I was chatting to a friend who asked – oddly, many do – if I’d been turned onto this Wordle thingummy yet. No, I replied, I’m a loyal Sudokan which may be a made up word but sounds rather cool as a proponent of the Sudoku genre.
That’s the thing with yours truly. While I love words – I love the way they fill your mouth and allow you to chew on them like that toffee you used to get in rectangular metal trays with its own little hammer – I enjoy numbers even more, especially when it comes to puzzles.
I do seem able to hang onto numbers. My credit card and debit card, bank accounts and sort codes all stick, while names melt as butter in the sun, faces fade quicker than a 1980 fax (sorry for you youngsters; a cultural allusion this, like referencing Vesta Curry and Stay Press trousers – 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 within 48 hours of booking him.
But numbers do not seem to present the same problem. Especially first numbers. It’s always been like this and as I’ve started writing this a few memories have come creeping back…
1. The family phone number for the house I lived in for the first 12 years of my life – 7 Anne’s Walk Caterham Surrey – was Caterham 44839.
This is it; the left hand semi with Punch standing guard; even at this remove you can’t miss his enormous genitalia.
Back to the numbers (I will return to genitalia in a moment) it’s worth noting back then we used the named exchange and not a code, none of your 0208 or similar. The phone itself was mobile in the same way a rockery is mobile. This one was large and black with a cable that twisted angrily from the handset and meant answering it involved a preparatory wrestle before you could speak into the mouthpiece. It sat on a table in the hall and was only ever meant to be used by adults (sometimes you were allowed to talk to a relative and occasionally mum would have arms in something white and glutinous and would bellow for one of me and the Archaeologist to answer it) and even then only occasionally. Telephone voices were common – my mother’s turned her from suburban housewife to BBC announcer in an instant.
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 another curious memory. When we lived in Caterham we had a lodger – John Tighe – who had a variety of jobs, including one 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 1960s 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 his 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 or his y-fronts 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, one who was labelled rather than named going by ‘France’ both twenty something women but then I was younger and they were just presences so of their faces and figures I recall nothing. I certainly felt nothing ‘curious’ in their presence but I know, in later years, mum teased dad about them. Can’t think why. It would have been about the time of this picture.
That’s a sugar puffs cereal packet on the back of which are pictures of glow in the dark pieces of plastic in the shape of ghosts. That was fun, sifting through to see which one we had lucked out on. The fact that the ‘glow’ came from the plastic being dipped in something radioactive passed everyone by back in the 1960s. And there’s Punch again, posing with his meat and two veg for the camera…
2. Hmm, where was I? Oh yes, John. Ok so John had the cool car whereas ours was the one you can just about see in the garage in the first picture. My parents bought it 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). 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 Punch. Being a boxer he slobbered. He’s one of the pups with mum below.
Punch’s mother Rusty gave birth to four pups in about 1960 and we kept the one. We loved him even if he was more than a bit of a rogue. This picture
Was taken one winter when he became trapped in a fence having pursued the neighbour’s collie who was on heat. The neighbours were an elderly Scottish couple who I seem to remember being delightful if unintelligible to me due to the depth and width of their Scottish brogue. The gentlemen went by the name of Hastie but he was anything but in my memory, leaning on the fence and conversing with dad who may or may not have understood him as well as me.
This post is developing a slightly worrying theme – 50 Shades of Grubby Child – because the next memory that comes to me is that Punch’s was the first mammalian erection I saw. It was the most extraordinary – to a closeted young shaver like me – red addition to his normally white furry willy that made its first appearance in my life, 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 during the rattling swaying hour and something while we had been on board. I can well imagine my mother’s mortification – the dog’s manic behaviour near any bitch on heat caused her much consternation and that thing was like a marker pen for the ages.
One story mum did happily recount around Punch and his stupendous stimpson, involved a dog show. Someone persuaded my parents to show Punch at a local show, due to how all round magnificent he was. All was going well until 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’, bellowed the unsympathetic vet, causing my mother to wish for a gapping hole to appear by her feet. Later she regaled my father with the story who, sole of discretion that he wasn’t, went to tell one of the neighbour’s what had happened. Unfortunately the technical terminology became somewhat garbled in the retelling which caused my mother some surprise when, later, another neighbour sympathised about Punch’s sad lack of a tulip.
Here’s another picture.
See what I mean? More cosh that cock.
Where was I? Numbers? The family car? On yes, those journeys were hot and on occasions I was car sick. This may have been tactical because my most intense memory is being gob-washed by that dog and his drool. I loved him to bits but boy could he unhydrate quickly. Soppy mutt, he was as loyal as the day is long and the best thing to hug if you felt lonely or unloved.