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The bastard really is in a bad mood. Oh well, at least he can’t use it on me now” I thought naively as I awaited my turn for punishment at the hands of our beloved father. Moments earlier my younger brother and I had been frog marched through the house in front of some family friends who were sitting in the smoked filled ‘back room’ discussing politics or religion or whichever particular topic my father has chosen to lecture on that day. We were in the ‘laundry room’ at the back of our Victorian red bricked semi although many years had passed since it had been used for its’ original purpose and was now filled with allsorts of discarded broken furniture, old newspapers and rubbish. It also housed our downstairs loo which an Estate Agent would undoubtedly describe as having retained many of its’ original features including moss and fungi that thrived in the cold and damp. The Laundry Room was once the home of our pet rabbits until my brothers’ assailant had drowned them in the water barrel some years earlier. He’d finished with my younger brother now and shoving him roughly to one side turned his attention toward me and grabbing hold of me with one hand he swung what remained of the thick bamboo stick across the back of my legs. Despite the excruciating pain I was determined not to show it and knew that his tar filled lungs could not sustain any physical activity for long so it was bearable. Perhaps all the money he’d wasted on 40 fags a day hadn’t gone entirely to waste after all. Until that moment I hadn’t known what hatred really was although the huge lump in my throat and the stinging tears in my eyes were testimony to the rage boiling inside of me. Having lived just 16 years of my life I was just on the verge of adulthood but already knew life for my kids should I ever have any, would be very different to mine - I’d make sure of that. Some 14 years earlier the air was warm and still and the early afternoon sun shone relentlessly on an empty silent street of red brick and grey slate roofed Victorian houses. To the eyes of a 2 year old that street seemed to go on forever and what lay around its’ corner was another World entirely beyond my young imagination. I wandered back and forth along the slate grey brick path that ran along the side our house between its’ rear garden of neglected hydrangers and rose bushes and our wooden front gate with its peeling light blue paint desperate to find something to amuse me. The streets’ silence was broken only by the occasional bee on its’ way to a flower bed in a neighbouring garden or an unseen single propeller aeroplane flying somewhere high overhead amongst the white fluffy clouds that drifted slowly across the otherwise clear blue sky. It was the summer of 1963 and I was bored. There was no sign of any of my 3 older siblings and the two younger ones were inside our 4 bedroom home demanding as much attention as our beleaguered mother could afford them. This is my first conscious memory. Those were the days when nurseries, playgroups and pre schools were the domain of the wealthy and kids were largely left to their own devices. Besides which, even if
they did exist in our little corner of the south Midlands, there was no way my parents could afford to pay the fees no matter how small they might be. My parents met in Norwich where my mother was working in Gooses’ book shop before becoming a dental nurse whilst my father had just finished his National Service serving as a Lieutenant in the Army and was waiting to begin life as a medical student at Barts Hospital in London. She remembers she wasn’t taken with him at first particularly when they had their first dance together whereupon she discovered he had two left feet and his breath smelt of onions. She recalls regretfully, “I almost did a runner there and then!”. If only she’d listened to her instincts life for her might have been so very different and life for me might not have been at all. They dated for three months before out of the blue he popped the question and although mum wasn’t head over heels in love with him she accepted and so on the 21st December 1956 they were married at Norwich Registry Office in front of his family and one of mums’ friends. There are no photographs of that infamous day as no one remembered to bring a camera and the brief, modest ceremony was followed by a couple of drinks at the nearby and rather expensive Castle Hotel. The honeymoon was a short lived affair in more ways than one when on the first day of marriage he announced “No wife of mine is going to work!” and in the next breath that he also didn’t believe in contraception. She already knew he had no sense of rhythm so a childless marriage was an unlikely outcome but a long career as a wife and mother was assured. My mother had been raised by foster parents in Richmond, Yorkshire and Middlesborough as her father, ‘Robbie’ was serving with the Army whilst her poor mother had suffered a nervous breakdown during the Second World War and never recovered spending the rest of her life in an old style ‘mental hospital’. At the tender age of 11 Mum was put on a train with a little brown suitcase and some sandwiches wrapped in brown paper to continue her education at St Marys’ Convent in London where she endured a very unloving and lonely environment. Six years later she stepped out into the big wide World with little knowledge of it, few friends and no family to speak of. She embarked upon one of the only careers open to young women in the ‘50’s and began her nurse training at the famous childrens’ hospital, Great Ormond Street in London. Unsurprisingly mum suffered from a combination of low self esteem and a lack of confidence and although she enjoyed the training and working with kids she found it difficult to cope and so moved up to Norwichwhere her father had recently moved. My father flitted between careers regularly changing jobs for one reason or another but often because of a personality clash with his boss or, as I came to learn, “it was a matter of principle”! He had benefited from a public school education, completed his National Service as an officer in the Army during the Malayauprising in the 1950’s and been a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF.
