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She's a Boy
Joe Holliday, Louise Chapman
Like me, my mum, Julia Baker, was an unexpected and unplanned baby, but she too was very, very loved. My nan and grandad only had a fairly short-lived relationship with each other and split up when Mum was tiny. Nan had been 39 when Mum arrived and Grandad was 44. They'd each been married to other people previously and had both thought their families were complete well before they met, but even after they separated Nan and Grandad shared the upbringing of Mum 50/50 and remained close friends.
My grandad, Ernie Baker, lived in Spalding, the south Lincolnshire market town once famous for tulip growing. Similarly to a lot of the population of the area, he spent a lot of his working life on the land, mostly on the sugar beet campaigns. He was always a hard worker, but never had a lot to show for it, being one to live for the moment rather than plan for the future. One of the bar stools at Grandad's local pub practically had his name on it. He had his own glass behind the bar and was never happier than when he was in there with a pint of Mackeson Stout in one hand, a cigarette in the other and the day's racing tips laid out in front of him. Mum grew up surrounded by the old boys in that pub, who spoiled her with bags of crisps and glasses of lemonade whenever she went in. Many years later, Mum would sometimes take me in there and they all used to greet me in exactly the same way.
Grandad's two sons and daughter were much older than Mum and lived away with their mother. Grandad still saw them quite often but Mum was very much the baby and got lots of attention. In theory, Mum's home was with Nan, but she spent almost as much time at Grandad's and even on the days she didn't go to Spalding, Grandad would generally drop in to see her and have a cuppa with Nan.
Nan's house, in the village of Pinchbeck, was about ten minutes away from Grandad's by car or around 20 by bike, which was how all of them got around because no-one in my family drove back then. Nan, Jean Ives, also had three elder children – all sons. Kevin was 15 years older than Mum, Terry 12 years older and Gary nine years older. By the time Mum has any recollection, Kevin and Terry were very much grown up and living their own lives, though Gary was around more. He and his girlfriend April lived with her and Nan for quite a few years and Mum was quite close to Gary.
Nan was one of those people who was always busy and always doing something and she seemed to be good at everything. She was a fantastic cook, an amazing gardener and she could turn anything into something special on the sewing machine. She worked in bars and pubs her whole life, as a cleaner and barmaid and it was while Nan was working in The Bull, in Pinchbeck, that Mum first met my dad, Gary Holliday.
My dad was born and grew up in Kent where his father was quite a success story and owned a motor business as well as a load of other property, but his parents separated and his mother came to live in Pinchbeck. My dad's uncle owned The Bull and he and Mum were children when they met in there for the first time. Mum had gone along with Nan and was 'helping' her clean and playing with the chickens that roamed free in the beer garden at the back and my dad was there with his mum visiting his uncle. It's fair to say it wasn't love at first sight. In fact, Mum says they took an instant dislike to each other and whenever no-one was looking, my dad would pull her pigtails and she'd call him names.
Throughout their school years, Mum and my dad were aware of each other, but didn't have a lot to do with one another. They both went to the village primary school, but, aged 11, my dad, always the academic, passed the 11-plus and went off to grammar school in Spalding. Mum, always the popular joker, did not pass and was bussed each day to a secondary school in Crowland, a village beyond Spalding and halfway to Peterborough.
My dad got his head down, completed his O-Levels and went on to the grammar school's sixth form. Mum, on the other hand, only just made it to the end of school without getting kicked out. What she got up to was more mischievous than malicious – smoking behind the bike sheds and sneaking out to the chippy at dinner times – but it left her with a pretty booked-up detention diary. Nan would try to tell her off, but often couldn't help but laugh at what she got up to. She knew Mum had the brains to do whatever she wanted but couldn't be pushed to use them how or when someone else dictated. Mum ultimately left school with a couple of CSEs and a vague idea of taking up an apprenticeship as a hairdresser. She was happy, so Nan and Grandad were happy too.
The hairdressing didn't last more than a couple of weeks before Mum couldn't bear the bitching and sniping in the shop. She got a job behind the till at the Spalding branch of the old DIY chain Texas Homecare and started doing some shifts with Nan at the village Snooker and Social Club.
The old snooker club had burned down when Mum's brothers were teenagers and it had left them with nothing to do in the village. Nan was a part of the team that raised money to get a new social club set up above the village hall at the back of The Bull. When the villagers managed to get the money together to kit it all out, Nan worked behind the bar and cleaned free of charge until it became established. She ultimately became club secretary and did everything from running and managing the bar to taking all the bookings they got for private functions and, by the time Mum left school, Nan had full-time paid work at the club.
