Entering the USA – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

In 1971, under the auspices of Pete Smith, for whom travel was a mind-expanding necessity, we applied to go over to the States on a student Visa. We had to go to the American embassy to get orientated. They told us stories about English people not understanding American gun policy and hence getting themselves shot.

We were told of one unfortunate guy who had his back blown out by a neighbour because he was climbing in through his own front window having forgotten his key. The neighbour mistook him for a burglar. An easy mistake to make. Could happen anywhere!

The American diplomat explained to us that Americans shoot first and ask questions later.

We were told not to walk around in certain areas or districts of the city. It seemed that every city and town had a no-go area and every American was looking for an excuse to blast you full of lead. We were warned about race hatred, religious fervour and swearing. Contrary to Hollywood films, it seems that many Americans considered it a shooting matter if sworn at.

It seemed to us that you could get shot for almost anything.

We were warned about the evils of drugs. It seems that one puff on a ‘reefer’ and you were hooked. Not only that, but it turned you instantly into an insane degenerate. All your values disappeared and you inevitably got gonorrhoea, pregnant and became insane. Not only that but you had to steal and whore yourself to get a further ‘fix’. Wow! I never knew that. Any hint of interaction with drugs would result in our instant deportation or worse!

We were warned about communists. Communists were seeking to undermine American values. They, under many guises, such as student visas, sought to get into the country and ferment insurrection. He looked closely at each one of us as if peering into our souls, seeking out the slightest hint of communist ideology lurking in the crevices of our minds. It made us all very uneasy. I’d never been involved with any communist party but I certainly believed in equality and fairness. I suspected that might well be sufficient to ban me, lock me up or even have me lynched. Fairness and equality were not fundamental American values – competition and capitalism were. This was the land of the survival of the fittest. Speaking about anything that smacked of socialism could get you shot.

We were told of all the wonderful American values and what the nation stood for and all the other activities for which we could be instantly deported.

It seemed an extensive no-do list. I was concerned that I might not even remember it all and inadvertently find myself booted out for some minor indiscretion or other – like not paying sufficient respect to the American flag or not taking the vow of allegiance seriously. I could easily become deported for grinning at the wrong time. It was quite daunting.

The diplomatic official, without any hint of irony, explained to us that we were being privileged in that we were being allowed a look at the free world in action.

It didn’t actually sound very free to me.

After we’d proceeded through the six months of paperwork necessary to enter the ‘home of the free’, we found ourselves on a plane bound for New York.

At embarkation, we were ushered along in a lengthy slow-moving line. When it came to our turn we were scrutinised by a solemn Customs Officer. He dramatically opened a huge black book and scanned down the names to see if we were included. This contained all the names of communist sympathisers, fellow travellers and political activists. It had trades unionists, who were obviously commie sympathisers, and druggies, criminals and miscreants. There were a lot of people who were not allowed to be free. Nobody ever knew how they compiled this great mass of names, the book was massive, but if your name appeared in it you were forbidden entry.

As we stood there in front of this official from the land of freedom, we couldn’t help running through the checklist of possibilities for our exclusion. There seemed an infinite number of reasons why our names might find their way into inclusion in such a tome. I was surely guilty and hence unworthy of entry into the land of purity and apple pie. I harboured thoughts of equality and real freedom of thought and mouth. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I might pollute an American.

We waited for the finger to come to rest as it trailed down the endless list of names. The enormous book was a full six inches thick. It was huge. We stood there in front of the man trying to look innocent for what felt like ages. The names were tiny and arranged in neat columns. There had to be half the world in that book.

I couldn’t help wondering, as I stood there, if they actually did have all of Cuba, Russia and China in there to start with.

Absurd.

I strained to see how many Goodwins his finger was progressing through. There had to be a lot. We were an awkward bunch. It was genetic, you see.

We were sweating. If your name was in the book you were put on the next flight back and refused entry. You had no recourse to appeal. You were not told the reason why your name had been put on to the list. That nice Mr McCarthy had decided that America could only be kept free if unAmerican ideas were completely eradicated from the country.

