Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
Dad ——————————————- Little Ant ————————————— Mum
It was not my fault?
It was not Mums fault either?
My mother died aged 46. Something to do with her heart, recovering from one, of many, heart operations. I learned, quite recently, that she had ‘just gave up’, it was the final straw for her, she had nothing left to give.
Thing is, I cannot remember her voice, the actual sound of her voice (talking). She would read to me, yet I cannot remember the sound and tone of her voice, hear her say – I love you.
I had been relegated to the stupid kids class in school, I had fallen too far behind with my reading, having spent the previous six-months absent from school. Mum was not impressed by the schools decision, she rushed to the school and kicked off, I mean really kicked off. I was by her side, nervously holding her hand, shuffling my feet, embarrassed, feeling totally inadequate, was I to blame? What had I done wrong?
The school stuck to their guns. Afterwards, she read with me every night … until I caught up and was reinstated back to the ‘top’ class. It took, probably, around 2 -3 months. I was reinstated but I never, really caught up fully. I always felt ‘behind’.
Mum was ill.
That is a fact. She was ill and had always been ill.
She was ill as a child and as an adult, a wife and as a (my) mother.
She was always ill.
I cannot remember mum in any other way.
She was always ‘not right’ and (as a consequence?) Always unhappy?
She was never normal (like other mums)?
Our lives were never normal. It wasn’t until well into my adult life that I accepted that mum was the way she was because she had always been unwell and that it had nothing to do with me?
It was not my fault?
I only ever experienced her as unhappy, I never knew why? A hangover from my childhood, whilst searching for reasons, answers, solutions (intuitively)? I began to blame myself (again)? Guilt. Sadness. Regret – Forgiveness.
My mother was christened Hannah but adopted the name Nancy (she hated Hannah). She was younger than dad, (nine years). She was shy, quiet, most of the time. Unassuming (when sober). She usually appeared nervous, unconfident, uncomfortable (not happy)? At home, she never seemed relaxed? She was like a coiled spring waiting to go ‘boing’!
She would sit, looking like she was watching TV, her legs crossed, with the top leg bobbing incessantly over the bottom until she would ‘give in‘, make her excuses, grab her coat and, off she would go, to the pub, usually, alone.
Mum & Dad
I have no idea how they met.
He was close to a decade older. On face value they were very different, opposites.
She was extravert (when we weren’t with her) him introvert. Maybe this was down to their age differences?
There were never any open, public displays of affection between them. I never witnessed them kiss, touch or cuddle or even acknowledge that they cared for each other? Any (if any) intimacy occured out of sight? They were, stereotypically, ‘old fashioned’, You might say ‘of their age‘, of the, post-war, generation? Reserved in their outlook, their attitudes, and with the messages they displayed to others.
Mum had been married before, a tragic experience that I, accidently, became aware of. One weekend, at night, sometime in early December they were out (together for a change). Carol and I had been searching for our, hidden, Christmas presents and discovered a photograph album, a wedding album hidden at the bottom of their wardrobe. Photographs of a wedding, mum but our dad. Turned out to be her first wedding. Most, but not all of the photographs had been ripped in half, not cut neatly but torn, removing her first husband.
This marriage, was (eventually), annulled.
She had married as a virgin and her husband was unable to consummate their marriage. She did not know pre-wedding, but he was homosexual. In order for the marriage to be annulled she was subject to a series of interviews, tests and intimate physical examinations to confirm her virginity(maidenhood), establish that this was still intact, and her (failed) marriage eligible for annulment.
Mum was always ill I cannot remember her being otherwise.
She was dealt a very poor hand health wise, seriously flawed in numerous ways, a tiny ‘runt’ of a large litter of siblings. The second youngest of eight children. From a young age, she had various (some serious) health issues that followed her from childhood to womanhood, so serious that she had been close to death on several occasions.
I can remember several significant health events such as; her having all of her teeth removed after she had developed pyuria of the gums, blood-poisoning. She endured numerous long-term, hospital stays, for example; open heart surgery on at least 3 occasions the last of which led to the end of her short life.
In those days any operation, anything involving surgery was a much bigger deal and usually involved a minimum of a two week stay in hospital for even routine of operations. As a child I have memories of both mum (and Dad) being in hospital many times sometimes for months on end.
