The Numbers Game

I seem to hang on to numbers. Names melt like butter in the sun, faces fade quicker than a 1980 fax (sorry for you youngsters; a cultural allusion, like Vesta Curry and Stay Press – you’ll have to ask Dr Google). These days the only way I remember where I’m meant to be is by having two diaries and any number of post-its, knotted hankies and other physical hints. And still I forget the gasman is coming (last Monday) within 48 hours of booking him.

But numbers do not seem to present the same problem. Especially first numbers. This was brought home to me this week because someone remarked they found it odd I knew my credit card numbers, expiry dates and security codes and they were gobsmacked when I recited my bank account numbers and sort codes.

It’s always been like this and it stirred a few number related memories. Here are two…

1. The family phone number for the house I lived in for the first 12 years of my life – 7 Anne’s Walk: Caterham 44839.

03- BOX - 023

the family home 1956 to 1969

Note, none of your 0207 or similar code back then. It was a named exchange. The phone itself was large and black with a cable that twisted angrily from the handset. It sat on a table in the hall and was only ever used by adults (sometimes you were allowed to talk to a relative) and even then only occasionally. Telephone voices were common – my mother’s turned her from suburban housewife to BBC announcer instantly. That house, perching on the North Downs was a semi with a long attic and two bedrooms upstairs in the eaves. In the picture you can see the circular window that gave a little light into the attic.

When you answered the phone back then you would say the whole number including the exchange. We shared a line so occasionally you would pick up the phone and hear your neighbours speaking; slowly and quietly you put it  down. It was not the done thing to listen in. Of course, not. My mother told me so it had to be true. Does anyone today answer a phone and give the number, I wonder?

For some reason, which might be worthy of some counselling just writing the above paragraph has brought back a curious  memory. When we lived in Caterham we had a lodger – John Tighe – who had a variety of jobs, including as a car salesman. He had this Ford with fins on the wings. Now that was cool for suburbia. John must have been in his mid to late 20s in the mid 60s and quite a bit younger than my parents but a lot older than the Archaeologist and me. He had the small room on the ground floor next to our lounge (you can see it in the picture; bottom right) which was used by visiting grannies and aunts when John wasn’t there. Often friends would ring and he would emerge from his room to stand by the phone, his back to the stairs. In my memory I am sitting on those stairs, hidden from view; he is wearing only a tight pair of blue Y fronts with a white border. There I am, on that bottom step, watching him bouncing lightly on his toes. I was ten or so and felt… odd. Not aroused just naughty, guilty. I know I stared. Probably it was just me knowing I shouldn’t have been listening in. Maybe there was more to it?  Funny, I’ve not thought about John for years, but I can see him clear as day, sun streaming through the stained glass in the front door and casting fractured shafts of green and red on his back and legs.

I recall we had a couple of French au pairs, both twenty something women but I was younger and they were just presences. I certainly felt nothing ‘curious’ in their presence but I know, in later years, mum teased dad about them. It would have been about the time in this picture.

2014-07-17 17.22.19

2. Hmm, ok so John had the cool car but my parent’s bought their first in the early 1960s. Dad only passed his test when he was out of work for six months in 1963 so I’d guess it came in 1964/65. A Hillman Huskey with a crank handle (that dad could never master but Mum, who’d driven all sorts in the ATS during the war had no difficulties with). You can just about see it in the garage in the top picture.  The registration number – 368MPL – sticks with me.  It only had three doors so the Archaeologist and I were squeezed in the back and he being older than me by 15 months and bigger and a lot meaner, I got to sit on the side preferred by our dog, an enormously well hung boxer called Punch – as you can see for yourself in the picture. And here.

2014-07-17 17.21.35

(This post is developing a slightly worrying theme – 50 Shades of Grubby Child – his had to be the first mammalian erection I saw – an extraordinary red addition to his normally white furry willy that made its first appearance, if memory serves me correctly, when he alighted from the guard’s van where he had travelled when we went on holiday to Kent by steam train – heaven knows what had transpired.  I can well imagine my mother’s mortification – the dog’s manic behaviour near any bitch on heat caused her much consternation. And in later years she regaled us with the story of her horror, having been persuaded to show Punch at a local dog show, when the vet’s inspection caused him to be disqualified because only one testicle had emerged – a flaw that had him instantly dismissed. ‘He’s a mono-orchid, Mrs Le Pard’.  When my father went to tell our next-door neighbour what had happened he couldn’t exactly remember the technical details so he explained Punch ‘only had one tulip’.)

Where was I? Oh yes, in the car. Punch liked to lean. He slobbered. A lot. Actually he SLOBBERED. Gallons of frothy gloop that stuck to the windows, the upholstery and me. I can admit now I was tactically car sick more than once, just to get away from his saliva ducts. But, soppy mutt, he was as loyal as the day is long and the best thing to hug if you felt lonely or unloved. Here he is shortly after he was born (he was one of four puppies from my parent’s previous dog, Rusty who I don’t remember but apparently I did meet).

