The row of terraced houses wound up and down Tiverton Road like an industrial accordion cast aside by a drunken giant. Grey slate roofs glistened with Christmas frost under the full moon. Roy and I scrambled out of the car and scurried down the entry to Grandma James backdoor. The front door was only used for weddings and funerals. Boxing Day was like a second Christmas, only almost as exciting (nothing beats that agonizing countdown to 6 am Christmas morning), but there were more presents, even if some of them were monogrammed hankies or grey socks from Aunty Dorothy.
The whole James clan would gather and jam themselves in Grandma May and Granddad Charlie’s tiny terraced two-up-and-two-down. There was the shadowy entry way to run up and down, there was the outside toilet to flush when empty and bang on the door when occupied, and there was the mysterious back garden, a small patch of weeds that surrounded an Anderson shelter left over from the war.
I threaded my way through forests of trouser legs and sailing ships of dresses and reached the front room. Just two years earlier I’d disgraced myself by crying because I couldn’t eat my dinner at the women’s table. I refused to move to the drunken, fag smoke wreathed men’s table in the back room and cried with my head buried under the edge of the tablecloth.
It’s amazing what the lure of the stage can do, especially when fueled by booze. I may have only been nine-years-old, but I knew what a glass of Stones ginger wine could do to warm my chest and fuddle my head.
“Come on then, son. That’s right,” Dad yelled, “Get up on that table and give us a turn.”
Causes Luke James Supports
Doctors Without Borders