Mum always viewed herself as the ‘Black Sheep’ of her family? Something she would often proclaim usually whilst intoxicated, ‘I am the black sheep of the family,’ ‘nobody wants (loves) me ..’ I recall her eldest sister, Clara (little Ant) agreeing that mum was the Black Sheep.
Physically small, almost tiny (less than 5ft), she had an enormous appetite (a hunger and a thirst) for life (and alcohol, unfortunately). I don’t think she actually drank that much. She was prescribed, powerful drugs. Taken in conjunction with alcohol, amplified the affects of both with significantly more side effects.
Mum was very quiet (when sober) someone you would label as ‘shy’. She was far from quiet when intoxicated which was (too) often. I was 12 or 13? when she died and I have no recollection of any conversations with her other than our corned beef cellar episode.
I cannot actually remember her voice, how she sounded, the tone? Clearly we must have had many, as a child, mum and child interactions? I can only recall one. I locked her in the coal seller and refused to release her unless she allowed me to have corned beef for my dinner (lunch).
She had been toping up the pre-paid gas, putting a shilling in the meter, in the rear of the cellar. I slipped the bolt across and locked her in. She pleaded with me to let her out, unconvinced (that I would get the corned beef) I refused.
Eventually, she offered me “the sun and the moon” if only I release her, “I don’t want the sun or the moon, I want corned beef” to which she agreed and I let her out.
She, imediately smacked me hard, several times, across both legs until I cried. She was shaking, clearly upset, obviously scared, concerned I might have come to harm whilst she was disabled, trapped in the cellar. However, she did keep her side of the bargain, I ate corned beef for dinner (lunch).
I do remember her singing voice, alas, not fondly
I know she read to me but I don’t remember the sound of her reading to me? I had been held-down a year, as my literacy had fallen below standard. I had been absent from school for some time, for all of the previous 6 months.
I awoke one morning and could not walk. I was meant to be at the local swimming baths, with school. To save time, we made our own way rather than go to school and then go to the baths together. Normally, about a 20 minute walk. I only managed about 200 yards or so, to the bottom of the street and I could not continue, I could not walk, I was in agony.
A couple of school friends helped carry me home. I remained home for the next six months, unable to walk (camped on the living-room couch). My specialists determined that my hip had dislocated, the result of one leg being longer than the other?
I have never understood how this could suddenly occur? Surely if my legs were odd then they would have always been that way? The outcome was rest, rest and time, to allow the other leg to catch up? Sounds like a crock to be honest? But, that was the way it was, I had to ‘not’ walk (actually? I could not, it hurt too much) until such time as I ‘could‘? Fantastic.
At the time, I wasn’t that arsed. I was content staying away from school, watching TV, from the couch, in the living room. Dad would carry me upstairs to bed and back down stairs the following morning before he left for work.
I remember mum being passionately protective of myself and my sister, Carol.
After returning to school, I had missed so much that I was kept down a class. When she found out, Mum, furious, frog-marched me straight back to school, confronting my teacher, Mrs. Pollard. I never liked Mrs. Pollard (she had taken a dislike to me).
On one occasion, Pollard had been reading to the class, suddenly she sprang from behind her desk, screaming, ‘stop that grinning’, I was oblivious, in a world of my own but she was heading in my direction. She pulled me out of my seat, by the hair ,(I had hair in those days), dragging me to the front of the class and proceeded to chastise me on the negatives of ‘grinning’ & ‘smirking’ ? How rude it was?
I didn’t have a clue?
Mum, was not impressed by Mrs. Pollard, ti start with and now, even less impressed.
The situation was clear, In order to progress (back) into the ‘top’ class I needed to bring my reading back up to scratch. Mrs Pollard and Mum devised a plan, mum and I would read together, every day, after school. It took several months but we achieved the goal and I was repositioned back into the top class.
If we were ever bullied, subjected to any kind of injustice (by other children or, on occasion, adults) she was always there to protect us, despite her fragile physique and health. I do remember, at least, a couple of examples of confrontations, some violent, with her ‘standing up for her children’. When it came to the protection of her children, she was a feisty, uncompromising jack russell, mother.
A typical evening, all of us in the living room, TV on.
Mum sitting in her chair (everybody had their own ‘place’, their chairs)? Mums was directly opposite the TV, in the corner of the room (oddley, now, where ‘my’ chair is, in my family living room now)!
She always sat cross-legged, her top leg (foot) constantly bobbing up and down. One leg bent over the opposite knee constantly bobbing, impatiently, nervously. Sometimes, she would glance at the TV, other times knitting; in the early years she was a, kean, accomplished knitter.
Her whole body language screamed that she was bored, ‘I cannot wait to be out of here’? It was only a matter of time as to when she would sercombe, give in and go to the pub. Usually, The Peacock on Hawthorne Road, sometimes The Hawthorne, depending upon which one she had not been barred from at the time. Her departure would normally be around 9.00pm, latest with her returning at closing time, around 11.00pm.
This was her typical routine. At first just every weekend (Friday-Sunday) and eventually, at least 3-4 days, during the week.
When we were (very) young Dad would stay home, that is until Carol became old enough to assume baby-sitting duties. He would accompany mum to the pub (Saturdays), but rarely, never during the week. She hated that he would not go with her during the week.
In this respect, it was obvious that Mums social needs, her expectations were not aligned with Dad’s? This mismatch became a significant problem between them.
Dad was happier to stay at home mum was not.
At first, Mum would go out during the week (alone). Dad with her at weekends. Eventually mum went out more and dad went out less. He would stay at home thru the week and weekends. When they went together, we would not go to bed as we would usually get lemonade and crisps when they returned at 11.00-11.30pm.
They would argue about Dad not going with her, all of the time, especially on mums return home, intoxicated. This, typically, involved Mum waking us all up, then verbal ridicule and abuse, which, might sometimes manifest into actual physical violence.
She would incessantly, relentlessly, abuse and humiliate Dad. Accusing him of being miserable, tight-fisted, of not caring for her, not wanting to be with her. This abusive behaviour would continue until it reached a tipping point, where she (finally) pushed him over ‘the’ edge and he would react. From start to finish? We are looking at starting at 11.30 thru to 2.30am and then a (fight) the finale.
From as far back as I can remember this was ‘our’ family, night-time ritual.
If alone, she always brought home a ‘take out’, a bottle of Guinness for herself and (in the early days), a bottle of Pale Ale for dad.
If they returned together, we might often still be awake, adults are (can be) fun when drunk. She would refuse to go to bed, she had no off button. She would put on records, loud, very loud and sing. Often, opening the front door, playing loud music and singing along to the neighborhood.
She would persist late into the early hours, arguing with dad pleading for her to stop, refusing to stop, often fighting, when he tried to persuade her. If she had returned alone, usually arriving home later, we would already be asleep. She would turn on the music, open the front door and her ‘public’ performance would begin, wakening us all in the process.
She had a grudge with a particular neighbour, Mrs. Perry, (a long term grudge caused by my incident with her son and my head injury)?, She would focus her singing at her, in between songs, abusing her, calling her and her daughter, Hazel, ‘fit to burn’. She would do this for an hour or so, from our door-step.
Sometimes, Carol or myself would attempt to cajole her? We would get up, together or alone and try reasoning with her, reassuring her. It was not what she wanted, she wanted a reaction from Dad.
It had taken about 5/6 years to get to this stage. To get to this performance, every weekend and every, or every other, night of the week. Triggered by her returning home, annoyed to find everybody in bed asleep?
The ritual commenced with her shouting (then singing) from the bottom of the stairs aimed at disturbing dad. The Millie Small song My Boy Lollipop was usually on the play list. When that didn’t get the desired reaction the ‘real’ heavy, verbal abuse would start, aimed at antagonising dad, cursing him for not going to the pub with her, for being a miser.
The abuse was relentless, hateful, she would not cease until she provoked a reaction. One particular favorite of hers was to call him a ‘German Headed Bastard’ (I believe) in reference to his Mother (or Fathers) German ancestry.
That one usually got what she wanted, a (sometimes violent) reaction from dad.
She would always let the neighbors have it especially Mrs. Perry, a full recap of the incident with myself and David leading to my wearing glasses would usually get an earing.
She would sing at the top of her voice on the front step sometimes starting at 2.00am or even later. ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’ ‘My Boy Lollipop’ ‘The Sash My Father Wore’ a protestant ‘Orange Lodge’ protest song.
She said My Boy Lollipop was especially for me, insisting that I was her favorite, her ‘boy lollipop’, despite the fact that I was ‘a mistake’ ‘she never meant to have me’, ‘They hadn’t wanted me’? A proviso that was always added.
This was my life for as long as I can remember, for at least 10 years, up until she became that ill that she was physically unable to go to the pub any longer.
At its best (when very young and naive) it was a recurring inconvenience, being disturbed from sleep during the weekends, being taunted and embarrassed in school the following day by David Perry, son of Mrs Perry, or during the weekends, the following day whilst playing together, he would start singing, pretending to like, a certain song ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’, baiting me to get a reaction and then provoking a fight with me.
At its worse it was awful
Eventually, Dad would sleep in my room in my (double) bed. In the beginning this tactic worked as she would resist the temptation to enter my room to directly confront him. The usual abuse would occur from the stairs but she would not attempt contact except on one occasion. She had been shouting from the bottom of the stairs for some time without a reaction.
A low point
She came up stairs, pushed into my (now our) room and threw a full pot of urine over him (us) while we lay in bed. We did not have an inside toilet, only an out-house toilet in our back yard. To relive ourselves during the night we used large enamelled ‘piss pots’ one for every bedroom, under each bed, for night-time use. She had retrieved hers from under her bed and decided to throw it over dad.
The best of times, the worse of times.
Every child anticipates, looks forward to Christmas? Dads employers, ‘Ritsons Haulage’ would host a grand Christmas party for their, employers kids. A December Saturday or Sunday afternoon, lots of party food, festive fun and games, father Christmas (one of the lorry drivers), and a lavish, expensive toy. I loved the works Christmas parties, they were a wonderful start to Christmas.
Extended holidays, Christmas, Easter always started well but always ended the same way. The tension would build and build and, inevitably, explode. On more than one Christmas, it would became that bad that dad would leave home, retreating to his mums.
Mum had gone out (it was daytime), Carol and I aged 7 and 11? It was early evening, dark, Mum hadn’t returned home. By mid afternoon we became hungry, we had no choice but to fend for ourselves. We made a game of it, actually had a great time pretending to be a posh cafe, Carol, the chef, making us ‘French Toast’. We called it that to fit the mirage, we just made it up, we ate, more or less, a whole loaf buttering it first, then toasting it on the gas grill, French Toast.
It probably wasn’t the safest of things, aged 7 & 11, operating a gas cooker?
Mum eventually turned up, hammered, with a friend. They had brought some supplies, intending to continue drinking at our house (those days pubs were not allowed to open all day). Both her and her friend were in a good mood, friendly, funny. We were very pleased with ourselves, telling her how we had invented this amazing thing, French Toast, hoping we had impressed her?
A year on, the following Christmas, the same routine only we were a year older. We pre-empted what was going to happen and we decided, this time, we would not wait for it to happen. Dad had already gone to his mums.
Reading this it sounds like he had deserted us, just left us to it?
Often, when things were bad for a sustained period, Christmas, Easter, with no respite. He would arrange for us to stay at relative’s (always on mum’s side of the family, never his), sometimes at Claire’s in Leigh, in the early days Pat and Ricky Cole’s or even Uncle Tommy’s & Aunty Lils in Knowsley. As children they all seemed ‘miles’ away.
Dad would drive us there or Ricky or Clair’s husband, Colin would come pick us up. Later on it became only myself, Carol, that little bit older, would prefer to stay with friends.
Christmas, sometime between Christmas and New Year, already several fights in, Dad had already moved to his mums. Mum had been out for sometime and would be back soon. We decided to barricade ourselves, upstairs, in my bedroom.
When she did return (very intoxicated) we refused to come out. We refused to engage, to giver her an audience, to starve her of an audience. We had decided to make a game of the situation, we were making fun of her from our impregnable castle. I remember her being confused, agitated, distressed by our tactics. This was new and she didn’t understand it at all.
Afterwards, when we became bored and the game was over. I remember feeling really sad, guilty? But, I had no idea why?
On another occasion, I was 5 or 6 waking up to the sound of mum and dad fighting, they were downstairs, in the back-kitchen. This time it was louder, more alarming than normal, I ran downstairs, mum was backed up, against the back-yard door, distressed, upset, dad was pleading with her to leave him alone ‘Nancy, please just leave me alone’?
