Chapter 3


28th October 1981

Dear Mom, Dad, Soph & Spence

I’m sorry I’m a bit tardy in writing, but you know how it is – my diary is so full these days, what with panto rehearsals, socialising, Rackhams and learning to be self-sufficient.

Thank you again so much for the beautiful birthday cards, my birthday meal and the lovely glasses. No more swigging wine out of mugs! Tell Nan she needn’t worry about me ‘drinking too much,’ though. I’m a student – it’s practically the law. Besides, I’m of Crabb stock – I can handle it! We’re hardy wenches (you’re possibly right about me picking up a hint of a Black Country twang and turn of phrase since I met Mel).

In answer to your question, no I got nothing from Gareth. I don’t see him so much these days. We’re cooling things for a while. He’s off hither and thither since
Business with Pleasure got to number one.

Flat-dwelling is proving to be great fun, though my friends have their own foibles and habits that can grate. Nelson never stops dancing. I have visions of him whirling so uncontrollably one of these days that he’ll plummet through the floorboards, spinning through mid air like a drill bit, sending clouds of sawdust flying into the air. And he’s permanently ‘on stage.’ He can’t just walk into a room, he has to pirouette in and strike a camp pose up against the door.

Mel hogs the bathroom. Every morning I’m hammering on that door with my loofah, and by the time he emerges the water is cold.

Linda lives on pickled onions. She wolfs her way through whole jars of those great crunchy ones the size of tennis balls. The whole flat reeks of vinegar. And once she’s scoffed the jar she lets out one of those awful throaty burps you hear in pubs.

But for all that I love them all!!!

You still coming for dinner? Week on Friday still OK for you all? We’ve got Blue Nun in the fridge, and I’m going to set up a sweet trolley, just like we used to get in Guernsey every evening. I was fascinated by that as a kid, wasn’t I? The cake slice and the can of squirty cream! We’ve got all that! Doilies and all!!

I promise my cooking has really come on, with practice. I’ve progressed from perpetual Pot Noodles.

On Thursday night I tried out our old family favourite, kippers, on my guinea pig flatmates. There weren’t too many bones, and they were only a little bit dry. Mel said I boiled them too long. But I lost track of time because I was reminiscing about all our Saturday nights scoffing kippers and brown bread and butter in front of
The Generation Game. I’m not ashamed to admit there was a little tear in my eye.

Then, while the mood was on me, I started practising my wistful expression in the kitchen mirror. I do a pretty good wistful, as it happens. I stored it up in my actor’s memory. By the time I’d perfected it, there was hardly any water in the pan and the bread still had to be buttered.

So if a future part ever calls for me to pensively reminisce about my family, you’ll always remember that I took our family smoked kipper teas as my muse.

Matthew, that lecturer with the beard and the funny eye I told you about, wheeled in the huge TV today to show us Stephanie Southwick unconvincingly ‘choking’ to death in a public information film. She was one of his students last year and apparently her ‘success’ is what we must aspire to.

It’s rumoured Matt was having an affair with her and pulled a few strings, though. He kept joggling with his crotch every time he mentioned Stephanie. We made a pretty unimpressed group.

Anyway, better fly – bed beckons. Or rather my essay on method acting does, but bed thereafter. Got a busy few weeks ahead. Going to see Madness at the Odeon with some of the others, and of course the panto rehearsals are hotting up.

I’m thinking of you all. I can just picture Dad watching Terry and June with his Breakaway.

Sophie better not have scratched my Lena Zavaroni records!!

Big hugs and kisses to you all.

M xxxxxx


Mel was doling out the post two weeks later. ‘Kays catalogue for you, Nelson. Electric bill.’ He lobbed that one behind the toaster with a level of contempt usually reserved for hate mail. The infamous gap behind the toaster was a cavity for bills. We all harboured subconscious hope that they would magically vanish down one of the many cracks in the tiles and shoot off into an invoice black hole from which no final demands would ever emanate. ‘Letter with a Lichfield postmark for someone called Michelle Crabb.’ He scrunched up his face in bewilderment. ‘I’ll have to stick “return to sender” on that one.’

‘Er, that’s me,’ I revealed sheepishly.

