ADRIENNE'S HIV BLOG – Hivine's Weblog

HIVINE is written by HIV positive women but still with a sense of humour

Adrienne Seed – The Spider and the Fly – Chapter 2

 
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Ba Ba Black Sheep  

 

In some ways, although I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve always resented the fact that I come from the north of England and until now, I’ve never really felt that I belonged here. Even as a child, I yearned to be something more exotic: Spanish or Greek perhaps, but you can’t escape your roots, can you, although it wasn’t for the want of trying on my part. I never thought I’d end up right back where I started, but here I am and thereby hangs the tale. I only hope I have enough time left to tell it.

I was born here in the north of England in a town called Blackburn, in a ‘prefab’ which was situated under a huge, grey square of water called Guide Reservoir. The neat line of white prefabs had been rapidly erected shortly after the Second World War when there had been a housing shortage and flimsily constructed out of sheets of deadly asbestos. In the freezing winters, ‘Jack Frost’ would swoop down with his icy fingers and etch his frenetic snowflake patterns on the inside of the windows. There was something quite terrifying to me as a child about living under that huge slab of water, and to this day I still shudder when I pass it. I used to imagine that when it rained, (and being the north of England it rained nearly every day), the reservoir would overflow and the tiny box-like houses would float away like paper boats.

My dad had been a navigator during the war on the old Lancaster bombers and when the war was over, he tried living on ‘civvy street,’ but times were hard so he rejoined the Royal Air Force and whisked us all off to live down south, far away from Blackburn. We still came back to visit the relations, but even as a young girl, I always dreaded coming back up north. There were no such things as motorways then, so those car journeys seemed to go on forever.

“Are we there yet dad?” my brother and I would nag, fighting in the back of the old black Austin, with the curved running boards and temperamental indicators that flicked out like angry, yellow tongues.

“Not yet,” my dad would cough from out of the fug of his Senior Service cigarette smoke, “You’ll know we’re nearly there when the sheep start turning black.”

And sure enough, as we crossed over the dark, bleak moors, we would see the timorous sheep, cowering like oily rags by the dry stonewalls, huddled in miserable groups under a low, gunmetal sky, their woolly coats black with soot.

Lancashire and Blackburn, as it was back then, depressed me and filled me with gloom. My young mind was like a magic lantern filled with brightly coloured dreams and pictures of people and places I’d only seen in photographs, mainly derived from the set of encyclopaedias my dad had bought on the ‘never never’ from a travelling salesman – ‘The Hanging Gardens of Babylon,’ ‘The Seven Wonders of the World,’ palm fringed beaches in exotic locations. I didn’t want any part of this dismal looking place called Blackburn, with its line after line of black terraced houses, clinging on to the steep, slimy cobbled streets. The domineering factories and mills with their tall chimneys, belching black smoke into the already polluted atmosphere; their overriding presence surrounded by forbidding iron gates to lock in the workers and high sooty walls edged with broken glass to deter intruders. Then, all around the basin of what was then the working class town, were the endless, bleak moors, singed with patches of burnt looking heather and littered with dirty, black sheep. 

Blackburn – a fitting name for it. 

Blackburn was a cotton town in those days and my dad’s mother and most of my aunties worked in the mills and had done all their lives. My dad’s sister, my Auntie Dora, would sometimes take me with her to the mill.

“It’s our Alan’s lass,” she would mouth over the deafening roar of the looms to the other weavers, bits of cotton flying through the air and sticking to my clothes and hair till I was covered in white floss like a dandelion clock.

I actually saw Brian on one of those visits to the mill, little knowing then, of course, that he was destined to play a major part in my life.

“That’s the boss’s son,” my Auntie Dora told me reverently as he passed by. Brian must have already been in his early twenties then.

As if Blackburn wasn’t depressing enough, there were all the tales of gloom and doom to contend with. As soon as we got through the door of my grandma’s house, she would tell us who’d just died, and there was always some poor soul – “Mrs. Ramsbottom’s popped her clogs or that nice Mr. Legbetter’s passed away, it was his heart you know.”

Death and ailments, hospitals and doctors were always the main topic of conversation in my grandma’s house, in fact everywhere in the north as far as I could see, and still are to this day – especially for me now.

