It’s been a couple of weeks between blogs, but driven by my crazy ‘Bad Mom’ friends, I’m compelled to keep writing. All writers need their readers and these ladies (for now) are mine.
They’ve taken to Google Earth-ing the first address I disclosed in Part One of this piece and I’m relying on the fact that I’ve painted such a euphoric picture of it, they are driven to looking it up, rather than questioning the authenticity of my claims. 64 Hawkestone Road really exists and it really was, in my imagination as magical as I painted it to be.
I ended my last blog having left my childhood sanctuary of Roleystone in 1990 for the wider world, arriving in the UK with not much more than a suitcase, a packet of Dunhill cigarettes that I stole from my Dad’s duty-free stash, a whole world of dreams of becoming a star of the stage and having amazing love affairs with exotic and interesting men. The kind Dolly Magazine and Cleo had promised me.
Since this blog is supposed to be about the places I’ve lived I’ll try and keep it to that, but if I digress to stories that come to mind in those places, please forgive me. There is so much to tell.
Mum and Dad returned to Australia after three month holiday and left me with kisses and good advice like ‘call us if you need anything.’ They comfortably left me to my own devices. I guess even then they knew I’d be okay wherever I was in the world. I was always that kind of kid.
The plan was for me to live with my Grandparents, Henry and Meggie Rogers at 12 Fitzroy Close, Coventry. (Another one for Google Earth-ing!) Mum wrote to me nearly daily. I loved getting her letters and postcards. They weren’t always with news from home, sometimes she’d write fantasy stories about a fairy princess on a journey into the world, whose mother was watching and loving her from afar, admiring all the freedom the fairy princess had and all the adventures she had in front of her. I didn’t understand the stories back then, thought they were Mum’s way of being kooky and different…but now I realise they were filled with subliminal messages about being an independent young woman, about living your dreams and making a difference in the world. I’m not sure I granted all the hopes and dreams the fairy godmother wished for her princess, but I sure as hell gave it a good shot! And still continue to.
As a side note, my Granddad in England’s name was Oliver Henry Rogers…but everyone called him Harry. To this day, I have no idea why. My dad was pleased as punch that I’d named Oliver after his Dad and Oliver’s middle name is Keith after my Dad too. My Mum hated me for naming my first born after my Dad’s Dad, because she hated him. Thought he was the most horrible man that ever existed. Granddad Harry referred to my Mum as ‘The Scarlett Woman’ because he never forgave her for stealing my Dad from my brother Christopher’s mother and taking him to the other side of the world. My Mum and Granddad never saw eye to eye (and not just because one was 4ft9 and the other 6ft6) and it was always a volatile relationship to the end. To be honest, I just liked the name Oliver, it really had nothing to do with a tribute to him, but my Dad thought it was a nice gesture. So I kept up the pretense.
In the end, I sided with my Mum when it came to Granddad Harry. Our relationship had been good until he tried to put his hand down my blouse. It was after Nanna Meggie had died in 1995. Not long before I returned to Australia. He tried to pass it off saying ‘I just miss Meggie.’ I never saw him much after that. I avoided going to visit him by myself and never told anyone until years later why. It kind of turns my stomach to recount that moment, I sort of blocked it out. It only happened the once…but that was enough. Dirty old man!
Nanna Meggie on the other hand was the sweetest soul. She loved all of us, even my Mum. I think if she’d ever been allowed to express an opinion, she’d have put Granddad in his place. She’d tell him she admired my Mum for chasing her heart, for not staying in a marriage that wasn’t right for her. God knows Nanna Meggie must have dreamt that her prince would one day rescue her from a domineering husband and the domesticity of her little life. But instead she sat quietly in her armchair, watching Coronation Street wishing her days away.
She baked the best apple pie, loved her nights out at bingo with the ladies and had her hair done at the local hairdressers every week. She was kind to all the kids in the neighbourhood and absolutely loved it when I bought friends over to meet her. She collapsed one night while Dad and I were in London watching Miss Saigon. Dad had come back to the UK on his own to visit his parents and me. It was the first red flag that things weren’t good between him and Mum. They’d never travelled apart until then. His timing was uncanny because a few days later Nanna Meggie died in Walsgrave hospital of a heart attack. I was at a dress rehearsal for a play I was doing with the new theatre group I’d been accepted into. (Thanks to Chris and a good audition) and I remember arriving at the hospital a few minutes too late to say my goodbyes. The family was gathered around her bedside looking down on me like ‘You’re too late little black sheep.’
