Pullyman: My favourite aunt, Elsie

Michael Cowin

Michael Cowin

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I suppose that we all have, or in my case had, a favourite aunt or uncle.

Someone who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time and who you knew that you could always rely on, or if you were a little boy, someone who always had a little treat hidden away.

The War had ended in 1945 and times were hard. Many things were rationed, and indeed would remain rationed for many years to come.

When I think about it, rationed or not, we didn’t have the cash to buy things with.

Treats were few and far between and were always gratefully accepted.

My favourite relative was my Auntie Elsie. She was a star.

She was not known to waste much of her time laughing but she had a wonderful sense of humour.

She was tough and abrupt but at the same time kind and generous. She was a collection of contradictions.

She was what they used to call a Maiden Aunt. She never married, and as far as I can remember, there was never any family gossip about men friends, secret or otherwise.

Her mother, my grandmother, had been widowed before I met her and Aunt Elsie was her mother’s carer and companion until the old lady passed away.

Their home was a tall terraced house in Shaw’s Brow, a lane that ran parallel with Athol Street, and because of the slope of the land, if you went up to the attic you could see over the top of the Lord Street flats to the Howe.

From street level, you went downstairs to the kitchen and sitting room. These two rooms were in effect underground.

But because of the slope, from this level you could get into the backyard and the toilet and wash house.

They had no electricity or hot water. There was a cold tap in the kitchen and another in the yard. A bathroom was a distant dream.

They had gaslights in each room and a meter that took the big, pre­decimal pennies. Heating came from a cast iron, coke fired range, which doubled as their cooker.

My first and lasting memory of these two ladies was to see them sitting in their chairs, one each side of this range.

Aunt Elsie would always have a cigarette hanging from one corner of her mouth.

She could conduct a conversation with a smouldering Woodbine bobbing up and down in the corner of her mouth. I think she was eventually seen off by throat cancer. But we didn’t know then what we know now.

Elsie had a regular job with the Palace and Derby Castle Company, which owned most of the public entertainment premises in Douglas. Elsie was a cleaner in the Picture House in Strand Street.

Every morning, the dedicated team would get the place ready for the next day’s cinema go­ers.

In the 1940s and 50s, a night at the pictures, at least once a week, was a must for most folk. With two shows each night and one on Sunday, there was always plenty of work for a good cleaner.

Being a cleaner in the Picture House was a sought after job. It was a job with perks.

By the laws of averages, several hundred picture­goers, every night of the week, would leave things behind.

Now don’t get me wrong, if a member of the team found something valuable it would be handed in and hopefully, returned to the owner.

What I’m talking about is the never-ending supply of things like cotton handkerchiefs, combs, small value coins and cigarettes.

No one today could imagine collecting a bag full of other people’s handkerchiefs, taking them home to boil on the range, iron them and sell them for pennies, as good as new to a stall holder in the market.

But just think about it, in today’s money, a cinema ticket would have cost about 10p.

How many re­cycled handkerchiefs would it take to buy the Beano or Dandy for your nephew?

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