Mrs. Jessie Chart wasn’t my real auntie, in fact she wasn’t a relative of mine at all. She was one of my grandmother’s best friends, and this is why I always called her Auntie Jessie. She lived not far away from us in Midhurst Road in Ealing, and I remember visits to her house with Nan when I was very little with great affection. Auntie Jessie’s house was full of delights. For one thing there was always a glass of ribena there waiting for you, and none of this reduced sugar nonsense they have nowadays. No sir, this was the full sugar syrupy stuff which could trigger cavities in your teeth from five feet away. There were three things I particularly loved about Auntie Jessie’s house. The first was her breakfast bar in the kitchen. I suppose it was very much a thing of its time, but then I thought that it was the absolute height of sophistication . And this, mark you, at a time when I couldn’t even say sophistication, let alone spell it. The second was the ornamental pond in her back garden. Which, I might hasten to add, I managed never to fall into. The third, though, and in its own way the most wonderful of all, was the shed at the end of the garden.
Do not ask me why, but this shed was an object of huge fascination to me. It belonged to Auntie Jessie’s husband – and it shames me to think that I can not recall his name at all . I remember it as a place where wonderful sounds of power tools, and wonderful smells of sawn wood would emerge at regular intervals. It was a place of awe, and I longed to look inside it. Yet I never did.
I mentioned this years later to a friend, who had been waxing philosophical, and he sagely offered me this piece of wisdom.
“Not going in was the best thing you could have done,” he said. “ Here you are , years later, and you still look back on that toolshed as a place of mystery and wonder. Suppose you’d actually gone inside it. What would you have found ? Dirty old tools, and possibly a grumpy geezer who didn’t want some snotty nosed kid banging around like a bull in a china shop, and spilling ribena all over his Black and Deckers. “ Fair play, he had a bit of a way with words, my mate.
There is a point to all of this. Last night was the Wales and West of England regional heat of the CIU quiz competition. Not bragging – well, not much – but my team were lucky enough to win it for the last two years. Our luck ran out a little bit last night, and we came third, well behind our friends from Maesglas, and only just pipped for second place on the last question. Oh well, at least the third place means that we have still qualified to play in the national final in Derby in September. And it is this very tournament, or rather a win in this very tournament, that I now realize has become my modern day version of Auntie Jessie’s toolshed. I think I’ve been playing in the CIU for about 8 or 9 years now. The very first time I played in the national finals we lost by a point. Since then I’ve been 3rd, 4th, and nowhere on more than one occasion. And if I’m honest, I would just love to win the tournament once, just once, and I feel a similar longing to achieve this, as I once did to enter the toolshed.
And if our efforts in recent years in the finals are anything to go by, I dare say that it will have the same outcome. Which ain’t necessarily a bad thing. There are worst places to be than bombing down the motorway on a Sunday morning in September towards Derby, with no real expectation of doing any better than usual, and yet always the faint glimmer of hope in your heart that maybe, just maybe, that little rub of the green is going to come your way, and it turns out to be your year.
Ah, a man can dream .