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And Another Thing...: A Golden Wander And A Lost Cat

Arthur Loosley travels far down memory lane, recalling a pussy-cat clock and his only war injury, inflicted by his mother.

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As I write this my mind is wandering, as usual.

My eyes linger on the display cabinet in the corner of the room which holds my modest collection of treasures and memorabilia. The two Satsuma vases are not valuable in monetary terms although they do qualify as antiques, having been made in the first or second decade of the 20th century.

I have known them all my life. They have shared my life. They were, I understand, a wedding present to my parents from my father's employers. Mr and Mrs Feitelsohn, who must have been happy with Dad's work, to give him such precious artefacts emblazoned with pictures of the Japanese emperor and empress, richly enamelled and gold-leafed. The design has been copied widely and produced in many forms, but these two vases are special. To me, at least.

Dad worked as a sales assistant at the Feitelsohns' clock and jewellery emporium in East Ham, London. He cycled the 10 miles to work every day from the family bungalow in Essex. Mum took me on the bus one day to visit him at work and I was amazed at the opulence of the place.

It was a large shop on the High Street, with three enormous display windows and two glass entrance doors. Inside, behind glass-topped polished mahogany counters stood the staff, all dressed alike in black jackets, white celluloid collars and black ties, with pin-striped trousers and 'patent leather' shoes, polished so brightly that you could almost see your face in them.

I was introduced to Dad's fellow workers. None of them had names, just single initials. Dad was 'Mr E', the initial of his given name. His surname began with 'L', but that was already taken by a fellow employee. The only people with names were Mr and Mrs Feitelsohn, who came out to greet us and ushered us into a back room.

Mrs Feitelsohn leant down to shake my hand. 'You're a nice young man,' she said, in her deep Austrian growl, 'Do you like pussy-cats?'

'Yes,' I replied, meekly.

My mother gave me a sly dig in the back. 'Say "please",' she whispered.

Why? I wondered. It was a question wasn't it, not an offer.

I was wrong. The old lady handed me a cardboard box. 'Open it, why don't you,' she coaxed.

I cautiously lifted the lid. Inside was a small wooden clock, hand-painted with the head of a cat. Its eyes were made of glass and, as I was to discover later, moved from side to side with every tick and tock of the pendulum.

My mother's knuckles were pressing into my back again. 'Say "Thank You",' she ordered, and then I realized that it was indeed a gift for my birthday next week, and these kindly folk again wanted to show their appreciation of Dad's services.

That was the first 'useful' thing I ever owned. I treasured it and vowed to keep it for ever. But that was before the bomb.

Oh, but I haven't explained about the bomb, have I?

It was in November 1941. The French windows of our living room were heavily curtained because of the blackout and a meagre coal fire burned in the grate. I was sitting on the floor, under the overhanging keyboard of the upright piano, playing with a toy aeroplane - a bomber. The two Satsumas stood in pride of place on top of the piano. I remember putting the plane into a steep dive to release an imaginary bomb, when the blackout curtains billowed inwards. There was no noise as far as I can remember, but the room was suddenly full of broken glass, ceiling plaster and fragments of roofing tiles.

Protected by the piano I was unhurt until my mother, in a gallant rescue bid, dragged me into the next room and threw me under the bed, gashing my forehead on its iron frame. Well, that's war, I suppose, and I still smile when I think about how I received my only war injury.

I don't remember too clearly all that happened next, except that there was a lot of shouting and screaming, and air raid wardens in the street shouting 'Put that light out.' Despite the fact that most of the houses now had no doors or windows, some had no roofs and a few had been reduced to rubble, the blackout regulations had to be obeyed.

What I do remember, though, is the scene at daybreak, with my mother crying over a pock-marked piano and bending down to pick up the two vases from the debris-strewn carpet. They were completely unharmed.

The gold decoration still shines as brightly today as it did then, 65 years ago. I never saw the pussy-cat clock again, though.

copyright 2006 Arthur Loosley

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