Friday, 10 June 2011

Uncle Mildred

A little story I wrote last night.  Hope you enjoy it.  


Uncle Mildred lives upstairs. He don’t go out much, ‘cept at night. Don’t do for a geezer to be caught wanderin these streets in three inch heels and a knee-length sparkly number.

I remember him when I was a kid, me Uncle Mildred. He was Uncle Frank back then. Used to make me laugh, he did. Proper laugh. Used to take me fishin of a weekend, sometimes. And we’d talk, about this and we'd talk about that. Make models as well, we did.

Aeroplanes, tanks, armoured cars. All World War Two. Airfix kits, you know. He’d come home with one, make this big thing of gettin it out the box, lay all the plastic frames with the parts on over the table. Then we’d look at the instructions together like they was some sort of magic spell, like if we followed em right close, when we’d put all these bits of plastic together the whole thing would sort of come alive, or something. Mad, really. But it felt so real back then.

The paintin, that was always the first thing. Most people think you paint your model when it’s done, but no, that’s for your amateurs. Me and Uncle Mildred, we weren't never no amateurs. You got to paint your bits while they’re still on the frames, see, cos if you wait till you’ve stuck em all together, you can’t get to some of them – you know, the inside ones - and then it’s too late. And that’s what the frames are there for, to hold onto whilst your paintin them little bits.

Once you’ve painted your bits, and left the whole lot to dry, then you can start makin your model. Again, your amateur will start breakin the bits off by hand, and he’ll get big lumps of the frame come off with em. Then he’s got to sand them lumps down, then paint em up and more often than not he’ll sand too much off and the bits won’t fit. No, you need a blade to do the job proper. A Stanley blade, if you got one, if not a razor blade'll do. Slice it off as close to the frame as you can, and you save yourself a hell of a job later.

Got to we were makin so many models, me an Uncle Mildred, that I began seein the whole world in pieces, waitin to be put back together again, and painted. I remember sittin in assembly once at school, in the main hall. While everyone was singing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, I turned em all into plastic in me head – teachers and kids – and was stood there workin out how much paint me and Uncle Mildred would need to paint em all.

Once you got your model finished, you got to mount it. You can’t just have it lyin round on a shelf, you got to give it a home. The planes, they was easy. Some strong cotton – white’s best – tie a bit to the tail, another bit round the propeller cap, then wrap em both round a bent nail comin out the ceiling. The ground machines – tanks, and that – you got to have some sort of what’s called a 'diorama'. It’s like a scene, like a battle scene or something. One thing I’d do was take some of them plastic bag tie things, the ones with the little bit of wire down the middle. Strip away the outside, wrap the wire round a pencil, slip it off the end, and, hey presto – barbed wire.

That's just an example.

And Uncle Mildred would have all these square bits of wood in the shed. I’d paint em with glue, throw on this special powder from the hobby shop – green for grass – yellow for sand, etc., etc., then shake it off like a glitter picture. I used to get this feelin when all the powder was shook off that I was holdin a bit of the world in me hands. I remember tellin Uncle Mildred it felt like bein God. Uncle Mildred said that’s exactly what it feels like, son.

I remember one time, Uncle Mildred chiselled a river through the middle of one bit of board for this tank we made. Painted the river bed all sorts of blues and whites and greens, he did, then filled what he’d chiselled out with see through glue. Looked like proper water.

After Uncle Mildred had his funny turn, he went off into a world of his own. Dad reckoned he should have been put in a nuthouse, but Mum weren’t havin none of that. She cleared out the box-room and Uncle Mildred moved in there. And that was it for the models. Too busy paintin his nails and putting his hair up to be bothered with them.

So, I grew up. And I left me model-making days behind. A man's gotta graduate, you know, move on to bigger and better things.

I found this badger, once. In the road. Squashed. And I had this thought.

Dad always kept a shovel handy. Kept it in the hall. Used it to chase off the Jehovas's Witnesses. So I legged it home sharpish, scraped that badger off the tarmac, and brought it back.
Taxidermy's a funny thing. Not much different to the plastic models I done as a kid. Same principles. I got a book from the library, and I had a go. Didn't turn out too well, to be honest. See, if you can, you got to have something decent to work with. Road-kill ain't the best. They're all right for practice, but for a proper job you need to have your specimen unblemished, you know. If you can help it.