Thereafter he was seemingly unable to hold down a job for any reasonable period of time so as his family grew money became increasingly in short supply. My father may have been middle class by education and upbringing but most definitely not in terms of wealth which meant that the winters of our childhood were all too often spent playing cards or reading by candlelight due to having no money to feed the electricity meter. The smell of recently snuffed candles or burning paraffin to this day evokes vivid childhood memories. When we were able to feed the meter for any period of time the visit of the ‘meter man’ was always relished. This would often signal a refund being paid resulting in a temporary and welcome reprieve from my father’s nicotine withdrawal symptoms and a particularly good refund might even mean a visit to the corner shop for a variety of quarter bags of sweets. Such treats were rare and many minutes were spent milling about in the corner shop deliberating, debating and arguing over the choices to be made with toffee pillows, licorish allsorts, fruit salads, mojos, wine gums, pear drops and Everton Mints being among the favourites. During the miners strikes of the 70’s when electricity cuts almost became the norm our friends thought it novel and exciting whereas we were just glad that for once we were the same as everyone else. I shared the attic bedroom with my two brothers, Bill and Sam. The room had a solitary light bulb dangling on the end of an old brown electrical cord shining a dim light upon a floor covered by ageing, dark ripped lino and the only bedroom furniture of three second hand iron framed beds. There was a single wooden sash window which afforded an excellent view of the brick wall of our neighbours’ house and if you strained your neck to the right you could just about glimpse the rows of terraced houses of Rainbow Hill and to the left the rear garden of the Elkins’ from across the road. The chipboard walls were covered in wall paper with pictures of goggle wearing and leather helmetted racing drivers in what looked like 1930’s racing cars. We were freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer, fought like cats and dogs regardless of the temperature and always seemed to be hungry despite my mum’s heroic culinary efforts on an extremely limited food budget. Getting to our attic bedroom meant climbing 2 flights of stairs so it didn’t get too many visitors and often acted as my refuge where I whiled away countless hours constructing battlefields from a ruffled blanket. Hordes of miniature plastic soldiers accompanied by the odd Airfix model tank would fight long bitter battles until the battle cry of “it’s tea time!” would force a temporary truce. My oldest brother, Bill had feet that belonged on a cheese counter and as he reached adolesence when mixed with the odour of his favourite aftershave, Brut, the smell was enough to make anyone feel sick. The smell was particularly bad during the summer months when our attic room was so stifling hot bananas would have thrived there. I was always astonished whenever Bill got a girlfriend, which he often did, because I couldn’t understand how any human being could tolerate the unique cheesy Brut smell seeping from his multi coloured platform shoes. He clearly had other redeeming qualities which I was blissfully unaware of or he carefully chose girls with a particularly poor sense of smell!
