I remember as a child trotting out certain phrases I didn’t really understand, but I knew what they meant overall. One was, “20 embassy tipped.” My mother used to smoke Embassy cigarettes and she would send me to the post office with that order. She would tell me exactly what to say and wait for me to recite it back. She had elocution lessons as a girl and I was expected to recite it back, really, not just say it. Only years later, as a smoker myself, did I understand what “tipped” meant. My mother had started smoking when cigarettes were mainly hand-rolled and manufactured cigarettes were filterless. Then technology improved and they sold cigarettes with filter “tips.” All of this makes me wonder now, but back in the early 1970s in England it was just life.
Another phrase I trotted out without really understanding what I was saying was, “Betley two one nine.” This was said in the days before long distance dialing codes and I had to call an operator to ask to be connected, to Betley (near Crewe), 219. I just said this and then I would wait and then I’d be talking to Miriam, my grandmother who I never called grandmother or grandma, but Nan Quintin. Mariam had an absurd telephone voice she put on when she answered the phone just in case it was an important person calling. When she heard it was me, she immediately sounded normal, and thrilled. “Oh, hello my little teapot!”
I went back to Bentley, near Crewe, a couple of years ago. I stood outside Nan Quinton’s old house and saw how the windows had been replaced and the space above the carriage had been converted. It was the same house but different. Every single memory is real, and everything is gone. And kids can no longer buy cigarettes.
And we call this progress,