PTSD, A Nurse, A Registrar and A Consultant.

This is just a short piece highlighting the reactions of 3 different medical personnel during and after I had 3 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, dreams or episodes. They happened in the same hospital but on different wards. Each different from one another, different reactions to the same cause. Thankfully nowadays PTSD is a recognised medical condition though for a long time it wasn’t something associated to Firemen/Firefighters, it is a military disorder, the horrors of war.  

A NURSE.  A regular dream is about the time I was caught in a flashover and partial building collapse. I was trapped under a load of ceiling beams and boards. The building carried on burning. I couldn’t reach my Distress Signal Unit (DSU) because a beam was across my chest. I shouted for help, It was hot, I couldn’t see anything, I was scared but worse I couldn’t move. During a dream I still can’t. My legs don’t move but my arm flails across my chest. “Tim, Tim, ssshhh, it’s OK you’re having one of your dreams. SSShh It’s Ok nothing is going to happen. You aren’t on your own. It’s OK, SShhh”. A small gentle hand holding mine. The back of my hand being gently stroked as I desperately tried to reach across my body for my DSU. Soft words reassuring me. I was safe. Under the protection of those gentle hands and soft words I went into a safe deep sleep. I haven’t a clue who the nurse was, who was so gentle with me. I asked but no-one confessed. Who ever you are Thank You.

A REGISTRAR. Another dream I have is a lady sitting in a chair asking me for her leg back. Angrily shouting at me “Give me back my leg”  “Where are you taking my leg? I need it, it’s mine”. We knew it was a cigarette because there was a half empty packet, a lighter and an ash tray on the arm of the chair. I hope she was dead long before the dropped cigarette set fire to her horse hair chair. The chair smouldered for hours. When we found her every piece of her body that touched the chair had been slowly and thoroughly cooked. Parts that didn’t touch the chair were absolutely normal, the skin unblemished. The ambulance crew refused to take her to the morgue until we had lifted her onto a salvage sheet. Her right leg, which wasn’t burnt at all, came away in my hands, the hip joint had been cooked. A registrar came striding confidently, into my side room. Arrogant. He was a Doctor wouldn’t his parents be proud of him! “I hear you were shouting last night”  ‘Apparently yes’  “You disturbed some of the other patients”  ‘Apparently yes’   “I see dead bodies every day but don’t scream”  ‘Yes, you see whole dead bodies’   “I thought you were a Fireman”  ‘I was’   “Why do you shout, what’s the difference between what I see and what you see?”  ‘Do you see what’s in the ambulances that drive up to the mortuary doors?’   “No”  ‘Do you see what’s in the black vans that go straight to the mortuary?’  “No of course not, Why?”  ‘We do’.

A CONSULTANT. After my 1st stroke I was chatting away to one of the Consultants. He was a huge imposing Black man but very softly spoken. He was telling me I had everything to live for, a lovely wife, 2 wonderful girls a bungalow bought and paid for, everything was good. We were talking about the past. About 2 months before the stroke when I had taken far too many tablets with only 1 intention. The phone went as I was chomping away so I answered it. It was an old Fire Brigade friend so we chatted. My wife and daughter found me on the floor still holding the phone, next to my bed. I slept for over 24 hours.  “Why would anyone want to take their own life? You are still young, what 57?”  ‘I’d just had enough, simple I guess’  “When did you retire from the Fire Brigade?”   ‘I didn’t retire I was placed Unfit for Duty as a Firefighter so wasn’t able to do my job’  “What happened?”   ‘Blah blah broke my back blah blah dead below the waist blah blah’   “When did this happen?”   ‘January 10th 1995’  “You dream don’t you”   ‘Yes’  “Tell me, tell me the worst thing you have seen as a Firefighter”   ‘Soup’   “Soup!”   ‘Yes soup’   “What do you mean soup”   ‘The lower half of a baby after it’s pram was hit by a car and crushed’   “Was ‘it’ dead?”  ‘I hope so’  silence  “Ok Tim, I’m off home see you tomorrow”. Next day, about midday, he came back in to see me.  “Hi Tim, how you feeling today?”   ‘Hey, not bad thanks, you?’   “I’m so sorry, so sorry”   ‘Why’  “I have always taken it for granted that if I dial 999 and ask for the Fire Brigade you will always come and do everything you can to help me or my family. Total strangers”   ‘We don’t ask for gender, religion or skin colour if that’s what you mean’   “No not at all. I was driving home and your word ‘soup’ stuck in my mind. I dread to think what you really saw”   ‘Sorry that wasn’t meant to sound dramatic or anything’   “No not at all. I was trying to imagine a baby as ‘soup’. I have been a Doctor for 15+ years and a Consultant for 10. I have seen some horrible things, but I have never seen anything so horrible that I can only describe it as ‘soup’ I’m sorry”   ‘Thank You’.

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Family 3, Discipline.

  ‘Sounds like a good job, what d’you reckon?’ “You know you’re next, always comes in 3’s” ‘Yeah but the Fire Brigade’ “Keith and Peter were bloody lucky they were only cut.” Peter might have been lucky Keith definitely wasn’t. Peter cut through his knee, Keith cut diagonally across his face. Peter’s scar was hidden Keith’s scar was visible to everyone, it was the mental scar that was hidden. For a chainsaw to cut wood its teeth have to be sharp, filed at the correct angle the depth gauges at the correct height. Get one thing wrong and the smallest twig can make the saw ‘kick’. If you are lucky it will happen when you are on the ground. You have good control of the saw when standing on a firm stable base. If the saw ‘kicks’ you can either throw the saw or move your body away from danger. Tied in half way up a 90 foot dead elm tree and trying to control a saw with the engine capacity of a small motorbike and a 42 inch cutting bar isn’t very stable. Sharp chainsaws don’t cut neatly through a tree surgeons skin, muscle and bone the way a skilled human surgeon would they rip, they shred and destroy it. A sharp chainsaw is merciless. I wrote down the phone number and listened as Ian Botham carried on, merciless, smacking the Aussies all over Headingley. Bob Willis was getting his bowling arm warmed up.

  Roger picked me up from home, my home in Kingsbury, at about 1:40. As usual Capital Radio was blaring away so I heard him arrive before he could disturb the neighbours. “Ready”. I didn’t usually come down a tree until it was dismantled fully and safe to be straight felled, especially the big dead Elms. Loose bark, rotten branches and kiln dry white wood wasn’t always the easiest to get up in the first place, coming down for a half hour dinner break then climbing back up again seemed, to me, pretty pointless. 2 little beetles, scolytus scolytus and scolytus multistriatus, were decimating the English country side. How could such small beetles cause so much death and destruction to once huge majestic trees? Centuries of history dismantled, felled and burned. Wood that had once been used for building homes, furniture, ships, coffins destroyed. Rooks, once so common, used the straight twigs and branches for their nests, as protection for their young, what now? How would they survive? Could they change their natural instincts, adapt the nest building lessons taught to them by their parents. Adapt or change?

  “Partner off with someone of similar build to yourself. Lift them over your shoulders like so, WATCH, then as fast as you can carry them up to that line up there and back to me. OK 1st pair GO”. Not a request but an order. “Right, that is what is called a Fireman’s carry or lift.” Alongside a building in Lambeth, on a miserable late September day I was told I would soon receive a letter inviting me to attend further tests and a medical. Just because I could carry someone on my shoulders a certain distance and back didn’t mean anything apparently.