Whatever the explanation I always liked his girlfriends – they were usually pretty, slim and kind which again baffled me. On several occasions he used me to deliver a note or verbal message saying “Bill says it’s not working out and he wants to finish with you”, meaning he’s found someone else before adding “I think he’s a dick for ditching you – I wouldn’t!” in the vein hope they might go for a younger man instead. On one occasion he cajouled my younger brother into delivering a box of ‘chocolates’ to an ex. As my brother questioned why the box rattled Bill explained they were hard centres – in fact he’d replaced the chocolates with pebbles! No wonder women grow up with a less than favourable view of the opposite sex. Talking or even whispering at night was banned by our father who would creep into the hall way two floors below to listen for any breach of his strict rule of silence. Any such breach would always be punished the severity of which would be dictated by his prevailing mood ranging from shouting to calling us downstairs, collectively or individually, to receive the slipper or ‘belt’. The belt was his weapon of choice and was made of grey leather and about 2” wide and .5” thick with a heavy metal buckle. If he was feeling particularly Christian he would refrain from using the buckle end which was about the only time our subsequent prayers of gratitude were sincere and heartfelt. We did sometimes benefit from an early warning system that took the form of a cracked tile in the hallway and when he trod on that we would immediately fall silent and remain very still. That tile bred over the years and spread throughout the hallway and what had once been our friend became our enemy when trying to sneak into the house after a late night out. On the cold wet winter nights with the rain pit patting on the slate roof above our heads and the wind howling through the various gaps in the roof and around the sash window I would pull the blankets up around my head and clip the crocodile clip of my little crystal radio set to one of the many nails petruding from the chip board wall by my bed and listen intently to ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ or whatever play I could find. I treasured that radio set which had been given to me by Mrs Panther, a former missionary and a real Ms.Marple lookalike. Mrs Panther also once gave me a fossilised seahorse which I was convinced if immersed in water for long enough it would come back to life and so spent hours staring at it whilst it bobbed about in the bathroom sink. In the course of those hours before eventually falling asleep I would escape into my own World oblivious to my brothers’ snoring or escaping methane gas. In the sweaty heat of the summers’ nights I would just lie there listening to the distant rumblings of the late London trains or a speeding motorbike and wonder where it was headed to, who was on board and what exciting lives they led. I also wondered if I had been adopted or swapped at birth and my real parents were somewhere out there looking for me. Ofcourse my ‘real’ father would be kind, have a good job, a car and would teach me useful things like how to build a den properly or
make a go cart or play football. I would be sad that my mum wasn’t my real mum and hoped that my ‘real’ mum would be the same only happy. I imagined I would miss my brothers and sisters too some more than others ofcourse. My father was fond of taking out his many frustrations on his children using almost any excuse to verbally or physically strike out at one of us. Mornings and meal times were very tense affairs and those of us on the receiving end of the belt the least were those with the greatest sensitivity to his moods and knew instinctively when to keep quiet or stay out of his way altogether. It wasn’t always possible to get it right though and I remember coming downstairs one morning when I was around 16 years old and saying “Good Morning” to him and being shouted at just for speaking. The following morning I again came down into the lounge and this time ignored him but again was shouted at for not saying “Good morning”! One thing we learnt was that he was always right and we were always wrong. At meal times food was distributed at the table by our parents directly from the pans or casseroles in which it’d been cooked and any that remained was quizzed off. My father would ask something obscure like “What is the capital of Borneo?” or more often than not a religious question such as “What colour robe was Moses wearing when descending Mount Sinai?” and the one that got it right won the extra slice of cake or half a banana or whatever it was that was going begging. Being bright was another essential tool in our survival kit. The old dark wooden extending dining table would be covered with a thick plastic table cover around which we would gather – a sea of hungry faces perched at differing heights according to our age and type of chair. Someone was usually having a spat with one of their siblings and sneaky kicks and inaudible insults were the order of the day until the demi God took his place at the food alter. Grace was sometimes said and sometimes not depending on how God had treated my father that particularly day. I often wondered if his mood swings had any effect upon God but more often than not wondered if He existed at all given that one of his self proclaimed disciples was such a horrible man. Even if his fashion sense was questionable at least David Ike had a sense of humour and a job! Table manners were strictly enforced and nobody began to eat until everyone had been served and was sat at the table and nobody left the table until everyone had finished eating and had asked permission to leave. Anyone late to the table would either eat cold food or none at all. I call my own children by their given names or a term of endearment such as ‘Darling’ or ‘Handsome’. My father also had pet names for each of his children such as ‘Fatty’, ‘Dopey’, ‘Thicky’ etc. and he used them quite unashamedly and liberally to great effect often reducing his victim to tears before sending them to their room for crying. I guess he wasn’t what you might call a natural father. Watching the rented t.v. courtesy of Reddifusion was also a tense affair with many programmes being on the banned list even though there were only 3 channels and therefore the choice was somewhat limited to begin with. On Saturday evenings we would gather in the lounge packed together on an