Dad never let up about Uncle Mildred. And Mum never let up about anything. Always havin a pop at each other they was. If Dad weren't bangin on about Uncle Mildred, he was havin a go about me. 'About time you thought about leavin home,' he'd say. 'It ain't natural, a man of forty-seven livin like this.' Mum'd tell him to leave off, ruffle me hair and make me a cuppa. Next minute she'd be askin me what I want for me tea and ironin me trousers and tellin me to be careful when I went out at night lookin for dead animals. 'You mind them roads,' she'd say. Began to get right on my nerves, she did.

So I'm buryin this fox in the back garden. A right cock-up. Thought I could make something of it, but just couldn't get the eyes right. Kept fallin out, like they was doin it on purpose. I'm a perfectionist, see. If it ain't right, it ain't right.

Mum comes along.

'Not there, love,' she says. 'Too close to the house.'

I can see out the corner of me eye the curtains move upstairs.

'I do wish you'd find another hobby, love,' she says. 'Something that doesn't involve bringing dead animals into the house and burying them in the garden.'

Dad's at work. Got himself a little job deliverin papers.

'Steven? Steven? Are you listening to me?'

I'm lookin up at the top window. Uncle Mildred's starin down at me, this big grin on his face.

'Steven? Steven?' Stev-'

BANG. I couldn't help it. Mum's layin on the grass, twitchin, h
half her face caved in with the shovel.

When Dad come home, he weren't best pleased. So I had no choice there.

And Uncle Mildred saw it all. He comes down. We got Mum and Dad laid out in the front room. He's seen me with the animals, Uncle Mildred, took a real interest, you know. I know it's took him back to our old model-makin days. And I know he's thinkin what I'm thinkin. I'm regrettin usin the shovel. Give us a bit of work to do there, it has. But can't be helped, you know.

I finish turnin Mum and Dad to plastic in me head, and Uncle Mildred comes out the kitchen wearin one of Mum's old cast-offs, a Stanley blade in one hand and me old tray of paints in the other. And me, I'm lookin at Uncle Mildred in Mum's old dress, his face all done up like a Victorian prostitute, and he looks so happy. Like the whole world makes sense to him, you know.

That's all I've ever wanted, for the world to make sense.  And I suddenly I get this urge, this real, proper urge, you know, to slip into something a little more comfortable . . . 


I keep em all upstairs, Mum, Dad, and Uncle Mildred.  In the back room.  I cleared it out, shifted a table in there, laid it out with Mum's best China.  Dad's in an armchair in the corner readin a paper, Mum's pourin Uncle Mildred a cup of tea.  It's amazin what you can do with a sharp knife, a few paints, and a bucket of Plaster of Paris.  And the arsenic paste keeps the flys off, and there's no arguments or nothing.

Mum's eye keeps comin out where I hit her with the shovel - amateur's mistake, that - but I got a whole drawer of marbles to cater for that.

I watch em through a crack in the door on the landin, hours sometimes.  All got up in one of Mum's evenin gowns, a bit of lippy, and a smidge of mascara.



  1. Classic Ian A - beautifully drawn characters, wry observations, and a nifty turn of phrase. Lovely stuff, mate, top class writing, as always!

  2. That's a great one, Ian. I was right there with him. It also took me right back to my youth and airfix models. I remember using varnish (not nail varnish though, wood varnish) to make water, took about 10 coats of the stuff.

  3. Thanks Julie. Was coming back from Tescos yesterday, and this voice come in me head -

    'Uncle Mildred lives upstairs. He don't get out much.'

    Just had to tag along with that one :)

  4. Cheers, Charlie. Varnish. Excellent. Happy days, eh. Happy days :)

  5. Cracking story, Ian. Took me right back to my childhood...the bit about Airfix kits, that is, not the other bit; thought I should clarify that, you never know who's watching.

    If Steven happens to be in the market for more subjects I have a list...

  6. Glad you enjoyed it, Sam. Spent my whole childhood knee deep in Humbrol paints and Uhu. Airfix always trumped Matchbox. Used to paint whole armies of soldiers and march them through the house a couple of inches at a time. Happy days :)

    PS. Your secret's safe with me ;)

  7. I tried model making for a while but turned out I liked the glue better. Besides my fingers kept getting stuck together. Whacking good story, mate. Left me with a smile and a slight look over my shoulder to see if the neighbor kid was watching me . . . again. Great way to start the day.

  8. Cheers for popping by, AJ. Loved your piece at Shotgun Honey. Brilliant stuff, mate.