(unfinished)

 

Monday 25th January 1982. 

Family No 2, Different.

 

“Do you think it understands you?” 6 words that would change my life. Another 6 words, words of Wisdom would also change my life, but that’s another story.

  What is normal? Normal is what everyone else perceives to be the same as ‘they’ are, what they are used to. My life was to me normal. To others it was totally abnormal. Talking to a concrete rabbit might not be considered ‘normal’ but if you are used to trying, yes I tried, to talk to someone who doesn’t want to acknowledge you even exist, concrete becomes ‘normal’. If you have ‘the alcohol gene’ drinking yourself into oblivion becomes ‘normal’. Being abused and discarded as nothing, plus the alcohol gene, what does that make you? People far more clever than me will argue there is nothing called the ‘alcohol gene’ but believe me it does exist. I’m proof it exists or am I just fooling myself, making up another alcoholics excuse? Is there really such a thing? Apparently ‘it’ only happens, ‘it’ being drinking alcoholic beverages, only happens after a long sustained period of drinking. How long? Days? Weeks? Months? I’m no scientist, but I do know that the first time I had anything alcoholic, a half of bitter at a pub near the docks at Gunness with my uncle Bob, I really liked the feeling. Floating, seeing myself as a gull might see me. Me, a 7 year old sitting next to the Humber river, drinking and laughing with my uncle. Happy. Not scared. My uncle wouldn’t let anything happen to me no matter how high I flew, Aunt Alice would go nuts if he let go of me. He would have to grab hold of my ankles and bring me down to earth, down to the table where he, we, were sitting.

  I never met Dad’s parents because they were drinkers. Dad was born in Rainham and raised in the East End of London by his Aunt Glad and Uncle Henry. Dad’s Dad, when he was sober, took him to see United, West Ham United, play every now and then. Dad wore a claret and blue scarf, the colours of his team, his tribe. At the first sign of danger during a game, if anything threatened him, a little ‘un, his tribe would unite to protect him. I was born in Ealing and raised by Dad’s Aunt in the East side of Bath. My Dad, who hardly ever drank, took me to see United, Scunthorpe United, every now and then. I wore a claret and blue scarf, the colours of my team, my tribe. At the first sign of danger during a game, when I was threatened, a little ‘un, my tribe united to protect me. It’s sad that we both had to rely on aunts and uncles and total strangers to be our real tribe, to protect us. Dad from alcoholic parents, me from football hooligans and ‘semi organised violence’ from my ‘Mother’. 

Talking to a concrete rabbit wouldn’t I suggest be the starting line in a best selling book titled ‘How to turn your life around’. I wanted my life to change, to come clean about me, not the me hiding behind a mask of misery. “Do you think it understands you?” ‘I hope so’. If you are at a party and given the choice between talking in the kitchen to a ‘I’m hip cos I drink Dubonnet’ person or sitting outside with a concrete rabbit while working your way through a packet of Marlboro cigarettes and a can of bitter, I’d always choose the rabbit. “Hi”, I wasn’t the greatest at talking to ‘the fairer sex’, in fact I was useless. What happened next? I found myself talking to a young lady wrapped up in the warmest coat I had ever seen. Silence. I didn’t know what to say, even if I did I wouldn’t have known how to say it. We both sat outside in the rain and instead of smoking all the Marlboro myself I shared them with the young lady.

“Does the rabbit have a name?” It’s concrete for f’s sake, but I didn’t say so. Who was this lady? “What’s your name?” ‘Tim, what’s yours?’ “Jane” She was friendly, enquiring, interested and interesting. Her voice was a happy voice. A voice that made me want to carry on listening too. We talked. I wanted to talk to the young lady with the happy voice.  Sitting in the dark under a constant fine drizzle, slowly getting wetter and wetter we talked. I was cold she was warm. My language was coarse her language became coarse. I had a Saturday job she had a Sunday job. I worked on Windsor Crown Estate forestry department for 5 days of the week she didn’t. I lived near Ascot she lived in Harrow Weald. I was 17 she was 17. I was 6 feet 2 inches, 44 inch chest, 32 inch waist, she was, to me, perfect. I had a 3 wheeled Robin Reliant van with no name she had a horse called Chekoba. As I had the van parked outside I gave her and her boy friend a lift home. I also had a motorbike but she, Jane, didn’t know that. Not the most romantic introduction to the person who brought me alive but it was, for me, a very special introduction. An introduction to a family who over the next how many years would teach me how to live and enjoy life. An introduction to the best friend anyone could ever wish for. To ‘The Mother I never Had’, to a Dad who laughed and didn’t cower, to the Best Man at my wedding and me the Best Man at his, to a beautiful sister I love and to a cat called Yurka. I’m not sure if I was introduced to the fish? If I was I’ve forgotten their names, I was far to busy learning and enjoying life. Not only was this new unfolding life beautiful, she was, to me, beautiful too. A stunning eye opener in more ways than one! Not just visually, the things she did, how she did them, who and how she was but the way she laughed, her Mum laughed, her Dad laughed, when he wasn’t guzzling tea her brother laughed and her beautiful sister laughed. Fun.  

   “You shagged ‘er yet you lucky bastard” ”Erd she goes like a train, come on gi’s the details”. People who make those comments would never and could never understand a Jane and Tim. Sometimes we slept naked in the same bed in the same bedroom. Sometimes we slept naked in the same sleeping bag in the same tent. We hugged and we kissed, linked arms and held hands. Tim told Jane he loved her, Jane told Tim she loved him. Jane had a body that I felt and explored and loved. I  didn’t want to enter this beautiful body. Jane’s body was perfect, why would I want to invade perfect? Love. Tim and Jane were 2 young people in love riding on a motorbike or in a 3 wheeled Robin Reliant van or on Chekoba ‘n Torro loving and laughing together. Aged 17 I found a new family, a new life and love. I was unknowingly being shown how to enjoy it.

(I’d had sex before. I knew the ins and outs of the female body when I was 6. I loved Jane, everything about her meant love to me. Love was returned. We didn’t need to partake of a primordial mating right. We laid in each others arms exploring love, not sex.)      

I had no desire to stay at school any longer than I had to. I hated it, I hated the crap, the balls they were trying to teach me. “For homework tonight I want you, in your own words and in your own opinion, to describe what Sir/Madam someone old bloke/woman is trying to say in his/her poem/book and how it affects our lives today.” In my own words I write, ‘Sir/Madam someone old bloke/woman is trying to tell me that my life is wonderful and filled with floating daffodils that are wandering around fields feeling lonely. Poor little daffodils’. I don’t put ‘They must be very happy daffodils if they can wander off on their own and not be returned to their mother to be cleaned. Sir/Madam old bloke/woman doesn’t have a friggin’ clue how I affect them or they affect me. They are dead, and from their writing it seems they were dead a long time ago’. Conclusion ‘Sir/Madam someone old bloke/woman doesn’t know the foggiest about me and probably couldn’t give a monkeys if they did and to be perfectly honest I feel the same way about them.’ In the morning I hand it in. Next day I’m given my homework back. “See Me for Detention! This is not what Sir/Madam old bloke/woman means in his/her poem/book at all. You obviously haven’t listened to anything in class”. Yes I did. You asked for my opinion. That is my opinion of what Sir/Madam old bloke/woman is saying in their poxy poem/book. If you don’t agree with my opinion hard luck. My opinion is what I think. If you don’t want my opinion don’t friggin’ ask for it.

Easter 1974, at the ripe old age of 15 me and Dad travelled England to find me a job in forestry. Why forestry? To be honest I’m not sure. Cumbria, Newton Rigg, Northumberland, Yorkshire, Derby-shire, Wales. What a week. Me and Dad. A different Dad to the one at home. This Dad was really good company. We stayed in Bed and Breakfast places every night, had a good breakfast and off we went, laughing. If you look at an aerial view of England and Wales there is quite a bit of green shown between the towns and cities but try and find out who owns it and if they cut down any trees on it. We must have travelled miles. Nottingham. If there is anywhere in England that must have forests surely it must be Nottingham. Probably it has but the car blew up just as we were crossing the invisible county border. Bang, chug chug, Bang the big ends conked out. A train back to London and back to ‘home’. Of course it was a waste of good money getting the car repaired and what the hell it’s his fault, probably. It transpired that Dad actually knew someone who knew someone who knew Jock Taylor the person in charge of the forestry department on Windsor Crown Estate, just 22 miles up the road.

I left school just after taking my O’levels and C.S.E. exams. I had a job, the job came with a tied cottage, I could live in the tied cottage, I didn’t have to live with that woman for a second longer than I needed to. Mr Bish, the second in charge forestry manager, took me to see my new home. It was absolutely wonderful. A line of 4 semi detached cottages set back from the main road, mine was the one at the end, No 1 Woodend Cottage, my new home. I cried. I stood there and cried. I was asked if I would rather travel from ‘home’ instead of living in the cottage, after all I was rather young so if I was going to be home sick or upset but it was quite a way to travel each day but if I wanted to……….. I wasn’t crying because I was upset, far from it, I was overjoyed. I was free from that woman, my ‘Mother’.

I shared the house with 2 other blokes. Both older than me, both bigger than me and both spoke like me. Colin was about 5’10”. A powerful man with a soft voice from a town just outside Plymouth. Martin was a surly 6′. Very dark but with a happy tuneful voice from a village just outside Oxford. Colin had a Plymouth accent, Martin an Oxford accent. Individual regional accents from different parts of the same country. I realised I didn’t have to pretend anymore, I could speak how I was taught to speak not how I was told to speak on the pain of being ‘cleaned’. I could be ME. 

 Monday 29th July 1974 at 7’30 in the morning, aged 15, maximum 5 feet 5 inches tall, chest size probably about 32″ max and weighing 6 stoneish, if I was very wet, I lined up with 3 other ‘new boys’ outside the Windsor Crown Estate saw mill. I’d been working in a sports shop on Saturdays since I was 11 and had managed to save enough to buy a shopper trotter moped sort of motorbike, a pair of Levi’s and a pair of size 5 Henke walking boots. Someone came across, a young lad, very cocky “Any of you catch a dose put your dicks in that cylinder and press the green button, that’ll soon clear it up for you”. Nice bloke. “And, and if any of you go anywhere with or near my sister I’ll put you in there myself”. The cylinder in question was the timber pressurised preservative plant or Tanalith. Arsenic and other lovely chemicals. I wonder what his sister looked like. Any family resemblance wouldn’t be in her favour! 

  ‘See him over there, that’s Danny, his nickname is ‘The Bear’. Once, all by himself, he managed to roll a huge oak log from the saw bench just before it reached the saw blades. Someone tripped over onto the bench as the log was being loaded. The log pinned him to the bench, he’d have been sliced in half if ‘The Bear’ hadn’t been close by. Bloody lucky. Always call him ‘The Bear’ not Danny, he doesn’t like the name Danny’. A 15 year old’s curiosity “D’you know him then?” ‘Course I do, Dad’s the manager of the saw mill, I know everyone here’.

2 of us on mopeds, me and Clive, and 2 in the Estate Land Rover, Andy the saw mill managers son and Russell, were taken to meet Don our teacher. I’d never seen, or heard, anyone who looked like Don, and to be honest never have. One bright blue eye the other a frosty white, a nose that had obviously been broken more than once and a set of pearl white teeth, not a complete set but those he had were pearl white. His head was part football part rugby ball, tanned leather brown surrounded by silver grey hair neatly cut, long but not too long but not too short either. I liked him instantly. Don was the archetypal ex WW11 Spitfire pilot poster boy. “Staaack mee love a chicken, what have you brought me here Graham? Not a whisker between them”. Ask anyone who worked on the Estate who said ‘staaack mee love a chicken’ everyone knew it was Don. ‘Get on yer bikes and follow me if you haven’t got a bike run’. Don had a gleaming red Honda 90 sit up and beg motorbike. It never went below 30 mph no matter how many ruts there were in the paths or if Don wanted to impart a lesson. So at 30 mph we heard ‘Listen, lesson number 1, paths are called rides on the ‘Estate’. Paths are for pavements, Rides are for forests’. 5 minutes later the red brake light came on and we all stopped next to our ‘Plantation’. Our plantation was a mass of scrawny trees, bracken and brambles. The tallest tree was a silver birch which was about 15′ tall. From under some bracken Don produced 4 shiny ‘Billhooks’ and 4 sets of large keys. The keys would open every gate on the Estate, lose them at your peril. ‘Listen, lesson number 2, this is Her Majesty’s land, these are Her Majesty’s trees and these Billhooks and keys are Her Majesty’s too.’ Off to Tower of London if I dare lose them. ‘Lesson number 3, If I give you a swear warning you DO NOT swear. If you cut your leg off DO NOT swear. Her Majesty and Her family ride their horses round these woods and She doesn’t want to hear Her workers swear’. Off to the Tower of London if I swear and Her Majesty hears. We were shown how to use our Billhooks, how to sharpen our Billhooks, how to cut trees down with our Billhooks, how to clear brambles with our Billhooks, the one thing we weren’t told about our Billhooks was that after about a quarter of an hour our silky soft hands would be covered in blisters and blood. No swear warning so bloody is OK, Her Majesty doesn’t mind that sort of bloody.

 I’d started smoking when I was 15 not because I wanted to look ‘ard or anything like that but to show my school Cross Country and athletics teacher I wasn’t going to put up with anymore of his bull. In the 4th form, at 14, I was the best in the school at Cross Country bar 1. Ray was a lovely bloke in the upper 6th 17 and a half years old. I was the 5th best in Harrow. I ran for Harrow in the Middlesex trials over a course in Ruislip Woods. I was given a lift there by my teacher but hearing I’d only come 35th I had to find my own way ‘home’. At the end of the year prizes and school colours were handed out to pupils who excelled at something. 4 people in my year were awarded colours for their intelligence, lots of people in the 5th 6th and upper 6th received awards for their sporting prowess. I’d beaten all of them bar 1. Ray sought me out after the assembly, I’d walked out before the final hymn, and told me it wasn’t right, as the Red’s, Waxwell, House Captain he had argued that I should get my school colours but was overruled by the Cross Country teacher. Ray was leaving that year and the next Red’s House captain was someone I’d beaten in every distance that year during the schools house athletics competition. I played Rugby, Cricket, Ran, High Jumped everything for the school but I wasn’t good enough to be rewarded. Next year when I was told to line up for the school cross country trials I had a cigarette in my mouth and blew the smoke into the teacher face when he asked what did I think I was doing. He now wanted my opinion so I told him to Fuck Off. I knew that whatever I said would be wrong, would be different from his opinion, I’d already found that out with clouds and daffodils.

I smoked Marlboro, Don liked to smoke Marlboro, John Players, Benson and Hedges and occasionally his Silk Cut. Clive didn’t smoke! 

What seemed like months but was in fact only a few weeks my hands were calloused and bitten. We were all callus, unless we’d had a Swear Warning of course, and the horse flies enjoyed ‘biting’ us. It was a good excuse to thump someone ‘You had a horse fly on yer back’ then laughter. What a different world. I grew. I’d kept my Saturday job going because the money was good, almost 3 times the amount I was paid working in forestry. £12.15p flat rate for a hard week or just over £30.00 for a day selling ski equipment and sports clothing. I bought sandwiches and sausages from the pub across the road. I also drank in the pub across the road. I started to work in the pub across the road so didn’t have to pay for my drinks. I was given a meal much cheaper than it was for the punters in the pub across the road. Rich people going to Ascot to quaff champagne, eat oysters and lose money. Toffee nosed snobs with more money than sense. “Have you finished with your plate sir, madam?” ‘Of course I can fill your glass for you sir, I wont be long” “£5.00! Oh no sir that’s too much”. “You won how much on the horses! Oh, well, Ok then, Thank You Sir.” It was my idea to call them sir and madam, the other ‘peasants’ wouldn’t stoop so low. Eric and Eileen were told what a ‘nice polite’ man I was. They beamed and lapped it up. I was good at grovelling. I knew how to grovel.

I was 16 when I had my forestry accident. A small tree I cut down kicked back when it hit the ground straight between my legs. It was painful. I creased over and played to the laughter, then carried on. A few days later my nuts, my whole scrotum had swollen to about 3 times it’s normal size. I went to Heatherwood Hospital and spent 2 weeks on drips to clear the infection after the puss had been drained out. When I was discharged I was also given an appointment to have a sperm count done. Negative, nothing. 16 years old I was sterile. I was referred to Windsor hospital, nothing. I went to Windsor hospital for another 5 years still nothing.

What a Christmas 1974 was. For about a month we were thinning the young trees. 1 out of 3 were allowed to live the others were felled with one slice of a Billhook, then 4-6 at a time dragged the length of the plantation and loaded onto a trailer. Every evening they were towed away by ‘Bessie’ the blue winch tractor up to a compound near Sand Pit Gate. A fortnight before Christmas I was working selling Christmas trees to the public. It was crazy. Sitting on top of bundles of Christmas trees lifted high of the ground by ‘Bessie’s tines. I was taught how to drive Bessie. A white Rolls Royce turned into the paddock. A man and lady plus 2 excited children got out and started to lift up and inspect the array of trees. Long thin ones, dumpy fat ones but none were big enough. “Is there anywhere around here, do you know, where we can get a bigger tree?” Certainly sir, if you tell me how big you want it I can go and cut you one and be back in about 15-30 minutes’ “Daddy can we go too?” “Can we Daddy? Can we?” ‘It’s a bit muddy so I’ll have to take the tractor’ “Please Daddy, Pleeaase”  ‘I can take you to somewhere that isn’t so muddy but it will be a different tree than a Norway Spruce’  “Ok, come on kids lets follow” ‘I don’t have a licence to drive on the road sir, sorry’  “Well get in and direct us then, Ok kids” So in a white Rolls Royce sitting between 2 beaming kids I went to cut down the biggest tree I’d ever done and would ever do with a Billhook. Next to ‘my’ cottage was the Omorica block, trees about 30-40 feet high. “Wow, Daddy can we have that one. Can we. Can we?”  “What do you think dear, is it OK”  “if that’s what the kids want of course it’s OK” ‘OK sir, madam, kids stand back’ They only wanted about 15 feet so they got 15 feet. ‘Do you have a van or something to get it back sir?’ “Do you think we could get it in the car, tie it up on the roof?” Too keep those wonderful kids happy we found a way to tie a 15 foot tree on top of a ‘Roller’. I told Don how big the tree was, the gentleman paid and I was given a £20 tip. I couldn’t help but wave goodbye and wish them all a Very Merry Christmas. What a super family those lucky children.

(unfinished)

 

    

Coming ‘Home’ Family 1.

  (2017)  I realise now that my Mother was ill. Why or with what I haven’t a clue. Something had happened in her past that had affected her somehow, it must have been pretty horrible for her to be how she was. It has been suggested by a family member that I might have ‘an over active imagination’, how everything I remember is how it felt but wasn’t exactly the case. My reply to that was that I must have a pretty sick imagination to even attempt to think things up and lie so convincingly. I write what I remember about the events and ‘things’ that happened to me. An example of my ‘over active imagination’ is being dragged from my hiding place in the toilet, the only room except the bathroom, the cleaning room, with a lock on the door, into the bathroom, forced to strip, pushed into the bath, my naked mother got in too then I was ‘cleaned’. This entailed being forced to lean over the end of the bath with my back towards her then cleaned around my genitals and anus, internally and externally, with a brush. Not a big brush, just slightly bigger than a tooth brush. The brush was soaped up then she inserted it inside my anus and with a brushing motion made sure I was ‘clean’. As I had now made the water dirty for her I had to ‘clean’ her, breasts, anus and vagina but not inside and not using the brush, that would hurt her! No matter how much it hurt me she carried on. I was called her ‘donkey’ because apparently I sounded like a braying donkey “it hurts it hurts it hurts’ over and over again. Sick eh! This is just one example of what happened over the years. If you can think up something like that then I feel very sorry for you. I came back to live with my real family when I was just about four. Somehow my school enrolment occurred a year too early. I should have started infant school just after my 5th birthday but I started just after my 4th. Always playing catch up but nothing flagged as wrong, clever eh!

  Probably the most important thing we learn when we are small is how to talk. Talking is how we let people know how we are feeling, what we would like for tea, asking questions and understanding the answer. We learn how to communicate with others, how to speak. We understand the noises that come out of other peoples mouths because they are the same noises we make. By copying the same noises people around me made I learnt how to speak with a West Country accent, a regional accent. Regional accents, and there are many, can however be deceptive. How you sound doesn’t always mean you have the same voice as people around you. I have recorded and watched the Poldark BBC series since it started and thoroughly enjoy it. One thing I find rather amusing though is that Aiden Turner who plays the part of Ross Poldark, naturally speaks with an Irish accent. A very successful actor has fooled us all with his ‘posh’ English accent. A member of the British aristocracy, society, can’t be seen as speaking like Demelza, his down to earth country lover, companion and wife can they? I had to fool people. I had to be taught to speak properly, not use the same sounds people who live opposite a garage in Bath, I had to learn ‘English’, proper English with a Scunthorpe accent. Not ‘My’ accent. Not the accent I copied from Dad’s Aunt and not Dad’s London accent either. Those were dirty accents. Scunthorpeian is a clean accent. ‘What did you just say? Come here so I can clean your mouth out with soap, dirty little boy’. 

   Mother, the 2nd youngest of 8 children and the youngest of 4 girls was born and raised in Althorpe, a small village just a few miles outside Scunthorpe. I know very little about her childhood apart from a few tales of hardship. Mother’s family home when my memories begin was a 3 bed semi in Scunthorpe. 53 Webster Avenue, or number 53 as it was known. You could call it a typical Scunthorpe house. Crimson red bricks, crimson red roof and crimson coloured soil. Everything was crimson red even the main hospital on the road adjacent to number 53 was crimson red. How the grass grew green was and still is a mystery to me. Every school holiday and quite a few weekends throughout the year were spent in Scunthorpe. I liked Scunthorpe. When we were in Scunthorpe I usually didn’t have to be ‘cleaned’. If we were staying for a weekend we would all stay at my aunt and uncles house, 74 Reginald road, about 10 minutes from Number 53. I would share the main bedroom upstairs with mother and Dad and my sister had the smaller room to herself. If we were staying for a week or longer my sister used to stay at another aunt and uncle’s house along with their 3 girls. There were a few times, if my aunt was working and Dad and my Uncle had gone for a drink I would get ‘cleaned’ but it was always over quickly, cowardly, in case anyone came back unexpected. Another reason maybe is that unlike ‘home’ in Harrow the toilet and bathroom here were combined. It worked both ways though. I had no-where safe to hide but she couldn’t be found with me locked in the bathroom because other people might need to wash or use the toilet.

  1 thing I liked about Scunthorpe was that most Saturday afternoons or Wednesday evenings, if Dad was there, I had him to myself. Saturdays and Wednesdays meant football. United, Scunthorpe United that is. The Old Show Ground filled with mostly male football supporters, a testosterone fuelled 90 minutes of groans, gasps and cheers. Men with flat caps men with no caps, men with long hair men with no hair, some with scarves some without, all united by their football team. “Come on you IRON”  “fookin’ ‘ell ref you blind”  “WHHOO’s the wanker in the black”. After working long, hard, noisy hours in the steel works they needed a release valve, Scunthorpe United were that valve and I loved it. I learnt the songs so sang along, I learnt the chants so joined in I even learnt some new words but wasn’t brave enough to use them. Hot Bovril at half time sometimes, if I was lucky, a ‘hot dog’ wrapped in a tissue. The tissue invariably turned soggy and stuck to the roll but it just added to the flavor. We would always sit in the stands. That didn’t make sense to me. Why did people sit in the stands that went the length of the pitch and stand in the stands behind the goals. Nearly on the half way line we could see every corner of the pitch except for the places blocked off by the huge steel girders supporting the roof. The seats were long wooden benches which were ideal for me to stand on to see over all the heads and the caps.

  It was at a Scunthorpe home game that I first saw ‘football hooligans’, or semi organised violence depending which way you look at it. Scunthorpe v Barrow, a Saturday afternoon game. Scunthorpe scored, I stood up and cheered along with everybody else in the stadium. Smiles on peoples faces, cheering, clapping and singing then a scuffle. I was lifted off my feet by Dad as someone flashed past climbing to the back of the stand towards the directors box, then another and another, their one aim go high and attack. Amidst swearing and flailing arms and fists a man I’d never seen before shouted from the pitch to Dad ‘Give little ‘un ‘ere Nah’. It wasn’t a request it was an order. I was passed from stranger to stranger until I was next to the pitch. Where was Dad? What was happening? Swearing. Raised voices. Was Dad Ok? “DAD-DAD” ‘don’t worry ‘eez alright, we got them fookin’ buggers little ‘un. Look there ‘e is, eez fine’. Where was I meant to be looking? Fresh, loud chanting came from behind the goals “IRONIRONIRONIRON” a tribal war cry. All I could see was a big huddle of people then Dad calling from a distance. There he was safe in a different part of the stand away from the fighting. Police Officers came rushing into the stand batons drawn. After what seemed a long time but was probably only minutes a group of people were escorted out the stand, I was passed back up to Dad and everyone sat down to carry on watching the game. It hadn’t even stopped. What had just happened? Like a doll I had been picked up and passed man to man away from the flailing arms. I wasn’t scared, instinctively I knew Dad wouldn’t let me be hurt and neither would these other men. I was one of their tribe. I was ‘a little ‘un’ with a claret and blue scarf round my neck. Their tribal colours were claret and blue therefore everything was done to make sure I was safe. Safe.

 I’ve no recollection of Dad talking about or even mentioning ‘the in-laws’  My memories of Grampa are pretty hazy. Grampa had had a stroke so wasn’t very active now. He had worked on the railways as had mother before moving south. My uncle, John, still worked on the railways. The railways was in the blood, British railways that is. I remember standing on Grampa’s foot once and getting a good clobber round the ears but I don’t think I was clobbered by him. He was a large man, very broad across the shoulders and when he did speak it was with a strong north country accent. His words were slightly slurred so very difficult, for me at least, to understand. Always wearing a dark suit jacket and sitting propped upright in the back room settee I felt as if I was being watched, silently appraised. As a youngster I was pretty weedy. Not tall and pretty skinny. Was I being sized up to see if there was any chance, no matter how small that chance may be, that I too could work on the railways?

Granny was one of the nicest people I have ever met. She lived to be 104 the oldest person to have ever lived in Scunthorpe. While she was alive not only her husband but 4 of her children died. It is said a parent shouldn’t have to attend their children’s funerals, to outlive half of your offspring must be devastating. I cannot imagine how she must have felt but she always looked calm on the outside. Granny was one of those people who even though they look old don’t they don’t appear to visibly get older. When I was born she was 66 just 2 years younger than Dad when he died. Her chair was in the  corner of the back room alongside the settee giving her a good view of everything that went on in the room. “John the fire needs more coal” “they don’t go in that cupboard they belong in the drawer in the kitchen” Nothing escaped her even though during our visits she was always in the small kitchen or ‘the scullery’ under the stairs making tea or baking cake. Granny Freear cake was the best. Dark brown and filled with fruit and nuts. Oh the joy of getting a slice of Granny Freear cake with a cherry in it, pure taste bud Heaven.

Mid afternoon Uncle Harold came home. He was the history teacher at the local Grammar school. Always a bit aloof, he was the youngest of the Freear family and the only one to have gone to university. He strode into the back room where everyone sat, confidant, not looking at anyone in particular, “Hello mother”, a statement of fact not a greeting. In his hands he carried a cup and saucer, a sealed bag and a small machine. I knew what came next but what was it? Putting everything down on the table in front of Granny he slowly poured some of the contents of the sealed bag into the machine. Slowly he would turn the machines handle, as he turned a lovely aroma filled the room. Then he lifted the machine off the table and poured the contents into a cup, just one cup no more just one. What was it? A small boys curiosity? No, everyone in the room looked on. As a conductor leads an orchestra we couldn’t take our eyes off him. He walked out the backroom into the kitchen. Unseen he lifted the kettle off the gas hob and walked back into the room. Eyes followed him. We knew what happened next. The water, at just the right temperature, was poured into the cup and a very small amount of milk was added. Coffee. Sitting down next to ‘mother’ he drank from his cup. No-one was ever offered a cup and no-one ever asked for one.

How did my mother become the monster she was with the parents she had? What made her do what she did? How could someone have such lovely parents and grow to be the person she was?

(1962)  When I was allowed to come back and live with my family in Harrow I was given the small bedroom at the front of the house, the same size but much lighter than my old room in Bath. There was a window similar to my old window but this overlooked a road not a petrol station. During the day it was quite quiet but at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon it suddenly became very busy. Not only busy with cars but lots of people walking past after their shift at Kodak had finished. People of all sizes and ages, ladies as well as men. From my sisters bedroom at the back of the house I could see the big Kodak factory and the high chimney stack. It was visible from most places in harrow. Kodak was where my mother worked. She was a typist in the personnel department. In the morning she would be all flustered with a ‘get out the way’ or a whack round the ear. For some reason if possible she didn’t use her hands to punish but something from the kitchen. An oven glove in the right hands, makes a good and painful ‘thwack’ noise when it connects properly.

  My sister is 4 and a half years older than me so she was at junior school when I arrived. One morning after breakfast I walked into the back room and was met with “get out I’m getting dressed, MUM”. There was an electric fire in the backroom and as ‘we’ didn’t have central heating, if it was invented by then, my sister used to dress ready for school in front of the fire. All the room doors downstairs were glass, not modern safety glass as today just 1 big pane of glass. I was lifted off my feet and thrown through the door by my sister. My back hit the glass and it shattered instantly. The force of the push propelled me across the hall and I landed in the cupboard under the stairs. I heard Dad’s voice calling to make sure everything was alright but the first person I saw was my mother. She was furious, not with my sister but with me. I had broken her best wine glasses as I bounced off one of the cupboard shelves. Shouting, grabbing hold of my front, shouting, infuriated that I hadn’t considered where I was going to land, deliberately breaking her best wine glasses. Dad came down and I heard him gasp as he asked “Is that blood? God he’s bleeding.” Luckily for me it wasn’t blood but the liquid from a jam jar full of beetroot, I’d even managed to break that, how clumsy. Nothing would stop my mother shouting, her only worry was how would she be able to replace the wine glasses as they were part of a set. Dad tried to intervene but to no avail. He went to work, my sister was ready for school, I was picked up off the floor and sent to my room to await mothers return from dropping my sister at school. When mother returned for the first time I was ‘cleaned’ inside and out. Aged just under 4 I was anally violated by my mother and my genitals cleaned. Aged just under 4 I was introduced to and had to clean every part of my mothers body. It was the first time of many times. Always the same, me first her second. Why? 

What a huge garden was my first impression and memory of my new home. It was huge, not overly wide but about 100 feet long. At the very back, hidden behind some bushes, elder and blackthorn trees was Kodak’s car park. A tall rusty chain link fence formed the boundary between the garden and the car park. During the day there were hundreds of cars parked close to the fence but they were hidden by the bushes and trees. I spent hours out in the garden. It could be divided into 3 very different parts. Nearest the house the grass was kept short and neatly mowed. A large hawthorn tree leaned at an angle across the lawn as if trying to join with the line of hawthorn shrubs on the opposite side. In Spring it was adorned with pinky white blossom which after a strong breeze or heavy rain lay covering the grass like fresh snow. In autumn it was covered in deep red berries, food for hungry birds filling up ready for winter. In the middle section of the garden there was an oblong of soil with an apple tree at one end and a plum tree at the other. The apples were always sour and the plums always woody. Between were rose bushes. None of them the same, each one a different colour. At the end of the garden was ‘the long grass’ as I called it, the bonfire patch and the bank. The bank was a raised slopping area with the trees and fence divide between the car park and the garden. I spent most of my time at the end of the garden hidden from view in the long grass or digging tunnels into the bank trying to get under the cars. As I got older I managed to climb the silver birch tree which hung over from next door. Precariously wedged pieces of wood made a small platform I could sit on and peer across the neighbours gardens. I even managed to climb one of the trees on the bank and spy on the unsuspecting Kodak workers as they parked their cars before work or were going home. No-one could see me. I was invisible, hidden in summer by the leaves and in winter by the rain or frost. No-one looked at the trees when it was cold. If only I could really be invisible, then I wouldn’t need to hide.  

Although not having been a full time resident at my parents address in Harrow I was enrolled to attend Pinner Park Infants school just down the road on Headstone Lane. I was always in the correct school uniform, clean and tidy so everything externally appeared ‘normal’. What wasn’t ‘normal’ was life inside ‘home’. Mother was prone to sudden vicious outbursts of anger. Anything could spark her off and I was the punch bag. How different from Bath. This lady, my mother, would for no reason suddenly lash out. A wrong word at the wrong time, not doing something quick enough, at times with no obvious reason and she was off. Violence. Violence unchecked and uncontrolled. Her weapon of choice was usually a kitchen utensil of some sort. A pan or pan lid, a ladle or slotted spoon, rolling pin, whatever came to hand and could be used to hurt. She seldom used her hands though I remember a few times being sent to my room with red hand prints on my backside or legs. No tea or dinner was another punishment. Crying or “I want my Dad” only provoked a further onslaught. I write home as ‘home’ because it was a very new experience for me especially in the early days and months of my return to live with my parents. It certainly wasn’t a particularly ‘home sweet home’. Home to me was my room in Bath, the room opposite the petrol station. In this home even though I had the small front bedroom it overlooked the drive, the pavement, a small road, another pavement onto the drive and front of the house directly opposite. Quite a boring view compared to my exciting view in Bath.  

I have vague memories of infant school but one is strikingly clear. We were being taught how to do a collage. Small different coloured strips of material glued around a drawing. It was up to us to choose what we wanted to draw. I drew a Phoenix rising from a volcano. Dad was good at art and some of his talent was passed down to me. Over the week the picture developed, piece by colourful piece the picture took shape. Far too much glue off a far too big brush from a far too big pot. White glue that had no colour when it dried, translucent, unseen. Slowly the picture evolved. Squigely lines became flames. A bland outline became a head, the head of a bird. A strong powerful bird reborn out of the volcanoes bright red ashes. Strong dark lines formed it’s wings, powerful enough to lift free from the hot ash and fly away to be part of another life.

Mrs Irvin, the infants school head teacher, was called to look at my picture, my collage. My mother was called in to look at my picture. How it must have ripped her insides out to here me get praise. Praise not just from the teacher but from the HEAD teacher. My collage, my Phoenix was hung on the wall outside the classroom. “That’s really good” “He’s got a talent” “So Tim, what are you going to do next? Will it be as good as this one I wonder” “Can you do another one as good as this? It will be difficult”. I did another one only this time I did the flames blue not red. The head was green not grey, the wings wer…”Tim what are you doing?” ‘I’m doing another picture like you said’ “But it’s the same” ‘No it isn’t it’s different colours’  “It’s the same picture! Do something else as you were told to do”. I don’t know what else I did. Whatever it was I didn’t get praised again for it.

There were quite a few times I walked ‘home’ from school on my own. No-one meeting me at the gates. I had school dinners but wasn’t always guaranteed to have tea. I had to be clean to have tea. If I was hit I couldn’t run and hide. If I hid I was dirty. On the way ‘home’ I used to knock on peoples doors “My mum says it’s alright for me to have tea with you today”. I didn’t know these people, they probably didn’t know me, but still I knocked. Very rarely, and only with parents who had seen me at school, I was given tea. At number 14 lived an elderly couple who always opened the door and said “looks like you’ve walked past home again” ‘My mum says it’s alright for me to come and have tea with you’ “Let’s walk you back home, I’m sure your mum will be wondering where you are, come on let’s go” ‘Mum knows and said it’s OK for me to have tea with you’ “Come on let’s go”. “Oh thank you Mr Hammond I was wondering where he was. I haven’t a clue why he keeps walking into the wrong houses. Tea! He said he could have tea with you, I’m so sorry. Come on you inside, let’s get you ‘cleaned’ ready for tea, thanks again. What would his father say?”

(unfinished, walking from school saying I could come to tea, pheonix collage,rounders, football, mr jones teacher slapping me)

  I have spoken to psychiatrists and psychologists about the way she treated me and punished me the way she did but haven’t found a credible explanation yet. Smacking in the ’60’s was considered ‘normal’. It was the speed and instantaneous reaction to use prolonged violence, not 1 smack and finished but to keep on lashing out at me. Not a ladies pitch of shouting or anger but screaming. Invariably I ran and hid in the toilet which was the only room except the bathroom with a lock. For a while she’d stand outside banging on the door telling me what she was going to do to me when she ‘got her hands on me’. Eventually I had to come out from behind the locked door and when I did I was dirty, even if I hadn’t used the toilet I was still dirty. Why did she feel the need to ‘clean’ me the amount of times she did? I can’t think of a reason or another act in nature that a Mother has to, even wants to, invade their young to clean them. Her behaviour, to me, became my norm, violence became my norm. After passing my 11+, a year earlier than I should have, I went to Pinner Grammar school. Being smaller and a year younger than the rest and even though from the 1st year to leaving in the 5th year, aged 15, I represented the school in virtually every sport they played rugby, cricket, athletics 440 yards, 880 yards and the mile and cross country usually finishing 5th in the Harrow schools cross country races. In my final year I was made captain of the Reds (Waxwell) rugby and athletics team but it still seemed fun for some of the others in my year to drag me down the corridor by my hair. The upbringing I’d had was the only way I knew how to behave. I was always small and a year behind my piers until I did eventually grow. I was an angry youngster.  (not Finished)

 

A mothers love.

  In the first few seconds of our lives we are all the same. It is the only time in our lives we are truely us. No outside influences or labels. Pure. Naked and helpless, innocent and harmless. A couple of seconds until we cry. We take our first breath. Another second and we start to flail our arms, legs and body seeking attention. Needing attention. A primeval impulsive reaction to being alive. An animal instinct. A sound which is unique to us. A sound devoid of accent or gender. A sound which will, we hope, announce our arrival to the person we instinctively trust to look after us. For that short time, those few seconds we are alone and vulnerable. Not safe until our mothers instinct takes over and we are shielded, protected, safe from harm. Loved. Our mother, the one person we know. Our mother the person who will teach us everything we need to know to survive. Our mother is there to look after us as she has done for 9 months safely cocooned within a thin skin veil, hidden and safe. A mothers love is like no other. A mother will fight for us, do everything to keep us safe, give everything for us. Love us. Nurture us. Since the beginning of time that’s what all mothers have done. It’s what mothers do, don’t they?

Just a few seconds.  “Congratulations you have another girl, a baby girl”  ‘Oh thank Heavens’  “He looks just like his Dad”  ‘Dad, is she alright?’  “He’s fine look”  ‘You said a baby girl’  “He’s definitely a boy”  ‘Oh’  “Is something wrong?”

(1962)  My sister didn’t know she had a brother until she was eight. She vaguely remembers a baby kept in one of the side board drawers but thought it was a special doll she wasn’t allowed to play with. When the noisy doll disappeared she didn’t think about it again, why should she it was just a toy after all. Not much was said about the boy she and her Dad used to visit every now and then in Bath. Her mother and father hadn’t talked about another baby so why should she think he was anything to do with her. After all she lived in Harrow and he lived in Bath. Brothers and sisters lived in the same house as one another not in separate houses miles apart. The small boy must be a cousin or something, definitely not her brother. Imagine her shock and surprise when we were finally introduced to each other, what we really were, me to my sister her to her brother. The boy she met when she went to Bath with her Dad was her brother, her brother! NO! Did this mean he was going to come and live in the same house with her Mum and Dad, with her? Would she have to share them with this strange boy? He couldn’t be her brother because all the brothers and sisters at school sounded alike when they talked. This new boy, her brother, spoke strangely and sounded totally different from everyone else she knew so he couldn’t be her brother. Ignore him and Dad will take him back to that house again and she would have her Mum, Dad and her house all to herself again.

 (1960)  I used to live with an elderly lady in a big house when I was no longer a baby, still young but not young enough to live in the side board drawer anymore. What a lovely kind soft spoken lady. I was only allowed to call her Dad’s Aunt. Dad called her Aunt Peg but I only called her Dad’s Aunt. It sometimes confused me why my Mum and Dad and this strange girl lived in London and I lived in Bath but I wasn’t brave enough to ask in case someone shouted at me again. Bath was quite a long way from London, from what should have been my real home.

  Apart from Dads Aunt all I really remember of Bath is the petrol station across the road from the house where I lived. It had a big illuminated sign telling everyone the garages name and the sort of petrol they sold. During the day it was just an ordinary petrol station sign but at night before the petrol station closed, especially on a windy night, it shone through my rooms thin curtains casting strange shadows on the walls and ceiling. My room was at the top of Dads aunts house. It had two windows overlooking the road and the petrol station. One was very big the other was quite small. The small one was always slightly open. I don’t know why it was kept open. I don’t think it was deliberate it was just stuck. I wasn’t tall enough to reach the latch to try and close it properly. Most two year old’s would have difficulty reaching it even daring to stand on the bed I couldn’t reach it. Could Dad reach it I wonder, he was much taller than I was. Maybe I’ll ask him next time he comes to see me. One good thing about the sign was that it made my room seem brighter, not exactly homely but brighter. During the day my room was always dark. Cold and dark. If the sun was shining it was dark. If it was raining it was dark. Even if it was snowing it was dark. Always dark.

  The garage opened early in the mornings and I would watch as cars were filled up with petrol ready for the days travels. Most stopped at the pumps for petrol but a few were driven up to the doors of a small workshop at the back alongside the till booth. Sometimes the garages truck turned up with a car on a big trailer which had to be pushed into the workshop. During the day I listened to the different engine noises coming from the workshop. Sometimes an angry, frustrated shout could be heard. I couldn’t see who was shouting or who they were shouting at but I knew they were shouting, I’d heard shouting before. With my elbows on the window ledge and my nose pressed up to the big window I’d listen to the engine noises. They seemed to differ depending on the time of day. Most of the cars were driven into the workshop but the ones on the trailer had to be pushed in. In the morning the engines didn’t seem to like starting. Maybe they were like Dad’s aunt and didn’t like starting early in the morning. Complaining they would cough and splutter trying their best to come to life but no matter how hard they tried, nothing but a cloud of black smoke. It was as if they didn’t want someone poking around inside them with spanners and hammers hurting their insides. In the evening when the owner came to pick their car up what a difference. All the engines roared into life as if they were singing in a deep throaty bass, not the squeaky coughs of the morning. They sang happy to see their owner once more, relieved, another chance to be a part of the family and not go wrong again, they didn’t want a stranger poking around in them anymore, no more complaining they would willingly do as they were told back in their right place being told what to do. Their owner was in charge again and now they had the chance to show how sorry they were for breaking down “I’m sorry it won’t happen again”.

  It was different if all they needed was petrol or an oil top up. Cars lined up alongside the pumps. The drivers would get out and wait until the ‘petrol man’ came to them and asked “Ow much d’yu want today sir?” ‘Fill ‘er up please’ “four star?” ‘yes please’. It wasn’t a big petrol station but it always looked busy. Something was happening all the time. When Dad needed petrol before going home I used to get in the passenger seat and go with him for the short drive across the road. It was a lovely car, quite small a ‘Wolesely Hornet’. I loved it. As soon as the drivers or passengers door was opened, before anyone could get in or out, I would press in close to catch the lovely cloves smell of Dad’s hair tonic, Bay Rum. I have never been sure why he used a hair tonic of any sort because for as long as I can remember he was almost bald. It was a ‘Bobby Charlton’ haircut he said. A shear parting on the left very close to his ear with a few long strands brushed over the top. Dad had a big lump on the right side of his forehead which he always tried to cover. He used to tell me how the tank he was in during the war was hit by a shell. He was so desperate to get out he forgot to open the side hatch door and bashed his head, the ensuing lump had never gone down. I used to ask him if all his friends in the tank had lumps on their heads too but he wouldn’t tell me. When the petrol man eventually came over to us it was always the same question that I heard every day through my window, “Ow much d’yu want today sir?” Sometimes I’d say in my best deep grown up voice ‘Fill ‘er up please’ then before he could ask I’d nip in quickly with ‘4 star please’.

 Every Saturday I looked out of my window hoping to see Dads Wolesely Hornet parked outside in the road. If the car was here Dad was here too. I ran out of my room, down the two flights of stairs looking into the downstairs rooms to find Dad. Sometimes I’d get a real surprise, Dad had a young girl with him too. I didn’t know who she was but she was fun to play with and knew lots of different games. I didn’t really play games. I so looked forward to my visits. I would get a big Dad hug and a playful punch from the young girl. Mum didn’t come down to Bath. If Dad’s Aunt wanted to see her she had to go up to London. I went along too I presume but have no recollection how we got there, train I suppose. I don’t remember Dad’s Aunt ever driving, certainly not to London.

  Dad’s aunt was a strange lady. She wasn’t a tall thin person like Dad more a short dumpy sort of person. I used to sit fascinated by four blond whiskers that grew from her chin and a couple of dark hairs that grew from a mole on her cheek just in line with her mouth. I had to look very discretely because it’s rude to stare at people so I’d just gave her the occasional glance. Whenever she spoke they bobbed up and down. It was essential viewing whenever she had a hot drink, tea, coffee or chocolate depending on the time of day. She would slowly lean forward, pick her cup up from the small coffee table, inflate her cheeks to the size of a small balloon, as her hands slowly lifted the china cup to her mouth her cheeks slowly collapsed letting out the air inside so her cheeks came back to their normal size. Having been cooled sufficiently the drink would be swallowed in one huge gulp. Her cheeks acted like wrong way round bellows.

     Dads Aunt was a dedicated Christian with, what seemed to me, a never faltering energy and dedication to the church. All her adult life she had travelled across Africa spreading the religious word. We spent whole afternoons watching films and looking at photographs she had taken on her travels. Amazing mind blowing pictures of black skinned, semi naked men, women and children who lived in straw roofed mud huts. I sat in silence fascinated at this totally different world from mine. How could they possibly live like that. The huts didn’t have any windows or doors, weren’t they cold in winter? Just straw to keep the warmth in. Doors should be kept closed all the time but how did they close a door that wasn’t there? No glass in the windows either? My small window made it cold in my room sometimes with the small curtain shimmering breeze so what must it be like with no windows? Did it snow? Every picture showed long shadows like the shadow the petrol station sign made when it was a sunny day so it must be sunny in Africa. Maybe they didn’t need windows and doors after all. Grainy pictures of thin skinny cows and goats roaming freely around their homes. Maybe they were pets. My sister had a pet cat, maybe these people kept cows and goats as pets. Such a different way of life. How did they travel? There weren’t any roads outside their homes, did they have trains nearby they could catch? Who would ever believe that this was real, that people didn’t have big petrol forecourts across the road from their home, their room. How would their Dad get from a big city to their mud hut to see them? I bet their Dad’s didn’t have a nice smelling Wolseley Hornet to drive in.

 (2017)  Our memories are strange things they decide what we remember and how we remember it. Good memories usually come with no problem but we tend to lock the bad ones away deep inside afraid they might come out and we’ll have to relive it all again. Did I have birthdays with my family is something I have always wondered. I can’t remember parties or cakes the things young people do remember. I can’t remember having any friends just the bedroom and the petrol station. I spoke with a country accent so I must have mixed with the local children at some point but find it very difficult to remember anyone coming to Dad’s Aunts house. Did she have people come round to see her? Did the people who might have come round to see her have small children too? Did I get to mix with them to play with them? Was I formally introduced, “Tim say hello to Mrs, Mrs who? or was it “Oh yes, this is Tim my nephews boy. He’s staying with me for a while”. Did Dad’s Aunt ever elaborate why I was staying with her? Tim, yes he’s staying with me because his mother hates him and wishes he was a girl. It is very sad I agree but better he’s here than at ‘home’, he is safe here”. I wonder how that conversation went on. Did I sit with Dad’s Aunt while her visitors were there or did I go up to my room and wait looking at the petrol station forecourt, wanting a Wolseley Hornet to be there and hearing “Ow much d’yu want today sir” and my Dad replying “Fill ‘er up please”,  the by now familiar language of the petrol station. What did I eat? Where did I sit to eat? Did Dad’s Aunt and me sit alone at the table or did we sit with her guests eating together? It is a strange feeling knowing that you are where you are but not knowing where the rest of your family is. I must have a family because my Dad came to see me and I called him Dad. True I wasn’t aware that the young girl was my sister but she came down with Dad so he must know her somehow. There were a few times I saw my Mother, at least the lady who lived with Dad and the young girl. I wasn’t aware then how much she didn’t like me, how much the idea of me being her son was intolerable for her. How I would always be ‘dirty’. I hadn’t done anything to deserve being banished to another part of England except for being born a boy. It was her that made me. I had absolutely no control, no influence over Mother Nature, no pre chromosome division choice if I wanted to be a boy or a girl, I was a boy.

 If I had been born in today’s modern National Health Service, with all the technology in pre natal medicine I wonder if I would have been aborted. “Look at the screen, there’s your baby. Would you like to know the sex of it?”  “Oh yes Please”  ” Well, you are going to have a little boy.”  “Oh, I don’t want a boy. I don’t like little boys. How do I go about getting rid of it and trying again for a girl?”  “You can’t just ‘get rid of it’  “Why, I don’t want a boy. We’ll get him adopted. Do you have any leaflets or something to tell parents how to go about giving unwanted babies away?” In 1958 though it would have been to some backstreet gin palace knitting needle job probably. I can’t say for certain that is what would have been said or if that would have happened but from my experiences later on in my life I wish it had.