Friday, 28 September 2012

Girl next door



My parents, sister and I lived at No. 2 for many years, while some different families moved in and out of No. 3.  The first was a sweet German couple with three children.  Micha, the youngest, and I quickly became playmates.  Every Saturday afternoon she’d call round and she had a habit of being early.   “It’s Bing Bong,” my mum would say, knowing that the little girl pressing our two-note doorbell  bing-bong, bing-bong, bing-bong - while we were still finishing our lunch - would be Micha.   I still think of her as Bing Bong.  However, on summer Sunday mornings she would forego the bing-bong and the signal to go out to play would be the tinkling of a cowbell coming from her open bedroom window.  I’d go to my shelf full of model animals and Ladybird books to find the little brass bell with the painting of eidelweiss on it (that she’d given me), open my window and shake it in response. 

I was sad when Micha and her family moved back to Germany, but she left me her golden yellow painted bike, which I named Dobbin, and a pair of children’s skis.  The skis got stored away in our draughty garage, along with Dobbin; unlike that bike they never got any use, although I did slip my feet into them sometimes just to try and imagine what it might feel like to be a skier.  Dobbin, meanwhile, was ridden with great frequency, round and round the quiet road in front of the house, up and over splintery planks set up as ramps, and in and out of slaloms of upturned seaside buckets and other assorted objects.  He was used and abused, until his paint rubbed off, his brakes rusted and his tyres perished, just as a bike should be.

Next in at No 3 was a contrasting family.  The dad was a lorry driver and the mum was a hairdresser, they drove a Ford Cortina and had two white, rather smelly poodles whose curly-haired heads were often decorated with red ribbons.  There was an Aunty Renee who visited them frequently, usually turning up in full ballroom dancing regalia and beehive hairdo, wearing more make-up than Divine.  The older of their two daughters, Mandy, was the same age as me.  I wasn’t sure about Mandy at first; she didn’t seem to understand the concept of sharing.   She would happily eat her way through a packet of Spangles or a paper bag of Sherbet Pips without offering them around.  At her birthday parties we played Pass The Parcel and every time the music stopped her mum made sure it was when the brown paper package reached Mandy’s grasping hands.  And every time her little girl excitedly tore at each layer of wrapping, there would be a  present under it for her, like a pencil-top rubber shaped like a mouse or packet of sweet cigarettes.  After an afternoon of similarly manipulated games, the rest of us went home empty-handed.  Maybe that’s why she never latched on to the sharing thing.  She was also the biggest liar I’d ever met.  I got used to Mandy’s ways, though, and when we were nine she took me to my very first (and only) under-12s disco on the other side of town in a hall where there were snooker tables and dartboards.  “They have striptease nights here sometimes,” Mandy told me proudly, “and a lady takes all her clothes off”.   I was shocked.  All her clothes?” I ventured, nervously, trying to imagine something that I couldn’t really understand, but which seemed horrifying and unspeakable. I was haunted by this thought for some time.  Ladies took all their clothes off in places like this?  Something told me, though, that Mandy wasn’t lying this time.

No. 3’s next occupants were a headmaster, his teacher wife and their only child, Janet.  “Oh, you look like a little pixie,” were Janet’s first words to me, to which I took great offence.  She was a bit older than me and seemed very bossy and bookish; I couldn’t imagine ringing bells out of the window to her or accompanying her to junior discos.  She wasn’t very good at sharing, either.  And, unlike mine, her house was like a showroom, with nothing ever out of place and strange looking objects kept in highly polished glass fronted cabinets. But we got on in a remote kind of way and sometimes walked home from school together or rode our bikes around.  One Summer, Janet’s cousin Robert came over to their house for a week and she persuaded me to let him borrow Dobbin, which he did enthusiastically, every day, while I propelled myself along behind them on my annoyingly tiring metal scooter.   On the day of his departure Robert announced,  “I don’t like your bike.  You’ll have to get a bigger one for next time I come here.” 

Playing was easier with the family of six at No. 1, who moved in the same time as us and stayed there long after mine had gone our separate ways.  They were an eccentric family at times with some idiosyncracies, but then so were we.  With two boys and two girls, an apple tree in the garden, assorted bikes, a piano, a mangey cat (left to them by the German family from No. 3 – I think I got the better deal), bows, arrows and a selection of cowboy and indian outfits, an inflatable paddling pool and a Spacehopper, theirs was like something out of an Enid Blyton story.  We all frolicked, fought, laughed, argued, teased, climbed, made mud pies, grazed knees, built snowmen and did bicycle slaloms together - and we all knew how to share.  I think I was quite a lucky girl next door.


