Nicknames and toys

I had many family nicknames growing up. The first was Jackatittit as my sister couldn’t say Jacqueline. This was quickly followed by Jbe-baby. Shortened to Jbe as I got older. That stuck for some years. It came in handy many years later when I got my dream car. It just so happened to have the number plate ending JBE. And yes I did buy it just because it was a personalised number plate for me. Derek was soon added as I was such a tomboy. My mum would shout across a restaurant ‘Derek we’ve told you before you’re too old to go in the ladies toilet!’ She thought it was funny. I was mortified. Although I never let on till now. The Brat was another one. Which I guess I deserved as I was so stubborn. Now a days they just stick with J. 

A few toys stick out from my childhood. The first was a wooden toy car. That had men in it that bounced up and down when you pulled it along by some string. Apparently mum and dad took me into a toy store. I saw it. Grabbed it. And said ‘Mine’. I loved that car. Although it drove everyone else nuts. In the end the dog attacked it and chewed it until it wouldn’t work. My other favourite toy was a garage on two levels. I loved to take my cars and push them down the ramp. It was free from the local petrol station when you collected tokens. It was the best toy I was ever given. That same Christmas mum insisted my sister and I were given matching dolls and doll prams. The prams were like the old fashion prams you got in the 1950’s. I never played with mine. Although my sister loved hers (told you she was girlie) In the end my pram was given away to a family friends little girl. She played with it till it feel apart. So all wasn’t totally lost. 

Other toys included a Weeble school set and play ground. The school itself had a bell on the top. Mum carried it home from the store, with me in tow, with the bell jingling all the way back. It never occurred to me to ask what the noise was. My sister had a Playmobile hospital and I had the fire engine. I would set them up on the dinning room table and play for hours. I lived in a world of my own as a small child. Never needing anyone else thank you very much. Where my sister needed to be constantly entertained. I was happiest playing by myself. 

Christmas was always fun. And birthdays were always a big thing in our house. My sister and I were born two years, two weeks and two hours apart. Birthday parties were held jointly the week in between our birthdays. Which was fine by me. As that meant the fact that I had very few friends and didn’t have to be the centre of attention never showed. One birthday party we had a chocolate blancmange rabbit sat on green jelly grass. Complete with a whipped cream cotton tail. All the children began to cry when a knife went near it to cut it. And we refused to eat it.

Christmas’s became the game of which toy of mine wouldn’t work on the day. I had a train set that refused to run. And had to be taken back. An Action Man helicopter. Which my dad and granddad flu into a tree and broke it. A Scalextrics that wouldn’t start, until we realised we were starting at the finish line. A Sony Walkman that refused to play cassettes. Ok I admit it I had found it before Christmas and had played with it until it broke. Retuned it to the box and denied all responsibility on the big day. To be fair I didn’t lie. I just failed to mention it! 

I hate surprises and went hunting for all my presents. I would carefully unwrap them. Peek inside. And then re-wrap them. That way I had planned what acceptable face to make on the day. It made sense to me after the pram debacle. There was however the dreaded presents from other family members. Which I couldn’t plan for. There was the classic year when my aunt, among other things, brought my sister and I a plastic apple each. Because what child doesn’t need a plastic apple! 

My dad’s parents always showered us with presents. They lived in Middlesbrough. So we usually only saw them once a year. We were brought up not to ask for things. Unless it was Christmas or birthday’s. My grandparents appreciated the fact that we didn’t. So much so. That we only had to look at something for a few minutes and it was brought for us. We would get home with our booty and be accused of ‘being on the want again’. The famous year I got my first remote control car. My grandparents came down to see us. And took us to Hamley’s in London. ‘You can both pick one toy’ my grandparents said. I went off with my dad and grandfather. My sister with mum and our grandmother. My poor sister had my mum watching every price tag and saying no to everything my sister picked up. Until my grandmother told mum off. I was free to pick what I liked. As I said I picked the car. We wanted to check it worked before we went home. The only street in London that had a free space to test it was Downing Street. You could at that point go down there. We tested the car and the police officers guarding number 10 came over for a play. These days they would blow the toy up.

Another year all I really wanted was a bmx bike. My lovely sister told my parents that as I wanted one so much. That if they couldn’t afford to buy her a present too. Then she would go without. I got my bmx and she got her first hi-fi system. We went to visit my aunt, uncle and great-grandfather. We could only fit the bike into the boot of the car. We always took our main present to show it off. My great-grandfather got it into his head that my sister hadn’t got anything. And insisted that my sister had a bicycle too. The fact that she didn’t want one was irrelevant. When my aunt found out that Grampy had brought my sister a Christmas present but not got me anything. She was horrified. So my mum and her sister concocted a story about how I was really into music. And it should be encouraged. Grampy thought it was classical music. It was in fact the band Musical Youth. And so I got my first hi-fi too. We had by then moved into the house and my sister and I had separate rooms. You could stand on the landing and hear BBC Radio 2 coming from my parents room, Capital radio from my sister’s and BBC Radio 1 coming from mine all at the same time. it was a cacophony of noise.

The toy that I’ve kept to this day. Is a teddy bear called Isaiah. He was brought from the reject bin in C&A, a department store in the 70’s. He had one eye higher than the other. Hence the name (eyes higher. Do you get it?) my mum named him. He was my constant companion going with me everywhere. Except school. When he would sit on the sofa waiting for my return. For a well loved reject he has lasted remarkably well. we had a lot in common.

