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Edited extracts from Leonie Orton’s memoir, I Had It In Me

In these edited extracts from her memoir, Leonie Orton, sister of playwright Joe Orton, provides a vivid account of growing up in the Orton household in Leicester and her relationship with Joe.

In these edited extracts from Chapter 2 (‘Elsie’) Leonie Orton recalls memories and events from the life of her mother, Elsie Orton, including Elsie’s ambitions to be a singer; the birth of her brother Joe Orton (born John Kingsley Orton); growing up on the Saffron Lane estate in Leicester; and the relationship between Elsie and her children.

Elsie Mary Bentley (Mam) was born on 13 August 1903 at 52 Layton Road, Leicester. She was the fifth child of Thomas Henry and Martha Maria Bentley, who preferred to be called Maria.

Elsie’s younger sister, Lucy, has told her daughter, June, that many happy times were had when they were all together in their teenage years at home. Lucy accompanied Elsie on the piano and she would sing popular songs. The family all agreed that Elsie had a good voice. Grandma Bentley [Maria] loved it when Elsie sang her favourite song, The Watercress Girl.

During the summer of 1920 Elsie contracted tuberculosis and entered a sanatorium. The inactivity and the treatment, she recalled many times, were dreadful. She was made to drink warm calf’s blood, take cold baths and eat spoonfuls of butter several times a day. During her stay she was encouraged to sing a little to strengthen her lungs, but her left lung collapsed and she was told she would be an invalid for the rest of her life. Many of the arguments she had with our father would begin with: ‘I’ve brought up four kids on one lung!’

She left home and found work in the thriving Leicester hosiery trade as a machinist but her ambition was to become a mezzo soprano. Dad said our mother entered local singing competitions all over Leicestershire and she reached the regional semi finals in one singing Puccini’s Oh My Beloved Father. In contrast, she also sang in the concert rooms of local Working Men’s clubs but she abandoned the club circuit because she disliked the lecherous managers: ‘They were all dirty buggers, touching you up whenever they got the chance.’

Instead of pursuing her ambition to train as a professional singer Elsie got married. She met her future husband, William Arthur Orton, in a pub in Mountsorrel, Leicestershire in December 1928 and they were married on 26 December 1931. On 1 January 1933 their first child was born at Causeway Lane Maternity Hospital, Leicester. At the time they were living in a tiny terraced house with William’s family. Many years later my aunt, Olive Orton, recalled sitting with Elsie in the kitchen. Elsie was bouncing her young son on her knee saying: ‘My little Johnny is going to be on the stage one day,’ which, in retrospect, to say the least was prophetic.

He was given the name John Kingsley – a slightly pretentious name perhaps for a child living in a virtual slum. His namesake was the writer Charles Kingsley who wrote The Water Babies. It’s ironic that the character of Tom, the dirty little chimney sweep, eventually triumphs and makes good after many escapades. John was a frail infant suffering from asthma and, being the first born, our mother cosseted him. To use my sister’s phrase: ‘Mam idolised John.’ I think my sister was right. There are entries in his 1949 diary where he says he got up late, lounged about all day listening to records. He didn’t appear to do any chores. Elsie definitely preferred her boys to her girls. John was clearly her favourite and he knew it, which is possibly why he never abandoned her completely after he left home in 1951. His relationship with her ended up, inevitably, a love-hate one. When Elsie showed an interest in seeing Entertaining Mr Sloane in 1964 Joe got Kenneth [Joe’s partner] to take her to the theatre saying he was out of town. Was he afraid she would embarrass him by saying something stupid? He had advised her once before: ‘Just smile. Don’t open your mouth.’ Or did he fear she would recognise herself on stage?

Why John kept in contact with us does surprise me somewhat. He knew we were ill-informed and uneducated but he also knew we intrinsically cared for him. Does it show a vestige of care on his part? I like to think so because for him to disown us would have been a betrayal of his working class roots and he was justifiably proud of what he’d achieved.

I’m sure he also needed to periodically touch base with working class culture as it was a rich source of material for his writing. His biological family it seems certainly added to his sense of the ridiculous. A diary entry after Mam’s funeral reinforces this view:

In the evening P. Willes rang. [...] I told him about the funeral. And the frenzied way my family behave. He seemed shocked. But then he thinks my plays are fantasies. He suddenly caught a glimpse of the fact that I write the truth. [2 January, 1967]

I prefer to think that John did have a heart, but his heart would have no truck with self-indulgence or over-emotional sentimentality.