It looked like they had already had a violent interaction (I can remember several, previous, occasions were dad had choked or strangled her). I was scared, distressed, frightened, instinctively recognizing that this was a particularly bad episode.
Mum, had in her hand or quickly picked up a small plate, hurling it towards dad. Instead, it hit me, hard and clean in the face, instantly splitting both lips.
In shock, I could sense this was worse than ever before, I ran towards her, throwing my arms around her tiny waist, clinging to her legs, hugging her, crushing her, crying ‘I love you mum, I love you….’ . I think just before she had thrown the plate she had said something like, ‘nobody loves me’.
I can (still) visualise it, every detail, fifty-five years on.
She wept, but did not speak. Dad also said nothing. Not a single word not even to comfort me.
There was a lot of blood, but no stiches required and no damage to my teeth. Carol, had joined us and she attended to my face, and changed my blood stained pyjamas. I remember my face being sore and swollen for a few days after. I can’t remember the incident ever being mentioned (by anyone) ever again.
At that moment, prior and just after she had hit me, Mum seemed so alone, vulnerable, desperate? So low? I don’t think I have ever loved anyone any more than at that moment? All I knew was that I had to let her know, she didn’t have to feel alone, as I loved her? I remember feeling frightened, more frightened than I have ever felt, but I had no idea why?
On another occasion, they had been fighting, again in the kitchen, I got up, I was standing, looking at her. Staring. She must have seen the contempt, in my eyes. She said something, something abusive about dad, something horrible, I just stood-still, starring at her, silent.
She took a step forward and slapped me hard across the face. I didn’t react. She did it again, this time harder. After the second slap, I burst into tears. Dad moved, making a barrier between us, ‘don’t do that to him, Nancy….’ It wasn’t said in anger, more like a desperate, pleading request not a demand it was almost said like an apology, an apology to me, on her behalf.
Things got worse and worse, the violent episodes more frequent. On another occasion she had returned home, drunk but, seemingly, in a good mood. She (tricked) dad onto the front step, pretending to knock over some empty milk bottles.
When he bent down to pick them up, she smashed an empty milk bottle onto his head. He never fought back or retaliated, he was hurt, bleeding heavily, in shock repeatedly telling her ‘Nancy, I could die, is that what you want? I’m a diabetic I could bleed to death, are you happy now?’ A little dramatic? Maybe? But diabetics do have difficulties with bleeding, ‘clotting’.
A dozen stitches later. Luckily, he wasn’t that badly injured. However, it was clear that things had risen to a new level. Mum was becoming increasingly more volatile, unpredictable.
This was our life, regular, routine abuse and violence punctuated only by mums periods in hospital. She had regular long stays, some involving surgery, for various ailments the latter being heart disease which eventually killed hert
I (we) enjoyed it when mum was in hospital it meant that we could relax and I could do what I wished, eat what I wanted. No fights no drama, no violence. The atmosphere was happier in our house without her.
We had nice things to eat
Mum was a terrible cook (when she was able to cook at all), I would pretend to eat her food whilst hiding it in my trouser pockets and later flushing it down the outside toilet.
When mum was absent Carol would assume responsibilities for buying our weekly food and we were allowed things like chocolate biscuits and other treats, Oxo cubes and real Bovril not the (less expensive) Marmite. Dad and Carol would prepare our food which was, infinitely better than mums cooking. There was no upsets from mums drinking and I got to stay up later than usual.
I would visit her in hospital although they were very strict regarding visiting, especially for children. It was a Sunday afternoon I was about 7 or 8. I was not allowed in her room, becoming bored playing alone outside her hospital bedroom window. I found some decorative small stones in the garden area, rearranging the stones making the sentence ‘I love my mum’.
I did not think much about it leaving it there, intact. When we returned the following week everybody made a huge fuss about it, the doctors nurses even dad and Carol, some of the nurses were even crying. I hadn’t even considered it, I had just done it out of boredom. I was deeply embarrassed by the attention and took a hissy-fit running back to the garden destroying my words-mosaic.
Although, I have no doubt at all that they both did, my parents never once told me that they loved me. However, I can recall, on numerous occasions, being told that I was a mistake by mum (never dad), she often told me that I wasn’t wanted (intended).
As a child, I don’t remember a consistently happy time in my life, not until way into my teens, after Nancy had gone.
Thanks for reading.