There was no furniture in the sitting room of the little terraced house where Sheila lived. Times were hard and the furniture had been either re-possessed or sold. The empty sitting room was perfect for a birthday party though, and on January 17th 1961 it was full of balloons. It was exciting!
Balloons for Sheila's fourth birthday
For her birthday, Sheila got her first bike, with little training wheels on the back. It wasn’t new, but bought at a second-hand store. Sheila didn’t know that, and if she had she wouldn’t have cared. She rode her little bike round and round the back yard of the little terraced house, happy as can be, until her mam called her in to have a bath before her party. The house didn’t have a proper bathroom, the bath (believe it or not) was in the kitchen, which was a little extension at the back of the house. There was no door to shut the kitchen off from the dining room, just a curtain. The dining room (called the back room) had a coal fire in it, with a sofa and chairs in front of the fire. There was a dining table set by the back wall, and a big sideboard on the other wall. It was a small cosy room, and the room a family would gather.
The house would have looked something like this, but with a garden at the front.
After bathing, Sheila was dressed in a beautiful yellow dress, with a big bow at the back. All of her clothes were made by her very clever mammy. As Sheila’s story unfolds, I am falling back into the local dialect, and Sheila did not say mum back then, it was mammy or mam.
On the dining room table was a beautiful pink birthday cake with roses in the middle of it. Sheila could not take her eyes off it. She had never seen such a pretty cake. Her mam had ordered it from the cake shop down the road, and was paying sixpence a week for it. You got everything on ‘never never’ back then.
My Birthday Cake
The back gate opened and Stella, who live about three houses up, appeared with her brood of kids, she didn’t knock, just came in. The kids were an unruly, untidy trio aged from about four to seven. Sheila ran off with them into the empty sitting room and opened the gifts they gave her. A couple more kids arrived and the party games began ‘pass the parcel’ and ‘musical chairs’ being the favorites. Sheila’s man laughed and re-invented ‘musical chairs’ calling it ‘musical flop’ (they had no chairs, so the kids had to flop on the floor when the music stopped, it was hysterical). Sheila’s mam and Stella watched the kids play, whilst enjoying a glass of sherry, and giggling (Sherry did this to ladies).
Everyone sang happy birthday and the Cake was cut. The pretty roses in the middle were a bit of a disappointment to Sheila, they didn’t taste good at all and were so hard they were almost impossible to bite, but they had looked pretty. Everyone was having a grand time……until the back door slammed.
Sheila’s mam and Stella looked at each other, but didn’t speak. The kids (who were now playing giants) all froze. Then the lights went off.
Timing is sometimes strange, the lights went off just after the door slammed, but the two things weren’t related, it just happened that way. All the kids screamed! The sitting room door opened and a menacing figure stood there in the dark. If it hadn’t been for the door slamming, and the lights going off, this figure may not have been menacing, but it was.
Russel (one of Stella’s brood) started crying.
The menacing figure in the doorway was Sheila’s dad, who was drunk as usual. “Who forgot to feed the bloody electric meter?” he yelled. Now Sheila started crying.
The party was over, Stella took all of the kids home, they all lived on the same street so it was easy. Sheila’s mam fumbled in her purse to find money for the meter, her hands shaking, wondering when and where the first blow was going to land.
Sheila sat in the dark and played with her toys, scared to say anything. Phoebe (Sheila’s mam) had no luck finding money to feed the meter in her purse and in a shaky scared voice, told Sheila’s dad, who violently knocked the purse out of her hand and left through the front door, slamming it so hard that the house shook.
Used to this, Phoebe composed herself and groped around in the darkness to find candles, which she lit and then placed around the livingroom.
Cozy by the coal fire
There was also the light from the coal fire, so it was cosy. She sat on the sofa, with Sheila snuggled up beside her, and talked about her childhood, and happier times (wishing she could escape from the life she had now). It wasn’t long before Sheila fell asleep. Her mam put her to bed, and then sat in the candle light, dreading the return of her husband.