THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY

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THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY

Another great tale from Audrey Sanderson

Formally:  Audrey Tyres Ellerby Lane School

1947-57

Now living in Australia

She’s a star

Many, many British films and television shows have been shown throughout the world over and over again.  Some are splendid costume dramas, some are send ups of classic’s courtesy of the Carry On crew.  Lot’s of movies with fine acting, spectacular scenery but I think above all the British sense of humour and ability to laugh at themselves is the most popular of all.

Ordinary stories of families going about their day to day lives have made marvellous entertainment for the rest of the world.  When Albert Steptoe and his son Harold was first shown on T.V. I thought we were going to have to call for an ambulance for my Dad.  He laughed so much he went purple in the face and couldn’t breath.  Who would have thought a story about a rag and bone man could be so funny?  Many years and a thousand movies later the humorous shows are still being produced.

Constantly being repeated on Australian T.V. are episodes of Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet) and her misfit family and Frank Spencer’s many exploits.  I think my family fits somewhere in-between those two T.V. shows.

I had recently become engaged to be married.  As in most families about 20 years elapses with each generation.  One stage it’s all weddings, then lots of babies.  Big excitement over leaving school and getting the first job and before you know it more weddings again.  Mum and Dad came from large families so we went to plenty of weddings as all the cousins took the matrimonial path.  The man I was engaged to was an only child but had plenty of cousins around the same age as him so it was inevitable engagements and weddings would be in abundance.   No big parties for getting engaged in East End Park back in the 60s.  As I have said before it’s a long time since I lived in England and maybe people do make a big fuss and have all the trimmings of cards, presents, parties now as they do here in Australia.  Big events like weddings etc. are more like a Hollywood production with wedding planners, entertainers, everyone on the planet invited instead of a family gathering with your nearest and dearest.  Our engagement party consisted of myself and the intended, his Mum & Dad.  My parents, my two brothers and their wives, the best lace table cloth, best china, all squashed round the table in our tiny house in Charlton Place.  Once you were seated you didn’t move, there was no place to move to.  Not so for the engagement party two weeks later of a cousin from my futures in-laws family.

My own family tried to out do all our relatives when it came to weddings.  My future in-laws did the same I soon found out.  I only knew a few members of his family and had never met Aunty Madge and Uncle Wilf or their son and daughter.  My soon to be mother-in-law was a Hyacinth Bucket type.  Her husband was the kindest man, quiet spoken and gave in to her all the time.  Every time she left the house she wore a hat, leather gloves, matching shoes and handbag and a coloured chiffon scarf round her neck tucked into her coat and fastened it with a brooch at the throat.  Except on the occasions where she wanted to Lord it over someone and then out came the fur coat.  Not only how she dressed but how she spoke changed too.  We are all aware Yorkshire people clip the endings of words, notorious for not pronouncing aitches and any word with the letters U or OO in them are the brunt of many a joke.    I still don’t sound aitches or t’s at the end of words when I speak.   Annie felt inferior with her accent, unfortunately she put aitches where there shouldn’t have been one and sounded like a bad comedian doing an impersonation of the Queen with the high pitched voice she used.  Frequently in this mode she mispronounced words too. No matter how many times you told her the right pronunciation she insisted she was right and you wasn’t.  I used to get embarrassed but after a couple of years it didn’t bother me at all.  I couldn’t forget it though and even now if I hear the word obituary I always think Orbit-uri. A privet hedge she called a pivot hedge, ravenous became ravishing, champagne was shampagni.  Sean Connery  had just made the first James Bond movie Dr. No.  She got well and truly mad because people laughed at her when she called him SEEN.  Everybody else was wrong why couldn’t they see she was right and listen to her?

My fiancé had a flash car.  I think it was called a Ford Capri.  It was a turquoise colour, large and more trouble than you can poke a stick at.  He was totally useless as a mechanic, probably didn’t know how to put petrol in it either.  Back then the man at the garage filled the car, checked the oil, water, put air in the tyres and washed the windscreen while you sat in the car.  You payed him from the car seat and waited ’til he brought back your change and green shield stamps.  It was a very nice looking car, his pride and joy and his mother’s delight.  He’d bought the car just before he’d met me.  She asked if I could drive the first time I met her.  I said I knew how to but hadn’t got a licence.  She grabbed hold of me ” You must never drive that car!  Promise me you won’t drive it!  I’d never forgive myself if anything happened to it.”  I should have been warned then shouldn’t I?  Just like Hyacinth’s Sheridan, Annie’s son could do nothing wrong either.

