“I CAN’T stand him, Steve Davis. Bloody ginger nut.”
If I had to list my favourite people in the world, Hettie and Fred would be among them. The above words were Hettie’s. He never said much.
The reasons why aren’t obvious, even to me, but when you’re a child you click with some people and not with others and, whichever way the relationship goes, you more than likely stick with your opinion for the rest of your life.
Hettie was my grandad’s sister and about five feet tall. Fred was her husband and maybe an inch or two higher and every couple of Sundays or so I would go with my dad to visit them.
Both would stand right in front of the fire — turned on, whatever the weather — hands behind their backs, and the following scenes would always play out:
Hettie: “Now then, you’ll want a cup of tea?
Dad and myself: “That’ll be nice.”
Fred: “I’ll mek it.”
Hettie: “No, I’ll mek it. They don’t want you mekking it. They won’t like it. It’ll be too weak. Go get ‘em a piece of cake.”
Dad: “No cake thanks, we’re having Sunday dinner when we get back.”
Hettie: “They want cake, Fred. Go on.”
Cake arrives and scene shifts a couple of feet to the left where a portable TV — screen around 12 inches — is showing the snooker in black and white.
Hettie: “I can’t stand him, Steve Davis. Bloody ginger nut. There’s a ginger cat keeps coming up the path trying to get in as well. I’ve shooed the thing away but it keeps coming back. I’m not having it in, the ginger thing.”
Gate creaks and all look out of the window.
Hettie: “Oh bloody hell fire, it’s John O’Rourke. What the hecky thump does he want? ‘Hello John love, come in lad, does tha’ want a cup of tea?’”
The only variations on the drama would occur when I got into my late teens/early twenties and Hettie would ask:
“Do you like a drink? You’re old enough, aren’t you?”
Me: “Yeah, yeah, I do. I am.”
Hettie: “Well, there’s 50 pence here to get you whatever you like.”
Even then 50p didn’t get anyone whatever they liked, but the gesture was nice.
Sometimes my uncle Des (Hettie and Fred’s son) would arrive and on one occasion blustered in sporting what was clearly a wig.
My Dad, having hovered behind him observing his head: “All right Des, yer hair’s growing lad. You want to get that cut.”
Des: “Yes, I’ve been meaning to Derek. I just haven’t got round to it.”
For months my dad questioned Hettie about Des’s wig but she wouldn’t have it that it wasn’t his natural hair even though it was a completely different colour.
She wouldn’t have much, to be fair. She didn’t have too many good words for many people and she would say what she thought to your face. Fred just didn’t have many words. A knowing grin would usually suffice.
I’m not sure there are the characters about these days, but the likes of Hettie and Fred have inspired plays, theatre, books and TV for generations with their Alan Bennett-style kitchen sink dramas, houses open to everyone, but undoubtedly behind closed doors hiding whole lives of struggle, poverty and battling the odds.
Whatever the problems were you didn’t air them in public back then. Never mind, another cup of tea, a piece of cake and a couple of frames of snooker on the television will make it all okay.
As long as that ginger bloke’s not playing.
If only Steve Davis had worn a wig like Des did.