The phrase everyone-knows-everyone was invented for Pinchbeck and because Nan had been in the village forever and worked in the pubs it was pretty much literal in her case. She had grown up with, gone to school with, worked with or spent years serving drinks to every Tom, Dick and Harry or their sister and she got on with them all. When people drank in Nan's bar they always seemed to know they had to stay in line, but she never had to upset anyone. She loved the social club and all of its characters and everyone loved her.
Once Mum turned 18, she started serving behind the bar with Nan and they giggled and chatted their way through their shifts like best friends. On Saturday nights, they'd stack up all the drinks that customers bought for them throughout the night and have them back-to-back while clearing up at the end of the night before staggering home together. On Sunday lunchtimes, they'd often end up waltzing round in front of the bar with the old gents who went along for a 'quick half' week in week out while their wives prepared lunch.
'Come on Jean, let's have some music on,' one or other of the customers would call out from the tables around the dance floor where they all sat playing cards.
Nan would crank up a bit of Max Bygraves or Charlie Pride and the playing cards would soon be abandoned for a minute or two. It was the mid-80s and Mum was a child of her time, with very big hair and purple eye shadow up to the brow, but she was just as comfortable with the music of Nan's youth. Nan had a lovely singing voice and I can just see her dancing, head thrown back, singing along.
The younger crowd at the club tended to spend their time at the other end of the room, beyond the huge floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains that were only ever closed when there was an evening do on, around the big old dark wood snooker tables. Mum had been busy serving when my dad went into the club one Sunday and headed down to the tables. She only noticed him as he made his way back down the room towards her with two empty pint glasses. Mum always says that my dad – skinny and a bit geeky looking – appeared so unsure of himself walking towards her. He was a total contrast to Mum, who is so like the comedienne Dawn French that she once won a lookalike contest. Mum shares not only the star's looks, but her apparent bubbly confidence. Mum really felt for my dad and plastered on one of her big welcoming smiles.
'Hiya Gary, how you doing? I haven't seen you in ages. What can I get you?'
'Oh, hi,' he replied awkwardly. 'Just a couple of pints of Coke please. I'm good thanks. You?'
'I'm great ta,' Mum said as my dad handed her the glasses he was carrying and she began filling them one by one with draught cola from the pumps. 'So what you doing with yourself these days?'
'I'm still at the grammar school. Just finishing my A-levels. Hoping to go to uni in September,' my dad replied looking down at the bar as if a bit embarrassed by it all.
'Wow, uni? That's brilliant,' Mum said, genuinely impressed. 'What are you hoping to study?'
Dad looked up, seeming pleased that she was so interested and wasn't going to make fun of his ambitions. 'I want to go to Warwick to do maths. It's a really great place but it's quite tough to get in so I'll just have to see how it goes.'
'Good for you. God, I was useless at maths. Didn't have a clue what the teachers were going on about most of the time. Actually I could probably say the same for most subjects!'
Mum laughed loudly – she has an uproarious cackle – and my dad chuckled along before taking his drinks and turning to walk back up the room to his game of snooker. Mum watched him go and has said she felt drawn to him from that moment.
Until she met up with my dad again, Mum hadn't been particularly interested in finding a boyfriend. On Friday nights she usually went over to Spalding with one of her many friends and spent the evening with Grandad and his mates in The Northern. Grandad wouldn't hear of Mum or her friends buying any of the drinks all night. Then, at the end of the evening, he'd jump up onto his bike and insist on giving Mum and whichever friend was staying over a lift back. He'd balance one of them on the seat and the other on the handlebars and Mum can't believe they never had a horrible crash. The hedge around his council semi in Spalding's Edward Road did have a big dent in it, though, from him using it as a braking system. Mum laughed so much on those nights out that she couldn't imagine having a better time with anyone else.
Something about my dad made Mum feel differently about the prospect of having a relationship and when he started coming into the social club regularly they began chatting more and more. Mum felt my dad had a slightly damaged quality and she had a subconscious urge to make him feel better about himself, but it wasn't just that. They found it easy to talk to each other and generally just got on well. Mum always used to ask my dad how his studies were going and he seemed to enjoy the encouragement she gave him. They also discovered they both shared a love for the rock group Queen and, with his long curly hair, Mum even told herself my dad had the slightest air of the band's guitarist Brian May.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July, my dad was standing at the bar when Nan was talking to Mum. 'Shall we have Trivial Pursuit out in the garden when we get home? Get everyone round?'
