I'm a twit too

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Nazareth House, Rednal

If one gets married into a family that you can fit into with ease, and your father and mother-in-law likes you as a human being, involve you as a member of the family - you are truly blessed...Mum and her new mother-in-law were Bingo buddies for years. 
If they won they shouted BINGO or HOUSE!

Being treated as if you were their daughter  was accentuated by an acute sense of estrangement from her biological mother who she had been told was dead by the Nuns. 
It wasn't until she found some letters sent to her in Australia whilst cleaning the Reverend Mother Rita's office, that mum was able to call out her guardians were LIARS.

She was 16years old.  

A coping mechanism to growing up in an Orphanage is to imagine a life well-lived with a man who loves you, with a family of your own making in a home you own.

Mum's dreams came true, including her decision to have her children christened into the Church of England at Saint Wulstan's conveniently located in the same street.

Kath's mother was a Roman Catholic and married a devout Polish Catholic man, so Kath senior was mighty disapproving of her grandchildren breaking the Clarke family mould.

The final nail in the coffin of belonging to any fold of religious faith especially to Kath's Mother church was when I was born.
A priest was doing his rounds in the QE2 hospital. He found the new Mother in bed with a brand new baby and asked if she was Catholic.
I told him I wasn't religious but I was christened one, so he said to come to him to arrange for the christening, but when he asked about your father and I told him he was a Protestant he said Canon Law classed you as a bastard!
Julie - the Papist's bastard 1963
crocheted blanket made by Kath Higgins nee Clarke,
God-parents Auntie Pat & Fred Shakespeare.
The Higgins clan were not church-going except for the spiritual insurance of baptism on their off-spring, a common ritual for most English families.
Higgins: Twin Christenings, Exeter Rd. Selly Oak 1965

In the early years of her married life to Brian, Kath soon showed her sense of  injustice at the inequalities in their relationship when it came to their social life. 
They had never really gone out together as a couple, because it was always with Bri's mates. Then when the kids came along she was the one who had to stay at home, cook his dinner, have his shirt ironed for him to go out for a pint.

Kath resented being the little Mrs. at home. Life was too short and when he didn't come home straight from work either and his dinner was cold she boiled!
She knew where he was alright... a few doors down at the cafe, an illegal card game was on, so she watched the clock, sent me back up the stairs to bed, and made a phone call to the cops...

My dad never knew who had given the police a tip off until 1999 when Mum told me it was her. The police had raided the cafe and Dad managed to escape out the back in the nick of time. When he burst in through the door, out of breath, explaining he had jumped over peoples back garden fences to avoid getting arrested, Kath played innocent.
If Brian wasn't going to take her out, then his mother would! She and Elsie were supports and companions - it helped they enjoyed similar recreational pursuits: Bingo and Darts.

In the early 1960's women couldn't be members of the Selly Oak Ex-Servicemens Club, or the Hubert Rd Social or Conservative Clubs where their husbands were members. 
Women were banned from the Snooker rooms, which irked Mum when filled with the Whiskey spirit; Defying the rules she would march into the back room, pick up a cue, until 'guided' away by an embarrassed husband...if only Dad had championed his wife's desire to have a game of snooker with him, but he didn't have it in him to challenge the establishment.

Joining a card game like Cribbage, Pontoon or Poker was discouraged. I suspect the men were afraid of a woman beating them for example, Kath Higgins! The Committee succeeded in diverting their female folk into the entertainment room with Bingo!
Every Friday night the kids knew they would have a babysitter, and in later years I would sit with Grandad who had Parkinson's Disease so if he had a fall I could phone the club to reach Nan.

So popular grew the game in the 1960's with the associated money raked in for fundraisers that there was Bingo running four times a week, and there were other games elsewhere to fill in the missing days.
It wasn't regarded as gambling, or a harmful addiction. You grew up accepting it was an integral part of community culture. I experienced the adrenalin pumping, heart racing, breathtaking build-up to having your last two, then one number called, to win a cash prize.
Children could discreetly attend Bingo if there wasn't a babysitter available. A mother would take her child to sit and be quiet with their drink and crisps and if you were lucky your mum would let you mark a booklet for her. 

Kath and Elsie also travelled further afield on the buses to have a different experience of  a game of Bingo. One such night the pair walked up Dawlish Rd. to catch a bus down to Stirchley where there was a large commercial Bingo, with a large jackpot. For one brief moment my Nan stepped of the kerb to see if the bus was coming and a car came speeding around into Raddlebarn Rd. and run her over and over...

At Selly Oak Hospital she was dead, but only for a brief time until the doctor revived her. It would be a long road to recovery, but everybody knew she was going to be fine when she wanted to go around the club for Bingo!

Darts was another shared recreation of daughter and mother-in-law. 'Ladies Darts'  was not taken seriously in the pubs and clubs but there was a team put together at the Conservative Club, where her father-in-law, Albert was a member.
Kath took home the trophy cup for seven years in a row, and stood with pride-of-place on the mantle-piece. When the Conservative Club closed down a couple of committee members came to retrieve the cup
When her marriage to Brian was over and he was living with Barbara, Elsie went out of her life too. It was a double loss. Kath didn't understand why her mother-in-law had to withdraw from their relationship because her son had another woman. That painful loneliness was reclaiming her, but she would survive. 

Kath's mother wasn't aware of her daughter's prowess at darts and other games - or how good she was at crafts,  how popular she was as a work canteen cook! Their contact was brief and unpredictable. 

Kathleen senior kept her distance physically and emotionally, even from her grandchildren. There were a couple of Christmas's that showed promise when presents were given and an invitation to Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. It was pleasant. Strange. We were the outsiders.

Mum reckoned it was obvious that she could never be good enough - as though she was like a stray cat, needy and demanding and my Grandmother didn't want to give her what she needed; the story of her origins, and why she was abandoned and sent to Australia?

 Photo taken by Grandmother on surprise visit before emigrating. Zoo excursion.

Who could have predicted that in 1978 when Kath and her new husband  Derek who had genially esconced himself into the affections of  the family would emigrate to Melbourne? Then,
within a year she would disown her own daughters for her drunken life with him? She was afraid she would end up lonely. He was her mate.

Unlike my mother who invited her mother to her wedding at the last minute, I didn't want to invite Mum and Derek to mine. Their  alcohol fueled behaviour  would embarass me. It made it easier that I didn't have their address. We had become estranged.

My husband Roy and I did drive overnight from Adelaide to Melbourne airport when my sister informed me of their return to England. We said goodbye civilly at the airport waiting for their departure back to Birmingham, where they missed the pubs and clubs.
It was incredible that HERstory was repeating itself; Sporadic contact by long-distance was made when they saw fit to let us know where they were living. It was about ten years where we didn't even know if they were dead or alive, then a call in the night to say they were having a great time in Canada or Malaysia!

Fortunatley I too was blessed with a dedicated mother-in-law who said she regarded me as her own daughter.
Our first generation Australian daughters had a doting grandmother growing up - a vital ingredient to a sense of belonging and identity with strong Yorkshire accents!
 Nancy and Archie - grandparents to Jasmine and Haley, Highett, Victoria 1990.

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