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139 pages

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Misadventures is a unique ensemble of mishaps and anecdotes revealing the ups and downs of one woman's life in twentieth-century London. Sylvia Smith's deadpan patter belies the startling complexities, humour and darkness at the heart of this remarkable memoir.



Publié par
Date de parution 26 novembre 2009
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781847677426
Langue English

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Born in East London to working-class parents as the SecondWorld War was drawing to a close, Sylvia Smith duckedout of a career in hairdressing at the last minute to begin alife of office work. A driving licence and a school swimmingcertificate were her only qualifications, although she wasalso quite good at dressmaking. Misadventures was herfirst book. She died on 23 February 2013.
Also by Sylvia Smith My Holidays Appleby House

I dedicate this book to my parents, who had the good sense to start a family halfway through the Second World War The Canons edition published in Great Britain, the USA andCanada in 2020 by Canongate Books Distributed in the USA by Publishers Group West and in Canada by Publishers Group Canada First published in 2001 in Great Britain by Canongate Books Ltd, 14 High Street,Edinburgh, EH1 1TE This digital edition first published in 2009 by Canongate Books
Copyright © Sylvia Smith, 2001 The right of Sylvia Smith to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is availableon request from the British Library ISBN 978 1 78689 398 7 eISBN 978 1 84767 742 6
My Father My Mother The Family Tree Childhood Childhood Pets 1950-60: My School Days 1952: Rinty 1952: Miss Gee 1954: Trixie 1954: Roller-Skating 1955: The School-teacher in the Forest 1958: My First Kiss 1959: Beth 1959: Brian 1959: Jennifer 1960: Carol D 1961: Hazel 1961: Mick 1961: Linda W 1961: Carol C 1962: The Wrestler 1963: Ursula 1963: The Beautiful Waitress in the Italian Restaurant 1963: Gloria Women Travelling on Their Own in the Sixties 1965: A Family Health Problem 1965: Jean Pierre 1966: My Twenty-first Birthday 1967: Pierre 1967: Patrick 1967: Kathy 1967: The Lady in the Rain 1967: Anne 1968: Jackie 1968: Alan 1968: David 1968: Eric 1969: Pat 1969: Bob 1970: John H 1970: Heracles 1970: Heracles’ Friend Chris 1975: Peter 1975: Pauline 1975: Josie 1977: The Man at the Funfair 1977: Hilary 1977: John S 1977: Lorraine 1977: Nasrin 1978: Betty 1979: Glyn 1979: Sam 1979: Malcolm 1979: Brian G 1979: Club Row Sunday Market 1980: Mr and Mrs P 1980: Michelle 1981: The Indian Shopkeeper 1983: Aunt Milly 1983: Ghalib 1983: Jenny H 1984: Ian 1984: Janet 1985: The Probation Service 1985: My Investments 1985: Elaine 1986: The Neighbours 1987: Brian R 1987: Pat 1987: Ginnie 1987: Andrea 1987: Jenny F’s Night Out 1987: Lynne 1988: Barbara 1988: Paula 1988: Martina 1988: The Little Boy 1989: Shaunagh 1990: June 1990: Maureen 1990: The Car Crash 1990: Old Bill 1992: Cheryl 1992: Ide 1992: Ali 1992: Paul C 1992: The Grope 1992: Jean 1992: The Borrower 1992: Roogie and James 1993: Paul 1993: The Flower Seller 1993: Ron, Bill and Richard 1993: Denise 1993: Marion 1994: Miriam 1994: Virginia’s Mugging 1994: Dr Shah 1994: Mrs Murphy 1994: Mrs Murphy’s Holiday 1994: Raf 1994: Steve 1995: Cousin June 1995: The Old Duck in Sainsburys 1995: The Black Man in Tesco 1995: The Man 1995
Every story in this book is true. It was either something I had experienced or heard about.

