Week Five of Sunday’s Scraps
Living Up to His Name
#sundaysscraps #comedy #British #memoir #crooner
Oswald Arthur Postlethwaite had a name suited to comedy, but it was his “voice of an angel” that brought him the fame he went on to enjoy.
‘Who in their right mind would lumber their child with such a mouthful of a name?’ He always asked whenever he started his act at the holiday camps.
‘I mean, my initials are OAP! Do I look like an old age pensioner?’ A cheeky smile emphasised his dimples, and his rugged good looks were more than a match for the matinee idols whose faces were plastered on posters throughout the town.
The OAP quip soon became his catchphrase, despite an attempt to later re-brand himself as the more trendy Artie Postlethwaite—although trendy to whom even today is still a valid question.
Born in 1914 to Annie and James Postlethwaite in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, Oswald grew up in his grandparents’ home, a terraced cottage with an outside toilet and no bathroom, with his mother, older sister Lilian, and Nanna and Grampy. His father, a former miner, was away serving in the King’s Own Light Infantry (South Yorkshire Division).
Oswald’s first memory of his father came many months after The Great War ended, when a stranger arrived at their home wearing an ill-fitting, grey suit and holding a heavy Great Coat over his arm, looking like he might drop it at any moment. At only five years old, Oswald’s recollection is sketchy at best and it was only during later years that he grew more aware of the man living in the back room that once had been his Nanna’s precious parlour.
The man screamed and trembled whenever a storm blew in. And, lightning sent him scurrying to his room to take cover under the makeshift bed which had replaced Nanna’s oak table and spindly-legged chairs. Oswald been given strict instruction from Mother not to enter that room, But that didn’t mean he couldn’t watch him from the safety of the staircase. The door had long since been removed to be used as firewood and through the railings, he saw the skeletal person cowering on the floor beneath a pile of blankets and overcoats.’
He often wondered why the man he learnt to call Father acted the way he did. He recalls asking his mother, one day. Her answer came with a huge sigh and a pat on the head for him. ‘It’s the war, my love. It made your father quite poorly.’
Six months later, Nanna died from influenza and his grandfather’s condition worsened. Black Lung disease, a common ailment in the mining community.
Breathing difficulties meant Grampy rarely left his bed and when he did, he’d often collapse, a result of chronic coughing fits. So, Mum banned Oswald from that room too. All he knew of Grampy’s existence was a string of handkerchiefs on the washing line. Mum would pummel the life out of them, scrapping them against the washboard to remove blood and phlegm stains. Then when she’d finished, she’d call him in for a “bath”. The smell of carbolic soap acted as a warning for him. As soon as it hit his nostrils, he’d hide away. She always found him, though. Thanks to Lil. He remembered his mother combing his blond hair after one such bath time.
‘Oswald Postlethwaite,’ she’d say, ‘you’re going to break a few hearts, my boy.’
She always twisted a lock or two of his hair around her finger, ‘Aw, Mum. Don’t do that. Makes me look like a girl,’ he’d say, pouting. He would shrug and wriggle from her grasp while she laughed, her blue eyes wide and twinkling.
Watching her throw the bath water across the yard later that evening, he’d see her wipe away a tear or two, before lifting her face to the skies and mumbling a few words.
‘What are you saying, Mummy?’ Oswald asked her as he was pulling on his pyjamas, the open backdoor drawing all the heat from the room.
‘Just a prayer for Grampy and your father,’ she said, returning to the kitchen and tousling his still damp hair.
‘Are they going to Heaven too?’
She drew him into her arms and sat with him on her lap, swaying back and forth on Nanna’s rocking chair that had been rescued, intact, from the wood pile in the yard
Grampy joined Nanna only weeks later. But his father, still a shell of a man, remained a hermit in the old parlour.
Oswald—and Lilian—attended the village school from the age of five, where the highlight of his day was the mid-morning milk break. His mother always attributed the daily milk drink to her son’s growth spurt, even though his sister—three years older—drank the same milk and still fell short of four feet ten when she left school. She would help her mother with sewing work and also had a daily shift, washing glasses at the working men’s club, but had to stand on a crate to reach the shelves.
One day, Frank Langton, the manager of the club where Lil worked—the same one Grampy had virtually lived in before he became ill—came to see Annie. He was looking for acts to perform at a Gala event in a fortnight’s time. She had sung there a few times in the past and Frank offered her a paid spot on the bill. It was too tempting an offer for Annie to turn down. Although, she told Oswald years later that she’d only agreed on one condition: That he’d be allowed to accompany her and watch from the sidelines.’
It was to be a turning point in Oswald’s life and an experience he’d never forget. ‘Mum spent the next few days singing at every opportunity, belting out tune after tune, hymn after hymn. We could hear her on the way home from school. It was great to come home to such a happy atmosphere. Mum laughed more, even our Lilian lost the dour expression she normally wore in favour of a smile. We’d dance around the tiny kitchen, dragging the table to one side to create more room.’
Annie’s singing was constant— infectious. By the end of the week, he and Lil knew every word too.
As the day dawned, Annie’s nerves intensified. Oswald overheard his parents talking. ‘Frank’s given me a free ticket, as a perk of the job. It’s yours if you want it. Please come and see me, James. The kids’ll be there.’
‘Get me another bottle of ale, love, and I’ll think about it.’
His father had scarcely left the parlour since his return from the war, some four years ago, except to go to the pub and drink himself daft. Bottled beer had just become popular and he remembers how the hallway became home to a daily line of empty bottles outside his father’s room, which now had a curtain draped across the doorway to afford him some privacy. Mother collected the empties every day, giving them to Oswald to return to the brewery and collect a few halfpennies which she then would spend again buying more bottles of Brown Ale for her husband.
‘Do you think Father will come, Mum?’ Oswald asked her when she returned to the kitchen, her eyes red and puffy.
‘Were you eavesdropping, my lad?’
He nodded, gulping back a lump in his throat at her harsh tone.
She just shrugged her shoulders and turned away from him, lifting the lid on a pan of watery soup that had no more licked a piece of meat or a vegetable than he had, since they were living off the last of the week’s rations: dried egg and soup sachets.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Next week’s scraps come from Ramelius – The King’s Own Sorceror. No longer prepared to let the King continue with his killing spree, Ramelius is forced to act. It’s an act that defines his Afterlife and the lives of many more to follow. This is back story to The Nasrid Charm, my first fantasy. Eek!