Comes the day of his cousins engagement party our next door neighbour came knocking on the door.  She’d had a phone call from Audrey’s boy friend.  The car had broken down so he would be picking me up on the Vespa scooter he still owned.  Great!  I’d made myself a new dress for this party.  Annie’s instructions ” We’ve got to wear our best bib and tucker as there will be lots of people who we’ve never met.”  Namely the girls parents and her family.  I was a skinny 7 stone nothing in them days, dress to impress frocks were skin tight and just above the knee.  Although the middle of November this dress was a sleeveless green velvet with a high neck.  In my simple mind I’d thought I would be lovely and warm in the car with the heater going full blast.  Annie of course would be wearing the fur coat and his Dad in his best charcoal grey 3 piece suit.  Too late to change the dress so had to hoist the skirt up practically to my waist to get on the back of the Vespa.  I wore a thick wool coat trying to tuck it round my knees, a headscarf on my head and froze as we drove to the Gipton estate.  His Mum & Dad had had to travel on two buses to get there.  There was no way Annie would miss showing off the fur coat.

Madge and Wilf’s semi detached council house was very nice and near The Oak Tree pub I think it was called.  Quite a number of people were packed into the sitting room, some perched on chair arms, leaning on the sideboard, leaning on the backs of the lounge suite anywhere they could find a space.  Madge flitting in and out of the kitchen with large oval plates filled with tiny triangle sandwiches.  She gave them to the nearest person and told them to help themselves and pass the plate to the next one.  Back she went to the kitchen for more plates calling out to her son and daughter to help her.  Uncle Wilf was supposed to be handing out the drinks.  He did more talking and drinking than looking after the guests.  Being new to this family I didn’t know anyone and tried vainly to remember who was a family member and which ones had married into it.  I couldn’t work out who the girl’s parent were.  Hadn’t I listened properly when I’d been introduced to a sea of new faces?  Please don’t let me get the parents mixed up.  The young ones would think it great laugh, the older ones would never forget and remind me of it every time they had a family gathering.  I whispered to Annie asking which ones were the girls parents.  She whispered back ” They’re not here.  Madge told me the father is an alcoholic and spends his time in The Oak Tree.  His brother is the barman and they say he’s tea-total  but I find that hard to believe.  I don’t think this is going to be a marriage made in heaven marrying a girl who comes from a family like that.”  Charming,  I’m here not knowing a soul and she’s pulling the family through to pieces with the ring barely out of the box and the intending marriage doomed before it’s got to the planning stage.  I felt like warning the girl what she was letting herself in for before the ring got too comfortable on her finger.  Then I thought maybe she knew already if she agreed to have an engagement party to which her parents hadn’t been invited.  All too much for me to understand how other families sorted out their problems so I sat there and smiled.

Annie had taken off the fur coat of course, sat next to me on the couch she kept urging me to show off my engagement ring.  Mine was a solitaire diamond on a gold band.  Shirley, the newly engaged girl’s ring had 3 small diamonds on a gold band.  I wouldn’t have cared if her ring had been the size of a hens egg or one out of a christmas cracker it was her engagement party so let her enjoy herself.  Annie was a large bosomed lady with a small waist.  She never wore tight clothes and leaned more to the Queen mother look.   Her dress was navy blue with three quarter sleeves.  Very plain but very nice fine wool material.  She wore her 3 rows pearl necklace with pearl drop earrings, a gold watch on her wrist, wedding ring, engagement and eternity ring on her third finger.  There we all were being extra polite to each other, making small talk, saying how nice everything was and how Madge had gone to a lot of trouble making all the food.  Tray after tray of sandwiches, sausage rolls, wedges of pork pie, cubes of cheese, lots of food.  With a flourish Madge came back into the room with an enormous glass bowl of trifle.  Struggling with the weight of it asking someone to clear a space on the long coffee table in the middle of the room.  We were squashed in so tightly on the couch I had no idea how we were going to be able to serve ourselves as Madge was urging us to do.  Small glass dishes and spoons were distributed and still no one made a move to be first to disturb the pattern on top of the trifle.  Suddenly Madge’s voice from the kitchen yelling for Wilf to help her.  A glass halfway to his lips he took no notice.  Her voice wasn’t friendly as once more she yelled Wilf’s name.  Wilf’s brother said he’d better go and see what she wanted before she got mad at him.  Wilf still didn’t make a move until the booming voice yelled ” Wilf! Get yourself in here this minute.”  All the men started laughing with calls of ‘ Her Majesty’s voice, Now your for it, Watch out for the rolling pin.’  Everything in the sitting room went quiet.  Loud murmuring from the kitchen, lots of voices.  Annie told her husband to go and see what was going on.  He’d been perched on the arm of the couch and stood up.  The couch was on the far side of the room there was no way for him to get to the kitchen door without standing on dozens of feet so he sat down again.  The voices on the other side of the door were getting louder.  No one knew what to do.  A young man nearest to the outside door said he would go down the outside path round to the back door.  An icy blast as he went out and another young man said he’d go too as they might need a hand.  Seconds later the kitchen door opened and Mage’s voice clear as a bell ” No, no, don’t go in there.  There’s no more room in there you’ll stand on someones feet.”  All eyes were fixed on the kitchen door as it opened and closed then opened again.  A new male voice said ” It’s all right.  I just want to say hello to everyone.”  Panic in Madge’s voice ” Wilf! for God sake do something.  Don’t let him go in there.”  Not a sound from the sitting room as the kitchen door opened once more and in stepped a man wearing a long gaberdine raincoat.  He had a big beaming smile and said “Hello everyone I’m Shirley’s father”  Annie nudged me and whispered ” He’s the future in-law.”  O God that’s all we need.  Another man came behind him trying to get hold of his arm and pull him back to the kitchen ” Come on Bill, time to go home, we’ll say hello another day.”

