When I was seven or eight years old I was not allowed out in the street to play with the other kids. I remember some nights staring from my bedroom window wondering why I was different.
My grandfather, Fred, would occasionally make the long trip north from Andover to Manchester, just to escape Mrs Kipper. One glorious evening he had words with Peg, my mother, and I was finally allowed my escape – I can still remember the sense of elation as I ran down drive the drive to join the others. From then on I was the same.
Ironically, Fred had a reputation for iron discipline but, even if this were true, times were different. My mother was just sixteen as war broke out and there were army camps nearby; Fred knew all about the military. Growing up a teenage boy in semi-urban Cheshire was a world away from Andover in the 1930s but the inherited rules were the same. When I needed Fred the most he was already gone – the Carnival King died in 1966.
This photograph captures his spirit best – Mayor Carcetti thinks he is taking centre stage but the real star is my grandfather, wearing the Carnival Queen’s crown and smiling like an errant schoolboy.
I had thought to write that May, his wife, is not present – she is at home stoking the fires of her resentment. But, enlarged and repaired, I now realise that she is sat to the left of him in the photograph, smiling widely – just shows what I know:
Florence May was my maternal grandmother, the bright young girl who eventually metamorphosed into the dreaded Mrs Kipper. Around the turn of the 19th century, her older brother, my great-uncle Charlie, worked in service at 62 Montague [sic] Square , London (number 34 was once leased by Ringo Starr). From the days when a postcard was the equivalent of an SMS text message, these are some of May’s words written around the time of the Longparish school photograph:
Dear Charlie – I thought you would like a postcard instead of a letter because you can put it in your album. Barton played against Wherwell. Wherwell got two goals and Barton never got one. Mr Atkins and two more chaps that played for Wherwell nearly got up to fighting. Longparish played against Laverstock. Longparish got one and Laverstoke got five.
With love from your loving sister May xxxxxxxx
Another card sent around the same time:
My Dear Brother Charlie thank you ever so much for the chocolates and bannas [sic] you sent me they are so nice and beautiful. I got them quite safe and sound the other morning. I am so pleased with them that I do not know how to thank you for them. I will write a letter on Sunday so you must expect one on Monday morning. I think I must close now hoping you are quite well with love from your ever loving sister May. I have got a lot of news to tell you on Sunday.
Florence May is stood to the far left of this raggedy bunch and highlighted top right and bottom left. ‘Look stern for the camera’ seems to be the order of the day for most of them – maybe it was consequence of long exposure times but I can’t see why a smile would be so difficult to hold – at least one of them proves me right 🙂
(click on the image to enlarge)
This is one of the earliest photographs of my mum; she is stood next to her dad’s motorcycle and sidecar with the infamous Mrs Kipper securely fastened aboard in furs and compulsory hat. Mum looks to be about four so I would guess this is the summer of 1927 – no helmets for the passengers in those days, the speed of the bike, the state of the Hampshire roads and Mrs Kipper probably militated against any dare-devilry: “Slow down Fred my hat’s coming off!”
As a teenager there was never any possibility of me acquiring a motorbike – “too dangerous; not to be trusted; you would break your neck” are just a few of the phrases that echo down the years. Judging by my subsequent exploits in a Mini 850 my parents were probably right, nevertheless, it is odd that my mother, raised with motorcycles, should be so set against them (Peg was always Chief Whip). She passed away in May 2012 and in a final act of rebellion there I was, just a few months later, taking my CBT and buying my first motorbike.
This was the start of an unexpected journey – my RV125 Suzuki Van Van is a sensible, modestly powered first bike, ideal for roaming the back lanes of deepest Northumberland with none of the effort required by a pushbike. Feeling moderately confident on two motorised wheels and embarrassed by the ugly learner plates, I decided it was time to acquire a full licence. This is a complicated process in the UK but suffice to say I am old enough and therefore deemed sensible enough to acquire the full Category A licence which meant supervised riding on a significantly more powerful Honda CBF600. The first time out on one of these machines, scales fell from my eyes – so this is what all the fuss is about – four wheels moves the body, two wheels move the soul – I was hooked. No longer a ‘nice to have’, the full licence became an imperative.
It has been a long and testing summer which involved re-learning how to behave on the road with two wheels after developing 45 years of bad habits on four. The experience has been enlivening and frustrating, culminating in the on-road test which I finally passed this week having previously gone through the rigors of the theory and manoeuvrability tests.
And so to the real point of this post – an electronic thank you to Newcastle Rider Training who had the wit, intelligence and patience to teach this old dog a new trick. In order of those most exposed to my limitations – many thanks to Kevin, John and Neil – in particular Kevin whose patient tones I can still hear through the headphones as I invented yet more ways of doing things wrong. If you live in the Newcastle area and want to learn to ride a motorbike, these guys are the best.
Now I have the wonderful prospect of trading in the 125 and acquiring a meatier machine – if you are aware of the design connection between a certain bike manufacturer and the Beloved, you can guess where I am heading next 🙂
As a very young boy, Mrs Kipper was the name I gave to my maternal grandmother, Florence May. I do not remember its origins but whereas my grandfather was a kaleidoscope of reassuring smells, Brylcreem, Three Nuns tobacco and probably alcohol, Florence May emitted an earthier odour. I would have taken my mother’s propaganda as gospel; they were permanently at war.
Born in 1896, Florence was five years younger than Fred who she married in 1921. Everyone who loved her called her Florence so I never heard her called anything other than May. I remember her as a small plump old lady with a deeply lined face, a blue hat permanently anchored to her head and slightly bandy legs which gave her an unstable sideways waddle rather than a walk; she trod a very uncertain path. At my first memories she would have been under sixty.
Florence never received a good press in the family. Always labelled as mean and ill-tempered, now I wonder if somehow cause and effect became inverted. She died in 1968 and my sister remembers that in her last days she lay on her death bed refusing to open her eyes to the family, determined to continue her uncertain path quite alone, to the end.
Three things I remember about her; she was partial to a bottle of Mackeson stout which Fred would bring home fresh from the pub every evening, she spoke with a broad Hampshire accent and she could never remember people’s names – everyone was referred to as ‘old wotsizname’, such that if more than one such person occurred in a sentence, all meaning was lost.
And this is the saddest part; Florence May was once a very pretty young girl with a kind face and a bright future. Assuming she is eighteen or under, this picture pre-dates the Great War. What ever followed, it seems certain that those closest to her could have been kinder.