Excitement had been building for days; sat in front of the television set, watching the early morning news; I was mesmerized, watching in ore at the people camped out along the wedding procession route. Under tarpaulin, make shift tents, sat in deck chairs, decorated in red, white and blue, they were all waving their union flags, sporting patriotic clothes, draped in flags; a sea of colour, up and down The Mall. Through the streets of London, in front of Buckingham Palace, every available spot was taken as dawn broke over the capital. The cameras were there, Interviewing the dedicated, early arrivals and anyone with a connection to the days proceedings! This was the day The Prince of Wales married Lady Diana Spencer and I like most of the country was waiting with anticipation, happy that our future King had found his bride; this wouldn’t be an experience I would ever forget; a Royalist then as I most certainly am now!
Today was a Bank Holiday, the whole country was able to take part in the Royal Wedding; I was thrilled at the prospect of watching the biggest national event since the Silver Jubilee in 1977. Not everyone was as happy as I, there were those who had no interest in the day and would rather be elsewhere, my Father was one such person.
Dad came down the stairs, he was in a grumpy mood, annoyed at the impending Marriage. As a ten year old boy, I had little concept of the reasons for his irritation, believing it was just a ‘Dad thing.’ I remember my Father talking about wasting tax payers money and the rumblings of republicanism under his breath, as he retorted his customary socialist rant. Dad was left wing in every sense of the word, a point of view that has never changed over the years. As Mother and I sat down in front of the box, Dad paced the room, still moaning about the costs involved in such a frivolous occasion. I however was more than happy, glued to the set.
‘I’m going out!’ said Dad, ‘I’m taking Kevin out for a game of football in the park, where I don’t have to watch this rubbish,’ he continued. I remember thinking to myself, how the park would be full of Fathers, kicking football’s around with their sons, equally miffed about the events running across every TV network. Football was never my thing anyway and I was just happy they were going out, leaving Mother and I at home, enjoying the day. Shortly afterwards, they were gone, with a slam of the front door, cursing the day ahead.
The carriage arrived at the entrance to Westminster Abbey, Princess Diana, gracefully stepped out, helped by her Father, the Earl Spencer. As she walked forwards, alighting the carriage, the train on her dress recoiled behind her. Like a meandering river, it stretched for what seemed like miles, light dancing off the shimmering white silk in the bright glow of the day; she looked radiant, her all too familiar smile beamed under her veil; sparkling tiara on top of her head, twinkling as she advanced up the aisle. I sat there open mouthed, taken aback by the majesty of Monarchy, the pomp and circumstance, the emotion stirring music and a vision of history in the making. This was the day I truly felt a bond with our Royal Family and realised just how important they were in all our daily lives. I felt proud to be British, content at my place in the World.
When Dad got in from the park, I continued to watch the reruns, highlights and repeats on my little black and white portable TV, lying on my bed upstairs. Again and again, I relived the wonderment of the day, cementing my growing adoration of an institution a thousand years old. Princess Diana was a powerful figure throughout my life, someone I was lucky enough to meet much later. Her Wedding was an important milestone for me, because I discovered who I really was, what made me tick and most importantly my connection to the Country I was born in, my home, wherever I am living, here or abroad. The Royal Wedding of 1981 gave all of us a brief escape from the austerity measures at the time. With unemployment high and discontent growing, this was a day to escape and enjoy an occasion that encompassed us all; this was a day that defined an era, this was a celebration that would galvanise a nation.
I was about five or six years old when I realised Mum wasn’t like everyone else. She was a type I Diabetic and had been so since her early childhood. The story was, she was sat toasting crumpets on the fire in my Grandmothers parlour, when flames jumped out of the grate in front of her face, sending my Mother into a state of shock; from that moment on Mum became diabetic. Like most family stories, I really couldn’t tell you if it was true or not; rather like urban myths, they take hold and become the accepted story of how something happened. The reality of my Mum’s situation was really about her good fortune, being born when she was. She was one of the first people to be given insulin, without which she wouldn’t be here today. As Mum copes with the effects of long term diabetes, I am reminded of a childhood, spent with a lady who fought hard to keep herself strong in the face of illness and the challenges around monitoring her condition.