'Trivial Pursuit?' Dad asked. 'I love a bit of Trivial Pursuit.'
'Well get yourself along then,' Nan told him.
It was typical of Nan to invite anyone and everyone around to her house, which was always full of waifs and strays either just visiting or staying for a while. She couldn't ever see anyone in trouble for somewhere to stay and it meant there were always plenty of people around. Her brother – my Uncle John, who has mild learning difficulties – was just one example. She took him in when Mum was about 14 and he lived with her continuously after that. A huge roast on a Sunday for whoever happened to be around and a game of Trivial Pursuit was a bit of a tradition.
That Sunday in the garden, playing Trivial Pursuit, was the day Mum and my dad got together. They both knew it wasn't the best time to begin a relationship, with my dad due to start university a few months later, but became inseparable. My dad's mum Barbara was so against the relationship, fearing Mum would try to hold my dad back, that they let her believe it wasn't happening.
That September when my dad left for Warwick in his little yellow Vauxhall Viva, he and Mum both cried their eyes out, but promised to write every day. As it turned out there was a communal phone in my dad's halls of residence, so they were able to speak daily instead. Mum would go out to the phone box in front of Nan's house at a prearranged time and call him from there so as not to run up Nan's phone bill. My dad told Mum all about the fantastic time he was having and all the people he had met and Mum did her best not to show her concern that a lot of them were girls.
Not long after my dad left, it was his birthday and he convinced Mum to go down and spend it with him. He wasn't supposed to allow anyone to stay with him in the halls of residence but was sure they'd get away with it. He was so keen for Mum to meet all of his new friends.
Mum got the National Express coach down to Coventry and my dad met her in his car the other end. They ran into each other's arms and took up exactly where they'd left off.
Within a couple of hours of Mum getting off the coach, she was in Mandela's, one of the Student Union bars and had fitted in with my dad's friends as if she were another student. There was Richard, who was exceptionally clever and would later become a commercial airline pilot, Rebecca, who seemed a bit cool at first but bonded with Mum after telling her she was a bit spiritual and did tarot cards, and Jason. Jason was studying art and media and, as English has always been Mum's secret passion, she found his explanation of his media studies fascinating and they really hit it off. Mum made everyone laugh with stories of the social club and the things she'd got up to with Nan and Grandad and my dad was happy to sit back and let her be the star.
The following day, my dad, Jason, Rebecca and Richard wanted to show Mum some of the beautiful surrounding area so they all dived into my dad's car and headed to Stoneleigh Abbey, in Kenilworth. Mum loved the imposing country house, which was set in beautiful grounds where peacocks roamed and, wrapped up against the autumn chill, they had a lovely relaxed afternoon there. That day's giggles were provided when they all decided to invest some spare change in jumping aboard a little kiddies' train that motored around in a circuit close to the house.
Mum left on the Monday, a little sad to be going back to reality, but already looking forward to her next visit. In fact, 'reality' did not last very long because within a couple of weeks of being back Mum lost her job at the DIY store. On the instructions of the deputy manager she'd left the till to help unload a delivery. When she returned her manager was waiting for her and began screaming and shouting at her for leaving it unattended.
Mum made an initial attempt to explain herself, but was infuriated by the manager's attitude. 'I tell you what,' she told him. 'Don't worry about it. You can stick your job.'
Mum threw her Texas apron at him and stormed out. Once she'd got back home and cooled off, she starting to regret what she'd done and, a bit worried about it all, she rang my dad.
'I've just had a row with my boss and walked out of my job.'
'Great,' he said. 'Now you can come down here at the weekend!'
They had another amazing weekend and when Sunday night came round neither of them wanted it to end.
'Why don't you stay?' Dad said. 'Why do you have to go back to Pinchbeck?'
Mum realised she didn't really need to rush back and agreed to stay on for a few days, which turned into a couple of weeks. They had some wild nights out, drinking cheap vodka and, on one memorable occasion, pushed Richard home in a trolley. At the weekend, my dad drove the gang to The Virgins and Castle, in Kenilworth, a beautiful country pub, and they spent a much more sober afternoon there.
Mum went home to do a few shifts in the social club the following weekend, but got another National Express ticket and returned to Warwick a week or so later. Over the next few months, she shuttled backwards and forwards, spending as much time as she could with my dad in Warwick where they survived on his student grant and the little bit of money she was earning at the club. When Mum came home, Grandad would often bung her a packet of cigarettes and, more often than not, she'd find he'd folded a fiver inside for her. He and Nan were quite happy to see her enjoying herself.