Friday 3 November 2023

The Good Old Days by Judith Skilleter, a cup of tea

Esme is old enough to remember The Good Old Days, the variety programme on TV in the 1960s and 1970s. She can remember Leonard Sachs introducing each act in such an amazing way, with so many expressive words that she, as a young girl, did not understand but assumed that they were kind words and not angry words. The audience seemed to think so anyway. And he had a gavel that he thumped the woodwork where he stood and, until it was explained to her by Auntie Agnes, Esme though he was selling the acts like an auctioneer. The audience were all dressed up in Victorian or was it Edwardian or was it Georgian outfits. The ladies wore big hats which must have been such a nuisance for the people behind but they all looked as if they were having such a good time whatever the headgear of the people in front.

Esme’s current days are not at all like the good old days. She has a regime of daily tablets – to keep away further tumours following a diagnosis of breast cancer and to keep at bay the side effects of this anti-cancer medication i.e. an embarrassing overactive bladder and bowel. Esme reckons most of this, including her arthritis in her hands and knees that need daily doses of painkillers, is due also to old age.  She is after all nearly seventy, and her body is not what it was in the good old days.

Back then she walked in high heels all day, three-inchers. She believed they gave her authority as PA to a local businessman, and she loved the impact made by her tippy-tap shoes on her colleagues who seemed to sit up straighter and work harder as she tippy-tapped past. She wore make-up every day including bright red lipstick plus her favourite Avon perfume, Topaz. George, her husband, always said she was a catch and he caught her. Those were the really good old days.

Those were also the days of the mini skirt. Esme had good legs but always thought that she looked more professional if her skirt or dresses came to just slightly above the knee. How long was it since she wore a dress or a skirt? Comfy trousers with elasticated waists are what she wears now. And she wears slippers or those shoes advertised on TV by that good-looking ex-footballer, who is now on wife number two, wives one and two being very good-looking also. Esme reads Hello every week and keeps up to date with show biz gossip.

Esme was also very good-looking in the good old days. She was always a size ten and George could sometimes encircle her waist with his hands. He did have big hands though. Now she was size sixteen, and sometimes bought eighteen for comfort. This would have been unthinkable in the good old days.

She doesn’t go out very often. George takes her out every Saturday for a pub lunch but it is too much like hard work and she is always glad to get back home with the front door shut. She is happy enough with her indoor existence and doesn’t want to embarrass George or be pitied by the other diners. George says that what other people think doesn’t matter – but it matters to her.

What is that good looking footballer’s name?

Her arthritis is her main complaint and she is on the NHS list for new knees. She refuses to go for private care; that would cost just short of £30000 and would reduce her children’s inheritance. No way will she pay so much money to give her what would be limited extra movement for a short period of time. It would not be worth it, it would be a complete waste. She and George are determined to help their children and grandchildren as much as they can – something that was not always possible in the good old days.

George is a marvellous carer. He helps her with everything – getting dressed and undressed, going to the toilet, having a shower and he even helps to feed her as her arthritis fingers cannot hold cups or cutlery. She can however hold a mug or cup with both hands if someone puts her hands in the right position and she can guide it to her mouth by herself. In the good old days no one had to help her hold a cup – and especially not a glass holding wine or champagne. George is and always has been a lovely husband and on special occasions he cups her arthritic hands round a mug holding champagne. He is and always has been a good husband and she hopes she has been a good wife.

George manages to get out twice a week to play bowls and he plays darts with pals every Friday. Esme knows he has a lady friend in the bowls club with whom he has a drink after bowls matches. Esme doesn’t mind this relationship; she is glad George has a female companion and she hopes they become a couple when she, Esme, has died. Esme is more than likely to die before George. In the good old days though Esme would have gone up to this predatory female and blacked her eyes.

“Harry Redknapp” says Esme out loud to herself. “That is the name of the good looking ex-footballer who sells shoes.” And very pleased that her memory is not as bad as she thought Esme has a nap in her chair.


About the author

 Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire forty-five years ago and is married with three grandchildren 
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