assortmentof old sofas and dining chairs with any late comers grabbing whatever available floor space was left. The t.v. would be turned on and we would wait in anticipation for ‘Garrisons’ Gorrillas’, ‘The Champions’(had my first crush on the gorgeous Sharon McCreedy), ‘Dr Who’, ‘Mission Impossible’ or whatever was on that particular evening to begin. If he was in a good mood he would let the first couple of blasphemies pass with a ‘tut tut’. The tension would mount in the room whilst we waited for the inevitable “turn this rubbish off!” followed by a rant and lecture about the immorality of television and the modern world in general. We would all be called moronic for wanting to watch t.v. in the first place and told to fetch books to read and anyone that chose the bible would be deemed worthy of his momentary praise and a creep by everyone else. Uninterrupted t.v. viewing was only possible when he wasn’t there or if one of his collection of social misfit friends visited and he could absorb himself in playing chess or lecturing them on any subject of his choosing. Lecturing was probably his favourite pastime closely followed by bashing away on his old Imperial typewriter ‘til the early hours writing reams of pseudo intellectual ramblings that no one would ever read or yet another contentious letter to the WorcesterEvening News. We dreaded his letters getting published in the local rag as these would often trigger scorn and ridicule from the neighbourhood kids or school friends and would usually lead to me or one of my brothers getting into a fight. I don’t think he knew or even cared about the effect his ramblings had on his children. As my older siblings neared their 18th birthday they were increasingly seen as a threat to our father and his empire so he would make life so intolerable for them that one by one they left home. One day my eldest sister, Vicky returned home for lunch 20 minutes late with her boyfriend, Geoff who was greeted by my fathers’ friendly greeting of “You pig! How dare you bring my daughter home late!”. Even by his standards this was a shocking outburst and Vicky’s boyfriend was understandably bemused but nevertheless stood his ground refusing to be intimidated by the bearded, wirey old man bellowing at him. Geoff continued seeing Vicky for a short time at least but one by one boyfriends and girlfriends were seen off or put off until one by one we each grew tired of his tyrannical behavoir and rantings and sought our escape usually through early marriage or taking a job we didn’t like – anything to get away from this bullying tyrant. I guess these days he would be labelled as being a pyschopathic control freak. Despite the preceding text I do have happy memories of my childhood largely revolving around the school summer holidays when we would go off looking for adventure or just something to do. When I was in my early teens I would often go off with friends or my older sisters and brothers for long rides on our bikes (second hand, ‘borrowed’ or donated by some charitable neighbour or friend) quite often deciding to ride to Warwick, Stratford or Hereford sometimes getting there and sometimes not. If it had been a particularly hot and sunny day we would return sun burnt and Mum would smother us in Camoline Lotion – no fancy after sun lotion in those days! On one occasion I was speeding down a steep hill when my valve blew out of my rear tyre for which ofcourse I had no replacement so ended up pushing my bike 15 miles home -happy days!
Pocket money was rarely received during the long 6 week summer holidays so to fund refreshments for our bike rides we would either invite a less impoverished friend along or scour the neighbourhood for ‘empties’ or when we became more street wise we would look for car batteries or scrap lead to sell to the local scrappy. I also became expert at finding old bikes, fixing them, cleaning them up and selling them although the origins of the various bits were not always wholly legitimate. Another favourite way of earning some money was to harvest bull rushes from the ‘Gusher’ marshes (an area fondly referred to as the place where the river dredgers would empty their loads of silt through a large pipe known as the gusher) and then carry them to the posh houses to sell to the posh owners. I could never understand the attraction in displaying a bunch of dead reeds in such a posh house! It was hard work but it earned what we considered to be good money. Summer evenings were spent wandering through the green fields that surrounded Worcester in those days or playing football in the street with the O’Mahony brothers who lived just down the street and with whom we remain friends with to this day only now it’s poker or squash and hopefully we don’t annoy the neighbours too much. If we were being particularly rowdy an adult neighbour would shout “Get up your own end!” which was a bit of a problem if we already were. We would then move up the street to ‘our own end’ kicking the ball against an old corrugated iron clad double gate until another neighbour we nicknamed ‘Spock’ would come out and