On 30 January 1935 Elsie and William had a second son, Douglas. With two children they became eligible for a council house and that year they moved with their two boys into 9 Fayrhurst Road on the Saffron Lane Estate, Leicester. My sister, Marilyn, was born on 8 November 1939. To find out five years later that she was pregnant again with me must have knocked her sideways. I can understand why she chewed on raspberry leaves soaked in gin, a remedy that was thought to bring about a miscarriage. My sister said: ‘Mam threw herself down the stairs when she found out you were on the way.’ At 41 my mother had just about enough energy left for herself, without breathing life into me. Even as a very small child I was aware that I was a miserable encumbrance to her.

She found consolation in the pub, initiating and joining in the banter around the bar. The pub regulars liked her vulgar wisecracking. If she needed to go to the lavatory she would say to her friend: ‘Save me seat for me, I need to pee like a Skegness donkey.’ And if she hadn’t seen someone she knew for a long time she would greet them with: ‘Bleeding ’ell where you bin? I thought you were dead.’ Her cronies all agreed she made them laugh with her outrageous turns of phrase and Elsie basked in the raucous laughter. Many years later her son’s plays would have the same effect on West End audiences. John had observed our mother’s behaviour and it must have irked him. I think he internalised it, stored it away. He was angry and for many years felt trapped by the working class deprivation and the hand-to-mouth existence he witnessed daily on the Saffron Lane Estate. The inequality of the British class system sickened him, but he had no way to channel this anger until he secured a place at RADA and met Kenneth Halliwell. Thirteen years later he got his revenge by shocking audiences with characters that flaunt polite, accepted values.

Elsie, however, never got the chance to fulfil her dream of becoming an opera singer. Sadly she drifted into an embittered state that tainted her personality. The ramifications of her unhappy life turned into frustration which she vented on me and my sister. She would lash out at us for minor misdemeanours. The thrashings were set aside for her girls. The boys were rarely targeted. Dad was easy prey to her vicious tongue too. She’d hiss: ‘You’re like a fart in a colander that can’t get out for holes.’ She appeared to enjoy reminding him of his inadequacies as though by badgering him it would somehow make him become a more proficient provider. Someone had to be blamed for our poverty. Her rancour extended to anyone who appeared to be better off than she was.

In the pub they called her Vera Lynn, but she retorted that Vera Lynn was nowt but a club turn. Many of her drinking sessions in the City Arms ended with her singing all her favourite tunes: When I Grow Too Old To Dream, If You Were The Only Boy in the World and I Was the Only Girl and Don’t Fence Me In. Ironically, the poor cow couldn’t have been more fenced in. She told anyone who’d listen that she could have been an opera singer if it weren’t for marrying ’im and having his ‘bleeding kids’. ‘Im’ was our father, William Orton, but everyone called him Bill.

 Leonie Orton, I Had It In Me - front cover

Front cover for I Had It In Me: A Memoir by Leonie Orton. © Quirky Press.

In these edited extracts from Chapter 6 (‘Meetings, Prison and Marriage’) Leonie Orton describes hearing the news that her brother Joe (John) had been imprisoned. Later that year she got married.

The harsh winter of 1961–62 was followed by a beautiful spring. The May blossom on the cherry trees in Leicester’s Town Hall Square that year was outstanding. Dad liked to stand and admire the trees when they were in full bloom. He loved anything related to gardening, which is why he was drawn to a headline in the Daily Mirror on the evening of 16 May 1962. The headline ran: Gorilla in the Roses. We had all gone to bed for the night but Dad came into my bedroom and passed me the paper saying: ‘Leonie, I think our John’s gone and got himself into trouble. It says ’ere ’e’s being sent to jail for six months for ruining library books. You’d better go and show it your Mam.’ ‘She’ll go mad,’ I said. I woke her up and handed her the paper: ‘Read this,’ I said, ‘it’s about our John.’ After reading the article she came downstairs in dismay. ‘He’ll be on the scrap heap when he comes out, Bill. That’s him finished. That’s him done for. It’s the end of his acting career. He’ll never get another job in the theatre now, no one will have him. I see that Kenneth’s been done too. I always said he was a bad influence on our John and I’ve been proved right.’

