Aunty Polly

pollyI am sure that many children had a notional 'Aunty Polly', not an actual relative, but a lady of mature years living nearby. My titular Aunty Polly, lived, with a small dog called Bruce, in the house directly opposite to the house of my Grandparents. Also in her house, lived a personable youngish man called Percy, vaguely referred as the nephew. Percy worked in the textile industry. I have a memory that he was employed at ‘The Textile Institute’, their offices, at that time, situated on Black Friars Road. A well-presented and rather middle class individual was my own childish appraisal. I was a frequent visitor, as a small child, to the house of Aunt Polly.

In retrospect I now realise it was something of a time warp. Lighting was provided by gas, and the fragile gas-mantles hissed steadily. There was a large blacked-leaded range. It was of particular interest to myself, because even at an early age I had an appreciation of well-cooked food. From time to time I was invited to stay for tea. The wonderful aroma of gently stewed beef permeated through the heavy oven door. I knew too, that alongside the robust cooking pot, nestled gently baking potatoes. The ambience of Aunt Polly's living room, a warm an all-embracing comfort.

I began to notice occasional visits, accompanied Percy, of a women of a similar age to his own, Well-dressed and kindly. My own childish appraisal. One day Aunt Polly was no longer resident within her bastion of comfortable domesticity.

Nothing was said. I did not ask why. One Sunday afternoon, my Grandmother put on my outdoor coat, and without any explanation we set off. Eventually, on trams and buses we arrived in one of the more leafy and prosperous suburbs and went into a large well-appointed house. It was a nursing home. In a cheerful and sunlight first-floor room, my Aunt Polly, lying under the sheets and counterpane of a narrow bed. Not her usual self. She was very ill, indeed terminally, but at that young age not a concept I really could understand. Percy and his lady companion, her name was Janet, smiling but tense, came in through the door. I vividly remember that Aunt Polly, normally kindness personified, looked up from her bed, directly at Janet, her eyes expressing undisguised hatred. It was moment when I first became aware of the darker side of human emotions.