ask us to keep the noise down. We would for a while at least and then we would see just how many times we could hit the offending gate before he would make another appearance which he inevitably did. When I was about 13 years of age me, Bill, Sam and a friend, Rob Lee were mucking about in Perry Woods when we were set upon by a gang of about a dozen lads who considered we had invaded their territory. We escaped with minor cuts and bruises but were determined to exact our revenge. Later that week we returned with about 15 of our mates which included the Lock brothers (John who had a limp from smashing his leg whilst joyriding and mad Dave because he was clearly mad!), Ade who was the ‘hardest’ by far and would take on anyone, Ed who could produce projectile vomit at will, Darkie who was both hard and mad, and the Sear brothers Paul and Andy one of whom ended up on drugs and spent periods of his life ‘inside’. All of these lads had one thing in common, apart from a criminal record that is, an absent father. We’d gone prepared with weapons such as sharp pointed rusty iron railings to be used as spears, catapults, sticks and even an old pram loaded with bricks that we hoisted high into the branches of a tree overhanging the main footpath. We waited in hiding for what seemed like hours until we spotted a small group of lads walking up the path towards us and we immediately recognised one of them from a few days earlier. We waited until they were close and all hell broke loose with stones, sticks and bricks being hurled from every angle! Fortunately for our ‘enemy’ and for us they never reached the path directly below the pram nor did any of the iron railings/spears find their intended targets or our lives might have taken a very different turn. They got away but with a few more cuts and
bruises than had been inflicted upon us earlier in the week so honours were considered even. One summer my father decided he would dig a swimming pool in our back garden which made us all very excited and our popularity with the other kids on our street grew immensely as its’ construction commenced. Unfortunately, my father was not blessed with d.i.y. skills (his toolbox was a battered old red biscuit tin with an assortment of rusty nails, a broken bayonet, a couple of bent screwdrivers and a claw hammer) and the ‘pool’ which was disappointingly not much bigger than a large family bath, lasted a day before it sprang a leak and eventually was filled in with an assortment of rubbish and soil. At least we were the only house in the entire area that had a swimming pool even if it was the size of a slightly large bath and only lasted a day! A few times every summer we would set off to the local park in a long winding column carrying large plastic bottles of diluted squash and carrier bags of sandwiches the filling of which depended entirely upon the current food budget but was usually either jam, peanut butter, egg mayonnaise or on occasion mashed banana. Mum would also have baked a cake or her famous (infamous to us kids) ‘school biscuits’ which were essentially flapjacks that if you didn’t know better you might expect to find at a builders merchants, and these were used as currency at Primary School where we would exchange them for shop bought food stuffs which were an absolute luxury to us. We would often persuade unsuspecting friends to come with us in the hope that their presence might lighten the atmosphere and provide some shop bought luxuries such as Mr Kipling cakes or Corona pop, Dandy Lion & Burdock being my personal favourite. Upon arrival at the park we would lay claim to as much of the park as possible by using bags and items of clothing to lay out a pitch for a game of rounders. My father was the archetypal ‘competitive dad’ choosing two team captains and always ensuring he was part of the strongest team. My eldest sister, Vicky would whisper “Whatever you do don’t get him out” for we all knew what the consequences of his early dismissal would be. With a single exception holidays, foreign or otherwise, were something that other people did but we did occasionally glimpse what a holiday must be like when we would all be loaded up into ‘Gutsie’ our old black London cab or later the Dormobile and head off for Weston Super Mud or some far flung place in Wales depending upon how much petrol money my father had at the time. Gutsie was always my favourite and I can still smell her old worn leather seats and see her long runner boards. I used to suffer from travel sickness and remember being held out of the Dormobile window to be sick as we travelled along and my father washing it off when we stopped for fuel. Nevertheless it was always worth it as far as me and my siblings were concerned – the seaside is such a magical and exciting place for kids. When we did have any transport available to us we would sometimes go to the Malvern Hills which is a local beauty spot. From the top of Worcestershire Beacon
