I had to go to a funeral for my Auntie Kath. She wasn’t really my aunt – but I always knew her as such. My Dad’s side of the family is kind of complicated and sometimes it’s hard to work out who is related to who, and how. But that didn’t matter, she was a lovely lady and I spent a lot of my childhood staying with her and her husband Johnny.
Kath and Johnny owned a sweet shop in East Sheen, just a few minutes away from the flat(s) I grew up in. The shop was the centre of a bustling community and Kath was always there, usually standing in the doorway to the stock room, ready to chat and gossip with the customers. Usually laughing – she had one of those deep, infectious laughs.
My earliest memory of hearing music was at their house. I don’t know how old I was, but I guess I was small as I was sitting on the floor pulling pots out of a kitchen cupboard. At least I think I was. The tune was something by The Carpenters and it was the early Seventies. I seem to remember the radio always being on and watching Uncle Johnny wash his face and have a shave in the kitchen sink. Who knows if these are even real memories – I’d have been very young, but they certainly feel it. I do remember being sent to the shop as a small child, to get ‘mum’s books’, (her weekly magazines) and cigarettes. Mum would let the magazines mount up a bit and there were always a few to pick up. I think that’s pretty much how I first learnt to cross the road properly on my own. I’d walk up there and Kath would wait the other side of the road to see me across.
When my granddad died in 1978 I went to stay with them at the sweet shop, so that I was protected from the worst of it, including the funeral. They always made me feel so welcome – I’d never known an electric blanket until I stayed there and Kath had those funny dolls with the full skirts to hide the toilet rolls in the bathroom.
Later, when I was at secondary school I spent time working in the shop sometimes during school holidays. I probably drove Uncle Johnny nuts, babbling on about goodness knows what and giving people the wrong change! And later, pretty much every day when I got off the train I’d pop in to say hello before I went home. They were always interested in what I got up to – I remember getting my first pair of high-heeled school shoes and proudly prancing around in the shop showing them off. I reckon that was September 1984, just before starting the fourth year.
They never had children, and they were married over 50 years until Johnny died first a few years ago. But they were always young at heart. I think running the shop for so many years and mixing with the paper boys and girls and younger people kept them so. Even when they left the shop and moved away they were the same. Kath always had an eye for fashion and an interest in what was going on. She was always made up, with lots of blue eyeshadow and coiffured hair. I remember she gave me a lovely vintage black velvet cape when I was in my early twenties. Yesterday I was bemoaning to my mum how I should have kept it, when she told me it was still in the wardrobe upstairs. The cape must be 40 years old and it’s still in perfect condition – almost floor length black velvet with a hood. That’s definitely coming out again in the winter – it’s too gorgeous to stay hidden away. I was so pleased to see it again.
I’d forgotten half of those childhood memories until I started writing them down, and it’s been a nice little trip down memory lane. A lovely lady and a life well lived.