It was Monday morning, a school day, approaching 7 am. Mum was calling from the bottom of the stairs, trying to get me up for another day. I was never good at waking early at the best of times, let alone at the beginning of the week. Having to go to a school that I hated; suffering yet more bullying, that by now had become commonplace, was a part of my youth, I would rather forget. Laying in bed, I sighed, stretched my arms into life and reluctantly fell out of bed, slowly walking towards the bathroom!
I had had a bath the night before; Sunday was always bath day! After a quick strip wash at the sink I cleaned my teeth and brushed my mass of 70s hair, a huge birds nest on top of my head that made me look fatter than I already was; yes I was a fat kid; yet another reason to get bullied. At nine years old, I had already become impervious to the actions of others, staying very much away from the fray, keeping myself to myself, ignoring the haters. I stamped down the stairs, turned right at the bottom and headed into the kitchen.
The kitchen was a hive of activity. Mother was busy cooking breakfast for my brother and I, as well as Dad, who was due home from his night shift. She had already been up since 6 am and was due to work at the local Co-op after everyone was fed and watered ‘Sit down at the table you two, breakfast wont be long!’ she exclaimed, a little more distracted than usual. Mum hadn’t had her morning injection yet, something she had to do three times a day, before eating and was feeling a little queasy. At the time, we didn’t really know what was going on with her health, just that she had to inject herself each day, a process I never witnessed fully, turning my head away, not wanting to see the needle pierce the skin.
With breakfast on the table and Dad’s food left simmering on the stove, Mum finally sat down. She looked tired as she lent back on the kitchen chair. From her bag she took out her hypodermic needle and reached over towards the fridge, where her insulin was stored, producing a small vile of the clear liquid, that kept her alive. She pierced the rubber top of the bottle with the needle, pulling back the head of the syringe, allowing the liquid to pour inside, finally flicking the glass tube with her fingers, removing the air bubbles inside. ‘Turn away if you want to, I know how much you hate it,’ Mum said gently, smiling, eye brow raised; we both looked towards the wall.
Peeping behind my hand, I managed to see Mum lift the bottom of her blouse, exposing a her stomach. She had been injecting for so many years that this was the only place she could now use to insert the needle. ‘All done, you can look now,’ Mum announced, as she placed the syringe into her bag away from our tiny inquisitive hands.
This was a typical morning, a procedure I witnessed throughout my childhood. Mum never had it easy, but always coped remarkably well; she never complained and just accepted her lot. Spending a lifetime on insulin has taken its toll, Mum isn’t as well as she used to be, wheelchair bound and suffering from a double leg amputation. She remains stoical in the face of adversity, not wanting to accept help from others. The time is coming however, when the children at the breakfast table, will have to take on the responsibility that Mother afforded to us.
It was Wednesday afternoon, not my most favourite day of the week, Wednesdays were swimming days and in truth it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had tried playing hooky before and been caught out; hauled up in front of the class I was given a good dressing down and told to ‘buck my ideas up’ if I wanted to complete the compulsory course of lessons, designed to make us water aware, submerging undignified in a pool of filthy water, used by everyone else and all the germs that bred in it. I wasn’t fond of Wednesdays at all, in all respects, not just the swimming but the whole damn process.
As a teenager I was an early developer and objected strongly to spending time in changing rooms and showers with those I went to school with. I mean, who actually thought it was a great idea, to throw a group of adolescent boys together, during puberty, showering together in front of a PE Teacher; it really wasn’t for me! At thirteen years old, I was well aware of my sexuality, the signs were always there. If I was sure of who I was, then others were aware too. Once over the embarrassment of changing in front of ones peers, it was time to begin the lessons.
It was cold, as I tiptoed out of the locker rooms and into the swimming arena. The pool was alive with the screams of children. In the distance I heard the sound of a whistle being blown, by a lifeguard perched at the far end of the pool. It was time for the first group of kids to leave and us to begin our lessons.