Fortunately, she couldn’t have been more mistaken – it was the beginning for John. A few days later we received a letter on prison paper from him. He didn’t explain anything. As I recall, it said we weren’t to write to him while he was there as they opened all the letters. He also said he didn’t want any family visits and hoped to be out in twenty weeks. He’d write again when he got out. In retrospect I think he was anxious that we might innocently expose the fact that he and Kenneth had more than a platonic relationship. This would have had dire consequences for them both. Homosexuality in the 1960s was still a criminal offence and offenders were treated harshly by the courts. The medical officer at Brixton prison had this to say in his report dated 14 May 1962: ‘He is a rather effeminate type of individual but vehemently denies any homosexual tendencies. He is evasive in discussing his relationship with Halliwell.’ No one in the family had any idea they were homosexuals although I think our mother was probably suspicious that their relationship was maybe more intimate as she quizzed him once: ‘Whatever do you want to live with a bald-headed man for?’ If she did suspect, she kept it to herself.

It’s clear from an interview with David Lewin in the Daily Mail in June 1964 that prison had been a life changing experience for Joe. After prison his writing style changed: ‘I tried writing before I went in the nick […] but it was no good. Being in the nick […] brought detachment to my writing. I wasn’t involved anymore and it suddenly worked.’ In another interview that summer with the journalist Simon Trussler in the magazine Plays and Players, he made this remarkable comment: […] ‘Before, I had been vaguely conscious of something rotten somewhere: prison crystallised this. The old whore society really lifted up her skirts, and the stench was pretty foul.’ Maybe the detachment of ‘I wasn’t involved anymore’ partly refers to being separated from Kenneth for the first time in 11 years and, without Kenneth’s purist approach to writing, he was able to find his own voice. After prison I continued to write to him at Noel Road, Islington. I told him about my boyfriend, George, and that I’d become engaged to be married.

The marriage was arranged for Saturday, 3 October 1964, at four o’clock. On the day of the wedding I had my hair done at Dany’s in town. Linda, my stylist, swept my hair up into a bun. I had a manicure with bright red nail polish. When I got back from the hairdresser’s Joe had arrived. He was wearing a sky blue suit, a pink shirt and heavy Tuff black boots which had been issued to him by the National Assistance Board on his discharge from prison. He’d brought me a wedding present which he eagerly wanted me to open. Mam again trotted out her prediction: ‘You mustn’t open wedding presents before the marriage. You’ll have bad luck.’ ‘Take no notice of the soothsayer,’ Joe chuckled as he handed me a box wrapped in brown paper. As I lifted it out of the box I thought what a strange present it was – a white Anglepoise lamp. I didn’t know what to make of it. I couldn’t think where I’d put it and it didn’t match any of the soft furnishing I’d been collecting. An office lamp for a girl who worked in a factory seemed somehow incongruous. Joe smiled. ‘Do you like it? It’s very stylish and modern,’ he said. His lamp still shines down over my desk today.

In these edited extracts from Chapter 7 (‘Two Deaths and a Birth’) Leonie recalls the death and funeral of their mother, Elsie, and reflects on Joe’s treatment of death and religion in Loot.

Christmas Day 1966 was spent at my mother-in-law’s house. The usual Avon gift sets, socks, scarves, chocolates, novelty tins containing Sharps toffee and boxes of cigarettes were exchanged. Like all social classes my class functioned according to a set of coded instructions. No thought went into these presents. I was vaguely conscious of this nauseating superficiality, but I didn’t understand why it upset me. It was Christmas, so presents had to be bought. I’d arranged to see Mam and Dad the next day.

As I opened the bedroom curtains that Boxing Day morning I saw Derek Winder, my mother’s neighbour, park his cycle against my gate, take off his bike clips and walk up the path. Before I opened the door I looked at the clock – 8.30 am. He didn’t say hello, just: ‘Your Mam can’t be woken up.’ ‘Is she dead?’ He didn’t know, but the doctor had been sent for. I told George that I thought my mother had died and he said: ‘Well you’d better get off and find out.’ When I arrived my brother, Dougie, was sitting in the kitchen drinking tea with Dad. ‘Mam’s in there,’ he said, nodding towards the living room. Dad, now virtually blind, said he’d taken a cup of tea into Mam which had gone cold so he thought she must be asleep. When he couldn’t wake her, however, he’d called Derek.

She sat slumped, dead, in the awful red moquette armchair. Her teeth and spectacles were in her lap and there was coal dust on her hands and face. She must have been gasping for breath and grabbed at her face. I returned to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of tea. Nonchalantly, Dad said: ‘She must have been making the fire and had a funny turn. We’ve been married thirty five years today, Leonie.’ ‘He does realise she’s dead, doesn’t he?’ I whispered to Dougie.