you can look to the West and see the Black Mountains and to the East there are magnificent views over the Severn Valley stretching away into the distance. Today, I like to go there during the week when it’s quiet and at weekends will often take my own children as numerous generations before have also although my daughter, who is now 21, always ‘forgets’ to bring suitable footwear and heads to the shops instead. I did have one ‘proper’ summer holiday when some ‘posh’ friends related somehow to the Cadbury family took me and my three older siblings to their cottage at Cardigan Bay in Wales for two weeks. Angie and her two children, Poppy and Doodie (!) lived in a large whitewashed Georgian house at the end of our street and we’d befriended her and her two beautiful, if somewhat spoiled, children during a previous school holiday. Her husband, Tom always seemed to be in a bad mood but thankfully was rarely at home and Angie appeared grateful for the company and playmates for her children. Poppie and Doodie were Hello magazine kids with bright blonde curly hair, large blue eyes and white teeth. In exchange for keeping them entertained we had a glimpse of what a ‘posh’ life was like with toys galore and more food than you could possibly eat all at our disposal. But it was the totally relaxed atmosphere engendered by Angie’s laid back attitude coupled with her aupairs’ sense of fun that made such a stark comparison to our own home. Packed into two cars we completed the 150 mile journey driving up a single track road to a typical traditional Welsh cottage near a cliff top with only one other house within a mile and that was immediately next door. Upon arrival we dumped our bags into our allotted bedrooms and went exploring almost immediately discovering a path at the side of the cottage that led to some steep steps to a little sandy beach at the base of the cliff. During the early evenings we would sometimes wait for the local fishermen to land their catch of lobsters and watch with fascination as they grabbed one of their catch from the bottom of the boat and cautiously bind the large snapping claws with elastic bands. I remember being particularly fascinated when one of the older bearded fisherman gave us a stark warning, “Gotta watch them claws kids or they’ll have ya!” thrusting his large grubby hand towards us revealing a stub where his thumb once grew. I was horrified and my initial sympathy for the lobsters disappeared in a moment and later that evening when some of the days catch were squeeling and turning pink in a large pot of boiling water on our stove I thought to myself, “Serves ‘em right!”. During that same holiday I had my first ghostly experience. We had been watching a Hammer House horror film in the upstairs lounge of the large Georgian house next door with our friends’ aupair and were making our way down the long sweeping staircase when we heard the thick oak outer front door open at which point our friends’ brown and white Springer Spaniel dog started barking madly before running back up the stairs behind us. My eyes were wide open as we heard the outer door close and the inner glazed door open but nobody had entered the black and white tiled hallway so my older brother began shouting at whatever it was to go away. The inner door then closed and again we heard the outer door open and then close. Even the aupair was shaken and I was terrified and shaking like a leaf so much so that it was deemed appropriate to give me a large brandy in some warm milk and lots of hugs by the rather attractive French aupair!
Those two weeks were filled with trips to the beach, picnics and a visit to the cinema in Cardigan to see ‘Voyage to the bottom of the sea’ starring James Mason. Tom didn’t stay for the duration and instead chose to work returning at the weekend and then again when it was time for us to go home. Whenever he was around the atmosphere changed and we could all sense his moods although they were incomparable to our fathers’ they nevertheless suppressed the otherwise happy atmosphere. When in one such mood Tom locked us in a bedroom for committing some heinous crime when much to our delight we found an air rifle in the back of the wardrobe. In the absence of any pellets we loaded it with a discarded lollipop stick and fired it at which point the door burst open and at a glance Tom realised what had happened and indeed what might have happened. Predictably, he ranted and raved but once he’d calmed down he allowed us to go out exploring for the afternoon and when we returned as hard as we looked we couldn’t find that air rifle anywhere. When I was in my early teens my father decided he would run his very own Summer School with a captive audience made up of his own children. So every morning was spent learning useless facts about coal or something with the occasional field trip to the local woods to identify various trees or wood pigeons with each of us hoping against hope that none of our school friends would see us with our mad father. Half the time I’m sure he made it up because he was not a nature lover or particularly interested in anything other than politics or religion. When the effort became all too much he set each of us a period in history to study and write up on a chart he painted onto the sitting room wall. Luckily I liked history and spent hours in the local library researching my given period but when nearing completion my eldest sister informed me I had studied the wrong period! As it turned out it was all a redundant effort as he forgot about the whole thing anyway. A few years later when my father was serving his 3 months in Gloucester Prison my mum approached me and asked “I’ve saved enough money for some paint and brushes would you mind going to fetch it for me?”. Now I knew how hard money was to come by particularly for my mum so me and my mate, Ade set out to the local diy store where we liberated everything mum had asked for and more. Much to her surprise when we returned we gave her the paints etc and half of her money with the explanation they’d had a half price sale on! Ade and I disappeared for the rest of the day to spend the other half before setting to work decorating the sitting room the next morning. One summer my mum received a letter and once read pronounced “Uncle Chuck is coming to visit from Canada!”. “Who’s Uncle Chuck?”, one of us enquired. “He’s my older brother who used to be a sailor in the Royal Navy and now he’s a journalist living in Vancouver”, mum said proudly. Wow! An exotic relative - how exciting and we immediately rushed to tell our friends embellishing upon the sparse facts as we did so.