Bill not having any of it shook off his hand ” No it’s right,  They look like nice people.  It’s lovely and warm in here isn’t it?” he said to the nearest lady to him.  She smiled and nodded, he moved on to the next lady ” I’m Bill, Shirley’s Dad pleased to meet you ” and stuck out his hand.  You knew damn well refusing to shake his hand would have caused a fight so she shook hands with him.  He came toward us who were sat on the couch.  Now unsteady on his feet the heat of the room affecting his boozy balance I felt for sure he was going to fall on top of someone.  Thank goodness he had to negotiate two arm chairs and get passed the coffee table before he reached us.  Still with the beaming smile he shook hands with the ladies sitting in the arm chairs and those on the arms of the chairs.  By now he was opposite us on the other side of the coffee table.  If only Annie hadn’t started tut tutting and saying he was disgusting turning up in that state he wouldn’t have turned round to look at us.  I don’t think he actually heard what she said because he still had the beaming smile on his face.  He looked directly at Annie, his smile got wider ” Don’t tell me.  This lovely lady here is the Grandma.”  She nearly burst a blood vessel.  In her best royal tone ” I,  you stupid drunken idiot am THE AUNT    Not, the Grandmother.”  He started swaying.  O No, he’s going to fall backwards onto those ladies in the chairs or forward onto the coffee table.  He swayed a bit then righted himself. Annie bristled with indignation at being thought old enough to have a 25 year old grand son.  He leaned forward hand outstretched toward her ” I’m very pleased to meet you Grandma.”  I dug her in the ribs ” For God sake shake his hand before there’s a fight.’  She barely let him touch her finger tips.  Any minute I thought he was going to topple over.  He kept his balance and started to stand upright again.  Most unfortunately when he’d lent forward to shake her hand his raincoat had also dipped forward.  He’d managed to stand on the hem of his coat.  In his rapid movement to remain erect causing the neck at the back of the coat to smack him on the back of his head and pitch him forward.  It was like watching a train wreck.  You know it’s going to happen and there’s not a thing you can do to stop it.  Arms outstretched trying to save himself he hit the bowl of trifle full pelt.   I have never seen custard, jelly, cream and soggy cake travel so far, so fast and cover so many people.  It didn’t miss anyone. It hit me full in the face.  I could feel it seeping through my dress.  Couldn’t see a thing, custard and cream sliding down my glasses.  Still wedged in by Annie one side and another large lady on the other I could feel her struggling to stand up and heard her call him a bloody drunken old fool who should be ashamed of himself.  I managed to get my glasses off at the same time Madge came in from the kitchen.  She stood stock still, took one look and started screaming.  The man who had tried to get Bill to leave grabbed hold of his raincoat and dragged him out through the kitchen.  We could hear him yelling as he was dragged outside ” Nice to have met you all.  You’re all nice people ” as the back door slammed with a loud bang.  The place erupted.  Most of the women were in tears.  The men were fighting mad charging off outside threatening to beat him to a pulp.  Madge still screaming and everyone trying to remove custard, cream or jelly from clothes and out of their hair.  I eventually managed to wriggle to the edge of the couch holding the hem of my brand new dress and emptying everything that was still on it back into the large glass bowl.  I couldn’t stand up and let it all fall onto the carpet.  My shoes were the only things that had missed out getting decorated.  Annie hadn’t faired much better than me.  The front of her dress was covered in a fast melting gooey mess but all she was worried about was her pearls.  Someone offered to rinse them under the tap and she called them bloody idiots as well.  Absolutely everyone knows genuine pearls are not cleaned by submerging them in water she informed the young man in her best hoity toity manner.  Boy was she mad.  Lots of people tried to help her but she gave them a look that would have frozen hell over as men tried using their very clean white hankies  to mop up her chest.  As I said she was very well endowed so they all backed off.  Some one took me into the kitchen and tried cleaning my dress.  All I wanted to do was go home.  I did borrow a couple of towels to place under the dress so the wet material wasn’t touching me but that was about all anyone could do.  I had to go home on the back of the Vespa in my soggy dress which by then was starting to smell sickly sweet.  I was freezing cold and couldn’t get into the house fast enough as soon as we stopped outside. Mr. Scooter driver with a smart car in for repair again was peeved because he didn’t get a good night kiss.  The mood I was in I could have cheerfully punched him in the head.  Nothing like giving the neighbours something to talk about I banged the door shut and nearly woke up the entire street.  My mother of course was waiting.  She started yelling at me for banging the door.  I told her to shut up and took off my coat.  ” What the hell have you been up to your frocks wet through?”  I unzipped it and pulled off the two wet towels.  She nearly had a pink fit.  God knows what she was thinking and I didn’t care.  I got into my nightgown and dressing gown and got Dad’s bottle of rum.  I hate rum but Dad didn’t like scotch.  Mum thought all liqueur was was the way to ruin.  I drank a small glass neat as mum said I was on the road to becoming an alcoholic.  One small glass of rum was the best thing that had happened to me all night.  Guess which dessert I get asked to make the most when we have large parties?  People rave about it but I just cannot eat trifles.  I’ve made thousands and every time while making them I see that green velvet dress and feel it soggy cold and clinging to my skin.

