This is a transcript of an audio-recording made by my grandfather some time before I was born and uncovered by a cousin of mine decades later in a loft. Finding these recordings was the first time I heard his voice.
If you right click and save-as you can download ‘Owder and Madder’ for posterity. Pretty sure my Grandad would be buzzing if you did that.
“In the spring” so William Shakespear once said, “A young mans fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”. He must be joking, or else the men of his era were a thin blooded lot! Why today they never think of owt else and not only younguns but th’owdens too.. and if they don’t they’re as good as dead.
The girl by my side had everything, and by everything I mean the lot. We stood together at the counter of a crowded store in manchester on a busy afternoon a couple of weeks ago.. but we had no eyes for the bargain-hunting shoppers - so absorbed were we in each other. I make full allowances for the widely acknowledged fact that to any man of my generation any girl between the ages of 17 and 25 must be beautiful. If not, then she must have a face like a busted clock! No, it wasn’t just her youth, she was positively radient, no kidding lads no kidding, she were a smooker.
She was holding my hand, I repeat, she was holding my hand, and we were taking alternate squeezes.
She was an experienced, accomplished palm-squeezer and fingernail plucker. The gentle caress of my hair-covered hand was the braille of lovers, and she knew all the words. She re-kindled the flames of passion to a fire which had gone out a long long time ago. Never since the days I used to sit in seats K6 and 7 in the nine-pennies at the Criterion had anyone held my hand, and even then I had to wait until she had eaten a one-threp’ny box of Terrys spartan chocolates! It gave my ego a much needed bolstering.
The squeezing continued, interspersed by murmurs of “darling” this and “darling” that, oo I felt good! In the mirror behind the counter I looked at my face. With my free hand I stroked my hair, adjusted my tie and smirked to myself “Fletcher you old dog you! oo’d a thowt it!.. …and me at my time of life too! Still, there’s plenty worse, not much mind thee but def’n’tely worse, old wotist for example.. eighty if hes a day! Eighty! Bald as a billiard ball and he’s married to a barmaid half his age!
But this young tender palm nestling in mine was no barmaid, nor was she thirty-odd, nearer twenty. What about people as I knew? Business acquaintances and lads int’ local and people I dont know, local housewives.. I’d better cancel that talk wi’ women’s fella’ship… shop keepers and so on.
Thus ruminating on my good fortune I stopped wondering why this lovely young creature had given me her heart and her hand - for who am I to argue with fate. In the ecstasy of the moment I went back into time and took her with me, how different yet how wonderful it would have been…. In the halcyon days of my youth holding hands in public brought looks of reproof, your arms round her waist brought sneers and cat-calls. A kiss? Ha! They brought out the specials!
Love however knows no bounds, and we managed quite well in love-nests of our own making. Stand up the man, cross your heart and spit, who has never kissed a girl in what we call the Marble Arch or over the rough field or in the avenues of Walkden. Or if you like, has never hurried on a dark winters evening and taken his girl down to the park to occupy a seat under the veranda on the tennis courts before they were all taken. No? You didn’t?! You have never kissed a girl on the back row of the Savoy? Or the Palace?! or the Empire!?! Not there either?! Nor in one of the endless little corners of the backsteeets and the alleys of the districts?! Nay! Nay I daren’t believe it! Pull t’other it’s bells on!
But back to this luscious girl still caressing my hand. Oh that I had known her a long time ago… For her, nothing but the best, nothing. For her the love so late coming into my life, I would have layed my world at her feet. Not the nine-pennies at the Criterion but the two-bobs at the Bolton Grand. No cold back-street nor windy marble Arch! For her, a place reserved only for the chosen few, a place guaranteed to give her a warmth she wouldn’t really need, but still, warmth - The brick wall of a kiln in Anningbrook brick yard.
I was aroused from my nostalgic reverie by another squeeze from my ravishing young partner. It was now my turn, and I must have entered into the mood of the moment a little too enthusiastically, for I gripped rather than squeezed! It was then that she turned slowly towards me.. the current of air from the overhead fan gently yet tantalisingly wafted whisps of golden hair across her brow, and as she swept them aside she stared at me with unbelieving eyes. Obviously stunned by my good looks and finding my presence absolutely overwhelming. I understood. I have had this effect on girls, always have.
Suddenly her jaw dropped. Her eyes were as wide as saucepans. Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a scream and she dashed off, to find the chap whose hand she thought she’d been holding before he wandered off unnoticed. He was only a few yards away in the gents underwear department, and clutching tightly to his arm she disappeared down the escalator and out of my life forever. I looked in the mirror once again shook my head sadly and muttered “Aye it’s just like me ol’ Dad once said. Owder and madder”.