woke up with a start, to the whirr of the ceiling fan; I was drenched in
perspiration. I glanced at the clock, 3.25am. It is now 2006, what is this year
going to bring? I thought. It had already been predicted that this was going to
be the hottest summer on record; over 40 degrees had been forecast for today the
first day of the New Year.
The year 2005 was a year of
calamities: the tsunami that killed thousands and left thousands more homeless,
Hurricane Katrina, terrorist bombings on the Underground in
. An earthquake in
which again killed thousands and left even more with nothing. The threat of
bird flu which had the power to wipe out who knows how many. Not to mention all
the other senseless killings and crime that went on around the world.
I lay fully awake now in my
comfortable bed and thought of the wealth that I had. Not in money certainly,
but in my comfortable little home, my family, my husband, myself in good health.
All the dear friends about me. Enough money to meet our needs, and to top it off
I lived in this wonderful country of
which I loved dearly. What more could I have or want?
I silently prayed to God to
thank him for all his goodness towards me, the blessings he had given me, and I
knew that whatever this year would bring, he would see me through as he always
had through the good and the bad.
Thoughts of sleep long gone, I
started to ponder over my life, what changes I had seen, from wartime
to the fabulous fifties, all my growing-up years. So different from children
growing up today. Horses and carts still in the streets to the first man on the
moon. From a crackling radio to digital television, videos and DVDs. From
dialling an operator to speak to someone on the phone to mobiles. Not to mention
the amazing world of computers and internet. What a privileged time to live!
One of my daydreams of many
years was to be a famous writer. I saw myself living in a lovely thatched
cottage by the sea in one of those quaint English villages. I would sit in my
upstairs room overlooking the ocean and write meaningful in-depth novels and
take my golden
dog for walks along the beach each day while I was getting inspiration for my
next chapter. However, life didnt turn out that way, but lately I had been
seriously thinking about writing my story and then pushing it out of my mind;
after all I hadnt done anything out of the ordinary or achieved to any great
heights. What did I know about writing and how would I even begin, much less
wade my way through all my sixty-five years? The answer was, I have no idea,
start at the beginning and work my way through, I guess.
So here goes: I have no gift
or talent for writing but it is my story and this is my way of writing it.
4 Brentwood Road
was born at
, Hornchurch, Essex, just outside of
on 26th November 1940. We lived there for the first three months of my life,
before moving to
. My parents rented the house from Mr Gurney who lived next door at No 2
Brentwood Road, which by the way then became Romford. Mr Gurney owned both
, my mothers mother, was housekeeper to the old man.
It was quite common in those
days to have a baby at home but my mother lost a lot of blood during my birth
and so an ambulance was called and mother and baby were rushed to hospital where
a blood transfusion took place between my parents, being both of the same blood
By the end of 1940 the war was
in full swing and on the night of my birth there was an air raid over
. I quote from a letter that my father sent to me on my birthday 45 years later:
1940, air raids were getting
frequent, I was soon to be called to the RAF. The night you were born we had a
raid, in the early hours. I went out to get the mid-wife; she was reluctant to
come and took it out on your mother, who nearly died. However, the birth was
completed and you were both taken to that horrible Oldchurch hospital where your
grandmother years later died. I went too to give blood. Anyway, you both
survived notwithstanding another raid later which brought down the lamps in
the babies ward and smashed our windows at home.
So that was my entry into the
My mother, Gwendoline Florence
Grace, was the only child of my Nan Amelia Warman and her husband, who
apparently came home from the Great War a mess; he had been gassed, shell
shocked and covered in lice. His mind had gone. The story goes that he committed
suicide or just died shortly afterwards, but he was never talked about. We
dont even know his name and
never married again even though she would have been a very young woman at the
time she was widowed.
I know nothing of my
mothers upbringing. I dont recollect her ever mentioning when she was a
girl. I know of no other family member on my mothers side, only that they
lived in Ramsgate in
My father, Gerald Arthur, was
the eldest of three children to my Grandma and Grandad Fairhurst, Mabel and
Arthur. Jack was next and a daughter Winnie, and again I know nothing of their
upbringing except they lived in
and Grandad worked as a guard on the railways.
I had a sister who was one
year and ten months older than me. Her name was Jacqueline, but always Jac to
me. She was much more outgoing than I was, with a forceful personality, whereas
I was quiet and shy.
Later on I was to have another
sister, Wendy, but that was another six years ahead.
When I was little my Dad was
my hero. He was an officer in the Air Force; the fact he never went in an
aeroplane or left the country during the war was neither here nor there. He was
also to become a Chartered Accountant. Not many kids in my class could say that;
what your father did was all-important in those days, it defined who you were.