I put the kettle on the stove to make another cup of tea. ‘Do you think she’s gone, Leonie?’ ‘Yes, Dad, the misery’s over.’ I meant the misery of living with her but he said: ‘Yes, she has suffered the last few months.’ ‘Did you and Mam have any happy times together?’ I asked. ‘Several,’ was his reply. How many is several I wonder – three, four, half a dozen? Thirty five years of marriage with several happy times – it’s enough to make anyone reach out for the rope and stool. I asked him if he ever had any ambition in life, anything he wished he’d achieved? ‘No not really, Leonie. I would have liked a greenhouse but never got the money together for one, ya see.’

Dr Fisher arrived. Dad kept apologising for calling him out on Boxing Day. The doctor agreed that the timing was unfortunate. Without any word of sympathy he asked Dougie to help him lift Mam onto the bed. As they lifted the body a great farting sound came out of her mouth. ‘It’s just air,’ said the doctor. Even in death she manages to make vile noises, I thought. The doctor pronounced her dead, told us to call into the surgery to collect the death certificate and left.

I returned home, cooked chips and opened a tin of corned beef which we had with HP brown sauce. Later George walked to the phone box and rang Joe. ‘What did you say?’ I asked. ‘I just told him your Mam’s dead,’ he said. I asked how Joe had taken the news. George said he didn’t seem shocked and thought the hospital had sent her home to die. There had been no lamentations from any of us on that Boxing Day in 1966.

On 29 December Joe arrived in Leicester for the funeral. In his diary for that day he recorded: ‘I had a bit of quick sex in a derelict house with a labourer I picked up.’ Later that afternoon six of us lined up at the door of the Chapel of Rest where Mam’s corpse was laid out. As we filed in muted organ music could be heard coming from concealed speakers. The room was dimly lit with heavy red velvet curtains enclosing a high window. Joe was intrigued by Mam’s outfit. She was wearing a long white shift dress and a white satin quilted robe with gold lapels and cuffs held together by a thick gold cord complete with tassels. They’d made her face up: rouge on the cheeks, red lipstick and blue eye shadow. She would have loved all this elaborate stuff I think to myself. I can see her now, getting ready to go to the work’s Christmas party. She’d borrowed a gold lamé dress and her bulges were kept almost in place by her new pink, boned corset. She couldn’t afford to buy any gold shoes so had painted a pair of black court shoes with gold Japlac modelling paint. When the paint dried the shoes were rigid causing her to walk stiffly. During the evening the gold paint began to crack and left behind a trail of gold dust.

‘Is it normal to dress the body up in this garish way?’ Joe asked. ‘Mam would have loved the posh dressing gown,’ I said. Joe said he thought it was only for show and that they wouldn’t bury her in it. Joe was bending over her: ‘She doesn’t look like Mum without her glasses.’ I agreed. I’d never known her without them. I noted that since living in London he referred to Mam as ‘Mum’. She’d always been ‘Mam’ to us. Joe touched her hand commenting on how cold it was. Lifting it he asked if anyone wanted the cheap marcasite ring she still had on. We all declined. Walking round to the other side of the coffin he noticed a brown stain on the white headrest. He tilted her head to one side to investigate further: ‘What do you think this is?’ he said. He records the visit in his diary on the 29th December: ‘She looked fat, old and dead.’ As we trooped round the coffin there was not one tear from any of us. On the way back an argument broke out as Marilyn wanted to know who’d had the slippers she’d bought Mam for Christmas. No one owned up to taking them but Marilyn persisted. Since Mam had never worn them she wanted them back, she could make use of them herself. Joe told her it didn’t matter. ‘It’s alright for you, you’ve got plenty,’ Marilyn said.

There was no church service. Mam didn’t attend church. She was sloppy about religion, believing only in what gave her comfort. When her grandson, Tony, died she said: ‘He’s safe in the arms of Jesus, a little flower transplanted.’ And: ‘He was a baby without sin, he’ll go straight in.’ She kept faith like an insurance policy just in case. Joe teased this hypocritical approach to religion in Loot when Fay says: ‘Here – (she puts the embroidered text on to the coffin) – the Ten Commandments. She was a great believer in some of them.’ As we stood at the graveside and watched the coffin lowered into the ground I was vaguely aware that there was a small gathering of women huddled together behind us – her drinking pals I suspect. I have never returned to her grave.

