Unhappy memories

Nov 10th, 2006 | By | Category: Personal Columns

My ‘auntie’ played bingo at Burrowbridge. I think she must have played in lots of other places as well – she would buy five books of bingo tickets and be able to play with all five of them as the caller called the numbers – the only thing she ever won was a bottle of wine, and that was on the raffle and, if she bought as many raffle tickets as she bought bingo tickets, it was an expensive bottle of wine.

She wasn’t my auntie at all. She was a friend of my mother’s who became an honorific aunt in those days before children addressed adults by their forenames. I wouldn’t really remember her at all, if it were not for her husband.

He was ‘chapel’. His father belonged to some brand of strict evangelical church and regarded himself as a ‘Christian’. The implication being that only people who shared his views could aspire to such a label. My ‘uncle’ purported to uphold ‘biblical’ standards, he was a strict disciplinarian. His main ‘biblical’ verse seemed to be ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. Discipline meant that his children often had thick red welts across the backs of their legs when they had fallen short of his ‘standards’.

His standards mystified me. He worked in a department store which was notorious for paying its workers poorly, so he received generous allowances for everything from the social security system. The working hours in the store were quite convenient for him, because he supplemented his wages and his supplements with the income from keeping and selling pigs and cattle on his father’s farm. The business was in his father’s name and because his father was a ‘Christian’ and was ‘good-living’, it must have all been alright not to tell the social security about your other income.

The other thing that I thought odd about him was the way he kept magazines with pictures of women on the front tucked away in the top drawer of the sideboard. No-one dared touch the drawer and he was always very secretive about its contents. But there couldn’t have been anything wrong, because he was a man with very strict standards.

Looking back over four decades, he appears to me now as a man who physically abused his children, who was guilty of social security fraud, and who bought pornographic magazines and read them in the house. Yet no-one would have dared to make any suggestion of anything improper, after all, they were a ‘chapel’ family.

I think I understand why even now I remain suspicious of people who vociferously tell me they are ‘Christians’. I think I understand how my ‘auntie’ became proficient at playing five bingo cards simultaneously. I think I understand how she eventually left my ‘uncle’ and how she is now happily married to someone else.

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