As utterly fantastic and chock full of joy as most of my childhood was, (What?), there is one day that sticks in the memory as being a particularly happy one, above and beyond the others. I speak of my meeting, one fine summer's day, with Jigsaw Lady. Yes, that was her name. It was!
It was near the beginning of the summer hols. Ian was staying at Bob's and as was traditional I had gone up at about 9:30 to bang him out of bed; yes, back then I would actually get out of bed before noon when I didn't have to; it was a different world, to be sure. Anyway, I roused him from his pit, and we departed, eager to discover whatever wonders and delights the world had in store for us; we were young, and carefree and the world was our oyster; anything was possible.
20 Minutes Later. We are bored. All those who say that kids today are spoiled by games consoles and smartphones and whatnot; and that back in the day we had to make our own entertainment and were the happier for it; are, not to put too fine a point on it, talking bobbins. I'd have killed for a playstation that morning, I can tell you; if I'd known what one was, or they had actually been invented. Whatever.
We could have gone to mine, but I was in the bad books because of something or other and I wanted to keep my first shoe to the head for after lunch (I'm all about the delayed gratification), and we could have gone back to Bob's but, as was his way. he was spending the day in the betting shop. Our answer? Well, we decided that the only thing for it was to trudge around the streets randomly until we got tired and then lounge against a garden wall looking all cool, like. It was the only logical thing to do, really.
We ended up, by a very roundabout route, in the next street over from Bob's. Remember that; the next street over; it may be important later. There we were, doing our best ice cool loitering and feeling very proud of ourselves, when from out of nowhere comes "What are you boys doing there? What's going on? Who are you?" Panic Stations!
You see, so conditioned were we to always being moved on by adults; almost as if they had something against scruffy urchins trespassing on their property and hurling sarcastic abuse at them; our instinctual reaction was always to run. Which is precisely what we would have done here, if not for one small, but pivotal, point; my foot was caught in the railings of the gate and I fell over. Smooth.
Luckily for us, the words which we in our pre-conditioned states had assumed to be harsh had actually been intended as a friendly overture by the speaker, who turned out to be a lady of indeterminate, but most definitely advanced, years. She cooed over me a little as I picked myself up, unhurt but mortified, from the floor, and then said the one thing guaranteed to make us friends for life; "do you boys want some pop and biscuits?"
Now, I know what you're thinking here, and you're right. But I mean, come on, POP! And BISCUITS! I never said we were geniuses. I'd like to tell you that we ate the biscuits and drank the pop on the doorstep. I'd like to tell you that, but I can't.
Once inside the house, the old crone drugged us with spiked lemonade, stripped us of our clothes and hogtied us under the stairs while the oven pre-heated. Only by the judicial use of Ian's long fingernails (I used to bite mine, NO LONGER!) and a loose nail were we able to escape our bonds and flee, naked and sobbing into the street. No, hang on, we played Scrabble, yeah, that's right.
Now, it may surprise you to learn this, but my Mother and Maurice the dickhead pseudo-stepdad were not amongst the worlds great thinkers; we owned a scrabble bard, and occasionally actually played it, too; but we didn't own a dictionary and to argue with their spellin was tantamount to shitting on the couch, so games could be a frustrating experience. This woman had a dictionary, played by the rules and actually seemed to be enjoying herself, rather than wishing for it to be over so she could watch some soaps. All in all, it was a new experience.
After the scrabble marathon; several games, of which I won but one; we retired, as is customary (?) to the kitchen, where I was greeted by a sight to blow my tiny mind. A jigsaw; but not just any jigsaw; a bloody huuuuge jigsaw, that took up the entirety of her kitchen table. (It was probably just a 1000piece one, to be honest, but it seemed huge at the time and 20piece Thomas The Tank Engine ones were about our limit at home).
As it turns out, jigsaws were this woman's life. She had, no lie, dozens of them piled up under the table, and those were just the ones she hadn't done yet; she said she had hundreds upstairs. She toddled off and came back with an armful of boxes that she said we could take with us when we left and then we sat around eating and drinking her kitchen clean while we all pitched in and worked on the puzzle. It sounds daft, but I think I had more fun in that one afternoon than any other day that holiday.
When the clock started to tick around to tea time (going home for lunch wasn't the 'done' thing, although on this day we were well fed anyway) we made our excuses and left, laden down with jigsaw puzzles and promising to go back to see her again soon. Promises that we fully intended to keep. But didn't.
It's fairly obvious now that she was lonely. Maybe her kids/grandkids never visited, or maybe she just didn't have any; whatever the reason, she latched onto us that day and didn't want to let go. So I'm kind of feeling like a shit that we never went back. Mainly because, the reason we never went back, was all down to me. Ian wanted to go back the next day, but I talked him out of it. He wanted to go the day after that, but I made excuses. And after the 3rd day, he stopped bringing it up.
You see, me being me, the 'little voices' kicked in. They convinced me that, contrary to everything she'd said, and everything she'd done, she had just been being polite, and any further visits from us would be unwelcome. It's the same thing that stopped me from sitting at the same table as my best friend at school, unless we arrived together; if he was already seated, and talking to someone, I was convinced I'd be intruding and would sit elsewhere. Such were the insecurities of my youth (and to a fair degree, my adulthood), and I'm genuinely sorry that they stopped me from bringing a little companionship into a lonely old woman's life.
The only other (semi)encounter we had with Jigsaw Lady was a couple of years later, and is the part of this tale that relied on her house being in the next street to Bob's (remember I said that might be important, ooh yes, you know I'm a proper writerer-person, with subtle foreshadowing skills like that). The old saying though, about the best state to leave your audience and containing the words 'more' and 'wanting', means I must withhold that particular tale for another day. Don't blame me; blame whoever came up with that saying (Google tells me it was Steve Lombardi, but I'm not convinced).
Join me next time. I have no idea why you would, but, you know...