Hamish is an extremely elderly, pure white cat, he rubbed his white fur all over my legs as Biffo's Aunty asked us if we wanted a drink. I said yes expecting tea, at strongest, builders tea. I got a blue plastic beaker, decorated with Greek figurines, filled with vodka and perhaps, only perhaps, the slightest sniff of tonic waved somewhere nearby. Ye Gods! Rocket fuel. Not to be rude I (very slowly) drank the beaker of pure Smirnoff while Aunty provided a feast of cheese and onion crisps and Tunnocks Teacakes. You can’t beat a Tunnocks in my humble opinion, the taste, the texture…
Anyway, I learned many things tonight… Aunty claims never to have
travelled far, but I disagree. In the early 1950′s one of her relatives
was dying of TB. This relative had two daughters, one was 17, the other
only 6 or so. With no one to care for the girls, someone offered to
marry the 17-year-old, I am told this was lucky for her. Can you
imagine? Your mother is dying, you’re 17 and someone, anyone, offers to
marry you and that’s lucky?? The youngest, Stella, was ‘sent out’ to a family in Morpeth, miles and miles away and up the coast of Northumberland.
Aunty, who was recently married herself, couldn’t stand it. She went
to see her dying relative who grieved for her daughters, who she would
never see grown. Aunty explained how she wanted to help, but she lived
in a small flat above a chip shop and couldn’t legally have a child in
She had never travelled. Transport was difficult in the 50′s from
Wallsend to rural Morpeth. But Aunty found her way on buses and trains.
And she went, she found the place where Stella had been ‘sent out’ and
knocked on the door and when it was answered said ‘I’m here for Stella!’
She thought she would have a fight on her hands, as if finding the
place where Stella was housed, wasn’t fight enough. But no one fought.
Stella was told to get her hat and coat and handed over. Still afraid
that they might change their minds, or perhaps that this was all to
easy, Aunty whispered into Stella’s ear ‘grab my hand and run!’ and they
did, they ran and ran and no one stopped them. They got on the train,
and then the bus and then another bus and finally they got off on
Wallsend High Street and little Stella, in her hat and coat, told every
stranger on the street ‘ I’m back! I’m back!’ And when Aunty got home,
she told her husband, ‘I got Stella, she’s staying with us’ and that’s
Aunty took Stella to see her dying mother who's
last act was to stretch out her arms one last time to her daughter. That was the last time Stella saw her
No she couldn’t have Stella in the flat above the chip shop, so she
went to the council and fought for a council house where she could have
Stella. And she got it.
Aunty claims she has not travelled. I disagree, I would say she has
travelled far. Finding her way to a strangers door in the middle of no
where and busting a young relative out of foster care. Fighting with the
council for a home enough to raise her in. Taking Stella to see her
dying mother, who raised her arms to her child one last time and raising
Stella as her own child… Aunty has travelled further than most of us.