In these edited extracts from Chapter 8 (‘Joe’s Death’) Leonie recalls the last time that she saw her brother, Joe, and recollects hearing the news of his death and the funeral that followed.

[Please note that this extract contains reported speech from the 1960s, which uses language that some readers may find offensive.]

The next time I saw my brother Joe was when he came to Leicester to see a production of Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Phoenix theatre. He arrived on 1 August 1967. I cooked a meal for him and Dad. I told him how awful the birthing process had been and how pleased I was to have left hospital with a live baby. I asked him if he wanted to hold her, and he did. He noted how small she was. On the evening of 2 August he went to the Phoenix theatre. The following day I put Lois in her pram and walked to Dad’s house where I’d arranged to see Joe before he caught his train back to London. We sat in the kitchen discussing Dad. Joe said Dad had scalded his hand making tea when he missed the teapot and he shouldn’t live on his own. ‘He can’t see properly and I don’t want him living with me,’ I said. Joe nodded in agreement: ‘No, of course not.’ I agreed to make some enquires and to take him to the doctor. We walked down Trenant Road together. He pushed the pram. As we parted he kissed me. I said something like, 'Have a safe journey back'. He told me to write to him: ‘I’ll always answer your letters, you know,’ he said. I watched him as he walked down Stonesby Avenue to catch his bus. He turned and we waved to one another. I never saw him again.

George and I returned home the following Wednesday evening (9 August) after visiting his parents. As we walked up the path to the back door I was holding Lois when our neighbours, Michael and Edna Johnson, appeared. While Michael spoke to George, Edna drew me to one side commenting on how pretty Lois was. When George told me to give Lois to him I instantly knew something wasn’t right. We went inside the house. ‘John’s dead,’ he said. At first I didn’t make the connection with Joe. I assumed he was referring to our other neighbour, John Marshall. I said: ‘Oh no, what will Elizabeth do?’ (my neighbour’s wife). George said: ‘No, not John next door, your John, Joe.’ I didn’t break down at what George had just said, it seemed too baffling, and not possible. How? When? Are you sure? ‘It’s just been on the telly, the 6 o’clock news,’ George said. ‘No, that’s not possible. They tell the family first, don’t they? Before it goes out on the news.’ I was trying to think who to contact to find out if it was true when Dougie pulled up outside. He too had heard it on the news: ‘It’s our John alright. Ken’s done him in. I rang the Leicester police and they gave me a number for the Islington police.’ Dougie left with a promise to let me know the details when he had them. He’d been asked to go to London the next day to identify Joe’s body. I wanted to go with him to London for the identification but he thought I’d be too distressed. I thought he shouldn’t go on his own and George offered to go with him.

I waited anxiously for George to return from London but he couldn’t answer any of my questions, saying only that Dougie identified Joe. George wasn’t allowed into the mortuary room and stayed in the foyer. ‘He must have told you something,’ I pressed. ‘All he said was he had no top to his head.’ All he said! All he said! I needed to speak to Dougie. Dougie came to see us on Friday morning. He asked me if I’d seen the papers. ‘Only the Daily Mirror. It says Ken’s killed him and then killed himself.’ Dougie looked straight at me: ‘Ken murdered John. He took a hammer to his head and then took some pills and done himself in. That’s what happened… You know what they’re saying about John and Ken, don’t you?’ I shook my head. ‘In the Sketch [Daily Sketch] they reckon they’re homos.’ This was a revelation to the family. I could hardly believe what he was saying – John, homo? ‘But he never acted like a poof. Do you think it’s true?’ I asked. Dougie appeared embarrassed. ‘Perhaps it’s true,’ I puzzled. ‘Because after leaving home he only ever lived with Kenneth.’

The funeral was arranged for Friday 18 August at 2.30 at Golders Green Crematorium in London. I arranged for a friend to look after Lois and travelled to the funeral in a yellow Ford Anglia driven by our auntie Lucy. On arrival at the crematorium the attendant asked: ‘Are you the 2.15 or the 2.30?’ We were about to answer when a woman stepped forward wearing a white suit with an enormous white fox fur collar. ‘Hello,’ she said, proffering her hand, ‘I’m Peggy Ramsay, Joe’s agent.’ I was a little shocked at the white suit. We didn’t wear white for funerals. We were all in dour mourning shades of grey, black and purple. ‘I’m sorry there’s a lot of press here. I’ve no control over them. To them this is considered a fashionable funeral.’

