George Cunningham: Characters of Broomhall ~ Part 7
Mrs Gumson and Nellie Slatter ~ Part 2
Researched by Gemma Clarke
Fetching the Beer Again!
‘One of father’s favourite tipples was John Smith’s Magnet ale, a rich, heady, ruby brew from Tadcaster. As a change from Stones’ at Mr Broadley’s or Gilmour’s at Kenny McLeod’s, he occasionally sent me up for some to the Oxford House at the corner of Moore Street and Clarence Lane. At least the pub sign said it was so called, but it was better known as ‘Tommy Green’s’, the name of the landlord.’
‘One evening in late summer I came home, sweating a little after a few games of relievo. On the table was the quart jug, and my father was twiddling a shilling between his fingers. ‘Just pop up to Tommy Green’s and get me three gills of Magnet, there’s a good lad. Here’s a bob, you’ll want three ha’pence change,’ he said.’
The Taste of Milk!
‘I went the long way round, up past Wilson’s the grocer’s at the corner of Clarence Street and Mr Jessop’s milk shop on Moore Street. He was swilling out and waved to me from the bright, white shining clean interior of his little house window dairy. I wondered why my father didn’t drink pints of milk instead of beer, which was so much dearer. When I grew up I vowed that I would, thinking longingly of cool, fresh, sweet milk in contrast to the harsh, bitter taste of beer, which I sometimes craftily tasted.’
‘The tall narrow doors of Tommy Green’s dram shop opened easily at the touch of the worn brass sneck. The room, if it could be called that, was about a yard wide and made even narrower by a well-scrubbed white wooden bench, which ran its length up to the bar. A high, dark oak partition separated this little off-sales from the drammer. A large mirror behind the bar gave me a good view of the customers and I could quite clearly hear their conversation. A domino school was in full swing and standing at the bar Harry Hill the hawker was holding up against the light a newly-pulled pint of beer, quizzically eyeing its clarity.’ Tommy Green called out to everyone in general, ‘I’ll not be a minute. I’m gunner put a new barrel on.’ Harry looked relieved at this and put his untasted drink on the bar. I lolled against the partition, wondering what was for supper. Perhaps Dad would give me the odd ha’penny for some chips if I was lucky. The rattle of dominoes being shuffled for another game ceased, as the players, by mutual consent and also to prevent any cheating, went out of the room and down the passage to the gents.’
‘A familiar voice, quite audible, sounded close to my ear, as indeed it was, because when I craned my neck I could see reflected in the mirror, seated at the other side of the partition, Mrs Gumson and her bosom friend, Nellie Slatter. There was, for once, after the last words I heard, an unusual break in the gossip between the two ladies. Mrs Gumson, easing her ample bulk into a more comfortable position, took a delicate swig from her glass, rearranged her coverall with a movement altogether feminine.’
‘A see Alice Higgins an ‘er ‘usband Percy ‘av packed it in then.’ On hearing this dramatic news, Nellie, who had been chewing her fingernails in contemplative boredom and with her head to one side was working her teeth around a difficult bit on her thumb, stopped and became all ears. Wide-eyed, she turned to face her companion, ‘Oo, wot d’yer mean?’ she gasped. ‘Thrive only bin wed six month, wot’s wrong we ’em?’ Mrs Gumson, not to be hurried now that she had the full attention of her listener, replied weightily, ‘Not them,’ then with great emphasis, ”Im, ‘ee weren’t up to ‘job!’ A stunned silence of the fair Nellie was broken when she breathed, ‘Yer don’t mean that theer?’ ‘Yers,’ was the reply. ‘Alice went to ‘slisseter ‘n ‘ee telled ‘er she could gerra divorce, becuss marridge was niver constipated!’ Relishing in her role and well pleased by the effect these words had caused, she continued, ‘Percy’s tekken up wi a big coil man from Pitsmoor an’ gone ter live wi ‘im.’
‘Nellie, righteous anger bringing her wide-open mouth back into action, exclaimed, ‘The dirty little dog, ‘ee ort t’be flaming well ‘ung!’ Engrossed by this illuminating conversation, puzzled by what ‘that theer’ meant and what particular job the diminutive Percy ‘wasn’t up to’, I was even more intrigued by what he could do with the ample Mrs Gumson’s voluminous undergarments, which I had often seen billowing on her clothesline. The domino school returned and resumed play. Mr Green ascended from the nether regions, pulled off a few pints, then replaced the mollified Harry Hill’s drink, explaining ‘It wer bottom o’barrel,’ and took my jug.’
‘All the way home down t’owd lane and past Beeley’s Foundry, I was puzzling out what I had overheard and meant to ask my father and mother a few pointed questions when I got home. Once there, I had just got started, asking what job Percy wasn’t up to, when my father, looking quite startled and mother, blushing, put the change, all of it, back in my hand and giving me a hurried but affectionate push to the door said, ‘Go and get yourself a penny fish and a ha’porth of chips.’
A Surprise Treat!
‘I couldn’t understand this unexpected bonanza and thought about saving the penny and just having a ha’porth of chips, but conscience prevailed and I lashed out all the lot. I walked round the lump eating them and savouring the last bit of batter to be washed down by the vinegar that had drained into the bottom of the paper. When I got home again, Dad had his head buried in the Telegraph and Star and mother gave my chest a brisk rubbing with camphorated oil, which made it difficult for me to ask any questions. Anyway, I was so sleep and replete with food that I was glad to stumble upstairs and fall into bed, to dream of an irate Mrs Gumson armed with a clothes prop, chasing Percy down her entry.’
PP.20-23, Chapter 3, More George! (courtesy of The Hallamshire Press Limited).