Situated at the shallow end, were floats, arm bands and other strange looking contraptions, designed to keep us afloat, as we all strived for the same thing, learning to swim. Most of us were well versed in the procedures employed by Mrs Hanson, a formidable looking lady, dark permed hair and what I can only describe as craggy features, heavily wrinkled face, sporting an almost burnt orange tan. Dressed in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white T shirt, she was tall, thin and a force to be reckoned with; she scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach to teaching can only be described as ‘sink or swim,’ her lack of empathy was typical of the time. There were no allowances for failure; you did as you were told, or else.
There was just me at the shallow end, everyone else had already migrated to the deep side of the pool. For the life of me, I just couldn’t swim, it really wasn’t in me and with a coach like Mrs Hanson, it was highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. I stood in the middle, still holding onto the side with my right hand, when Mrs H, told me to let go of the edge and slowly swim towards her hands, stretched out before me. I hesitated, panicked and shook my head in protest. She asked again, firmly, with a scowl on her face. After thinking for what seemed like an age, I threw myself forwards and swam towards her hands.
I was nearly there and could almost feel the end of her nails. Everything was a blur, my eyes were soaked in water, my mouth and nose also, I could barely breath; flapping my hands with terror, I really thought I would make it. Then she took her hands away, quickly without warning; I sunk like a brick. Shouting for help I gasped for air, trying to get to the surface, finally lifted out by the lifeguard, who placed me at the side of the pool. Coughing, spluttering with my heart pounding, I finally came back to life; battered, bruised with Loss of dignity and pride, I gingerly left the pool, never to return again.
In the end I was awarded a certificate like everyone else, not for the metres I had swam but for endeavour, for trying hard; a piece of paper, that I still have to this very day, a momento of a time I would rather forget. That final lesson was so traumatic for me, that I never learnt to swim again. I am content enough to realise I tried my best, leaving a mark on my life that I can write about today!
It was about a year before, when I was at a friends house that I realised I wanted one. It was truly amazing, another world and one of the best presents a young boy like me could wish for. In the mid 1980s modernity jumped head long into my life; a technological revolution and the development of a personal computer was firmly planted into the psyche of a generation, just waiting to break away from the past, establishing their credentials as inheritors of the crown. The future was rubber keys, the future was Sinclair.
The shops were heaving, customers were pushing and shoving their way around the packed isles. Supermarket trollies were full to bursting with everything one needed for a gastronomical feast. As Mum and Dad paid for their weekly shopping at the checkout in Sainsbury, I briefly wondered outside. Looking past the cafe in the centre of the Mall, I spotted Curry’s electrical shop directly opposite; in the shop window the newest gadget to hit the shelves was displayed, the ZX Spectrum 48K. I ran over as fast as I could, nose pressed against the glass, watching ‘Daly Thompson’s Decathlon’ being enacted on the screen. In awe of the graphics, amazed by the colour, I imagined myself owning one. Looking down at the price tag, 125 pounds, I realised it was too expensive for me to buy, sighed and walked back to the supermarket, waiting outside.
Mum and Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I took the chance. I wanted ‘The Spectrum computer’ and hoped they would agree. At first they were a little unsure about what I was referring to, so I grabbed a copy of Mum’s Kay’s Catalogue under the coffee table in the lounge, flicking through the pages until I found what I was looking for. ‘Here it is, this is what I want. It will be the bestest Christmas present of all’ I retorted excitedly. After several minutes of hesitation, confused expression on their faces, they both agreed; I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.
Santa arrived early once again. It always seemed strange to me, that the old man arrived before I got up, never did I catch him, not once, even when I surfaced at 12am. This was a present, delivered directly to the bottom of my bed, placed in a pillow case, rather than being left in the sitting room, as was usual. I guess this was a gift, that was just too bulky to be left under the tree. At 3am I was up and awake, ripping wrapping paper and trying to get to grips with my new toy; a personal computer, the modern age sitting on my lap; shiny, untouched waiting to be unlocked.
Setting up the ZX Spectrum on my desk was the easy bit, connecting the wires to the TV, loading games was another matter. One had to place a cassette in a player then wait for it to load; a screeching, wining rendition that sent shivers down my spine; so much so, I left the room, made a turkey sandwich, popped the kettle on, used the toilet on the way back and still had time to spare, before the tape had even loaded. I managed half an hour or so at the helm before everything went ‘Pete Tong!’ Two hours later I was back playing another round until the inevitable ZX Spectrum problems kicked in once again.
