"Tender Eyes That Shine." Memories of home by Phil Barling
On Beverley Road, Hull, there’s a house where my father’s parents lived. It had been their home forever. It had a Grandfather clock, which was the thing to have in those days, along with antimacassars, cold Sunday teas, coal houses, and toilets with chains. The clock belonged there, towering in the dim-lit hall, like a commissionaire. I can’t imagine it was ever moved.That was its place, watching us hang our coats, ticking off the passage of our time. No luminous displays, ring tones or special features: – it just ticked a deep sonorous tick and looked old. As far as I know no mouse ever ran up it. I don’t recall ever looking at the clock to tell the time. Its size and age frightened me. I just couldn’t look it in the face.
The lounge had a cage that housed a parrot called Poll – no trace of irony then. You didn’t get too close to Poll. It had a beak that could open soup cans. It did speak, but never to me. In those days you only spoke when spoken to, and I had nothing to say to an old grey parrot. Under the table was a gnarled basket and a one-eyed cross breed called Peter. I visited the house most Saturdays which involved passing thousands of flat caps and mufflers walking the other way to the football. This doesn’t sound like a happy memory, but it was.
My Aunt Rene played piano. Her bracelet, with its multiple gold charms, flapped like some demented jazz rhythm section around her wrist. The tune I remember her playing was “See You in My Dreams”. Nanny would be singing in the background, as she placed more coal on the fire between sips of Guinness. Rene played many tunes, including “Christmas Alphabet” or “Goodnight Irene” which she must have dedicated to herself. Mainly, it was “See You in My Dreams”. Lovely tune. With the raw East Yorkshire wind shrieking against the bay window, it placed a warm family blanket around us all.
Pop sat next to what they used to call a bureau, which was a writing desk of sorts that had multiple drawers for pens, rubbers, fags, bills and buttons. It had secret compartments in which we used to keep “emergency money.” His chair had cushioned many a family posterior down
the years. He not so much sat in the chair but buried his weary frame in its memories. Facing the bureau was a big old wireless with stations like Hilversum, Luxembourg & Lille. Down the years that wireless had announced the end of wars and the death of Kings. Pop lit his pipe
like it was an act of history, slowly, deliberately as if time was on his side, which, of course, it wasn’t.
I often think of that home, where the family history hung in shadows on the walls. The last time I heard “See You in My Dreams” was in a film of George Harrison’s Tribute Concert.Joe Brown and his crew-cut were singing it. Beautifully as it happens. As I sat back, eyes closed, just for a moment, I saw that house, heard the Grandfather Clock strike, Peter the dog bark, Poll the parrot squawk, and there, back row, caressing the keys, next to the drums between Ringo & Jools Holland, was my old Aunt Rene.