Thursday, February 01, 2007

Me and Mrs Jones...

It is funny how a sight, a sound or a smell can trigger a flood of old memories. I had one of these moments recently and will reflect on it.

When I was a nipper (probably aged 7-9 or so), I used to be looked after by a child minder called Mrs. Jones. She was a lovely old lady, a Widow, presumably in her 60s. She loved children and was also a keen church-goer.

She lived in a terraced house in a run-down part of Newcastle known as Elswick. Her street was called Mill Lane and the houses didn't have front gardens, notional or otherwise. I can't particularly remember starting or finishing with Mrs. Jones, I imagine it started as occasional Saturdays then grew to after-school minding.

She lived about the same distance away from our house as my school (a 2d bus ride) but in the opposite direction so I would pay 3d on the bus and get off on the Westgate Road and then cross over to knock on her door. In those days, children were able to catch buses and have enough sense to cross the road properly. (They probably do have now as well, but we wrap them up in too much cotton wool for that...)

Mrs. Jones was a friendly, no nonsense woman who looked like Viz's Mrs. Brady but certainly had all her marbles. She always wore a hat when she went out and never dressed down. She may have had a few whiskers on her chin but she shone with an inner happiness. Her house was typical old lady fare- she had a front room that was never used, lots of lovely old furniture and a large upright piano which may have had integral candlesticks. The house had a distinctive smell- not unpleasant but a slightly odd mixture of camphor, lavender and lemon curd. She also had lots of interesting things for children to play with, some toys, others just old nick-nacks. Occasionally, she dug out a box that had a musical treasure of hers, something called a Melodica which was a cross between a harmonica and a piano-accordion. It was two tone green and cream bakelite with a mouthpiece to blow into and two octaves of keyboard-style buttons to play. I think it was meant to be pronounced as a Mel1-lod-icah but Mrs. Jones called it a Mello-diikah. She would play hymns on her piano, singing along, whilst I would try to pick out the melody on the melodica, or occasionally play the tamborine.

Whilst she was religious, she didn't try to preach or judge, preferring to let us choose whether we wanted to look at her scripture books or do something else. I don't specifically recall what religion she was, so it was probably C of E. She occasionally went to church meetings and I tagged along, sometimes joining in with youth activities, other times just playing in the nearby streets with other kids.

I recall developing an adverse reaction to ecclesiastical architecture along the way, intensely disliking Norman arched doors. It wasn't the shape I disliked, it was the association of them with the overly-religious happy-clappies. Whilst Mrs. Jones was very balanced about not pushing God in your face, other in her congregation were particularly annoying. Indeed, I recall going to one evening session wher a board had a number of Toffee allsorts attached to it which were given out as prizes to children for answering bible questions. However, by the third question, I realised that I didn't have much of a chance, because whilst I knew that it had been Joshua at the battle of Jherico, I had no idea who Isiah begat, or the names of Joseph's obscure brothers... (I had a flashback to this one day when watching the Simpsons when Ned Flanders did something similar to his Sons Rod and Tod).

I also committed my first sin with Mrs. Jones- she had a number of metal coin tubes (the sort with springs in) and I used to enjoy counting the money. One day, greed got the better of me and I rumbled a few. I was quickly found out by my Mum of course and she took me back to apologise on the doorstep in Mill Lane. I was expecting her to be very cross but she was very relaxed about it and pleased that I had leaned a lesson. Being a good christian, she had no trouble forgiving me and she never mentioned it again.

Many years later, I was passing Mill Lane on the Bus and I noticed that most of the street had been demolished, apart from one house- hers. However, it was boarded up so she no longer lived there. I enquired at the housing department in the Civic Centre in an effort to track her downbut they told me that they could not reveal personal details.

Another year or two later, I received a phone call out of the blue from Mrs. Jones. I arranged to go and visit her in her nice new flat further down the hill and she looked exactly the same to me despite the decade that had passed. The other thing that was the same was the smell- immediately reminiscent of her original house. She still made her own lemon curd- and still used mothballs!

Whilst I immediately recognised all of her furniture, One loss had been the piano, it was just too big. Instead, she had a Bontempi reed organ. Unfortunately, she played it like a piano and it sounded a bit rough as all of the expression was wasted, just making it sound disjointed.

I had been delighted to see her again and was surprised that my Mum and Dad were somewhat indifferent about the whole business. On reflection I realised that whilst she was a special person in my childhood, to them she had just been a babysitter.

And what was it that triggered these recollections recently? I can't remember!!!


Liz said...

I am trying to comment but Blogger is being an arse (as my children would say)

Liz said...

I'll try again now. Lovely memories. Smells are so evocative.

I went on a waffle then about smell therapy being used for old people. I'm sure I've heard of it. But I'll try and post this now before Blogger goes missing again.

Ian Grey said...

Yes, blogger is being a Git this evening.

Try as I might, I can't remember if I ever knew Mrs. Jones' first name.

She did have one foible though that I meant to include in the blogpost- her outside loo had squares of newspaper on a hook for us kiddywinkies, only she was allowed to use the nice toilet paper...

Liz said...

Ooh, did you cheat and use the posh stuff? How would she know?

Ian Grey said...

How would she know? She numbered the sheets, of course!

We were on trust...

(Or maybe she did a Holiday Inn and folded it to a point)

Colin Campbell said...

I have vivid memories of this time. Our family friend was a music teacher and we had a couple of melodicas in the house. She would get us organised into a small band and make out of tune songs. I wonder if you can still get them. My kids would enjoy the instant music making.