Uncle Jimmy cleaned windows for a living, but it wasn’t much of a living. He smoked, and all the kids would provide tobacco for him by collecting dog- ends from the streets. We would walk miles and miles, picking discarded butts from the gutters. When we got home Jimmy would take the paper off and mix all the tobacco in his tin. Then he would get out a cigarette roller and his papers and make up a painfully thin roll-up.
It put me off smoking for life. I would tell him it was unhealthy and that the people who’d thrown away the dog-ends may have had TB or other horrible diseases. He’d just puff away and say: “Piss off, bitch.”
Jimmy had a ‘fancy woman’ around the corner in lvy Leigh. He had started by cleaning her windows and now he was having an affair with her. Auntie Elsie knew, because he took no steps to hide it.
Sometimes Elsie, Violet, Brian and I would go to the picture-house to watch musicals. The woman at the ticket desk was a friend of mam’s and let us in free. We’d sit at the front in the hard, cheap seats and, when we looked over our shoulders who should we see but Jimmy and his mistress in the expensive seats.
We’d tell Elsie to confront them, but she’d just tell us to turn round, that it didn’t matter and that it saved her having to put up with him. You could see how much it hurt her though.
Elsie had a problem with her eyes which seemed to be made worse by the constant crying she did. She would sit at home making her mats, crying, until Jimmy came home and threatened her with his belt. Then she would try to dry her eyes but would still quietly sob. Brian would try to stand up to his father and argue and fight with him but it never helped. Jimmy just carried on as usual.