The hospital staff had combed her white hair back and placed a rose on her pillow. I kissed her and said ‘Sorry I wasn’t here.’ But in my heart I knew she’d have been happy knowing I was out doing what I loved and that she’d had the opportunity to get to know me better in the last five years I’d been in England. I was always a good Granddaughter visiting them more than once a week. I loved her. She was chubby and kind and one of those women suppressed by a dominant man, forced into marriage because she got pregnant. She has her own story; one I’m sure might have had a different ending should she’d have been born in a future era. I knew she thought I was something special. Someone she’d have liked to be, if only her generation had allowed her such freedoms.
When I got in my car to leave the hospital that night, the first song that came on the radio was Stevie Nicks singing ‘ Gypsy’. Stevie Nicks! My all time favourite rockstar and childhood idol. I knew it was a message from Meggie. These are the lyrics to that song…read into it what you will…
You can play the song here, if you’re not familiar with it.
GYPSY - FLEETWOOD MAC
So I'm back to the velvet underground
Back to the floor that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was
To the gypsy that I was
And it all comes down to you
Well, you know that it does, well
Lightning strikes maybe once, maybe twice
Oh and it lights up the night
And you see you're a gypsy
You see you're a gypsy
To the gypsy
Her face says freedom
With a little fear
I have no fear
I have only love
And if I was a child
And the child was enough
Enough for me to love
Enough to love
She is dancing away from you now
She was just a wish
She was just a wish
And her memory is all that is left for you now
You see you're a gypsy, oh
You see you're a gypsy
Ooh ooh, oh oh, oh oh oh
Maybe once, maybe twice
And it all comes down to you
Ooh oh, and it all comes down to you
Maybe once, maybe twice (oh)
I still see your bright eyes, bright eyes
(And it all comes down to you)
My stay at Harry and Meggie’s didn’t last long. From the first night I arrived, Chris (my brother) rocked up in his Ford Capri and took me off to a dress rehearsal of a play he was doing at the Coventry Butts. (Sounds like some dive of a place, but that was the name of the technical college in Coventry that had a big theatre, where they were performing.) A place I was to become very familiar with over the years. Chris rocked up with two of his friend in tow. Sean Philips and Dean Mullins. I’m still friends with these boys today. I’ve written about that first night at the Butts Theatre in my novel The Second Husband a real life account of what happened that night. It was a turning point for me and I’ll share that part of the story as an excerpt from the novel at a later date.
After meeting new friends that night at the dress rehearsal, my new life started. That very first night I got invited out with a new group of friends and we stayed at the pub until midnight. Little did I know my Granddad would wait up for me and drill me about ‘What time do you call this?’ and ‘I’ve been worried sick about you.’ Remember this was long before mobile phones and FB messaging. Night after night I’d go out with my new friends, Andy, Nick, Lisa and Sam and anyone else that was allowed out on a school night. I was the second oldest of our group, with Lisa only being 16 and Sammie was only 14 but she was a rebel child that came from a broken home, so she got away with a lot at a young age. Each night I’d get home to Granddad sitting on the armchair waiting for me. When I think about it now, it’s a bit scary to be confronted by an old man in the middle of the night. At the time I was just frustrated by his restrictive routine. I was eighteen years old. I wanted freedom and a chance to explore this new found independence, I didn’t expect a nightly interrogation with my 80 year old granddad. After a couple of months my cousin Adrian came to the rescue and said I could move in with him and his girlfriend Clare.
I have three older cousins on my Dad’s side. Adrian, his twin sister Mandy and their older brother Mark. Mandy was studying in Paris at the time, she now lives in Portugal, and Mark lived in a flat in the same block as Adrian and Clare. While the three of them were all highly intelligent, Mark was the super genius. So smart that he graduated from Oxford University with honors and didn’t even bother to turn up on graduation day to collect his degree. He hated crowds and any form of fanfare, was happier sitting alone in a dark room playing with his electronics and musical instruments. He had a whole recording studio set up in his front room. He was a gentle quiet man, completely bald by age 30. I often wondered if his big brain had pushed all his hair out. He was a brilliant musician but to be honest a bit strange; too intelligent to function in the real world because nobody was smart enough to hold a conversation with him. On a more normal note, he did love motorbikes and eventually met a girl called Carol and they toured Europe on their Kawasaki’s annually. I can’t remember him ever wearing anything but skinny black jeans, a black woolen jumper and black leather boots, even in summer! Unfortunately I didn’t get the intelligence of my cousins; thank god I got the looks. (Jokes)
Through fear of killing off Granddad Rogers with my late night exploits, I moved in with Adrian and Clare. They had a masonette in Blackwall Close, Walsgave. Ironically the same block of flats that my Dad and his first wife Margaret, used to live in after they got married. (Yes, Chris’s mother).