At last the customs officer seemed satisfied and closed the book. He looked at us with a stony face, his grey eyes piercing into ours like swords, obviously unhappy that he had not found our names.

‘Are you, or have you ever been, a communist?’

Incredible, I thought. If I was a Russian spy or a communist agitator I was hardly likely to answer yes. I felt like asking what he meant. Did he mean had I ever joined the communist party or did he mean to question my philosophy? Did I believe in equality and ‘To each according to their needs – from each according to their ability’, because if that was the case then I was obviously a communist. But then if he meant did I subscribe to the fascist totalitarian apology for Socialism as epitomised by Russia then I would have to admit to being more of a Menshevik. But then this was most probably not the time to enter into discussion regarding the semantics of politics, was it?

‘No.’

‘Do you know anyone who is a communist, or have you ever known anyone who was a communist?’

Of course, I had.

‘No.’

Reluctantly he let us in.

21.9.01

 

What rights does a gannet have as it clings to the rugged rocks of a windy cliff? As it hangs in beauty on the edge of the wind with its white feathers glistening in the sun? As it steals fish from the trawler’s nets?

          15.9.01

 

 

 

Birth – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Henry was our last born of our four children. He is the baby of the family.

It is strange.

There is something magical about conception. Every single time we made love that resulted in a pregnancy, it was magical. I could feel that life start from that instant. Something amazing happened. I could feel it.

This was no drunken moment, no mistake or condom failure, nothing mundane or inconsequential; this was magic.

I felt this with all four of our children – something mystical. I knew we were starting a new life.

Henry was born at home.

I was watching football, not a cup final, as with Hester’s birth, but some European match, late in the evening. Liz was sitting on the settee and the first thing we knew was when her waters broke. She had to quickly put a cushion under her as the fluid poured out. Only then did she start having mild contractions. I went and called the mid-wife. We were having a home delivery and I didn’t want the sort of mess up we’d had with Barnaby’s birth (where the midwife had gone to pieces) so I’d vetted the mid-wife. She was good. She’d passed the test.

She came and examined Liz and found that she really wasn’t very dilated. As the contractions were mild it was decided that nothing much was likely to happen that night. The midwife, optimistically, thought that it was best to go to bed and try to get some sleep, or else Liz would be too tired to push Henry out the next day. The midwife assured us that the contractions would die down if she could sleep.

We went to bed. I cuddled up to Liz and put my hands on her big belly. I could feel the contractions going through her belly and making her uterus hard. They were not hurting too much and we tried to get some sleep, but we were both too excited. It was strange to think of our other three kids asleep in their beds down the corridor. I wanted to wake them up to share in the excitement.

I didn’t though. They slept and we lay awake talking and feeling the contractions. Soon we would have another baby. There would be another human being in the world.

The sad thing was that my dad was not going to be there to hold him. He was not going to be able to chase him around threatening to ‘cut off his tail’ as he had done with the others. He was not going to hear him squeal with delight as he was chased.

Far from dying down, the contractions were becoming stronger. It became obvious that we were not going to get any sleep, indeed we were not going to last until morning. Henry was coming. I eventually gave up trying to sleep and called the mid-wife back.

It was a smooth and easy delivery.

Henry was born in the early hours of the morning.

Our family was complete.

Our genes were passed on into the next gene pool.

Our purpose was all but over. All we had to do was get them to adulthood in a state where they were able to breed. We then had to sit back and wait for the grandchildren to arrive.

That was biology for you – the natural imperative.

I took Henry’s placenta into school the next morning. My 6th Form Biology group had a look at it and were all a bit horrified. We bottled it and it sits on the shelf in the Biology lab to this very day, eighteen years on.

What is maybe more important, than a bunch of genes, is to pass on to them some of the wonder of life. What is it for? What do we do with it?

As you can see I don’t have a clue!