As we approached I heard people inside chatting but, as we entered the crematorium, this ceased. Peggy led us down to the front seats. We sat waiting for the ceremony to begin. Dad, confused, had to be reminded to take his cap off. He sat wringing his hands and wanted a running commentary on what was happening. Had they brought in the coffin yet? Are there many people here? What was that strange music? Do you think there’s a toilet here? All this was audible at least four rows back. Frustrated, I told him to shut up and stop showing us up. As the coffin was carried in – it was draped in purple velvet with a huge spray of red roses on the top – the mourners remained seated. The pall-bearers were friends from the Royal Court Theatre. The music was a recording of 'A Day in the Life' from Sergeant Pepper with all the psychedelic noise at the end ineptly obliterated. It wasn’t a good recording, it spluttered and restarted several times. The first line of the song is about reading the news and a lucky man who makes the grade. I had read the news. The Daily Mirror’s headline ran: ‘Author of Hit Play Murdered by Friend.’

After the coffin had been placed on the conveyor rollers a man I didn’t recognise, but now know was Harold Pinter, stepped up to the lectern. He read the poem Nox Est Perpetua by Marion Lochhead. Donald Pleasence then got up and walked towards the lectern. This man I recognised. He seemed tense, checked his flies, a quirky half smile on his face. He wore small round spectacles and I thought he looked exactly like the character he’d played in the film The Great Escape. Joe said to me once that many actors don’t act, they just play themselves. He unfolded a sheet of paper and read a poem written by his wife, Josephine Martin Crombie: Hilarium Memoriam J.O. (Hilarity in Death).

After Donald Pleasance stepped down we were given a few minutes in silent contemplation. I’m little again. Joe is holding my hand and we’re at the gate of Marriott Road Infant School. He’s smiling down at me: ‘Off you go then.’ I look at the purple draped box in front of me. I never knew this sabre-toothed playwright the critics talk about, or the promiscuous homosexual. The celebrity these people are gathered here to mourn, this Joe Orton, I didn’t know him. It’s the other person, my brother John, I shall miss. He was one of the only people to show me any real kindness. He was my hero.

Faintly, those first quiet, soft notes of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod began to fill the now silent crematorium. I rummaged in the sleeve of my coat trying to find my handkerchief. As I wiped away the tears my sister gave me a comforting nudge. The coffin started to move but it faltered and juddered like a car on a bad hill start. There was an awful moment when I thought the mechanism had broken down. Finally, the conveyer rollers moved the coffin towards the small trapdoor in a theatrical manner. The double curtains dropped down and the show was over.

We were escorted out by Peggy Ramsay: ‘Oh dear, how awful, the recording of the Beatles song was so poor and then the coffin grinding to a halt. Still, Joe would have loved all that,’ she said. Then, gesturing to a quadrangle area: ‘There are a lot of flowers I think you should look at.’ As we walked towards where the flowers were displayed Harold Pinter was leaving. He nodded at us and said: ‘I’m very sorry. He was a marvellous writer.’ ‘What did he say?’ my Dad asked. ‘He said, Dad, that John was a good writer,’ I said, to which Dad mindlessly replied: ‘Yes, he was.’ This remark was typical of where we came from. Pretending to be in the know when we couldn’t tell a pigeon from a pelican. The flowers, mostly white roses and carnations, had cards attached. One read: ‘To Darling Joe from the cast of Loot.’ The card on our flowers read: ‘From all in Leicester.’ I sidled up to Dougie: ‘Why isn’t there a proper message on our flowers?’ He looked at me as if I was criticising him: ‘I told Peggy that John wouldn’t have wanted any flowers and she said she’d take care of it all so I let ’er.’ Later she would refer to us as ‘Joe’s little family in Leicester.’ As we were leaving Peggy said: ‘Joe was very well respected, you know.’ I wanted to say, adamantly, but dare not: ‘No, we didn’t know.’ My sister interjected with: ‘We’re off a council estate in Leicester. Me and Leonie work in hosiery factories, Mam was a cleaner, Dad was a gardener and our Doug’s a plumber. We’ve got no idea where our John gorrit from, have we, Leonie?’ I nodded in agreement. The funeral over, I was eager to be back in my comfort zone in Leicester.

Text: © Leonie Orton & Quirky Press. I Had It In Me: A Memoir is published by Quirky Press (2016).

Banner image: © Quirky Press