In the end, I probably used my new computer no more than ten times. Frustration, impatience and annoyance at the cumbersome piece of 80s kit got the better of me. After throwing it across the room, on several occasions, I decided it was best to retire the rubber wonder before it drove me insane. This slice of retro design, remained in my parents loft, until it was sold at a local car boot sale, ten years later. I never bought another PC again until the late 1990s. Sir Clive Sinclair had done what no one else could: turning my love of gadgets into a dislike of the modern world. I remained steadfast in my rejection of all things avant-garde and progressive for many years, although look back with fondness at the little black box that made my life hell, after all if it wasn’t for Clive, I wouldn’t be typing on this laptop today. I am truly amazed at just how far we have come in such a short space of time!
It was Christmas 1980 and I was excited; I had asked Mum and Dad for a tape recorder this festive season, an expensive present back then, but something I had wanted after seeing one in ‘Tandy,’ the electronics shop of the time. Early Sunday evening I would religiously listen to the music charts on radio one, as they announced a countdown, of the top 40 songs that week. It was a part of my routine, something I looked forward to every weekend. Being able to record the chart show would be an added bonus; I spend six months persuading my parents to buy me the latest technology, a Bush, single dec cassette player. Fingers crossed I would get one on Christmas Day.
I was up early, probably four o’clock in the morning, gently creeping down the staircase, trying to avoid treading too hard. Step by careful step I finally reached the bottom without a sound; then as my right foot hit the last step, there was a loud overbearing screech. I slipped briefly, as the sound echoed throughout the house; recovering my composure briefly before falling head long into the wall in front; a thud so hard, I hit the floor, laying there, stars in front of my eyes!
Spread-eagle on my back, confused, tired and a little sheepish, I listened for any sign of movement upstairs, luckily there wasn’t any; I jumped to my feat, heart pounding hard and ran into the lounge. The Christmas lights were still on, flickering gently against the wall behind, directing me towards the presents underneath the newly decorated tree. I made a beeline for the box I thought contained my Cassette recorder, low and behold there it was; brand new shiny, black, just waiting to be used. Next to the recorder a packet of C60 tapes and some large brick size batteries. Gingerly, keeping as quiet as I could, I put the batteries in the back of the player and inserted a tape into the dec; starting to record my thoughts for the day, there and then, rather like I do now, blogging my heart out.
I went back up stairs, this time making as much noise as I could, waking Mum, Dad and my Brother; switching on lights, banging doors and generally causing havoc, finally launching into my parents bedroom; tape recorder in hand, documenting events. Laying on the bed, everyone finally awake, we opened the rest of our presents, talking and chatting away to each other, laughing and joking, as families do. These were the special moments in life, the ones I will always recall. Luckily I still have that first tape recording, transferred into digital format, to keep and cherish forever.
My life was complete, recording Sunday afternoon radio in the days before video camcorders and mobile phones; also charting other important events of the day. Myself and a friend from School set up a ‘TV/Radio’ station called JDTV, we would spend hours pretending to be presenters, guests, newsreaders and actors. In the afternoon, when television went into recess, playing light easy listening music, testcard firmly fixed in the background, I would lay in front of the screen, sound on low, recording my thoughts; mimicking famous personalities of the era, pretending to be that presenter from the telly or generally daydreaming, disappearing into another World, away from the stress and strain of daily life at school. When afternoon television restarted once again, Falcon Crest on ITV, I was a member of the cast, acting for dear life, wealthy, successful, a lifetime away from who I really was. Escaping to greener pastures was always a thrill; innocent times full of hope and wonderment, where I could be whoever I wanted to be. These are the memories I take with me wherever I am; remembering with affection the little things, that seemed so insignificant at the time, but worth all the tea inn China today, as I reflect on a childhood, long since gone!