Hey kids – it’s out there! There is a thing called life! You’re living it! Experience all you can, be fulfilled, but don’t for fuck’s sake kill yourself. There’s awe and wonder out there, don’t lead a boring life, don’t get bogged down in religion. It’s bollocks.

But then, that’s just an opinion based on my view of history and humans. People are basically good but we’re all flawed. Given half a chance we’ll mess everything up. You could do worse than spending your life trying to put it right or doing something purposeful or creative.

What do I know?

I am your father. I love you. I am proud of you.

My father was proud of me for some unfathomable reason. I guess that goes with the territory. My father is dead. I will die. That is natural. I hope I die before you. But I’d love to meet the grandchildren first. We’ll see.

Remember me.

I spent my life trying to make sense of what to do with the life I was given. I didn’t do so bad! I could have done a lot worse.

11.11.01

 

Could any of us have done it any better? Who’s to judge? In the final end, I suppose we all have to judge ourselves!

26.10.01

Friends who are gone – extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

What’s the rudest word in the World? Could it be ‘don’t!’

26.10.01

 

And I sometimes think of Jeff who jumped into that train, and Pete on the motorbike, Jane who died of the brain tumour at the age of eighteen, and Loveridge, whose first name I’ve forgotten, who fell off the stack at the plastics factory and fractured his skull. I think of Shaun who was so full of life and would have done so much. I think of Mocy, who I only knew briefly. I think of my good friends Danny and Tony who I shared so much with. I think of how many others of my old friends have gone without me even knowing. I think of Jason who was with my sister for such a short time and was so brave and gentle, so bright and cheerful. All the ones I knew and are now gone. I talk of them to my students. I weave them into my lessons. I get them to illustrate my tales of life. They live in my stories and they live in my mind.

I think of my Dad.

I think about the universe expanding, the Big Bang, religion and politics, beauty and getting old.

I think about the pleasures and the pains.

I think about the travels and the meetings, the books and music, the doings and the things I missed doing.

The drugs and the drunks, the parties and the sex.

I think about Liz and our life together, our love, and the home and life we’ve built with all its myriad compromises.

I think about my mum and all the things she did for me. All that love that was lavished on me.

I think about my kids and I wonder about the lives and experiences they will have.

I dream about all the grandchildren. I hope I will be alive to see them grow. I hope they will know me.

I think about how life is so long, packed full of so much, and yet it is so very short.

These days I smile wistfully a lot and have great hopes for the world, the future and humanity.

I think about my stupid writing and wonder what other uses I could have put to all this time. What else could I have done? What else could any of us do?

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll get civilised and leave these dark ages behind, maybe one day we’ll understand a little bit more and be better people for it.

One day!

26.10.01

Fortifications – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

After Bryce Canyon we travelled down into Arizona, to Canyon De Cheyelle and Mesa Verde. We climbed the steep paths to visit the cliff ruins. They were majestic and picturesque. You could stand on those ledges and look over the valley below with its fertile soil and clear, sparkling river snaking through. You could imagine the Anasazi Indians gazing out over that same scene 900 years before.

The pueblo buildings, made simply of mud bricks, were well preserved. They were high in the cliffs protected by overhangs.

The Anasazi had built long ladders to climb up to their houses, ladders which they had pulled up after them. They had lookout posts and a succession of well-organised warning stations. If a marauding party was spotted they lit fires. The smoke alerted the next post and the warning jumped from position to position much faster than the enemy could travel. They also used mirrors to signal. They were clever and well-organised. In the cliff dwellings, they stored grain and water and were able to withstand a lengthy siege. They were well organised and thorough.

It was a mystery as to why they all disappeared.

I immediately connected the Anasazi dwellings with the Hillforts in Wales and France that I had visited.

It was a lot of trouble to go to in order to build such fortifications and precautions. It took a lot of their time, energy and resources. They must have been pretty scared to go to that much trouble.

Human nature is horrible to behold. It seems some of us are prepared to work hard to earn a living and some simply can’t be bothered; they’d rather take it from the ones that do the work.

The more cruel and vicious they were, the easier it is to extract what you wanted.