My father was born on 17th March, 1906 in Walthamstow, London, and named Reginald John Smith. He was forty years old when I came along. I was his second child. My brother, Brian, was born the previous year but died of convulsions when he was three days old. As my mother had difficulty coming to terms with his death the doctor told my father to start another baby immediately. I am now fifty and my father is a grand old man looking forward to his ninetieth birthday. He is extremely fit and active, looking ten years younger than his age.
M y father worked as a skilled wire worker until his retirement. He made fireguards and cable grips by hand but today the same job is done by machinery. He also worked a seven-day week for many years of my childhood to support my mother and me. Despite this we were quite poor, sharing a house with another family until I was twelve. We lived in the downstairs two rooms with a separate kitchen, and used the communal bathroom upstairs. Once I had settled down to school life my mother found herself a job in a factory and we eventually moved into a rented house on a three-year lease. It was an older-style property without a bathroom. Every Saturday my father would heat up the boiler and lay a copper bath on the kitchen floor, and we would take turns to bathe. Shortly before the lease expired the landlord decided to sell his many properties and offered the house to my father at a very low price. Both my parents were working so his proposal was accepted. My father also took advantage of a government scheme to modernise such homes and had a bathroom installed at half the usual cost. A few years later my grandfather died, leaving my father a large sum of money, which he used to pay off the mortgage and buy a brand new Morris 1100 car. My parents named her ‘Nellybelle’ and would drive to the coast every Sunday in the summer with my father sitting on a cushion at the steering wheel as he was too short to see through the windscreen without it.
He finally retired from full-time work and found himself a part-time job cleaning cars in a local garage. Unfortunately as he grew old he became very absent-minded and would sometimes go to work wearing one brown shoe and one black. On one occasion he wore two ties around his neck.

* * *
My father had a habit of smoking in the car. Whilst driving the short distance to work one morning he threw his lighted cigarette butt out the window but unbeknown to him the wind blew it back in again. Some minutes later he saw smoke coming up from underneath him and looked down to see his cushion was on fire. He stopped immediately, threw the cushion onto the pavement and jumped up and down on it until he had put the flames out, in full view of a very interested group of people standing at a nearby bus stop.
He eventually gave up his part-time job as it became too much for him and he sold his second and last car because he could no longer afford to run it.

All his life my father had been an honest man but as the old-age pension was hardly enough for him to live on he tried to do everything as cheaply as possible. He needed a new jacket but found he couldn’t afford a brand new one so he shopped in the second-hand clothing store a bus ride away. Once he had selected his garment he looked for an article less costly. On finding a satisfactory figure and making sure the assistant wasn’t looking he swapped the price tags, pinning the lower one on the jacket he wanted.

As my mother contracted arthritis my father would do the weekly shopping and any errands. These excursions were sometimes hazardous. Whilst standing at the top of the stairs on a hopper bus he lost his balance as the bus swerved and he fell down, landing in a heap by the doors. The other passengers very gently picked him up.
On another occasion he bought a four-wheeled shopping trolley because it was something to lean on but on the way to the supermarket he tripped over the wheels, banged his head on a brick wall, fell on to the pavement (knocking his spectacles off) and found he was bleeding from a small wound over his right eyebrow. A kindly young couple saw his plight and drove him home, placing his empty trolley in the boot of their car.
His last accident was in the snow as he approached the High Street. He slipped on the ice and badly cut his hand. At the same time an ambulance arrived to take an elderly lady to hospital. She had suffered a far worse fall but the policeman on the scene said to my father, ‘You might as well get in too.’ So he went to hospital and had his wound dressed but he didn’t telephone my mother. On his return several hours later, minus the shopping again, she was very relieved to see him.

Whilst temporarily living at home I went into my parents’ front room to see the one o’clock news on their large, colour TV set. The newscaster basically said, ‘The Town & Country Building Society has merged with another building society. There is absolutely no need for concern from its depositors, this is simply a merger.’ My father jumped out of his seat and said, ‘I’ve got five hundred pounds in that place! I’m going up there now to get my money back!’ He dashed up the stairs to his bedroom, put his outdoor clothing on, picked up his deposit book and precisely four minutes after the broadcast he charged out of the house saying to my mother, ‘I hope there isn’t a queue.’ An hour and a half later he returned. I asked him, ‘Was there a queue?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘there wasn’t anyone up there.’ I asked,’ Did you get your money?’ He replied, ‘Yes. They gave me two hundred pounds cash and a cheque for three hundred pounds.’ I thought to myself, ‘For God’s sake don’t tell him cheques can bounce.’

A past boyfriend said of my father, ‘I feel sorry for him living alone with two women.’

One morning in early March my mother was selecting clothing for a dark wash in her automatic washing machine. She said to my father, ‘Reg. Take those trousers off. They’re dirty and they’re going in the wash. Go and put another pair on.’ My father went upstairs and changed his trousers, giving the offending pair to my mother. In the afternoon I decided to wash my jumpers and I had a look at my father to see how clean his one was. It looked very grubby so I said to him, ‘Dad. You can take that jumper off and give it to me because I’m washing mine out and your one is filthy.’ He replied, ‘I’ll take it off tomorrow.’ I said, ‘No

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