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.
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.
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.
(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).
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.