Every country had its fortified towns, castles and fortresses because every country had its marauders.

Times don’t change much.

Human behaviour doesn’t change.

13.10.01

 

One day I will die and all my things will be divided up. Some will go to friends as mementoes. Some will be distributed to the family. Liz will keep some of them. My kids will have some. I will take pleasure in knowing that things will go to people that might get them out from time to time and think of me. I don’t know why that is? It will not matter to me. I shall be dead.

26.10.01

How to stop fascism – extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Fascism may be genetic in some people.

It may even be a basic human trait.

Perhaps we are all programmed to be heartless, selfish and cruel.

Perhaps racism and xenophobia are defence mechanisms to protect the tribe against outsiders? After all, outsiders represent competition for available space and food.

Perhaps the fascist thugs are necessary? After all, they are the ones who will go out and do the loony things to frighten the shit out of the enemy in order to keep the rest of us safe. There is never any doubt in their mind. My country right or wrong is always right. Just the type you need to charge a machine gun nest.

But then again, this brand of intolerance and arrogant nationalism might be learnt behaviour. Perhaps Woody Guthrie was right when he put that sign ‘THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS’ on his guitar. We can educate people to be more compassionate.

Perhaps you can get people to understand that people are more important than getting the trains to run on time, infuriating as late trains may be?

Perhaps you can address the problems these potential fascists have and sort them out, so that they do not become victims who are bullied and subsequently filled with twisted hatred? Maybe we can prevent them from becoming fascists?

Perhaps we can make people see that the world does not have to be winners and losers but that we can care for each other?

Perhaps we can make people see that a macho world is not a happy one?

Perhaps you can educate people out of the need for the hard swagger and brutal fist?

Perhaps we can build a new, fair world, that is not based on selfish greed, racial ignorance, and arrogant superiority?

Perhaps I am pissing into a hurricane?

13.10.01

 

I don’t know if this is the type of best my Dad was envisaging for me.

12.10.01

 

They say we all have to make our own mistakes. You can’t teach a young man full of hormones and itchy for experience, that life is so precious and short that you have to be careful.

12.10.01

Motivation – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Motivation. That is the word that sums up what we become. Motivation can be good or bad. What motivation do we have and where does it come from?

So what motivates someone into becoming a torturer?

Where does a torturer get their motivation to get up each day and go to work? Are they turned on by screams and burning flesh?

Is that tendency to sadism genetic? If not, where did they learn to enjoy inflicting pain?

What experiences did they go through in their developing years that make them feel happy when observing the pain of other people?

Were these torturers the type of boys and girls that drowned kittens, slowly grilled puppies or pulled the wings off insects?

Were they the bullies who enjoyed the cheap shots, the nasty tweaks and sly kicks?

Were they the ones who co-opted their mates to hold someone down while they punched them in the face or stamped on their head, maybe put cigarettes out on their nipples?

Or were they the sad whimpering abused victims, or bullied wimps, who became so full of hatred that they turned it all around on other people and gained revenge by bullying those who were weaker?

Is this enjoyment of inflicting pain on others an act of revenge?

A result of hatred?

Or do these torturers not enjoy their work at all? Do they see their job as a professional necessity in the war against whatever force is arrayed against their religion or country? For there is always a war being waged and there is never a shortage of torturers.

What makes a torturer?

13.10.01

 

When I gave my little sister away in marriage I said in my speech that it would have been my Dad’s proudest moment. That sounds a bit corny but it was true. We were his proudest possessions. He had little else. We were his reasons to live.

12.10.01

 

Left to my own devices I most probably would have killed myself long before now. Not deliberately, just by being extreme and obsessive.

12.10.01

Public caning in school – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Trevor Mills was hard but I bet he isn’t so hard now! I bet that Trevor’s children, if he has any, are hard though!

Trevor had dark ginger hair that curled up at the back. He was big and he was surly. He had a reputation for thumping people. Teachers found him exceedingly uncooperative. He’d glare at them, snarl and refuse to comply. His aim seemed to be to stand out, disrupt every lesson and create confrontation. You could say that he liked to be noticed.