04 - BOX - 036

I suspect Punch is the one on the left…

Oddly it is only that first car whose number I recall. I can’t tell you the numbers of the other cars my parent’s owned, only they were pretty consistently crap. There were a few hours sat on roadside verges while dad went to find a phone to call out the AA. Ah me. Still it was better than being gob-washed by the dog.



About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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31 Responses to The Numbers Game

  1. It seems we had similar childhood dogs:

    And our phone number was only four numbers. No one had five numbers!

    Lovely looking 20s/30s house.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Archaeologist says:

    Your comments on the quality of our parents cars reminds me of a piece I read in a Sunday paper in the 1990’s. It was the hundredth anniversary of the British motor industry, and the paper had published lists of the top ten cars made in Britain, as well as the worst ten – and our parents had owned four of the worst!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Claudette says:

    Yep, numbers can stay in the mind a long time. I’m right with you on the phone, I remember our number 660263 (this is Tasmania, Australia) and think I probably always will. The phone on the Phone table in the hall, the curly cord – our phone was cream – the comforting way you could nestle it on your shoulder and have both hands free to do something else, even if you could only stretch the cord so far. Ah, good times indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Cream, now there’s posh! And yes, the chunky feel that let you grab it by the shoulder; I’d forgotten that joy. And with fingers beginning to hate the microscopic keypads on modern smart phones though I love the phone itself) I long to fit a dial I can spin. Sometimes the mechanical out bids the digital. I think I must be an unreconstructed analogue at heart…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Charli Mills says:

    The Hub has a similar mind — he remembers numbers without a hitch. Back when he worked in maintenance control, he knew all the parts numbers for the planes and the section number for all the regulations. And he remembers phone numbers from childhood. I was looking at Punch’s jaw until you mentioned…well, he might be a mono-orchid, but he’s definitely male. We have an intact male with a fully dropped pair and a habit of letting a certain part slip out. One command we’ve taught him — put away the lipstick! Okay enough 50 Shades of Canines!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. alienorajt says:

    Oh, I love this, Geoff; there is so much I can identify with, being, I suspect, roughly the same age as you! It made me laugh – loved the mono-orchid and tulip bit. Delightful photos – so much a part of that time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      So glad it struck a chord. It feels otherworldly sometimes to see everyone attached to their phone, to catch their ubiquity when it doesn’t seem so long ago that the phone was like an altar piece, a revered piece of modernism in the hall. No funny ringtones, just a clanking bell. And, dare I say it, sod all privacy as a teenager… Now that I don’t regret losing.


  6. Pingback: 1958 – 1962 in photos! | ALIEN AURA'S BLOG: IT'LL BLOW YOUR MIND!

  7. willowdot21 says:

    Just how do you do it, you always have me in stitches even when I do not feel like laughing!! And I do not feel like laughing … but you have made me! I so empathize with the cars and the phone numbers and even the houses! Slobbering dogs and big brothers! The puppy on the right in the photo is holding a wand , is he a magician? xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for another trip down memory lane, Geoff.

    Whenever I read these posts they bring back so many memories to me as well. In this case, my mother and father getting our very first phone. Our number was 4308 and, to this day, my father still has the same telephone number with an extra two digits at the front and now, of course, the area code as well. It was a party line as well and, like you say, you could often hear the neighbour on the line and had to put the phone receiver back down immediately and wait for them to finish their call.

    The old fashion ringtone as well which many, including me, now use on their mobile phone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Ah yes ringtones. The trim phone had to be the worst – mass budgie strangulation as imagined by Rick Wakeman

      Liked by 1 person

      • Which brings back the memories of my auntie Beryl and by Grandmother who both had budgies in a cage in the front parlour (as it was called in those days). I can’t remember the last time I seen or heard of anybody having a pet budgie, but I’m sure people still do.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        good point, where are the budgies? Indeed what about all those mad pets that were around then. We have a tortoise but they’re now v rare too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Reminds me of that tortoise the presenters on Blue Peter put away every year in a box to hibernate. They even wrote his name across his shell, although I was never quite sure why they did that? Maybe just in case it made a quick get away and escaped?

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        If you’ve not experienced the joys (not) of tortoise ownership then let me tell you they may not sprint but they do not stop. Let them go on a rumble around the garden and the head for Africa immediately. Fortunately we have neighbours who know we are the tortoise people and bring her back if she escapes.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. lorilschafer says:

    I’m the same way – I can meet someone three times and not remember their face, but ask me for my credit card number or the exact amount of my last bill and it’s no trouble at all. Very useful skill for an accountant – I could usually tell what something had cost without having to look it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I was always a bit of an odd fish as a lawyer – most of my colleagues have no appreciation of numbers and fail on many counts when applying simple logic. I’m a patient soul but sometimes I thought them deliberately obtuse – a few beads short of an abacus if you know what I mean.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lorilschafer says:

        Many writers are like that, too, I think – no head for numbers. But considering I’ve made my living for a number of years off of people with no head for numbers, I can’t really complain! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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