Brown Bread and Opera

Brown bread and opera, how would I ever fit in with the kids round here when my mum was so different.  When I asked anyone home with me it highlighted my difference.  Mum wouldn’t buy white bread, everything was brown and this was in the 70’s where brown bread and flour was harder to find.  Not like today where you can pick up health foods in any supermarket or local convenience store.  Everything was home made too, how I longed for a Finda’s Crispy Pancake or a Vienetta to follow.  Then there was the spoonful of molasses or cod liver oil that we would have to take while holding our noses, I would never in a million years have told my friends about that.


I hadn’t noticed the difference so much when I was younger but it wasn’t helping now, as I was growing up a bit and wanted to be one of the crowd.  Tracy had been the first friend I had made on the estate, she can still remember me knocking on her door at about five years old asking her to my birthday party.  She recalls me saying ‘it won’t be a big party because I haven’t got a daddy’.  Of course I did have a daddy but he had gone off with another woman, leaving mum with two girls to bring up alone and that’s why we ended up back in London on the estate.  We played out on that estate from dawn till dusk, popping in throughout the day for food and home for the night when the streetlights came on.


I made lots of friends on the estate and in the local schools, I was always part of one crowd or another.  I started smoking at 11 with the rest of the kid’s; I can remember clubbing together for ten Players No 6.  We hid out in the playground of the school next door to the flats and all learnt to smoke, puffing and coughing and trying again.  One of the neighbors walked past and went and told on all of the kids but me, I was the only one that never caught so carried on.  I often wonder why she didn’t tell my mum.


Mum was always different, she was beautiful but one of a kind, she never dressed or looked like anyone else, I can see now she had great style.  Mum was always in front of the fashion, it was like someone was following her around writing down what she was wearing for next years catwalks.  Mum wore floaty Indian dresses and the next year they were in, she threw hers into storage in the spare room.  Head scarves tied round her head, the same thing happened and there were a few, Mum’s philosophy being if you found something you liked, get it in all colours and definitely more than one.  My friend’s mum’s wore nylon housecoats over their clothes so I couldn’t really say what they wore but I think they all went to the same shops for their sensible cardigans.  I wanted my mum to have a housecoat, maybe a fag hanging from her mouth and rollers in her hair as she did the ironing like Tracy’s mum but that was never going to happen.


Our house was different too, where my friend Tracy had a cocktail bar standing in the corner of the lounge, we didn’t have the space, not that mum would have wanted one.  All our corners were full of records and books; videos were added in later years, we had more books than the local library.  But my friends loved to come to my house, mum said the kids were round me like bees to a honey pot but I think now it was her they were drawn to.  Mum didn’t want me speaking with a common accent like the kids on the estate and constantly picked me up, like when I left the R off of the end of water or said I goes, she goes, he goes when relaying a conversation.  What was wrong with common, I wanted to be common if that’s what my friends were, who wanted to be posh and speak proper.  My mum dispared and asked the head teacher once where we might find elocution lessons, this to me, was an awful threat to my well earned status and horrifying.


I was the only sheep in the family, my sister being an individual like mum the extended family too, I don’t know why I was frightened of being different but I just wanted to blend in.  Although we came from a working class background the family had always set their sights high, they were educated and cultured, loved literature and music.  My Nan used to sit up in the God’s at the top of the theater to listen to opera, she had a photo of Placido Domingo in her lounge in pride of place.  Mum’s sisters and brothers had done well for themselves, they had their own homes and not in council areas but good areas.  Mum was the victim of a broken marriage; the council flat being our home but she had culture, she was beautiful and some rich men fell in love with her.  Mum wanted to leave the estate get an exchange maybe for somewhere out of London, but she listened to me when I pleaded with her not to take us away from my friends.


I did fit in with the crowd, I had lots of friends, mum tells it like I was the leader of the pack but I’m not so sure.  I just wanted to fit in I wasn’t brave enough to be different.

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