Hamish is an extremely elderly, pure white cat, he rubbed his white fur all over my legs as Biffo’s Aunty asked us if we wanted a drink. I said yes expecting tea, at strongest, builders tea. I got a blue plastic beaker, decorated with Greek figurines, filled with vodka and perhaps, only perhaps, the slightest sniff of tonic waved somewhere nearby. Ye Gods! Rocket fuel. Not to be rude I (very slowly) drank the beaker of pure Smirnoff while Aunty provided a feast of cheese and onion crisps and Tunnocks Teacakes. You can’t beat a Tunnocks in my humble opinion, the taste, the texture…
Anyway, I learned many things tonight… Aunty claims never to have travelled far, but I disagree. In the early 1950’s one of her relatives was dying of TB. This relative had two daughters, one was 17, the other only 6 or so. With no one to care for the girls, someone offered to marry the 17-year-old, I am told this was lucky for her. Can you imagine? Your mother is dying, you’re 17 and someone, anyone offers to marry you and that’s lucky?? The youngest, Stella, was ‘sent out’ to a family in Morpeth, miles and miles away and up the coast of Northumberland.
Aunty, who was recently married herself, couldn’t stand it. She went to see her dying relative who grieved for her daughters, who she would never see grown. Aunty explained how she wanted to help, but she lived in a small flat above a chip shop and couldn’t legally have a child in that flat.
She had never travelled. Transport was difficult in the 50’s from Wallsend to rural Morpeth. But Aunty found her way on busses and trains. And she went, she found the place where Stella had been ‘sent out’ and knocked on the door and when it was answered said ‘I’m here for Stella!’ She thought she would have a fight on her hands, as if finding the place where Stella was housed, wasn’t fight enough. But no one fought. Stella was told to get her hat and coat and handed over. Still afraid that they might change their minds, or perhaps that this was all to easy, Aunty whispered into Stella’s ear ‘grab my hand and run!’ and they did, they ran and ran and no one stopped them. They got on the train, and then the bus and then another bus and finally they got off on Wallsend High Street and little Stella, in her hat and coat, told every stranger on the street ‘ I’m back! I’m back!’ And when Aunty got home, she told her husband, ‘I got Stella, she’s staying with us’ and that’s what happened.
Aunty took Stella to see her dying mother who’s last act was to stretch out her arms one last time to her your daughter. That was the last time Stella saw her mother.
No she couldn’t have Stella in the flat above the chip shop, so she went to the council and fought for a council house where she could have Stella. And she got it.
Aunty claims she has not travelled. I disagree, I would say she has travelled far. Finding her way to a strangers door in the middle of no where and busting a young relative out of foster care. Fighting with the council for a home enough to raise her in. Taking Stella to see her dying mother, who raised her arms to her child one last time and raising Stella as her own child… Aunty has travelled further than most of us.