originally talking about but I suddenly got the fit of giggles as a memory of going to vote many years ago came flooding back to me. It was something I hadn’t thought about for years. ‘Hubby’ patiently listened as I recounted going voting with my sister, which I suppose was not as funny to him as it was to me, I suppose you needed to be there to see the funny side of it.
My big sister and I lived together in a grotty bedsitter on the outskirts of the City of Liverpool. We were both teaching and both disorganised when it came to anything outside of the classroom. So it came about one night after tea that we realised we had not voted. We set off with every good intention of placing our most important vote. We decided that as we had not lived in the bed sitter for long then we needed to go to where we had been living previously in order to be in the right polling station. As it was cold and raining we popped into the local for a swift half of lager, or two. Then we needed a local paper to see who we were voting for. Then we had to wait a good 20 minutes for the train which would take us on the 15 minute journey to our old place. 5 stops along the line and we were there. Alighting the train giggling we decided to set off in the direction that we thought we used to live in, but soon realised we were on the wrong road and doubled back to the station and started again. Then we came to what had been the regular pub and my sister couldn’t resist popping in to see if there was anyone we knew by the bar. After a couple more lagers we set off again with the intention of arriving at the local school which would be the polling station. Or to be truthful what should have been the polling station. Don’t they always use schools? This school was locked up and in total darkness. Slightly confused and most definitely lost my big sister admitted that she thought the school she had voted in the previous year was this one…however it could be a different one. So, a bit deflated we set off down the next street, along a few others, past the shopping centre and along the main road towards another school that she remembered. Then we saw the sign ‘Polling Station’ and a few people going into what looked like the Library. By this time it was very dark, we were cold and extremely giggly and there was no one about when we entered this building. The people we had seen were in the process of folding tables and moving boxes.
“We’ve come to vote.”
“Where’ve you come from?”
“You can’t vote here.”
“Because we’re from Preston? That’s a bit off.”
“You can’t vote here…”
“We may be woolly backs but we live in this area now.”
“You still can’t vote here…”
“Because we’re not Liverpudlian?”
“No, because we’re shut!”
Well of course ‘Hubby’ did understand totally what I was laughing about as he knew my big sister and knew what we could both be like together.
Naturally this recount led to another conversation about living in Liverpool; it also triggered the memory of another occasion when my sister and I were living together…patiently the ‘Hubby’ listened to this one sided conversation as I began…
You see the bedsitter was dreadful, cold, damp and cost a fortune in ten penny pieces and fifty pence pieces in the meter just to try to take the edge off the chill in the room. Heating the bath water was a nightmare as not only was it expensive but we had to stand guard to make sure that other tenants didn’t jump into the bathroom before us. A lot of the time it was warmer to get into bed and sit in the dark and watch television [A black and white one at that!] When the winter came we did everything we could to try to keep warm…and sane!
We each ate a school dinner, which usually involved a dinner duty but it was worth it as it was hot and cheap, we both stayed as late at our schools as we could in order to complete marking and planning in the warmth and light of the buildings. Then we met up at the bus station and walked to our grotty bedsit which was on the top floor of a Victorian terrace; it resembled a building out of the Dracula movies more than a building where you’d want to be.
Then one Thursday night we decided that enough was enough; we were struggling all week and then coming home to our parent’s house at the weekend. We deserved something good after working so hard. We deserved a treat. So, Thursday was to be our treat night.
In the village within walking distance of the bus station there was a row of shops and nestled in amongst these shops there was a tiny vegetarian restaurant. Just perfect for me as I was going through my vegetarian stage whereby no meat crossed my lips except after a few too many drinks on a Saturday night when I would happily succumb to the odd beef burger from the burger stand or the occasional vindaloo.
So it was decided that we would treat ourselves to the warmth of this eatery and gaily sat down to view the menu. It was a fabulous place. The dishes of the day were written in chalk on a huge blackboard. We were greeted by a young man who looked more like a drop out from the sixties due to his long hair and ear piercings as well as rows of home made bracelets. He was a friendly chap very keen to enthuse about the freshness of his vegetables. We ordered bowls of hot, home made soup and crusty bread and we washed it all down with schooners of sweet sherry [An old trick from years ago; drink a few sherries and the warmth glows within!] We sat at the table laughing and talking and discussing lessons. We were warm and happy and looking forward to the weekend ahead.
Each Thursday night we ventured cold and hungry into this restaurant and sat at the same table. We worked our way through the menu. The food just got better and better and with each trip the prices seemed to be cheaper and the portions larger. There were special offers and the deserts were meals in themselves! The staff were always happy to see us and the young manager always brought our first sherries to the table and stopped to speak, just general chit chat about the weather and shopping in the area. It was a great place to be. It was warm, friendly, cheaper than shopping and cooking in our bedsit and we could sit at the table and over a pot of coffee we would fill in report forms or pupil reading assessment grades without being disturbed: whilst making the most of the free lighting. One or two regulars would come in, nod, say good evening and sit further down the room. We arrived cold and hungry at the same time every Thursday and we left, warm and fed at the same time every Thursday night.
The months passed and we were facing the long summer holiday after which we would not be staying in that bed sitter. We decided that for our final Thursday evening we would like to treat the manager to a drink as a way of saying thank you but he refused to join us, thanking us profusely but he understood that we needed to work in peace. We enjoyed a fabulous meal, deserts and coffee followed by a celebratory glass of sherry. Before we left we both visited the toilets and on coming out we were chatting about how beautiful and clean they always were with fresh towels and sweet smelling soap and hand cream. The manager looked up at us and there was a look of relief on his face. We stood at the long, hand polished wooden bar to pay our bill and explained that this was our last visit as we were relocating…to which he commented; “We hope you will recommend us…” well naturally we replied that of course we would, our friends would love this place but unfortunately it was too far from home for them for a night out… looking puzzled he then added “Will we be getting your report soon?” We had no idea what he was talking about. I chipped in that the reports he had seen me drafting were for school and confidential. A look of horror crossed his face…he muttered “School…?”
'Yes,' I replied, and explained that we were both school teachers and that we came to his restaurant for the warmth but then the food and service was so good we carried on even when the weather was warmer and the nights lighter. [His nut and bean salad was to die for…] “But I thought…you… were Health Inspectors…” he stammered and pointed to my leather case bulging with files and paper work. For a brief moment we were both speechless…in fact all three of us were and then we laughed and he laughed and he shouted to his waiters and informed them that we were not inspectors but teachers…and that they would never see us on a Thursday night again!
We were not sure if we should have been flattered by that remark but nonetheless the situation was quite funny: no wonder we had such good treatment, prompt ordering and chatty waiters, good portions and then there was the relief on the manager’s face when we complimented him on the state of his toilets…they obviously mistook our discussions and lesson writing to be connected with restaurant inspecting…the fact that we worked our way through his menu most likely confirmed what he was concerned about.
I often wonder if the restaurant is still there…it was the first of its kind and not popular to start with because it served unusual food combinations…but we loved it and we loved the smiles and waves of goodbye from ALL the staff as we left that last Thursday night…
So you see how a conversation can trigger memories leading to a different conversation…although perhaps ‘Hubby’ would probably say he was listening as opposed to conversing…
Blog 54 m...coming soon...next Wednesday...
[*the term woolly backs refers to people not born in Liverpool...from the North and refers to the sheep farming communities...!]