Happy days with the neighbours
(That's me in the middle, with black tights and missing front tooth)

17 comments:

  1. That's so interesting and also alien to me. I grew up in a neighbourhood of old houses in Wales where everyone's families had lived for generations and many still do! Throughout my childhood my own extensive family provided most of the company and my neighbours children were somehow just part of that family. 95% of the children in my High School class were also in my Infant School class! I guess that made wandering off into the big wide world of change all the more scary?

    How cool would it be if Micha Bing-bong read this blog and got back in touch after all these years? :o)

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    1. That's interesting to read of your different experience, too - and, as you say, venturing out of those familial surroundings must have felt a lot more daunting.
      I did wonder about Micha and if she'd remember the Bing Bong monicker as vividly as I do!

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  2. It's posts like this that restore my faith in blogging. You're adorable.

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    1. Aww, thank you, Dr MVM - I am touched, honoured and very red... (You've made my day!)

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  3. Lovely heartwarming stuff, C. Like you I often wonder what happened to my childhood neighbours, who were a textbook collection of post war London immigrants - Irish, Indian, Nigerian, Polish Jewish, and a scattering of none-too-happy indigenous white English (my parents were asked by our next-door neighbour if they intended to keep pigs in the back garden when they moved in, "because we've heard about you Irish".). As far as I know, we all continued to scatter further out, to be superseded by a new generation of incomers. That's London, guv.

    And too would love it if one Micha happened to be trawling the web and came across your post...though I bet 'Robert' has grown up to be a bit of a twit.

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    1. Thanks - your neighbourhood sounds fascinating and quite different to my very quietly suburban childhood surroundings (we thought the German family were pretty exotic!) That's amazing about the 'keeping pigs' comment...
      Funny how Robert's comment still sticks in my mind and, yes, you have to wonder what he turned out like...

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  4. That is precious...just precious.

    Until I was 13 we lived in an isolated neighborhood. We couldn't get away from one another...we didn't have any choice but to get to know one another.

    After that we moved a good bit and it never was like that again. The only next door kid from my childhood/early teens that I've been able to keep up with is Martha.

    Such a good post..and that picture...

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    1. Thank you, sir. Ah, I smiled when I read that about Martha. Were you childhood sweethearts?
      The picture is horrendous, isn't it? In good time for Hallowe'en.

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    2. It weren't for lack of tryin' on my part but, no. I would have married her at 15...it took her ten years to come around.

      That picture is adorable.

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    3. That's sweet, e.f. The best things are worth waiting for!

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  5. Beautiful recollection. I have this fabulous picture of in my head, ringing that little bell out the window. Like something out oh 'Heidi'. And a family out of Enid Blyton - that's wonderful. Certainly sparks a few memories of my past playmates. Where do they all go?

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    1. SB - thank you - yes I think it was a bit like something out of Heidi, without the mountains(although the gardens were on a steep hill and from the top of them we could see right over the rooftops so, nearly...)
      Our friends come and go but the best memories stay, don't they?

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  6. That was most enjoyable...excellent recolection!

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    1. Many thanks, I enjoyed recalling it!

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  7. Another evocative and charming post C.

    A clear memory from my childhood is the coded meaning of the phrase, 'playing out'. I'd go across the street, for example, knock at the door and when my mate's Mum answered the door I'd say, 'is Roy playing out?'. The same question would be asked at my door to my Mum by various chums and to every other Mum in the neighbourhood no doubt. The answer would directly relate to how the child in question had been behaving that day, so the actual unspoken sub-text of the request was 'has Roy been a good boy today?' and the answer would either be 'hold on a minute (shouts up the stairs) ROY!......he won't be a minute, would you like to come in and wait?' or (quite often in Roy's case as I remember) the door being slammed in my face! I also seem to recall my Mum doing her fair share of door-slamming to my pals when I'd been a bad lad!

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    1. Ah, I like that - and hopefully The Young Swede did lots of playing out!
      Many thanks for your appreciation too.

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  8. Doing a bit of catch up on your blog, I always love your recollection pieces!

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