I remember the little kitchen in my mother’s first house when we were very little.
It was a very small kitchenette type effort with duck egg blue painted cupboards, a ‘Belfast’ sink, a small gas cooker with room for a small table and chairs.
There was no fridge, but a marble slab which sat on the stone floor of the ‘pantry’ cupboard next to the sink kept the milk and margarine cold.
Mum’s pride and joy arrived when she had finally saved up enough to buy a small twin tub washing machine. This took up most of the small kitchen space and you had to move it to get into the cupboards, but mum loved it.
Before it arrived she had been doing the washing in the tin bath and using a very old iron clothes mangle to wring out as much water as possible before hanging them on the washing line in the yard at the back of the house.
As we only had a tin bath and no bathroom, we used to bring in the bath from the yard (where it hung on a nail) and fill it with buckets of water from the kitchen sink’s hot tap and carrying them across the room to the tin bath.
When we were very little and it was so cold that the tin bath was frozen to the outside wall - Mum would heat up the water in the washing machine, take out the clothes agitator, turn the washing machine off and stick me and my two younger sisters in there one by one.
Bloody heck, it could be really hot sometimes. I’ve always thought that this was quite an ingenious solution and I still love really hot baths today!
I remember one time when I was trying to be ‘helpful’ as only kids can.
I was about four and thought I would do the dishes for Mum so I pulled a chair over to the enormous Belfast sink we had. I piled the plates and cups and cutlery in – remembering to put the plug in.
I turned the taps on and then started pouring soap powder into the sink.
It was rather a large packet, nearly half my size and it slipped out of my little hands and fell into the sink.
The water was still running and now nearly all of the soap powder had gone into the water.
What hadn’t come out of the packet was ruined because it had got all wet.
I turned the taps off and surveyed the mess.
The water in the sink was now bubbles on top, but a gooey mess of blue sludge underneath.
The dishes etc., were covered in this mess and now and again a bubble of air arose to the surface like a blue mud bath.
I pulled the packet out of the ‘water’ and set it on the draining board of the sink.
I was trying to pull the plates out of the sludge, when I heard a strangled scream behind me.
Mum had come in the kitchen and had seen the mess.
‘What the hell are you doing? Do you know how much that soap powder cost? I only bought a large one yesterday so it would last ages!!’
‘But Mum, we can scrap it out of the sink into a bucket and let it dry out!’ I replied hopefully.
‘It doesn’t work like that stupid!’ Mum said.
She pulled me down from the chair like I was a chemistry test gone wrong. My arms looked like I was turning into a Smurf.
I tried to scrap off the mess from my arms into a bucket as my Mum cursed and swore and slammed plates around. She covered the kitchen table with thick layers of newspaper (we used to keep a stock of newspapers to help light the coal fire) and transferring the things from the blue gloop onto the table.
‘It’ll take ages to run this mess down the sink! Bemoaned Mum. ‘Wait ‘til your Dad gets home. He’s going to smack you so hard you won’t be able to sit down ‘til Christmas’!!
(So there was that to look forward to!)
We eventually cleaned away all the mess and got my skin back to its normal colour.
The whole packet of soap powder was ruined and Mum had to rinse the dishes loads of times before they stopped smelling of chemicals.
When Dad came home, Mum told him what had happened, but she’d calmed down a bit by then and realised I was just trying to help, so I didn’t get a hiding. But I did get a right yelling at for using all the soap powder. To this day I can’t smell soap powder without being reminded of this.
There was another time I was trying to be ‘helpful’ I was around the same age, so must I must have been in a ‘helpful’ phase.
Dad worked on building sites which meant he was up and down scaffolding carrying loads of bricks building houses and factories all day.
Mum would always have his tea on the table when he got home. On payday, Mum would do Dad braised steak dinner as a treat.
This day it was payday, so Mum made Dad the braised steak dinner and when Dad got home, he went to get changed out of his work clothes.
I knew that Dad liked to sprinkle his food with salt, so I thought it would be helpful if I did it for him.
We didn’t have a little table salt shaker, we had a big tub of Saxa salt. It had a ‘spout’ for an opening.
I opened the spout and tipped the salt out on to my Dad’s lovely hot meal.
Unfortunately, with the tub being quite big and me not being able to see how much was pouring - yes, you guessed it! The salt poured like a fountain and covered Dad’s tea in a white blanket.
Mum hadn’t noticed what I was doing as she was bathing my two younger sisters in the washing machine (see above) and then Dad came bounding in.
‘I’m starvin’!’ He said ‘Really looking forward to this’. By the time he got to the table, the salt had sunk into the gravy, so you couldn’t see it.
Realising what was going to happen, I edged my way away from the table towards the door leading to the stairs so as to make a quick exit.
Dad scooped up some gravy and potato with his fork and shoved it in his mouth with great relish.
He chewed it for a couple of seconds and then jumped up and spat it into the sink.
He grabbed a glass and poured himself a drink of water, gulping it noisily.
‘What’s up?’ said Mum. Dad glowered at her for a second for a second and then bellowed ‘How much ‘bleeping’ salt did you put in the ‘bleeping’ gravy?
‘Only a little bit’ Mum said. She went over and tasted the gravy. She spat it straight into the sink.
I was still quietly making my way across the floor towards the door.
Dad turned towards me - ‘What have you done??’ Shouted Dad at the top of his lungs
He jumped over the chair that was in his way and ran after me, I turned to run for the door, but wasn’t quick enough.
He grabbed the back of my dress and swung me around. ‘What did you do you little ‘bleep’?’ He shouted. ‘I was just trying to help Dad!’ I shouted covering my head with my arms.
He spun me round and gave me a good hiding. ‘Get up them stairs, NOW!’ he shouted.
I wasn’t crying as I was too scared. I could hear my two sisters shouting from the washing machine (I know - how funny does that sound?) ‘Mum, Mum what’s up’?
I legged it up the stairs to the sounds of my sisters crying, Dad’s dinner being smashed against the wall and Mum and Dad screaming at each other ‘ You should have watched what she was doing’ ‘I’ve got three kids to run after and I haven’t got eyes in the back of my head’.
Then Dad stormed out, slamming the door so hard I was surprised it stayed on its hinges.
Once Mum had a rant at the world, slammed some cupboard doors and had a quiet cry in the kitchen, the house quietened down.
My two sisters joined me after they’d been dried and dressed in their pyjamas.
We all sat up in bed (we all slept in the same bed). They just stared at me with wide eyed worried faces like little Meerkats for a bit and then hid under the bed clothes, huddled up to me on either side not saying a word.
A bit later, we heard the key in the door and we waited for a second onslaught, but it went quiet (which was actually scarier).
Then after about five minutes, Dad came up the stairs with three big chip butties, one for each of us.
He’d stormed off, venting his spleen and exhausting his knowledge of ancient Anglo-Saxon to the dark sky as he walked. He’d gone to the pub, but had been so hungry, he’d left after a couple of drinks and stopped at the Chippy a few streets away.
As he waited for his order, he’d calmed down and then thought about how funny it was and that I was trying to be helpful.
He had got himself a portion of fish & chips and an extra portion of chips for Mum and one between us. So we three little ‘Meerkats’ sat there in bed eating the biggest ‘doorstop’ chip butties by the light of the street lamps, getting crumbs all over the bedclothes.
All misdeeds forgotten.
© Kate McClelland 2016
Picture by Pixabay