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Crocodile TEARS; Turning on the waterworks had helped Maureen out of a few scrapes over the years, but this time her tears were real.

'Why don't you just get lost, Maureen!' I took that as my cue to disappear from the family encampment on Bridlington beach. Norman, who was supposed to be keeping an eye on me while our parents went for a paddle, found me sobbing by the ice-cream stand. At three, I could already turn on the waterworks at will and must have been a pathetic sight in my saggy knitted swimming costume. Anyway, even though I'd kicked over his sand castle, Norman had to shut me up with an ice-cream cornet or face a clip round the ear from Dad.

Crocodile tears have always served me well. Take that December morning at Woolworth's hosiery counter. Mum had let go of my hand to finger some sheer stockings at one-and-eleven a pair, and to discuss with the shop assistant how easily they would ladder. I shuffled from foot to foot, wandered off in search of the toy department and was swallowed up by the Christmas shopping crowd. Tears were pouring down my face by the time a tall man in a dark suit gently took my hand and led me off the shop floor into an office full of ladies in turquoise overalls. They were all busy counting money, but one of them left her desk and picked up a microphone. The floorwalker, for that's what he was and not a nasty stranger, dried my tears with his big, white handkerchief and gave me a pear drop to suck. I was having a go on one of the adding machines when Mum appeared looking very harassed. It was such fun tapping in numbers and watching them show up on the roll of paper emerging from the top that I'd have been happy to stay there for the rest of the morning. Mum gave me a gentle tap on the leg for running off and then a big hug to show how relieved she was to have found me.

'Thank you very much,' she said to the floorwalker. 'I hope she hasn't been too much trouble.' 'Not at all, Madam,' he replied. 'Your little girl has only been with us for five minutes. You'd be amazed how long it takes some parents to respond to the messages on the tannoy, although they can be heard all over the store. They just assume that we'll look after their children until they've finished their shopping.' Mum pursed her lips. 'That's dreadful. What if they wandered out into Briggate and all that traffic? Mind you,' she added, looking down at me, 'the chance to look round in peace occasionally would be very nice. Bringing Maureen into the centre of Leeds on a Saturday can be a toil of a pleasure.' Somehow that stuck in my mind. Mum deserved some time to herself and there might be more special treats in it for me too.

I bided my time until the January sales.

In C&A, ladies were almost coming to blows over the bargains on offer. Mum was in the thick of it, desperate to acquire a new hat for her sister's wedding. Auntie Susan was going up in the world and Mum was determined to cut a dash.

'I'll just be a minute, Maureen. Don't you dare move!' Keeping my eyes on her back, I sidled slowly towards the escalator, dithered for a moment and then stepped onto it by myself for the very first time. The ground floor was even busier and it took a while for someone to spot a child in distress, but I was tucking into a cream bun in the staff canteen by the time Mum appeared. Right on cue, my tears began to flow again.

'Did you get your hat, Mummy?' I asked in a quavery voice and knew that once again I'd escaped retribution.

The move up from primary school to a bewilderingly large secondary modern wasn't a happy one. At first, I avoided the lessons I disliked the most by pretending to lose my way in the unfamiliar buildings. When that strategy wore thin, I fell into the habit of deliberately taking the wrong route from home and walking aimlessly around town until 4 o'clock. That came to an abrupt end when I was caught by the School Board Man. Tears didn't work on him. He'd heard it all before. My parents were issued with a warning and a mortified Norman had to walk me to school and back every day until I couldn't possibly claim not to know the route. There was a positive side to it, though. Child psychology was beginning to take over from the cane and I was seen as an interesting case study. When I wept in the headmaster's office, all kinds of allowances were made for me and school became a better place.

I particularly enjoyed an art trip to London, managing to detach myself from the rest of the group on the Tube. They all got out at Charing Cross, but I stayed on until Leicester Square and headed for the 2i's Coffee Bar in Old Compton Street in the hope of getting Tommy Steele's autograph. Disappointed that he wasn't around, I still had a wonderful time listening to a new skiffle group. Later on, as the tears poured down my face at the National Gallery, the staff swallowed the fib that I'd been hemmed in by tourists getting onto the train and travelled to the very end of the Northern Line before finding my way back to Charing Cross.

I managed to disappear so often during cross country runs, always turning up eventually with a tear-stained face, that the PE staff gave up on me. That's how I met my Jim, who asked me with a twinkle in his eye if I'd like a lift back to school on the cross bar of his bicycle. He'd already left and was making deliveries for the Co-op. I spent the rest of the afternoon helping him and later on Well, let's just say that we were married on my 16th birthday. I didn't cry then, although both our mums did.

I might have used crocodile tears occasionally to get my own way, but I've never strayed far from my beloved Jim. That's why I can't understand where he's got to today. The January sales are on again and he needs my help to choose a new suit for his funeral. I'm shivering in my pink Bri-nylon nightdress and my pom-pom slippers aren't keeping my feet warm at all. Mum will be cross if she finds out that I've walked into town without the thick socks she's knitted for me, and our Norman will say that it serves me right if I get chilblains.

I should have got the bus, but I waited for ages by the stop and it didn't turn up. Maybe it's Sunday? No, it can't be. The shops wouldn't be open then and I'm supposed to meet Jim in the doorway of C&A. This is the corner of Boar Lane and Briggate, though, and there's no sign of it. How odd! I know what I'll do. I'll walk up to Woolworth's. My friendly floorwalker might have another pear drop in his pocket for me and he'll get the lady in the cash office to call Mum over the tannoy. She should have chosen her new stockings by now and she'll help me to find Jim, or get our Norman to take me back to school. What's this, though? All the doors are locked and Woolworth's has turned into a House of Fraser. Fraser who? Am I back in Scotland, where we went for our Golden Wedding? Oh, Jim, where are you? These aren't crocodile tears. This time I'm really lost and I'm so very frightened.

What on earth are you doing out here on your own at this time of night, love? You don't know? It's all right. Don't be scared now. No one's going to hurt you. Just sit down here on this bench for a moment and let me call into the station. Here, put my jacket round your shoulders until they send a car to pick you up. We'll find out where you've come from and get you back into your nice warm home in no time. There's no need for tears. | | MAGGIE'S BOOK, SHADOWS OF THE PAST, IS AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON.CO.UK AS A DOWNLOAD OR PAPERBACK. FOR MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR, GO TO MAGGIECOBBETT.CO.UK.

Right on cue, my tears began to flow - once again I'd escaped retribution
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 12, 2017
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