I had been officially identifying myself by my pseudonym ever since that night I first met Mel. My BAPA classmates accepted the change without question, being used to pretension, some of them having adopted stage names themselves, but I forgot Mel had never known my real name. I was Michelle only to my family – or a catch-all ‘M’ when signing letters to them.

‘Miss Crabb, eh?’ He pushed my parents’ letter across to me. ‘Wouldn’t like to catch you on a dark night!’

I stuck my tongue out at him. ‘Put your legs away, you old tart! I can see your niff.’ My brother’s name for the collective bum/privates area was a ‘niff’ when he was little, and it always made us laugh.

Mel uncrossed said legs and bent over with exaggerated modesty to tug his towelling hem about a centimetre down his thighs. ‘Good to see you smiling again, chick,’ he said sincerely. ‘Who’s Majella then?’

‘There was a girl called Majella in my little sister Sophie’s class at primary school. Half Irish. I’ve always loved the name. Bracebridge Road is a name I once saw on a map in geography, and I thought it sounded so grand. The two together had an impressive ring, I thought.’

Sophie is actually still Facebook friends with the ‘real’ Majella, Majella O’Reilly.  It’s quite bizarre seeing my almost-namesake on there.

I simultaneously heaped Rice Krispies into my mouth and thumbed open the envelope. How times change. Those were the days when the postal delivery – which contained handwritten letters, like this one on pretty lilac notepaper – used to coincide with breakfast.

14th November 1981

Dearest Michelle

Just wanted to say how enjoyable last Friday was. Thank you so much for your hospitality. Your flatmates are very characterful (though that Linda is a bit loose with her language at times). You went to enormous effort with that meal, and you’re right – your cooking is really coming on.

The prawn cocktail was better than I had in the Berni Inn on my birthday. And never mind about the mini kievs – I prefer chicken well done anyway. The sweet trolley was a lovely touch. You really should return that trolley to Tesco soon, though. The kids loved the Angel Delight. The fruits of the forest gateau could have done with coming out of the freezer a bit earlier, but overall it was a very fun evening.

Would you like Nan’s old bike, by the way? You could take it back with you after Christmas. It would save you a fortune in bus fare, and I hope you don’t mind me saying this but you have chubbed up a bit of late. Perhaps it would help if you get on your bike like that Norman Tebbit!

You don’t want to end up like that girl Romy, or whatever her name is. Sophie saw her on
Tiswas with that Gareth and said she was the size of a bus. You say you aren’t seeing so much of him lately? Probably as well – he’ll have girls all over the world by now. Our Soph prefers that London group – what is it they’re called, Schadenfreude? Their singer (Dominic Law?) is plastered all over her bedroom. She says Gareth looked better with a custard pie in his face actually.

That Mel seems like a nice boy. Got nice teeth. And you’ve met his mom too – how splendid! Our Spencer says he’s a ‘fudge-packer.’ I thought you said he worked in a furniture shop? The dark boy must work at the same place then, if what Spence says is correct?

We’d like four tickets for the pantomime, if that’s still OK. We’re all looking forward to it. Our very own Fairy Godmother! You’ve come a long way since you played the back end of the horse in your third year at St Chad’s.

By the way, Andrea Clamp who was in your year is pregnant again. I bumped into her mother in Bejam on Tuesday. Apparently it’s to be Floella if it’s a girl and Indiana for a boy! She’s already got little Rocky, who’s three.

Andrea played Cinderella that year you were in the horse – do you remember? She was always Mrs Beresford’s favourite. Another Stephanie Southwick by the sound of it. But look at you now! We are all so immensely proud of you, Michelle (yes, we know you’ll be ‘Majella Bracebridge’ when your name is up in lights, but to us you’ll always be our Michelle).

We miss you heaps. We love receiving your entertaining letters, though please don’t take the trouble to send such long compositions at the expense of your college work. Just a quick postcard to let us know you’re all right would suffice. Do make sure you’re getting enough sleep too.

I must dash. I’ve a mountain of shirts and school uniforms that won’t iron themselves. Everyone sends their love. Your dad and Spencer are watching
3-2-1 and Sophie is reading. Animal Farm – you hated doing that one for O-Level too, didn’t you?

All our love, Mom, Dad, Sophie & Spencer xxxx


Chapter 4: