Growing Up. Happy. Sad (Part 1)

Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.

Love

I have been thinking about if I grew up happy (or not)?

Now that I know I am going to die the thing I desire most is …

To die feeling loved & to be remembered (fondly).

The thing I fear the most is to die not feeling loved.

That I might not be remembered by my wife, my children to their children, my grandchildren terrifies me.

Fuck all the amazing cars, holidays, possessions? If we are one of the lucky ones, it’s the memories of those special moments in our lives, shared moments, the Love that will remain long after we have gone.

As a young child I never contemplated if I was ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’. I do have memories of times for both.

Bad Times

I remember being desperately unhappy whilst in hospital especially on one occasion. I developed a cold after a week and my surgery could not go ahead. Spending two weeks in hospital (unnecessarily) knowing I would have to return for a rescheduled, operation is not something a seven year old can easily get his head around.

I disliked most food as a child. I hated hospital food. Minced meet. Fucking Minced meat.

At visiting times I would complain to mum and dad but ‘little Ant’ would always bring me food that I liked. Digestive biscuits! They were special biscuits, so special I could never discover their name and no other digestive biscuit has ever lived up to them since. I think I had such a distorted perception of how good they were that they never really actually existed? I made them up. Survival Biscuits.

They were that special that they would disappear from my bedside cupboard during the night. I would go to sleep (eventually) with a nearly full packet and wake up to none. I complained incessantly that they were being stolen by the other kids and or ward nurses but nobody seemed to be bothered? Nothing was ever done about it. I vividly remember the feelings of total frustration and injustice.

Looking back, it was obvious that the biscuits, any food had to be removed as a health and safety precaution. The ward was a surgery ward with a pre-surgery ‘nil by mouth’ policy.  

Happy

Good Times. Family Holiday.

On holiday at Butlins Holiday Camp, Minehead. Without doubt the happiest childhood memory I have. Rice Krispies for breakfast, Giant peachers, the biggest I had ever seen, knickerbocker Glory’s the size of my arm, an actual machine that delivered little bottles of fresh milk, penny arcades, the summer of the Beanie Hat and Lola, by the kinks, my first disco, first dance with a girl. Girls. Heaven.

I only remember ‘going away’ on holiday three times; a week at Pontins Holiday Camp, Wales, a week at Butlins, Somerset and a week in a cottage in North Wales, loaned to us by dads boss, a retreat to spend some time away with mum, converlessing after one of her many operations.

All other holidays were confined to days out to New Brighton, Southport and a trip to Wales once visiting some of the ‘Reynolds’ Welsh relatives. I remember eating the nicest boiled egg with soldiers ever with the orangest yolk for lunch in an old farmhouse! To this day it is the nicest, freshest egg I have ever tasted. I like eggs.                             

I have no sense of ever feeling poor whilst growing up?

I was subliminally aware of limitations within our lives. I was never allowed things like genuine football kits, football boots, ‘name brands’ only knockoffs, no-name cheaper alternatives. We had Marmite not Bovril, margarine not Butter?

On reflection, we were poor. I was probably not that aware as I had friends who were clearly poorer. There were plenty, living within our community who were poorer.

I cannot remember ever being hungry or feeling dirty, unwashed? I didn’t clean my teeth and I did not have anyone to encourage or remind (make) me to. I especially regret not taking care of my especially now in later life.

We would endure a compulsory, weekly bath. Of a Friday, late afternoon/early evening, in a round, grey tin bath. When we were very young, both Carol and I together, in front of a coal fire, with a 3-piece, folding clothes maiden positioned around us ….. to protect our modesty? (from whom I am not sure). We would splash away whilst watching The Beverly Hillbillies, on a black and white TV, sometimes two TV’s stacked, one with picture only and the other with sound only.

Poor

My secondary school, Bootle Grammar School for Boys, offered a seven day trip to Europe, Blankenberg, Germany, Holland. Mum and Dad agreed that I could go. There was a £30 deposit required. In those days we lived in a cash only world and I was to deliver the deposit to my form teacher.

Thursday was payday. The cash (the majority of dads  wages for the week) was separated from his wage-packet and placed in another envelope on top of the mantle piece above the fire in the living room ready for me to take to school the following day. At some point between 7.00pm and 8.00am the following day the envelope, and the cash, disappeared.

Our sole heating came from a coal fire in the living room, I remember always being cold, especially first thing of a morning, even during Summer. Sitting on a wooden chair very close to the fire waiting for it to ‘pickup’ after being lit 6.30-7.00am. We had cold oil cloth floor (linoleum) no carpet and high ceilings and an outside toilet. Our house was fucking cold…..always.

I hated the cold. We, myself and Carol would sit shivering, fighting to get closest to the source of heat. On one occasion, deep Winter, it was unusually cold. I had trodden on a drawing pin used to secure the living room curtains, it had fallen to the floor and was now stuck in my foot. Mum was trying to calm me in order she could remove it but was interrupted by a sudden, loud knock on the door, it was unexpected, still very early morning, not a time for a knock on the door?

Dad was a lorry driver, delivering fruit and veg across the North West. 

A work mate was at the door. He came into the house telling mum that dad had been injured, slipping in the icy conditions, falling from his wagon onto his head whilst securing his load (with tie-ropes in those days).

He was in a hospital, in Manchester unconscious awaiting surgery to repair a badly fractured skull. He remained unconscious for days, maybe weeks, mum would visit him, using public transport, every day, sometimes twice.

He had to stay in hospital for months, with no pay.

We survived with handouts, food parcels from family and dads work mates.

After, he was not allowed to drive professionally. He secured a job with another company for far less pay, working in their yard as a shunter, moving and parking wagons and trailers. I was very young but I knew those were hard times. The hardest of times. I remember mum fighting for our survival, trying in vain to get money (sick pay, compensation) from Dads employers.    

There is nothing ‘quite’ like the glow of a roaring coal fire? My arse.

‘Starting’ (lighting) a coal fire of a morning is a slightly tricky procedure. The fire is made (set) the previous night before retiring to bed. A layer of rolled up newspaper, a layer of chopped wood and a layer of coal on top. In order to  accelerate the burning process, you cover the front of the fire with a large piece of newspaper (two pages from a broadsheet) cutting off the supply of air from the front, forcing the air to be drawn down from the chimney, causing an updraft and the fire, fed by a rush of oxygen and a downdraft roars into life. Simple?

No. The trick is to not let the paper shield at the front catch light as this can be catastrophic. This is an adults job however, on occasion, when needs be, when mum was ill, Carol or myself would be responsible for lighting the fire.  

I cannot recall who lit the fire on this Friday morning but the only explanation for the disappearance of the envelope with the £30 school trip deposit was; that it had been sucked, unnoticed, into the fire during lighting process.

To lose £30 was a big hit. To lose what in effect was £60 was huge.

Dad (and Mum) were devastated.

I still went on the school holiday, somehow (weeks later) an alternative deposit was found but the incident left scars that were never forgotten. The trip was amazing. I got served, routinely, in pubs (aged 11 and I looked 9), at one time at only 8.30am. I fell in love with a young Italian girl (my age) whilst watching her have tennis lessons. I bought two flick knives and smuggled them home in toothpaste packaging. I realised that I was going to love travelling in the future.

Other people around us were poorer.

I never felt poor although I was aware that many of our friends had advantages compared to myself and Carol. David Perry would always be wearing the latest, authentic, Everton kit and expensive boots whilst I was not. Carol had very few clothes compared to her friends.

The signs, the evidence was there but I never thought about it. It was what it was. We had ‘Sunday Best’ clothes, school clothes and playing out clothes which were always clean.

In the early days mum would knit and Carol became very skilled with a sowing machine creating, impressive, copycat outfits for herself (and me) for a fraction of the price. She was so creative and resourceful. When she was older, late teens her boyfriends wore trendy Ben Sherman button down collar, pleat at the back shirts. Carol would persuade them to cut out the Designer logo tags which she would sow into mine. her miniature copy shirts so that when challenged I could show that my shirts were indeed original.

I wore hand me down Monkey Boots and Skinner jeans from my older six-foot friend Jimmy. Carol would adapt them to fit. Jimmy and I were huge Rod Stewart fans. Carol would create custom Rod Stewart velvet and satin jackets, trousers using pictures form the Jackie Magazine as her patterns. We thought we were cool. We were cool.

It was the 70’s Glam Rock Era. We would ware these crazy camp costumes to the local youth club and school dances. Jimmy was a real tuff kid, tall and gangly but he could box and he loved to fight. He was good at it. His dad, an old school, Scouse Docker taught Jim (the hard way) how to look after himself/ Nobody messed with Jimmy and as his little mate nobody messed with me.

I was not a fighter.

I can remember having two maybe three fights growing up that’s all. I learnt very quickly to make friends with kids who could fight.

Thanks for reading

Peace

Published by Riff

Husband to my inspirational, (long suffering) wife, father of two amazing (adult) children, teacher, former guitarist (now guitar owner), recent 'granda(r) to my beautiful grandson who I am yet to meet. I Love people. I love my family, my friends, I love(d) what I do (my Job), I love Music, Cars, Everton .... I love many things, most of all I fucking love 'life'.

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