Rebecca Dowman


Few women went to work in my 1970s street, leaving time to forge friendships –and childhood impressions:

Auntie Jenny made clothes for pin money, smoked Player’s No.6 and had deep wrinkles rising like seagulls up her forehead. Still, she hinted at a more refined world than ours, calling mum Valerie not Val and crowning her bungalow back lawn with an 18-hole putting green.

To semi-rural Essex, newcomer neighbour Auntie Phyllis was as exotic as the Orient. She went dancing with her husband, had records cut after 1955 (Boney M and the Bee Gees) and didn’t have a perm…

Auntie Mary only stopped talking to laugh, pressing your shoulder for emphasis as netted by her mirth you laughed too. When her wayward husband left, she stashed a bag of his diamonds in our loft. The one she gave to mum, she set into a ring: I twist it now and smile.

Creative journey

Thinking about the house I was born and grew up in hurts. But dredging through the debris to find what made me is the golden thread of my mother and her love for her friends.

Before I started the school at the end of our road, I spent much of my time with Mum and these women. Drinking tea in kitchens, observing, listening and saving up questions for later: “Mum, What is a bust?”

Replaying these memories of women younger then than I am now is a reminder that sweetness lived there too.

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