******************************

Great tale as ever, Audrey.

Last month’s mystery picture was of course the old Coop building on Pontefract Lane near to the bridge.

Now for this month’s picture. I tried to take the picture from the other side of the road but it was too busy to get across.

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9 Responses to “THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY”

  1. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Another great tale Audrey. Have you ever thought about writing short stories for a living?. I knew what was coming once the guy came near the trifle but it was so funny. It would make a great sketch.
    Enjoyed it immensely , keep them coming.

    Pete – been through both those entrances many times and had many happy hours in there

  2. peterwwood Says:

    Yer, Eric. Audrey is certainly ‘our star from down under’ .
    Louise (new commenter) left a comment last week on kenneth’s tale for June. As it went on the June tale it will probably have been missed by most. Louise, whose family, Binelli, lived in the Charltons in the 1920s/30s asks if the tingaleri man’s name, mentioned in Kenneth’s tale, was Mr Tamasso? Can any of the old Charlton gang remember the tingaleri man or indfeed Louise’s family? I’m sure she would love to hear. Kenneth himself, sadly passed away last month.

  3. Eric Sanderson Says:

    I did see the comment Pete and I do remember the tingaleri man and, the name Tomasso rings a bell, in fact there were a few Tomassos around at that time.
    Sorry, but I don’t recollect a Louise Binelli

  4. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    Thank you gentlemen for your kind comments. I wish I had the time to write more Eric.
    I Don’t recognise the building in your photo Pete but somehow public swimming pools popped into my mind.
    Sorry I can’t remember anyone named Binelli.
    I’m taking the opportunity to wish all the readers of this blog a very merry Christmas and a happy New year. Keep fingers to the keyboards folks. So much looking forward to reading everyones stories in 2013

  5. Dave Carncross Says:

    Dear God, Audrey. I could feel my eyes getting bigger with the horror of it all. I actually said “Oh, No !!“ out loud at one bit. That must be your best yet. Maybe you`ll find that writing it all down for the world to see will cure your phobia about trifle ?

    Pete. Many happy hours for me through both of those doors on the photo..

    Dave.

  6. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    Glad you liked the story Dave. I’ll email you of my exploits of deterring a possum from living under my house. Then you’ll know how crazy I am or maybe it’s just the Queensland summer heat affecting me.

  7. Douglas Says:

    Marvellous story Audrey and told with your usual great eye for detail and flair. The visions of that party will flood my memory every time I see a re-run of one of “Mrs Buckets” episodes.

  8. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    I hope my story hasn’t put you off eating trifle Doug. It put me off riding on the back of a Lambretta. It didn’t put me off riding on the back of a Harley though. I haven’t joined a bikie gang I did it for a charity event. I have the photos I can send you.

  9. Mattingly Furniture Says:

    Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.
    I will remember to bookmark your blog and will often come back
    later on. I want to encourage continue your great posts, have a nice afternoon!

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