Me sat on my Aunts rocking chair

Early criticism

My formative years were spent in a large flat in a town just off the M25. Although it wasn’t there then when we first moved. The flats were once tuberculosis wards. The lounge itself was the old ward with the kitchen and bedrooms leading off. It was perfect in the winter and rainy days. As we could easily ride our bikes around the lounge. Without bumping into things. It was apparently a nightmare to heat. Outside was a swing and seesaw set. I loved to swing. Even when we moved to a proper house the swing came with us. As soon as I got home from school I would go on the swing and sing to my hearts content. Not a pleasant experience for our neighbours I can promise you. 

It took me ages to actually talk. So much so that I was taken to see if I was deaf. I made baby noises and my sister translated for me. It was discovered that I had a slight hearing impairment. But nothing to worry about. I went to speech therapy and finally found my voice. 

Life was full of imagination in our little flat. My aunt brought my sister and I the, then, complete series of Mr Men books. We loved them. Mr Messy was my favourite. But Mr Tickle will always hold a special place in both my sister’s and my heart. Largely thanks to Dad. My sister and I shared a room. Sleeping in bunk beds. We would be read a bed time story and then given a biscuit before going to sleep. My dad would pretend to be Mr Tickle. He would stand in the doorway with one arm hidden behind the door frame. He would tell us he was stretching is arm down the hall. Past mum, giving her a little tickle on the way through. We would her mum give a little squeal right on cue. Past the dog, who would obediently bark. To the kitchen and into the biscuit tin. We would of course hear the tin being opened. Then back past the dog, who would bark once more. Past mum, who would squeal again. And back into the room with two biscuits miraculously in his hand. We loved the Mr Tickle routine and didn’t realise it was mum running around the flat following dad’s narrative. We refused to go to sleep unless Mr Tickle had done his thing.

We are a very close family. They are all I really needed. But even as a small child I was aware of the criticism that surrounded us. My parents belonged to an evangelical church. And I can remember playing by myself at a church event. Other children played around me. I can’t remember what was said. But I recall my mum surrounded by other mothers criticising her parenting skills. The fact that their children were much younger than my sister and I was irrelevant. ‘Be yourself but don’t be so you!’ was a theme that would last throughout my entire childhood and teenage years. Come to think of it most of my adult life too.

Playing dress up. Of course I wore my dad’s old cloths.

I suppose i should start at the beginning

I was born in London in the early 70’s. The pregnancy was not an easy one. Due to high blood pressure and prenatal diabetes. My mum had to spend three months in hospital before my birth. I was not planned but very much wanted. The best mistake my parents ever made, my mum says. I was the youngest of two girls.

At first life was sweet. Not that I can remember much. Family legend has it that one day I was left outside in my pram all day by my dad. My mum was sick in bed and dad was preoccupied with looking after my sister and keeping the house running smoothly. He took up some food to my mother and she asked how I was doing? To which my Dad screamed ‘The baby!’ and ran downstairs to find me happily watching the world go by. Completely oblivious to the fact I had practically been abandoned all day.

Food was another issue when it came to eating solids. It became apparent very early on that if I didn’t like it. No end of coercion was going to work. Again family folklore has it. That I slept all night with a boiled egg in my mouth as a small child. Because I didn’t like the texture. Still don’t to this day. How I didn’t choke to death is anyone’s guess. Meal times were a real challenge of wits between myself and my parents. I usually won out of pure stubbornness. One particular afternoon the family sat down for roast dinner smothered in gravy. I hate gravy. Not that they knew that at the time. I like my food crisp. Not all mushy. And covered in slime. So of course I refused to eat it. My poor dad was having none of it. ‘I would eat what was in front of me or stay there all day’ he said. Guess what? I stayed sat in that chair stubbornly refusing to eat until it was bed time. ‘She’ll have it tomorrow for lunch’ my father decreed. So the next day I was sat in front of a reheated congealed roast dinner (this was before microwaves). So if I wasn’t going to eat it yesterday. I sure as hell wasn’t going to eat it today. In the end my mum gave in and gave me something else to eat. Apparently they had a huge row about the whole thing. To this day I am still referred to as the fussy one. My family enjoying meals out when I’m not with them. When they can have whatever they want with out me whining about the fact I don’t like it. Let’s face it. If you eat out with me and they don’t have burgers on the menu then I ain’t going. 

I also put my foot down when it came to wearing dresses and skirts. As soon as I was old enough to decide what I was going to wear they went. I hate the way they move around my knees and cause a draft on my legs. I won’t even wear shorts. Even in the height of summer you’ll find me in jeans. One day when I was forced to wear a bridesmaids dress for my uncle’s wedding. I complained bitterly until my mum let me change half way through the reception. To her utter disappointment and dismay I re-emerged in a pair of red dungarees complete with grass stains on the knees. You could say I was a tomboy through and through. And you’d be right. I hate pink and lace is too scratchy. Even today I dress for comfort rather than for fashion. I like soft comfortable clothes. Jeans, t-shirts and hoodies being my usual attire. My sister is the girl of the family. I figure she is girly enough for the both of us.

An unusual photo of me in a dress. along with my sister. I’m the one in yellow.