Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sheffield fairy

This little fairy is H.I.'s elder sister - taken quite a few years ago in Sheffield, where she still lives.

H.I. had the most caring and considerate parents that I have ever heard of, and her childhood - though simple and austere through lack of money - was almost ideal from what she tells me. Even to this day, she cannot comprehend some of the accounts of other people's relationships with their parents - she thought that everyone's childhood was like hers.

She spent the first half of it with a toilet at the bottom of the small garden, and taking baths in a tin tub in front of the fire. It was quite an event when a toilet and bathroom was installed inside the little house.

Her father would get her up in the middle of the night, just to see the once-in-a-lifetime sight of the river Don which had burst it's banks and was roaring down the road where the busses normally went. He would make crystal radio sets for her with a 'cat's whisker', and generally treat her like the boy that he never had.

She would walk to school past the long-gone steel-furnaces, and watch bare-chested men wrestling with snakes of red-hot iron inside cavernous and hellish mills.

There were the great piles of mother-of-pearl off-cuts outside the cutlers and button factories at the end of the street, glittering like butterfly's wings in the city sunshine.

Her mother used to say, "I don't know where she came from. She's like the Queen of Sheba".

She knew where she was going, even before she went to the Junior Art School in her infancy, and the drawings and paintings in her school-books were - and still are - staggeringly good.

She was taught how to make proper coffee by a Turkish noblewoman who had, somehow, ended up in Sheffield, and the smell of real coffee drew her down to Soho and the Slade School of Art in London, where she studied painting with Frank Auerbach as her personal tutor.

When she arrived in Bath about 40 years ago, she was shocked by the rudeness and hostility of the southern locals. She had only ever experienced the warmth and directness of Yorkshire people and the kindness of the child-loving Italians who ran the coffee shops she frequented with her little girl in Soho. She would walk down the street like an Italian film-star and literally get hissed at by middle-aged woman for looking too good.

Her little girl is now almost 43, and - I am very pleased to say - part of my family too, as her her children are. I am the only consistent male figure that they have had in their lives, and they call me their 'grand-father'. I think I deserve that, since I was probably the first or second man to have picked them both up a matter of hours after they were born, and the only one never to put them down.

Every now and then, I remind myself of how lucky I am, and this produces a somewhat soppy post like this one. At least it is written in the cold light of day, and not after I have got back from the pub, so you know it is meant. It is not written without a pang of guilt for my biological offspring (born from a one-night stand years ago), however. Circumstances have separated me from them for all but a few days every year or so.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible (after I have got back from the pub).


  1. I don't think children have lives like this any more, Tom - ore's the pity. Those days are gone for ever.

  2. Hello Tom:
    Could it possibly be that the young of today have rather too much in the way of material well being and rather too little in the way of genuine love and affection?

  3. Yep, gone forever, like the cutlers and the steel-mills.

    I blame Microsoft, Hattatts, but that genie just refuses to get back into the bottle.

  4. When people talk of child poverty today, they mean that he or she is having to use a computer that's probably more than two years old... Poor dears.

  5. as a previous sheffield resident
    I like her........
    especially as she was a fairy

  6. I think there are still plenty of wonderful childhoods. Thee basics of a strong, loving and supportive family are still very much intact.

    A consistent male figure is key to kids. HI's child and your grandchildren are very lucky to have you in their lives. Blood doesn;t matter as you know. Your heart thinks of them as yours.

    HI, from the one or two photos you have posted, is stunning. I would love to see more photos of her....and her art.

  7. Very "grounding" post that I liked a lot. A glimpse of a childhood like you see it in the movies and think that it never really exists in real live. How very lucky those girls are to have experienced it. Wish I could say the same. Sniff.

  8. I try hard not to spoil my children with things. My hope is to give them beautiful lives without stuff. It is a constant battle.
    Your post was beautifully written.
    Your Friend, m.

  9. Tom,

    This was a beautiful post! I loved it!


  10. I am always drawn to your soppy posts. I think because they are few and far between they have great meaning.
    HI sounds like someone I would love to meet.

  11. This photograph is magical as are your have brightened this wandering fairies (minus the star) day. Thank you for sharing dear TS.

  12. I love it when you tell these stories Tom.

  13. Oh, thank you all for your kind comments. I really do think I am lucky - especially as the family that have adopted me (and vice versa) have to put up with the bile of this embittered curmudgeon even more than you choose to, and usually without the degree of schoolboy humour which hopefully adds alkali to an otherwise acid tongue.

    I try not to post up too much about family, because everyone's family is deeply special, and sometimes I find that difficult to remember.

  14. Aww. I like it when you're being soppy, Tom. Good post.

  15. And a P.S. to Amy - I have been thinking about you during this post. I have not forgotten.

  16. I heartily approve of posts that are written before you go to the pub. I wonder if HI was at the Slade at the same time as my Bradford schoolfriend, Moira McNeil? And I wonder who made big sister's wings? They remind me of all the funny outfits that my father used to make for various events, one being a Christmas cracker in which I could walk but not climb stairs. Rather tricky when it was time to get onto the stage!

  17. It's a beautiful post Tom. Not a lot of men, or women for that matter, can extend their feelings in such a lovely way as this. I'm touched by your honesty.

  18. Have you got a photo of yourself as a Christmas cracker, Cher? If so, share that with us as well - please!