WHEN I WAS four I had an urgent desire to go to Sunday School. I believe I nagged my parents about this. They didn’t mind the idea but had no desire to take me. They’d been married in St Augustine’s Church of England and I’d been christened there, but they weren’t churchgoers. At weekends they were busy about the house. My father helped my mother do the washing, boiling the great heavy sheets in a gas copper, putting them through a hand wringer into tubs of clean cold water, the last one with blue added to make the white brilliant. And there was the new garden to make, the sand to remove, to two spades deep, and replace with soil so vegetables could be grown.
Auntie Min said she’d take me, not to the Church of England but the Methodists. They were half the distance away, at the top of Park Street hill, which seemed helpful. Auntie Min was a great aunt, visiting her sister, my grandma, whose children all lived within a stone’s throw of one another – a nice picture, that – and all close to the sea. She had a job, I suppose you would call it; she was a lady’s companion. She lived with a grand family: the Whites of Gartrell White, the cake and biscuit people. It wasn’t very clear what the job was. The role seemed more defined by what she didn’t do: housekeeping, house cleaning (though perhaps she did a little light dusting), cooking (though possibly she made cups of tea), child-minding. Perhaps she changed library books. But mainly the job seemed to be exactly what it said: a companion to the lady of the house. I can’t imagine Auntie Min being a brilliant conversationalist. I seem to recall her being evangelical, trying to convert us with threats of hell and my father resisting and there being arguments, which my mother hated.
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