When I was out in America there was this advert for a torch, but this was no ordinary torch this was a super-duper torch. This torch had been dropped from an aircraft, run over by a truck, and taken to the ocean floor, yet still worked. This torch was indestructible, according to the manufacturers, and to back up their claim it came with a lifetime guarantee. Well not quite, in the small print it read, “The guarantee does not extend to babies under 18 months old”.
Following hard on the heals of depression and two world wars the 1950s was an affluent time for my mother. With her husband home from the sea and in permanent employment in one of Fife’s coalfields, mum for the first time in her married life, had herself a new council house, a steady wage coming in and a disposable income, but, with eight of us still at home, all would need fed and watered there was no rest for mum.
As the girls grew up and went off to work and boyfriends started to come around the house, dress awareness became more important to them. Although none were making great wages as yet, they did want to look their best going out to the dancing.
Door to door salesmen were a common sight around the doors in the 1950s, they sold everything from, vacuum cleaners to encyclopaedias to assurance policies. One salesman, in particular, was a regular at number 48 Wardlaw Way, I never found out his name but dad always called him Turban Johnny. You see Johnny was as a Sekh, very tall, and I suppose he would have been called handsome, by grown-ups, with his neatly kept beard and looking very regal in his blue turban. He came up from Manchester once a month by train and bus to our village, carrying his wares in the biggest suitcase you can imagine. It bulged in every direction and was only prevented from exploding open by two thick leather straps around its girth. His line was ladies clothing. Johnny had arrived at our door just as we were coming in from school on that his first visit, he asked,
“Is mother at home?”, which was his salutation at each and every visit.
Mum invited him in and after showing her a selection of his clothing she suggested he come back when the girls were home from work. Twin sets were very much in vogue at that time, but these were cashmere and very expensive. Not a problem Jonny would offer them credit up to a set amount, they could pay him on each of his visits.
Johnny always managed to arrive when the girls were home, so our living room would them be transformed into an impromptu fashion show, and once the girls had made their choices, the plead would be,
“Can I have it mum?”
That was a signal for Johnny to take out his book and do the sums, the cost against any money still owed, my sisters would wait with bated breath, then the magic words would come,
“Your daughter will look very beautiful in that mother”.
Johnny would become a regular visitor to our house in those years, although he did not always get a sale, for these clothes were special, and not for every day ware, they were looked after, hand washed and laid flat on newspaper to dry, then folded away in tissue paper in a drawer.
At each and every visit his greeting to whoever answered the door would always be,
“Is mother at home?”
One day it was dad who had answered the door to Johnny, and dad being dad called back into the house.
“Maggie, your son’s at the door”. Mother was not amused.