A week or so later the mysterious Uncle Chuck appeared on our doorstep amid great excitement and produced presents for us all. He was of stocky build but handsome,
tanned with short dark hair and well groomed and in our eyes glamorous. Mum glowed with pride and cried with joy as she hadn’t seen Chuck for years. Chuck hired a dark green Hillman Imp which was disappointingly about the smallest car on the planet at the time, but nevertheless as many of us crammed into it as possible with each of us determined not to miss out on any pending treat or adventure. Uncle Chuck always ensured our oldest sister, Vicky sat in the front next to him for reasons that we were oblivious to at the time. Our hearts were heavy when it neared the time of Uncle Chucks’ departure but the promise of another visit in the not too distant future lifted our spirits or at least most of us. Some weeks later Uncle Chuck returned only this time with his foot in plaster with the bizarre explanation that his bones had suddenly exploded whilst he was doing his early morning exercises. The truth was never known for sure but when mum unpacked his suitcase she found a plastic bag full of Canadian dollars, black hair dye and a handgun. It was like something from The Sweeny! Needless to say Uncle Chuck was ‘dodgy’ but even so he was preferable to the more permanent man of the house. Dodgy Uncle Chuck returned to Vancouver and was never heard of again. Mum was heartbroken as Chuck was her only sibling and despite employing the services of various voluntary agencies in a vain attempt to find him no trace was ever found. Some years later my mum told us he had once been accused of the brutal murder of his wife but nothing was ever proved and just in case it could be he had emigrated to Canada. It seemed he had a dark history and from what my mum already knew he kept some bad company and remembers him as being a charming conman. My guess is he conned the wrong person and someone gave him a concrete jacket to wear. The summer following Uncle Chucks’ departure my eldest sister, Vicky bought me a second hand bike and we headed off on a 2 week cycling holiday around Cornwall with her friend Anne. The prospect of going on holiday was exciting particularly the thought of 2 weeks away from my fathers’ tyranny and whilst compassion and generosity were two things my sister had in abundance planning ability was in short supply. A road map makes everywhere seem flat and Cornwall most definitely isn’t so 60 miles on the map is in reality nearer 100 on a bike and attempting that distance every day in mid summer was somewhat of a challenge to say the least. On top of that Anne had only recently bought her bike and had spent very little time on it before we left for Cornwall so she struggled pushing it up almost every incline and then falling off coming down the other side! Our holiday began at Plymouth train station but by the time we reached Padstow on the north coast of Cornwall I had sunstroke, suffering from a blinding headache, nausea and couldn’t eat. We stayed at a Youth Hostel at Treyarnon Bay which was beautiful and everything you’d expect of a Cornish beach. Sand dunes, warm yellow sand, rock pools and the salty waves formed our very own paradise for the few days before it was time to once again hit the road. At this point it was clear that I wasn’t up to another 50 or 60 miles of steep hills and hot sun so I was put on a train back to
Worcester while my sister and her friend continued the holiday. That trip really tested my sister’s friendship with her friend Anne and I don’t think it ever fully recovered.
Most of my sisters could sing and although me and my brothers weren’t equally blessed we all nevertheless loved music and would gather in the back bedroom at 5pm on a Sunday to listen to the latest charts. We once pooled our pocket money and bought a compilation LP to play on a second hand record player but when my father saw the pretty girl on the front cover showing the minutest bit of cleavage he smashed it to bits. Oliver Cromwell would have been so proud of him! The first record I bought on my own account was ‘I feel love’ by Donna Summer which was probably a metaphorical one finger salute to Oliver Cromwells’ protege.