I remember Mary and Tub’s son Tony because I lived with Nanny and Poppy Alger, so hardly a day went by without some child or another visiting with their children. And, remember, there were still unmarried Alger children living at home.
Grandad Packer was still in Egypt, so Nanny Packer and I lived at 4 Wilson Grove with Nanny and Poppy Alger. Uncle Jim lived there because he was not married. Auntie Clare, too, because she was not married. Auntie Winnie, who was Auntie Clare’s friend and Agnes who was another, also lodged with us. Uncle Bernard lived there before he was married, so together with assorted cats, dogs, chickens, rats and bugs, you can imagine what a nightmare it was.
I did what every self respecting Packer (as I was then) would do and that was to watch, listen and learn. Some people without soul may call this being nosy, I ,on the other hand, prefer to call it ‘interested’.
Because I lived there, looking back on it now, I can see that I was incredibly spoiled. When the other grandkids came to visit, I always felt that I had the upper hand and by God I used it. Poppy Alger might have been theirs temporarily, but I knew he was mine and I made sure they knew it, horrible bitch that I was.
Poppy was a bully. He bullied his wife, his children, and he bullied his grandchildren. Not only did he bully, he hurt, physically. He would beat his sons and some say his wife. He kept a razor strop on the kitchen door to beat them with.
It was not unknown for him to wait until everybody was assembled for dinner or tea and then upend the whole table full of food for no reason other than he had woken up bad tempered. His argument was that he had paid for it, he could do what he liked with it. They were all scared of him.
By the time the grandkids came on the scene he had somewhat mellowed. By age? Perhaps, but Jim says it was because all the boys had rebelled and had all, at one time or another, belted him one with his own strop.
However, in the true tradition of a dyed in the wool bully, Poppy Algar thought he would find his grandchildren easier prey. He tried it with me but I hit him on the head with his own poker (so to speak) and he never touched me after that.
The visiting grandchildren, on the other hand, were petrified. Whilst the women were gossiped he would torment the children. He would pinch the pads of their fingers, dig them, even put the poker in the fire till it glowed and threaten to burn them with it. When the grandkids cried he would call their mums and say, “Take your squalling kids back home to the suburbs. They’ve got no backbone.”
Nice man, huh? And believe me I have not used poetic licence – he really did those things. So the kids were not only scared of him, they were scared of me too. It felt kinda good actually.
When Tony came to visit, he was perfect fodder for Poppy Alger’s little games. Tall and skinny with glasses, Tony acted like a frightened rabbit and Poppy went to town on him. We both thought him weird. What his adolescent years were like I don’t know because Grandad Packer had returned from Egypt and we had moved into our new home.
Next thing I know, Tony is getting married to a very pretty girl called Maureen. It must have been in the 50s because I was about seven or eight when we attended the wedding. It was a big do with all the trimmings and they both lived happily ever after.
NO NO NO! What do you expect from our family?
One day, Mary came to our house in tears (watch, listen and learn). It seems that Maureen’s Mum had a big house in Brockley, and as immigration had just starting in a big way, had let out rooms to newly arrived West Indians. Anyway, during the course of visiting her mum, Maureen decided to test the sleeping accommodation (while a lodger was still in residence) and had gone and gotten herself impregnated. You can’t hide that for long; divorce ensued.
History lesson: when I was a kid there were no black faces. Then in the 50s, everybody had jobs but there were not enough people to go round, so the Government did a massive recruitment drive in the West Indies. They gave assisted passage to the UK, with guaranteed jobs in the NHS, on the buses, trains and the Underground. I had never seen a black person until I was about 10. When I did, I ran and hid because I was frightened.