Not a film title, a mildly amusing anecdote of 1950’s Birmingham.
My Mom, Olive was born in 1926 in Nechells, Birmingham and my dad Ken met her whilst at school in Scholefield Street. It is the truth when he said as a young boy after came home one day from school, he told his mother that “One day I’m going to marry Olive!”
As a teenager she blossomed into a good looking girl. They courted through the war and married in 1947. Dad used to say affectionately that Olive isn’t the brightest button, alluding to her occasional gaffs, which was down to her naivety and sheltered upbringing. I recall a story they would both tell of her first visit to the [Horse] racetrack. They were out with one of Dad’s customer prospects. Whilst he was trying to impress them, Mom had been listening to the commentary intensely. She blurted out “Ken, which is the filly, the horse or the jockey?” So let’s say that Olive wasn't a dumb blonde, just not very worldly.
First photo together c1943 Day out to Weston
Any road up, in the 1950’s you used to regularly see a Rag & Bone man, leading his horse and cart chanting “Rag ‘n Bone, any old Iron.” Kids would run into their houses shouting “Mom, dad ‘av we got anything I can give the rag & bone man?” Given something like an old pot, pan or old clothes we would run out and eagerly hand it over.
If you were lucky he would give you a cheap toy, a balloon or even better a goldfish in a plastic bag.
I was quite good at this and had collected three goldfish which were housed in a goldfish bowl on a small table in the corner of the living room. The fish were called Rag, Tag and Bobtail. Most of you will guess where the names came from. Now my uncle Charlie [Mom’s sister’s husband] was our Midland Counties milkman. Every Saturday morning he would call in on his longest money collecting day, have a cooked breakfast and rest up while updating his payment book. [You can imagine the gossip that caused in the road].
Inside the lounge  the goldfish bowl was just out of sight in the corner
One Saturday Charlie was in the kitchen eating, mom was cleaning the lounge and I was sitting listening to Children’s Favourites on the radio. The soundtrack went: “Oh Nelly the elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus. Off she went with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump……..” Scream from Mom….”Charlie, Charlie come quick!” One of the fish had jumped out of the bowl and was slithering around on the lino. Charlie bound in to the rescue “I can’t bear to touch it Charl! Can you pick it up?”
I rushed over to see my brave uncle rescue Tag and return him to the bowl.
Tag gasped for water madly and tipped over to one side. I was distraught until he quickly recovered and returned to normal. Charlie sat back down, finished his breakfast and they sat chatting over a cuppa. Mom said “That’s happened before you know.” To which Charlie nonchalantly replied “Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stars, I’ve never seen that before. You know what Ol? What you need is a hairnet over the bowl lip, that’ll stop ‘em jumping out.” Replying “What a good idea” Mom added it to her shopping list.
That very afternoon we were off shopping in Birmingham. Barrows for some smoked bacon and cheese, Mark’s to get me some new socks and a browse round Lewis’s. For those who don’t know, Lewis’s was a large department store of the traditional stiff upper lip type. Everything you could wish for beautifully displayed, the staff all very smartly dressed and polite. They even had a pneumatic cash system, you know; the assistant put your cash in a tube, that into a track, then pull a lever and off the tube would go with a woooooosh!
A few minutes later the tube would return with your change and a receipt.
So mom goes up to the counter and asks in her poshest voice “Have you got any hairnets please?” The prim stern looking woman quietly replied “Certainly madam” and went off to get the tray of hairnets. On her return she said politely “What colour would you like madam?” Mom replied “Oh…. I don’t know.” The assistant enquired further “Can I ask who it is it for madam, you?” Mom, without thinking replied factually “Oh no, it’s for our goldfish!” I remember the scene to this day in slow motion. The serious assistant’s face changed from robotic indifference to absolute astonishment. She erupted in fits of laughter, collapsed backwards, falling on the floor in hysterics, clutching her tummy, her legs going skywards showing her long grey bloomers. The other staff rushed over to see if she was OK and what the commotion was. They all laughed aloud at the retelling. Mom quickly paid the bill and rushed out, red faced, pulling me, with tears rolling down my face, after her.
Mom in 2006 at her 80th Birthday cutting her cake
OK, it’s one of those stories that you had to be there to appreciate. But it has been told so many times and still makes us titter. At her 80th birthday party in 2006, mom stood at the microphone and re told it yet again to laughter. She is gone now and just telling this tale has brought her back if only for a little while.
Olive Belcher 1926 – 2009. RIP.