Trevor made a performance out of being caned. Usually, caning was carried out in the privacy of the Head’s study but other certain staff were not adverse to caning boys in front of a class. They seemed to delight in it.

The cane was long and springy. It was usually made of willow, about half an inch thick with a curved handle at one end.

You were bent over a desk and whacked very hard on the backside. Some teachers used a standing swish but the more robust took a run at you from across the room and launched themselves at your arse with all the power they could muster. The prefects were entitled to cane students but were not allowed to apply more than three lashes. These canings were delivered at one of their Prefect Courts held, appropriately, under the school in the cellars.

Caning was very violent. When applied with full force, as a number of teachers were keen to do, the blow split the skin across your arse in a straight line. It usually didn’t bleed much but quickly formed into a hard ridge. Around this ridge, the bruise came out like a purple welt. Over the next week, this colouration slowly spread and made its way from mauve through brown to orange and then yellow (as any biologist might tell you – mapping the progress of the breakdown of haemoglobin), to finally fade away to leave you with just a faint scar. The blood trickled from the split skin but did not gush. The pain was excruciating and normally managed to elicit a cry out of even the most hardened recipient. If you had been caned you were officially given leave to stand during lessons for the rest of the day. After all, the teaching staff weren’t sadists. They knew that it was painful and made a special dispensation for those so afflicted. I know this all too well as the result of personal experience.

Trevor was a regular recipient of corporal punishment. As with a number of other hardened miscreants, it was no deterrent; to be caned was a badge of honour. He was seemingly impervious to pain. On one occasion I saw him intimidate our poetry teacher by thrusting his face into his and then smashing his hand into the door with such force that he not only transformed the thick panel into matchwood but also must have broken every bone in his hand. He then refused to go to the sick room and sat there in the English class grinning while his hand swelled up like a balloon.

On a number of occasions, he was publicly flogged. It was intended to be a warning to everyone, to deter others from following suit. Trevor made it into a show.

His name would be called in assembly. He’d stand up and look around smiling and defiant. He would swagger to the front nonchalantly, hands in pockets, taking time to sneer and mock as he went. He would slowly climb the stairs up to the stage, grin at the Headmaster, lean forward over the table, grip the sides with his hands, rest his head on the top looking towards the gathered masses and wink. It was worthy of an Oscar.

By this time the Head would be in a fury. He’d run and jump up, bringing the cane down with all his might. It would viciously swish and thwack. Trevor remained unmoved. His eyes never blinked. There was no involuntary yelp and no tears. It was repeated for the full six. Then Trevor would lazily rise, look around as if to ask ‘Is that it?’ and stroll back off the stage. He would then deliberately sit himself down without any tangible sign of discomfort. A bravura performance.

The amount of credibility Trevor gleaned from this was enormous. The last occasion they tried it he brought the house down with spontaneous cheers.

They didn’t do it again.

13.10.01

 

I sometimes dream of those simple years, full of discovery, when life was exciting.

12.10.01

Comeuppance – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Was Trevor’s life exciting during those early years of growing up? I don’t remember meeting his family. Would you like to imagine what they were like? Perhaps kind, loving, tactile folk with refined sensitivities? You don’t suppose they beat the shit out of him, do you?

I last met Trevor on Walton High Street when we were both twenty. I was home from college and he was unemployed. All the cockiness had dissipated. He seemed sullen brooding and sad and eager to talk. He seemed pleased to see me and wanted to tell me what he’d been up to.

He told me that a while back he’d emigrated to New Zealand because he couldn’t get a job over here in the UK and he’d heard that there was plenty of work out there. He came back a few months later. He hadn’t liked it. He told me that he’d got into fight after fight and they kept locking him up. According to him, New Zealanders were all a bunch of wankers. They didn’t like the British. I rather suspected that it was more that they didn’t like arrogant and aggressive people.

