Tuesday, 10 December 2013

WordPress Daily Prompt: Out of your Reach

Was there a toy or thing you always wanted as a child, during the holidays or on your birthday, but never received? Tell us about it. 

Photographers, artists, poets: show us DESIRE.

It was not a thing, it was not a toy, it lived, breathed and even made noises. Mum was not a friend of living things. They had to be fed, looked after and no matter how cuddly and sweet, it was not something she wanted: not that she was not a friend of animals. She grew up in the same house I grew up in, but in those days things were different. She told me the stories about my grandad having a pet duck. He would block the sink in the yard, fill it with water, and the duck seemed to survive on this mini pond. It was not a wealthy family and I was surprised that the duck did not arrive on the dinner table at Christmas. For that they had chickens in the yard. It was not a large yard, but the space was used for eatable things usually. They also had a dog and cat I have no idea how they managed with all that livestock in three rooms, coupled with mum and her two sisters and brother, but they survived. Upstairs on the first floor there was a family with 5-6 children. I could perhaps understand mum not wanting an animal

I remember growing up in our slum house. We had an outside toilet (also in the yard) and no running hot water and also no bathroom. The bath was a metal construction filled with water, previously boiled on the stove, and I had my bath weekly in the kitchen. We still lived in the same house. The family upstairs (their name was Monday, mum always talked about them) had long moved to new pastures and we were living in the top part of the house leaving the ground floor to grandad and his cat called Tootsie. It was the only animal I ever grew up with. Tootsie was a large tabby, although perhaps not so large, I was quite small at the time.

I was growing, had no brothers or sisters, I was unique, unbeatable. It was a lonely life so I wanted a little dog, or cat, or anything, I was not fussy. We were once given a budgerigar. It was fashion at the time to have a caged budgerigar. We called it Bill and even taught it to talk. It’s main words were “pretty Bill”. Not a great vocabulary, but it would stare at its reflection for hours in a mirror and talk to himself. This was not enough, I wanted a dog, or a cat, something with four legs, but mum’s answer was always the same a big “NO”.

Then came the day at school where we were being educated to realise there were other animals in the world and the teacher we had, I think it was a student, introduced us to a large brown rat. The idea was that the class would look after this rat, feed it and give it a happy rat life. At week-ends it had to be looked after as well, and then school was out, so one of the children in the class were allowed to take it home. It was in a rather large wooden wide box covered by wire netting. This was my chance, so I told teacher, yes, I would take it home for the week-end. I had visions of my first pet animal. I omitted to tell mum, but on Friday morning I said she would have to meet me from school to help carry the rat home.

Unfortuantely rats in my part of the world were still associated with plague. Mum did not even like mice (one day this would be to my advantage – reason coming later), but mum was confronted with the facts. How could she shame her little girl in front of her class, so mum took her courage in her arms and carried the rat home in the cage, glaring at me and uttering a few threats on the way. I offered to carry the cage, but it was a little on the heavy side containing a full grown king sized brown rat. We arrived home, the rat was deposited on the space between the stairs and a room and I was told – “you feed it”. I soon discovered that rats were not the lovable cuddly creatures I imagined, so it was fed and given water: otherwise mostly left to its own devices. I did make the suggestion of letting it have a run around, but this exceeded mum’s ideas of a happy family life coupled with her vivid imagination of finding a rat in her bed in the evening. The week-end passed and the rat adventure was finished, with a warning of never do that again.

All bad things come to a good end, and one day we had the visit from a mouse. Our area was not improving. We still lived in our little old house built in 1884 with the original gas holders on the wall before electricity was fitted into the street, and for family mouse it was ideal. All around us houses were being demolished, new high rise blocks of apartments were being built and mouse land was undergoing a transformation, driving the sweet little creatures away from their lairs.

Mum was mega allergic to rats and half mega allergic to mice so a decision was made, to my advantage. We would adopt a cat. My schoolfriend’s father worked in a wood yard on the Regents Canal (we had many such places in the East End of London) and one of the cats had just had a litter of kittens. We adopted Whisky. He was black and white, hence the name. He was a sweet little kitten, and instead of being condemned to enjoying wood yard adventures, he was taken into our home, given a nice soft bed and pampered by us all. Unfortunately mum made a mistake supplying a bed. Cats sleep where they find it comfortable and Whisky mistook the nice cushion in the wooden crate for a toilet. There was a deplaning and the wooden crate was filled with cinders remaining from our fire and Whisky was content with his own toilet.

So, in a way my dream came true in the shape of Whisky. When I left home for Switzerland, Whisky was still with us, around 14 years old. He had lost a couple of teeth on the way. Oh I forgot to mention, he of course served his purpose and found the mouse. Unfortunately he regarded the mouse as a playmate, and not as a meal, but he was an obedient good cat an always carried the mouse carefully in his mouth, bringing it to mum. Mum just did not really appreciate animals and their needs I suppose.

And here is Whisky. As you can see in our little house it was quite colourful. Dad loved playing with bright wallpaper and painting furniture to match. This was the kitchen and Whisky is in one of his favourite positions leaning on the back of the chair.
Whisky in the kitchen

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  1. The only thing I recall really wanting as a child was a Chinese puzzle-box belonging to my Great-Grandfather. It was a thing that fascinated me, I loved how you had to slide hidden panels in each side of the box in a certain sequence to open it. I was never allowed to touch it, I could only watch as he opened it for me each time I asked. After he died, I had assumed it had gone to a member of the family, but to my surprise he had left it for me, to be given to me when I was older. I received it when I was thirteen years old. I was mortified when it was accidentally crushed a few years later. I have never found another one quite like it in the years since.

  2. I always wanted a dog as a pet. My father was always prone to bring stray dogs into the house. I was told of an incident when I was still an infant and placed in a bassinet. My Dad brought this house dog into the house and it jumped on the bassinet which made my mother scream to get rid of the dog. They did get me a puppy when I was a little older. He was named Blackie because he was black. Our yard wasn't fenced and he would run out to the street. My mother was concerned that I would follow him.
    She called the humane society and he was taken away. I remember clearly that day. I didn't want him to leave. My mother told me that he was becoming sick and that he was going somewhere to get well.