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A Shout From The Attic: Mummy-Daddy Years - 4

...Being a shopkeeper and a dad was almost two full time jobs, but I managed to do both by keeping the living room door open so that Matthew could come and go as I attended to customers and rearranged the shop, something I did regularly to try to make the displays look inviting...

Ronnie Bray continues his autobiography.

In 1968, when Matt was three, we worked in our family business, The Lansdowne Supply Company, at 96 Lockwood Road, Huddersfield, where we sold toys, bric-a-brac, fancy goods, transistor radios, anything that would sell, and we also stocked several items that wouldn’t sell. Our double-fronted shop had living quarters behind and above, a garage and a small yard to one side. The other side of the house was next to a hairdresser’s shop, BARRY’S, that closed down, after which I rented it as a second hand shop. By resourceful manipulation of the wooden sign letters, I changed the name from BARRY’S to R BRAY’S.

I rented the shop and house through Whitcock’s Estate Agency in Market Walk. It was a failed delicatessen run by a gentle
elderly Polish man who had tried to sell groceries that would remind his fellow expatriates of their faraway homeland, but it
had failed. Many Polish ex-servicemen made their homes in Britain after the War, because it was too dangerous and
disagreeable to return to their country after the communists had taken control. Mr Whitcock suggested that I might feel
disposed to give the old man a hundred pounds as compensation for my taking the shop of his hands.

After meeting Ranjo Djocic, the Rumanian owner of the property, and agreeing terms, I handed over the hundred pounds to the departing tenant and set about purchasing stock with the three thousand pounds compensation I got for my fractured femur after being bowled over in a snowstorm on the Rochdale Road a couple of miles below Nont Sarah’s in March 1966.

Being a shopkeeper and a dad was almost two full time jobs, but I managed to do both by keeping the living room door open so that Matthew could come and go as I attended to customers and rearranged the shop, something I did regularly to try to make the displays look inviting.

Matthew was the sweetest child which, added to his intelligence, made him a charming and erudite companion. Each morning he would wake early and toddle into my room to climb into bed with me and hope to find me awake. There were mornings when I preferred to sleep a little longer so I ignored his enquiries as to whether I was awake and tried to doze back to the sleep from which he had disturbed me.

His next trick was to open my eyelids, top and bottom, to see if I was in there! I usually was, and snuggled him closer to
me. That was his signal to begin asking questions that ranged from how light bulbs were made, to what happened to everything when you flushed the toilet. His curiosity was insatiable.

Sometimes he played in the shop with stock designated as available to be played with, and sometimes he sported on the ivory wall-to-wall fitted living room carpet, up three steps from the shop. We played music all day long. Matthew's particular
favourite was the March of the Peers from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, which was also one of my favourites. I fixed the record player so that it repeated the long-playing record continuously.

Matthew was rarely ill, and when he was he would not complain, so I had to be vigilant and watch for signs of him being off colour. Most times, a couple of junior aspirin would get him back to rights again, and I kept a small bottle of orange flavoured chewable ones on hand at all times. At this point, there are two versions of where the bottle was kept. Matthew remembers them being on the mantelpiece, and I remember them being in my jacket pocket, so I will tell the story my way, but if you ask Matt, it will be a little different. Apart from that minor detail, the rest of the stories attract mutual agreement.

After attending to a customer’s needs, I felt in the right hand pocket of my jacket and discovered that the bottle of aspirin
was missing. I went into the living room to ask Matthew if he had seen them and he told me he had eaten them. Every one! I rushed him up to the bathroom and tried to get him to regurgitate the deadly dose. I didn’t call for an ambulance because I knew that by the time one arrived the aspirin would be already overloading his little system and doing their deadly work.

I filled a tumbler half full of salt and mixed warm water into it, then tried to get Matthew to drink it. Naturally he baulked at the brew and tried not to drink it. In my panic, not too strong a word, I managed to get more outside him than I got inside. I poked my fingers down his throat to try to stimulate his vomit centre, squeezed his little tummy, but nothing worked.

In total despair, on the point of admitting defeat, and ready to call an ambulance, I sat on the end of the tub. I had
hardly settled there when, Whoosh! The saline solution I had managed to get into Matthew did its work, and the contents of
my little darling’s stomach hit the back of the pan. I hugged him until he had stopped crying. He was safe, and that was
all that mattered.

Matthew told me that he had found the bottle on the mantleshelf, taken it down, opened it, and the orange pills had fallen out. Knowing that things that hit the floor were dirty, he said he knew he could not put them back in the bottle, so he ate them. Then, he says, he came and told me what he had done.

Whichever is the correct version matters but little at this distance. However, a few days later, when Matthew was playing on the rug in front of the fireplace and I was sat in the chair reading, he looked up at me from his seat on the floor and said soulfully, “You made me sick!” I was mortified, but he was right. I explained why I had done what I had done, and he went back to his play, apparently satisfied with my explanation, but I have never forgotten the accusatory tone of his words or the look in his beautiful brown eyes.

There are times when we are raising children that what we do seems wrong to them. If so, we had better have a very good
reason for doing what we do. Saving a life would qualify, yet there are other things when I did not always act in Matthew's
best interests. Most often, this was out of selfish self-interest. And yet we cannot turn back the hands of time and do
another take as if we were making a film.

Life moves on and the past is locked in our memories, albeit sometimes in a slightly different version according to each of
the players. What we must learn from the past is to make a better future, and even then, the days roll on and the years
tumble past until there is too little time remaining to set right all our wrongs of the past. In those moments, it is only the generosity of those we have sold short that comes to our rescue. Were it not for their understanding, love, and
magnanimity, there would be no redemption, and then where would we be.

Yet still, when I look into Matt’s dark eyes, there flashes across my field of vision a winsome child of tender years who looks into my eyes and in all childish innocence makes a telling statement, “You made me sick.”


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