A few strange things happened there.
I’d started working at the Brandon Oak, a village pub a few miles out of town. Can’t even remember how I got that job, but I did and I loved it. I’d bought a car with the money I got from the sale of my Triumph 2000, so I was independently mobile and drove to work in my Ford Fiesta with the license plate NOBB 375. It became fondly known as NOB among my friends. It was military blue, a manual, with a hatchback. We still reminisce about NOB today and all the places it took us and the late night conversations and confessions that were revealed within it. The cigarettes smoked, the pizzas and beer consumed on the back seat, the pick ups and drop-offs, journeys long and short and a good few goodnight pashes, full of hope and endorphins that took place across the divide between passenger seat and drivers. Ahhh what happened to those days?
At the Brandon Oak everyone loved the new ‘Aussie’ girl behind the bar, particularly the rugby boys that used to drink there after training and Saturday afternoon games. The patrons never let me live down the moment that a man with a thick Yorkshire accent came in and ordered A pint of lager, half a cider and what sounded like ‘a cork’. I poured him the pint and the half of cider and then said ‘What do you want me to do with the cork?’
He replied ‘Just put it in a glass.’ With a look that said ‘What else would you do with a cork?’
So I found a cork from a bowl at the back of the bar and put it in a glass for him. I thought it was a bit strange but maybe it was some pub ritual, for a game or something.
He looked at the cork in the glass quite bemused. ‘What’s that?’ he said.
‘A cork in a glass.’ I replied. I was perplexed myself about the strange order but it was exactly what he asked for.
‘No no no,’ he smiled shaking his head, ‘A cork…corker cola…black stuff that ya drink, love.’
‘Oh Coke!’ I said feeling pretty stupid. ‘Sorry about that.’
The bar staff and other patrons at the bar were in hysterics as I poured the man a glass of Coca Cola. Even I laughed too.
There was a bet on between the rugby boys (which I only found out about much later) of who would be the first to take the Aussie out on a date. They all flirted and vied for my attention, clearly wanting to win the bet. I was obliviously lapping up every minute of it. I think the pub gaffer even had a fiver on it. The winner was Lee…can’t remember his surname now, but he was the best looking one, the David Beckham of the village. I was always a sucker for the good looking ones with blue eyes.
He took me out a couple of times and even introduced me to his parents. That was my signal that things were pretty solid between us. I took him back to Adrian and Clare’s flat one night, because they had gone away for the weekend. I don’t need to tell you what happened in my little single bed, except to say it was pretty good. Unfortunately though, Adrian and Clare arrived home early the next morning and I was so petrified they’d tell my Mum and Dad that I had a guy staying over. It’s the one thing I’ve always been a bit prude about. I never told Mum and Dad much about my love life, even though my Mum was forever digging for info.
In light of this, I told Lee he’d have to leave via the window to avoid being seen. A window that was two flights up! He refused to jump out the window…so instead I pretended that he’d just popped over that morning to borrow a record. It was 7am. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last long after that. A few months later he started dating the choreographer from my theatre company and they ended up together for years.
Clare and Adrian were onto me straight away, not at all convinced by my lie, but they chose to let it go.
A few weeks later Clare and Adrian planned a trip to Paris to visit my cousin Mandy. I was like, ‘Awesome!’, I have the whole flat to myself for the weekend. So I invited my new gang of theatre friends; Nick, Andy, Sam and Lisa for a sleepover. Andy was the new object of my desires. Good looking with blue eyes, of course. Lee was quickly forgotten. For some dumb reason we decided to raid Clare and Adrian’s liquor cabinet, and drunk on sherry and port the five of us slept in their bed singing ‘There was five in the bed and the little one said roll over, roll over’. One of us would jump out of bed and run round to the other side and get in the other end. It was all very innocent, but we thought it was hilarious and laughed louder and harder every time someone ran around the bed. Unfortunately the walls of a masonnette flat are thin and it didn’t help that the couple whose bedroom was on the other side of Clare and Adrian’s, belonged to people they knew. So when Clare and Adrian returned from their trip to Paris, the neighbours’ dobbed me in and I was told it was time to move out.
I was so embarrassed by my actions, and no matter how hard I tried to tell them it was harmless fun, again they weren’t convinced. I begged them not to tell Nanna and Granddad, or my Mum and Dad, as I knew how they’d describe it would sound a thousand times worse than it was. So I packed my bags without further discussion, loaded up NOB and left. I had no idea where to go, so I headed for 32 Gorseway Road, Earlson. That was the night I turned up at the Panther’s front door.