My grandma lived on a council estate in a one bed roomed bungalow, but as they say up here, it was like a little palace inside. A man with a horse and cart would pass by selling sarsaparilla in big, stone bottles and when they were empty my grandma would use them as hot water bottles to air the beds. I had to sleep next to her in her lumpy, eider-downed double bed and I would peer out from under the covers to watch in fascination as she unhooked her salmon pink corsets and rolled her thick surgical stockings down her bony old legs. Her hair was always tightly permed (the tighter the perm the longer it would last) so the back of her head reminded me of a cauliflower, and she liked to experiment with hair dyes, so every time we came to visit, the ‘cauliflower’ was a different colour – or sometimes two.

When the other relations came round to visit, by way of escape I would gather all my grandma’s ornaments on the drop leaf table and play my ‘little games’. The ornaments weren’t very interesting; plaster models of girls in crinoline dresses or chipped statues she’d won on the fair. But I was blessed with a lively imagination and could easily transport myself into a world of my own. When I tired of my ‘little games’, I would force my brother to stand in his cot and dress him up in my grandma’s flowered aprons and netted hats, then drag the poor lad screaming by the hand to parade in front of the relatives. It’s a wonder he didn’t grow up with a complex, but perhaps he did. He doesn’t really have much to do with me anymore, so I wouldn’t know – and he’d probably have even less to do with me now if he knew what I had!

I much preferred going to visit my Irish granddad who was a painter and decorator by trade and had bunches of sable brushes and books of embossed wallpaper samples to draw on, with slivers of shimmering gold leaf pressed between pieces of fine tissue paper. I would sit on his knee and watch his faded blue eyes grow bright with tears as he sang me his sad Irish songs. I would poke my finger in the bullet hole in his arm. He’d been shot clean through his arm in the First World War and had been presented with the Military Medal for bravery in the field.

On one of my visits he’d set fire to the chimney trying to burn an old wooden clock. I remember staring at the round clock face, licked by the orange tongues of flame as the fire roared like an angry dragon, belching plumes of smoke back into the room. I still have a vision of my granddad, crouched down on his haunches trying to blow the flames back up the chimney, his white flat cap tilted on the back of his head and covered in bits of ash.  When the fire finally died down, the metal hands of the clock were still there, bent and shrivelled and pointing to quarter to four.  Perhaps that’s why I don’t like clocks, especially now. Time ticking away. Maybe my granddad also had a fear of time running out and that’s why he burnt the clock.

I can’t really think of any other reason, unless he’d run out of coal of course.

I have an old faded photograph of my granddad wearing his white flat cap in a little green box I call my ‘Irish box’, which I’m very superstitious about and in it I keep my most special mementos, including the rosary he gave me when I was born, still wrapped in the original lace handkerchief. I take it to the clinic with me when I’m going for my latest results and I keep it at the side of my bed with the lid open, so he can watch over me whilst I sleep. Of all the family, I am most like him and I am convinced he is my guardian angel.

3 Comments»

  cathandlara wrote @

My Dear Adrienne, what magical images are conjured here. I see the walk down the hill as Psyche’s journey into the Underworld. Full of trepidation. The journey itself is one I know very well, both theoretically and realistically. I walk that journey myself sometimes with Lara down from the Clog and Billycock and have tried to strived to keep my feet in the field through blizzards and snow and fog. I would challenge anyone to find a better view than the one across the widening Ribble Valley towards Preston and beyond. Beyond to views of the sea on a clear day. But maybe you wouldn’t agree feeling as you do about ‘The North’. I believe I live in God’s own County. Lancashire is rooted firmly in each and every one of my cells; living and breathing wherever I am.

And you’re story also resonates with me on a deeper level, having loved someone so powerfully and deeply that I lost all my senses. I can recall the moment I met her. She seemed to be surrounded by a bright, flaming light. And I became the moth without hesitation. It was so much a love story at first, for both of us. And yet, I had lost one sense in an instant; having been blinded by the light. The rest eventually followed.

As I look back on a six year love affair which rendered me broken, financially, spiritually, emotionally and heartwise I see that first moment as my first step down into the Underworld. And I am surprised I survived the experience.

Two years on, I am slowly finding myself again.

I feel so many things inside me resonating with your story despite there being few similarities between them. I takes a special person to be able to conjure images that can resonate across our differences. Top story. Waiting for the next excerpt.

Love and hugs, Cath x

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