Terry laughed and told me that he’d come home to where it was civilised. He seemed a lot more chastened at twenty compared to the cocky youth of fifteen that I remembered. Life did not seem to be progressing the way he had imagined it would. It was leaving him morose. His self-esteem had evaporated. He was no longer the big guy. Perhaps it was because he no longer had an audience, or perhaps that, compared to fully-grown adults, he was no longer so awfully big and fearsomely tough? He could no longer intimidate and beat the shit out of anyone who crossed him.

You don’t suppose that Trevor ever battered his kids do you? You don’t suppose that there could be a self-perpetuating cycle of violence? You don’t suppose that all those fights Trevor regularly instigated were the result of people picking on him and giving him funny looks do you? Because he was always the innocent party you know. He never started anything, honest.

Am I stereotyping or reporting? Probably a bit of both.

You don’t suppose that life trained Trevor to be violent and rewarded him with status and attention when he was, do you? Then callously took it all away.

I don’t suppose there’s any too much shit left in Trevor these days. There did not seem to be that last time I met him. He seemed like a beaten man, a balloon with a hole in it.

Life’s a game and it appeared to me that Trevor was one of life’s losers. But was it his fault?

13.10.01

 

My dad taught me to play chess. He always beat me but I kept trying until one day I beat him. From there on we were fairly evenly matched.

Chess gets the brain cells firing. Chess is a game of tactics and stylised war. It is absorbing and complex. If played properly, with the full resources of the intellect and concentration, it is the game of games

But there again, I don’t want to exaggerate its importance too much. It is no substitute for life.

26.10.01

Surrealistic Abstractions – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

My art teacher was more of an artist than a teacher. I really liked her. She was interesting. Her mind flitted to more important things than what she was doing. The creative spirit took her over. I’m in awe of people who are consumed by their creativity. She did huge mosaics out of glass. She was better at art than she was at controlling kids, that’s for sure. She was inspirational– though I let her down.

At the time we thought that she enthused about the most peculiar things.

One lesson, following a vague preliminary talk, she set us to work doing abstract paintings and went out and left us to it. That breaks the first rule of teaching – never leave any group of eleven-year-olds unattended. Their minds create mischief.

For some reason, I was in a daft mood and decided to have a bit of a laugh. I thought I’d show her what a real abstract painting was. I mixed up great pallets of powder paint into thick, gooey liquid and dolloped it on the largest piece of paper I could find to make great thick blobs and pools of colour that merged together. The others soon saw what I was doing. I soon had a few other kids mixing up paint for me and I was splashing and splattering it on this conglomeration. Before long I had built it up into a big thick splurge of paint over the entire paper. In places it was two inches thick.

All things have to come to an end, and just as we were getting completely out of control, she came back. I immediately put on my serious face and started studiously splashing more dripping paint onto the thick splurge, brushing and swirling the resulting colours and textures with a focussed deliberation and purpose that could be mistaken for expertise. She made her rounds looking at the products of the lesson. I continued to apply tiny drops of colour or tease whirls and shapes in the gooey mess, while the class looked on from afar waiting for the fireworks.

Eventually, she reached me.

I did not look up, seeming to be totally absorbed in my task, as if in some artistic reverie. Jackson Pollock would have been proud of me but I rather expected my art teacher not to be. I had certainly wasted a considerable amount of paint and produced something that a psychedelic  elephant with a gastrointestinal problem might easily have come up with. I was sure she would see straight through my feigned artistic skills and recognise the piss-take for what it was.

She studied the big gooey mess of intermingling colour.

“What do you call it?” she enquired, studying the large splurge of liquid paint as if trying to discern some meaning.

“It’s called ‘Nuclear Fission’”, I replied earnestly, dabbing more paint on my masterpiece.

All around the class were grinning. I was for it now.

“It is wonderful,” she murmured. “Wonderful!”

She toured around my artwork admiring it from all sides as if it really was a masterpiece.

“Bold and imaginative,” she murmured, “I must have this displayed in the Hall.”