There was a distinct chill in the air, lots of glum faces; a rumbling of discontent throughout the school, as pupils digested the latest attempt to reshape our place of learning, conforming to more traditional ideals. It was a few days earlier that each of us were given a letter to hand to our parents announcing the introduction of a new school uniform in keeping with the schools new name and status within the community in which it served. In was 1983, I was in my second year of senior school, at a time when Britain was suffering the spectre of recession. Money was in short supply, unemployment was high and the cost of living out of control. The last thing families needed was another bill to contend with; the price of our new identity would not come cheap. Understandably disaffection was bubbling to the surface, as pupils decided to take matters into their own hands.
It was late afternoon, double Science, probably one of my least liked subjects. Looking around the room, there seemed to be a lot of absences, the class was rather sparse and lackluster; the few of us who were there had thoughts elsewhere. As I glanced out of the window onto the playground below, I could see a group of students milling about, talking, shaking their heads, arms raised in consternation. Even I felt anxious and I didn’t know why. There was an atmosphere of revolution and insurrection; rebellion was in the air.
I could hear whispers behind my back, two classmates talking about joining the growing throng outside. One tapped me on the shoulder, ‘are you coming?’ they said. Confused I asked what they meant; I was oblivious to events unraveling around me. ‘We are going on strike; there’s a protest on the all weather pitch, everyone will be there!’ they exclaimed, encouraging me to join them and make our voices heard. I understood that there could have been a demonstration about the new rules being introduced at the school, but really brushed them aside as ‘just talk.’ I was surprised that my friends were taking matters into their own hands and a little apprehensive about what would happen to those of us who took part!
Briefly I thought about what I should do; looking out the window, I could see more and more classmates joining ‘pupil power’ in action. I turned back to face my peers, nodding my head in agreement. As our Science Teacher continued his lesson on photosynthesis, I duly packed my brown adidas bag and abruptly left the room, all three of us heading downstairs. ‘What do you think you are doing? Come back here now!’ I heard Mr Roche shout as we left the room; running quickly down the stairs and outside into the busy thoroughfare below, we joined everyone else in our campaign for justice!
I don’t remember the exact number who took part that day, though it was quite a few. Chanting and cursing we made our way through the school and onto the playground beyond, refusing to move until the powers that be, retracted the requirement for compulsory school uniforms. A sit down protest on the edge of school created waves, as teachers tried to encourage us to return to class. Of course as time went on and stomachs began to groan, pupils started to leave anyway. In truth when I look back to this time, I was carried along with the sea of emotion surrounding this stance. I really didn’t care if I had to wear a shirt and tie or not, in fact it was the best thing for the school, but when you become part of a crowd you tend to follow the course, losing all sense of reality, forgetting just what the initial action was about in the first place. As children, fickle to the core, a few hours off last thing in the afternoon, became our overriding ambition.
The school uniform remained, those of us who took part were given detention and we had our day in the local rag but the reasons for our discontent didn’t go away. Changing the identity of anything, whether school, person or brand, can only be done with the support and influence of all of those impacted. In future pupils and parents were consulted every step of the way. New rules were implemented without the frustration and anger that surfaced that day.
I had just fallen asleep; no more than half an hour ago. I remember looking at the clock before I drifted away, it was 10.24pm. I could see the bright hall light at the foot of my bedroom door. Even then I had to have the room dark, no luminescence at all, covering anything up that interrupted my line of sight; I just couldn’t sleep otherwise! Despite my need for darkness, I was always scared of the night, often diving under the covers at the slightest hint of something suspicious in the room. Like the story of my life, I was contradictory in every sense of the word; most definitely the product of a bipolar mind.
I woke up panicking twenty four minutes later; another bad dream. I often experienced those strange reoccurring visions that never went away; I still do. I was standing in a newly ploughed field, not a soul in sight for miles around. Behind me was a small white house, rather dishevelled, leaning slightly to one side; broken windows, broken door; holes in the roof, illuminating the abandonment inside. The number on the letterbox, held on by a single screw, was 24. In front of me was a tall white picket fence, with no gate, a barrier yet to cross. This was the first time I remembered this dream and wouldn’t be the last. The details changed a little over the years, but essentially the theme was always the same.
