The Magic Hat – By Tina Ryan


I often saw Mrs Bacon on our street of back-to-backs. She would be wringing out grey washing, or scrubbing her step. Her hair was short and grey, the same colour as her overall. Feet shod in big, white trainers over grey stockings made her look a bit out of proportion. It was not often that Mary Bacon looked up when I passed but, when she did, she just glanced at me, quickly returning to her work.

People say now that back-to-backs were friendly places, much better than the tacky new-builds that have since replaced them. We certainly had a fair idea of what was going on next door, as the walls were quite thin. But as we were so close together we tried to keep ourselves to ourselves. I suppose that is what Mrs Bacon did.

Mr Bacon worked at the mill. He was a big man who you’d not want to mess with. His arms, I remember, were thick and his hands seemed huge. A shock of black hair, peppered with dust from the mill, contrasted with the fair almost ginger-coloured hairs on his arms. As soon came into sight his wife went inside. That would remind me of tea-time and the bread, butter and egg waiting for me up the road.

It was a bright, sunny afternoon in June 1978 when I'd just recovered from a few days off from school, having had a bug of some sort. I wasn't allowed back until the infection had passed, but was feeling well enough. I was outside, kicking a ball around and trying to hit the tyres of passing cars. Tuck, my dog, was running about like a mad thing, chasing the ball and the cars.

Mr Bacon came into view, wobbling up the street on his bicycle. I grabbed Tuck and held him close to me so that he would not get into trouble. The bicycle almost overbalanced because there was a box balanced on the handlebars, making steering and pedalling at the same time difficult to do.

It was just after that that I heard a scream from somewhere. It was short and sharp. I even wondered if I had imagined it. There was more traffic and more noise in general; people coming home from work. My game was spoiled and Tuck was in danger from the cars, so I got him and the ball and walked down the street a little to my Nan’s house for tea.

"I think I heard a scream", I told Nan. She said she thought I had been out in the sun long enough. She told me to stay in and watch TV rather than go out again and that I'd be back to school tomorrow, so no staying up late.

The sun was coming up and I heard the twittering of birds. Then some banging and clanking -- then silence. The birds had stopped. That seemed odd, so I got up to look out of the window.

A pretty lady in a pink straw hat with a polkadot bow on it was getting onto the crossbar of Mr Bacon's bicycle. They were giggling and wobbling, but without the box.

Two more faces came to windows, at No. 7 and No. 9. Mrs Figstowe and Miss Cobbett, in their nightgowns and hairnets.

"Nan, Nan, Mr Bacon’s going off with a fancy lady," I cried. But Nan was well asleep at the back of the house.

Then the lady turned round and … waved to me! She was pink as the morning sunrise, as bright as the morning birdsong. She was Mrs Bacon … in a magic hat.