My mother made regular visits to the dressmaker's, accompanied reluctantly by me aged about 7.
The calls were not social but rather to have sewing alterations carried out. Sometimes there would be a pair of trousers for shortening, perhaps a shirt collar to be turned, or pieces of material sewn into a coat that had become too short. This as all pretty normal in the frugal days of the 50s, when there was little money about, just after the war, and people had to make do as best they could.
The old dressmaker would come to the door, dressed in a long, black satin-like dress. She was tall and had a pallid complexion. Her snow-white hair, caught up in a tight bun, gave her face a taut and somehow severe, expression. To my impressionable mind she had every appearance of a witch from my story books. I hated these visits and would clutch my mother's hand tightly as we entered the dark hallway. A grandfather clock stood at the entrance to the parlour, like a sentinel on duty, and I always had a feeling of foreboding as I neared it. It may have been the sound of the loud tick-tock, or perhaps the pendulum swinging back and forth, or, worst of all, the loud chimes it made on every quarter hour. In the quietness of the house the noise echoed in every corner.
The dressmaker's house was very old fashioned and the parlour, where she did her sewing, even more so. The room was full of all sort of materials - heavy velvet, chenille, shiny taffeta, all colours of cotton and little pieces of lace. These fabrics covered every available spot in the small room so myself and my mother usually had to stand, surrounded by an array of colours. The room was dimly lit by a gas mantle, which sometimes spluttered, hissed and then went out. With the heavy, navy blue blinds always drawn, the room descended into sudden blackness. I would become very scared, especially when the only thing I would see in the dark were the yellow eyes of the two white cats. I would feel for my mother's hand and hold on very tightly. Sometimes the cats would brush against my legs, and I would feel their tall tails curling around my ankles. After padding about for a while, the old lady would produce an oil lamp and the room would once again be swathed in a garish, yellow glow. On the high mantelpiece stood a black clock. This made itself evident by the jingle it made just before striking. It was like the sound of chains clinking, accompanied by a whirring noise, and then the loud boom of the first note. These strange sounds, as well as a musty smell, heightened my tension and created a spooky feeling which always made me feel cold.
I was always relieved when it was time to go. The big front door would be opened, sending in a blast of fresh air, and once more I would thankfully hear the noise and chatter of people in the street. I would feel safe once more and would run to the top of the road to wait for my mother. If it was a crisp, frosty night, I might slide along the footpath, slipping and sliding until i reached my own front door. Once inside, I would sit beside the glowing fire, secure and safe, happy to be back amongst familiar surroundings again.22/06/2007