I could feel the warm light of day on my face, eyes still tightly shut, avoiding the early morning sun; Mother banged on my bedroom door. ‘It’s time to get up, you’ll be late for school!’ she shouted firmly walking back downstairs. I laid there for just a moment remembering the night; once again the number twenty four popped into my head. This number meant something to me and I didn’t know what. I was always a young lad who thought too much, reading significance into the most ‘matter of fact,’ ordinary events.
Last thing in the afternoon, before home time, it was double mathematics. I hated it despite getting an O level in the subject. I would often day dream, thinking about what I could write in my journal, my passion, even at eleven years old. In front of me, sat my orange coloured exercise book, pristine and clear, not a mark or blemish anywhere to be seen. I picked up a black biro and began doodling on the surface. The number twenty four, enclosed with a ring of ink; again and again I wrote the number down, heavier and heavier each time, marking the pages inside. What was that number all about, what did it mean to me and why was it still in my head. I sat there glazed eyes, shook my head, trying to shake the number from my mind. I got a smack across my knuckles that day for defacing my work book, but was worth it; a reminder of things to come.
As a young boy growing up, I always remembered the dream, the time on the clock, the number in my head; it remains with me to this very day. At twenty four years old I met my partner, in 1995; the most significant moment in my life. I’m expecting great things on our twenty fourth anniversary next year. The first house we bought together was, yup you guessed it, number twenty four; a beautiful stone cottage on the Lancashire Yorkshire boarder and the house we moved to in Spain, when we left the UK was once again the number twenty four.
I am a firm advocate of fate and believe this number runs through my life line, playing a major role in my destiny. Mumbo jumbo, I hear you say, well maybe you are right, but maybe you’re not. For me it is special; a reminder of my childhood and a suggestion of my future as yet unknown. It isn’t until it pops up again that I recall its importance, just like today, at the checkout in Mercadona, 24,24€!
I was spending the day with Nan, Mum and Dad had gone out. Outside the weather was cold, I could see the neighbours trees swaying gently in the bitter northerly wind. Sitting in the kitchen, I was warm, sheltered from the January chill; Nan was making dinner, the smell of steak and kidney pudding drifting throughout the house. Rich thick, dark gravy was simmering on the stove, as Nan finished lining each ceramic pot, with a hearty suet pastry. I watched as Nan spooned the meat into the cases, sealing them tightly with a muslin cloth, left to boil as she started to peel potatoes for the evening meal.
Nanny often told me the story of when she worked in Lyons Bakery, during the War, baking bread. She always took great pride in her appearance; even at the height of the conflict, when rationing was in force; she still made the best of a bad situation. In all the years I knew my Nan, I never once saw her without make up; needing dough at Lyons was no exception. A smoker at the time, she would puff on a cigarette, even when on the production line. In Nan’s words, ‘often dropping ash into a bowl of flour!’ Times were very different then and nobody seemed to mind, let alone die from embers in a loaf; if anything, Nan continued ‘it added flavour to the bread;’ looking up for divine inspiration, jesting in fun!
I went outside in the garden with Nan, it was time for a quick cigarette. Wrapped up warmly in her thick woollen cardigan, me in a duffel coat and bobble hat, which Nan had buttoned up to my neck, we stood shivering by the conservatory; I could barely move my head, as she flung a scarf around my chin. Nan always smoked ‘Cadets,’ in a red a white packet; she opened the box, and realised she had none left, tipping the packet upside down just to make sure. She sighed, took my hand and walked back inside.
‘If I write you a note, will you go and see the lady down the road and get me another packet?’ Nan asked. I nodded my head, looking forward to going out on my own. I suppose I couldn’t have been any more than ten years old at the time and knew the lady in the Newsagents well. She always seemed happy to see me and gave me a few penny sweets as I passed by. I often walked the short distance to the parade of shops in Highlands road, on my own, without an adult in tow! There was no fear or paranoia from an over worked Mum, not letting their child out of site. We were safe and able to walk unaccompanied, an altogether unfamiliar childhood by today’s standards.
Nan wrote a note on a piece of paper:
“Please can you let my Grandson have a packet of 20 Cadets, From Mrs Frampton at number 8 Coppice Way!”