At the end of the lesson my splurge of art was carefully transferred to a windowsill. It took three week to dry into a great slab of swirling colour. When it was solid she had holes drilled in each corner and nailed the thing up in the entrance to the school hall. It weighed a ton and proudly hung there in the school foyer.

I must admit that I was really proud. She made me feel that I had actually created something original and worthwhile even though I had simply been having a laugh. It was almost as if I had planned it and not been messing about at all.

It stayed up there for ages until all the paint first cracked and then lumps started falling off and it had to be taken down

Following that day my art teacher treated me as if I was gifted. That felt good but it put a weight on to me that was difficult to live up to. I knew I was a fraud. It was a situation bound to end in failure.

Later that year, three of us had misbehaved and were placed in detention. She gave us the task of smashing up coloured bottles to produce shards for her mosaics. She was very fond of making these large mosaics out of shards of coloured glass. She’d collected a number of green, brown, and blue bottles and some white porcelain. We had to wrap the bottles up carefully in a big cloth and smash them with a big lump hammer. This was meant to be a punishment! After instructing us in how to do it she disappeared.

We had a great time!

We quickly smashed up all the available bottles in no time at all, and were having such fun that we searched around for other things to smash. By the time she returned we’d smashed every one of her paintbrush jars.

She was very upset.

What else could I do? For goodness sake – I was a child! All children sometimes let you down.

26.10.01

 

My father and I were probably very alike in personality.

I am amazed by how like him I have become. It is especially strange, considering the determination I had as a teenager to be so completely different to him, in every respect. I too work too hard, come home exhausted and find that the responsibilities, and lack of freedom, that come with a family weigh heavy. But hey, this is life.

12.10.01

Our first car – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

He was very trusting. That’s not a bad thing to be, but it has a downside. You get taken for a ride, or not, as the case may be. If I had to choose I’d rather be trusting and taken for a ride than cynical and suspicious.

But that’s a point of view.

My father had been in a good job for a period of time now. It meant that we had security, we could pay the mortgage; we were not going to lose the house; we were not struggling to put food on the table; we could afford luxuries. We were the first house down the road to have a television. It was a little black and white job but it was a focal point for all the kids on the block. Saturday night was kids’ night. We had ‘The Buccaneers’ and ‘Planet X’. Planet X was so frightening that mum had to walk Ian and Jeff home, and sometimes even Clive. Clive was a big boy, he must have been about ten at the time and he had to be walked home. It was that scary. After all, you never knew what would rush at you out of the shadows! I had to go along with them because I was too frightened to stay in the house on my own.

My dad was now able to splash out a bit.

He decided to buy a car. This was quite an event. A car was a major purchase.

He bought a second hand Ford Oxford. I remember it as a sit up and beg black car. It had elegance. It looked refined.

The family joke was that he had bought it in the evening when it was dark. The guy had shown it to him with a torch. He had not even heard the engine running let alone been out for a drive in it. He made a snap decision.

Our first drive out was a bit of a disaster. The engine kept overheating and we had to keep stopping to let it cool down and top up the radiator. Dad kept stopping at horse troughs.

Fortunately, there were still a lot of stone water troughs scattered throughout the towns. I bet they are all kicking themselves that they got rid of them. They would have been a nice touch in ‘Heritage England’, to add to the quaint ‘olde worlde’ atmosphere of the place.

Finally, we stopped with steam pouring out from under the bonnet and the car wouldn’t go again. Something in the engine had broken and it was terminal.

The garage towed it away – the diagnosis was that the big-end had gone. There was all sort of talk about the guy putting sawdust in the oil to quieten the noise of the big-end knocking. Our new car had only lasted two weeks.

My dad never lived it down. I don’t know what happened to the car. I think he got rid of it by selling it for scrap. I do know that it was a regular in every row from there on in.

“Bought the stupid thing by torch-light! How stupid can you get!”

14.10.01

 

I guess I’ve bought a few things by the equivalent of torchlight in my lifetime!

26.10.01