She folded it neatly and placed it into my top pocket with a crisp one pound note. “Don’t lose it!” she said, as I ran out the door. Jumping up at the side gate, I managed to lift the latch. Nan followed close behind, securing it as I ran around the corner into Fareham Park Road. “Ring the bell, when you come back,” I heard her shout, as I enthusiastically waved goodbye.
I waited patiently behind the Man in front, as he bought a packet of Woodbines, coughing all the while. He paid for his cigarettes, turned and walked towards the door, patting me on the head as he left; mumbling something as he did so. “Hello there!” said the lady behind the counter, “what can I do for you?” she asked, leaning down towards me, trying to catch my eye. I placed the note on the counter, which she duly read. “Ah for Poppy,” I heard her say. Everyone knew each other in our little town!
She put a packet of twenty, four rhubarb and custards and the change into a white paper bag. Finally she scribbled a message onto the back; taking stapler from the counter, she secured the parcel tightly; gently she placed the package into my hand. “Don’t lose it; Nanny wont be happy.” she shouted as I skipped out the door.
Nan was waiting for me, when I got back, standing on the drive. I handed her the bag, she smiled as she read the words; probably a few lines of encouragement to help her give up smoking, which thankfully she eventually did; carefully removing the cigarettes, she positioned them in my hand. Nanny knew I liked opening a new packet, I loved the smell of the tobacco, as I removed the foil tab, tipping it towards my nose, enjoying the aroma. “Don’t you ever smoke like me,” Nanny always said; of course I never listened and Nanny was always right!
33 years a smoker, finally nicotine free!
Mrs Brooks class was a hive of activity; each table had their own projects to complete. Paints, Crayola crayons and multicoloured pencils were laying haphazardly across the desks; all of us chatting with each other. I was in a mischievous mood, flicking paint at the girl sat next to me. By the end of the lesson, we were both covered in an assortment of acrylic, not even the plastic aprons would save us. Mrs Brooks walked over, she looked angry, the frown on her face revealing. Taking us both to one side, she gave us a good telling off and a smack on the back of the legs. I’d been spanked before, standing outside the headmistresses office for the rest of the day; I was an old pro, so hardly reacted; the young lass shed a few tears and we were both ordered to the toilets to clean up before lunch. By the time I had finished, I was in a worse state than before, soaking wet, dripping all over the floor. Cautiously I walked back into class, hoping to avoid catching Mrs Brooks eye. Sheepishly, I sat down at my desk, looking away from her gaze. My friend sat next to me facing the other way, so I did the same; friends no more!
It was dinner time, the bell sounded in the hall. Everyone started to tidy their desks. ‘Quietly, do it quietly!’ shouted Mrs Brooks, trying to make herself heard over the commotion in class. ‘I said quietly!’ she repeated once again. Suitably calm and composed, sitting in our seats, we always said a little prayer before dinner. ‘Close your eyes, hands together,’ shouted Mrs B:
‘Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.’
Everyone queued in two neat lines, boys one side, girls the other, holding hands as we made our way to the hall. We were on the last sitting today, the canteen was running a little later than usual; the queue unusually ending outside the door. Children jostled for pole position, pushing in front of their peers, wanting to get their food first. I was leant up against the wall, patiently waiting my turn. Mum had always taught me how to behave and never to bulldoze my way to the front; it wasn’t the right thing to do.
My new Clark’s sandals were rubbing the heals of my feet; lifting each one up in turn, I tried to ease the pain. Someone kicked me in the back of the legs. The procession of school children was so long, I didn’t see who it was. Turning, I faced the front, standing up straight, arms folded in protest. Scuffing my shoes, backwards and forwards (The mark of a petulant child, Mrs Brooks always said.) Trying to pass the time, I eventually reached the front of the calvalcade; picking up my mint green coloured plate. Today, soggy roast potatoes, lots and lots of cabbage, boiled to within an inch of its life and minced meat in gravy. Funny enough, I still cook this today; comfort food if you like. For desert, chocolate pudding with thick, lumpy pink blancmange; another dish I look back on with fondness.
The noise in the hall was deafening as I hesitantly walked to the table at the back of the hall, where my friends were already sat. I took the chair at the end, leant back and waited for the Dinner Lady to appear. I can’t remember her name now, but she always came over and helped me cut up my food into bite sized pieces and filled the large metal water jugs on the table, that needed two hands to lift. I precariously charged my glass, most of it spilling over, quickly wiped away by another monitor; dressed in a pink and white tabard, wearing a small white hat and hairnet, that really did nothing to stop hair falling into the food. Part of the course when you ate school meals.
Dinner over it was time to return to class, each of us waiting in turn, to be escorted back for an afternoon of ‘Drama and Dance,’ my favourite lesson. ‘Time to work off all that extra energy after lunch,’ said Mrs B! ‘Time to get big and strong!’
I always have fond memories of school lunches; plain, basic filling food, typical of the time; in contrast the lunches of today. As a product of the 70s, we appreciated the simpler things in life; as children we had very little, none of us any more than anyone else. School Dinners are a reminder of the happy times, spent with friends, enjoying those first steps into childhood; a period when peoples values were different; a time of innocence in a changing World!
I was always a worrier, about everything and anything. At thirteen years old I had more to worry about than most; my sexuality being at the forefront of my thoughts. The beginning of my teenage years was also important in the academic sense; it was time to pick options at school. At such a young age, I was expected to know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, electing subjects to study for the next three years. The forms were duly handed out to the class; it was time to decide our destiny.
As I sat there at my desk, my mind preoccupied, I drifted away to a better place. A feeling of despair was descending over me; I closed my ears, blocking out the voice of my form tutor Mr Campbell, not wanting to hear another word. Looking down towards the paper in front of me, I just saw a jumble of words, none of them making sense. In my head I was sat at the bottom of the school hill; it was green, the sun was out, shining brightly overhead. As I looked left, my cat Ben was jumping through the long grass; a faint summer breeze, blowing through his newly combed coat. In my hand, a cheese and Marmite sandwich, between my knees an ice cold glass of orange. This was my safe place, away from the troubles life always threw my way.
As a sufferer, the weight of the World was firmly on my shoulders; my emerging homosexuality, the threat of nuclear war, death and dying, the newly discovered AIDS epidemic and how to be popular at school, all areas of concern; no wonder I turned to cigarettes! Picking options was just another trouble to contend with and it was right at the bottom of a long list of difficulties. In truth I wasn’t interested in my future at such a tender age, I was too busy fighting my own demons. In my clouded mind, I didn’t have a destiny; not a good one anyway, so I might as well just give up now.
Looking around the class, there was feverish excitement in the air, as my classmates chatted to their peers about what they should do; their favourite lessons, the ones they never skipped and the subjects they never tired of learning about. Others wanted to choose the same courses as their best friend, not wanting to be split up or being seen as a bit of a ‘boff,’ exercising judgement that may be at odds with the mainstream. When you are in your teens, you don’t want to be seen as different, certainly not taking a module that would make others see you as ‘gay’ or ‘odd.’ So as a budding conformist, trying to blend in with the crowd, I chose the courses I felt would be most acceptable to friends and family.
Mum and Dad had said that computers and business were the future and I needed to get a good job when I left school, so I immediately picked ‘Information Studies.’ This was actually a decision I regretted over the years. It was the first choice I made, that proved to be disastrous for my eventual attainment. As a young boy, I was creative and wanted to express that creativity in writing. I enjoyed English language, but never felt satisfied with the lessons. I wrote short stories from a very early age, as I continue to do today. Back then I also wanted to be an actor and would have preferred Drama as an option; it wasn’t to be; far too ‘gay,’ for the likes of me. I wasn’t prepared to go through the last three years of school, suffering yet more bullying. The most important thing for me at age thirteen was to finally begin fitting in with those around me.
When I look back at this time of change, I am horrified at the way I acted. Had I been born thirty years later, I may well have made the correct selections for my future direction in life. As a young gay boy, growing up in 1984, I just didn’t have the willpower or desire to be who I wanted to be and my whole life changed as a result. If I had my time all over again, things would be very different; since I don’t have that chance, I must learn to become content with what I have; not keep thinking, what could have been!