He was a very strict
disciplinarian and very particular about manners, especially at the table. Meal
times were often traumatic events. If Jac and I were to giggle together we were
sharply reprimanded. If we held our knives and forks the wrong way we were
rapped across the knuckles and were constantly told to sit up straight. I was a
very picky eater, I disliked meat of any kind and if there was any fat on my
plate my stomach would turn, but everything had to be eaten. I remember many a
weekend afternoon sitting over my lunch for hours and was expected to eat the
very last stone-cold morsel. Eggs were the only things that I was allowed not to
eat as they did actually make me physically sick.
Dad was very possessive of Mum
and didnt like her to be spending too much time with us or siding with us in
any way. He would come home from work sometimes with a bar of Nestlés fruit
and nut chocolate, her favourite, a great treat back then. She was not allowed
to give us any and she had to eat it in front of us, but sometimes used to sneak
us a piece when he wasnt looking. Other times he would come in and say he had
something for us, and we excitedly waited for what he had brought home, only to
be presented with his used bus ticket. We fell for it every time, perhaps hoping
that this time he really had brought us something
There was a baker who used to
call every few days to deliver bread. He knocked on the door and cheerily say to
Mum in his cockney accent allo darlin, ow are yer? After a few
months of this Dad stopped him coming as he was too familiar with his wife!
In spite of all this I loved
him dearly and my very favourite treat was to comb his hair as he sat reading in
his armchair. Not that there was much to comb as he always kept his hair very
short. I knew that I was his favourite and he made that obvious as he had no
time for Jac whom he never forgave for not being a boy. He was very hard on her
and she was often whacked with the bamboo cane he kept in the corner, and as she
became more rebellious I became more withdrawn. If I were smacked I would wake
up screaming in the night with another nightmare.
was not very demonstrative and I dont think he ever told us he loved us. I
was probably about eleven years old when it seemed, overnight, my father, who I
knew favoured me, suddenly chose to ignore me. It was like he completely cut me
out of his life and transferred his affections to Wendy, my little sister, who
was now about five. I never said a word to anyone about this but puzzled over
and over trying to think what I may have done to make him dislike me so much. I
eventually came to the conclusion that it was all a figment of my imagination,
until just a few years ago when Jac came to stay for a holiday. We were out one
day and she suddenly asked me what I had done that day that turned Dad against
me. I had no answer and neither did she.
Jac resented me for the fact
that she felt I got away with things, and took it out on me at every
opportunity. She would hide and then jump out at me shouting Boo, which
would frighten the daylights out of me, especially if it were at night when I
was afraid of the dark anyway. She would grab hold of me and tickle me
supposedly in fun, but dig her fingers into me until I was yelling in pain. She
was two years older and much stronger than I was, so I could never win when it
came to wrestling or fisticuffs.
Mums life was wrapped up
entirely with her family, cooking, cleaning and caring, that was her life. She
never crossed Dad, his word was law, he was head of the family and we all came
under that. Mum tried to show us love and kindness as far as she could,
particularly if Dad wasnt around, but for any discipline issues it was
Wait until your father gets home!
Mum had a great sense of
humour and often had us laughing, although I saw in later years it was often a
very sarcastic humour at the expense of other people. When in later times we had
a television she would have names for all those people she took a dislike to. At
the same time she did have a quick wit and could be extremely funny. She was
also very snobby, and had her posh voice which she put on for anyone
outside the circle of family and friends. It was all what would the
neighbours think? and we must keep up appearances and we are a cut
above everyone else. Most kids in our street and every other were allowed to
play outside in the road. It was quite safe with very few cars around. We were
not allowed, as that was what the common kids did, and we had to stay in the
garden or have a place to go.
Grandma and Grandad lived
about five minutes away, and Jac and I visited them nearly every Sunday morning
after Sunday school. We would come out of church and walk to their little flat,
which was the bottom half of a house that had been converted. The place always
smelled of newly baked cakes. Grandma made seed cakes for Grandad and fruit
cakes for herself, a batch of each every week. Great for us as Jac loved the
seed cakes and I the fruit. Grandad was very clever with his hands and made
little models out of brass and was always tinkering around with something. One
time he made me two little wooden cottages, with names on them, Ivy Cottage and
Rose Cottage. I loved them and kept them for years. Grandad was a guard on the
railway, something we didnt bandy about too much as it really wasnt in our
class! Grandma was quite stern and didnt have much humour about her, but she
was always kind to us.
I remember one summer when my
nerves had really taken a turn for the worse, going off with Grandma for a week
to stay on a farm belonging to some relatives of hers. Uncle Dick and Auntie Eva
had two young children, Janet, about my age and Roy, a couple of years younger.
I shared a room with Grandma, which was scary in itself. I was afraid of
disgracing myself with one of my nightmares, but all was well. I had a wonderful
time with these new cousins I hadnt met before, playing out in haystacks and
watching cows being milked and enjoying the farm life.
was the only other major family
member we had much to do with. Every few weeks Mum would take us on the bus to
Romford for a days visit, not a pleasant trip for me. We got the bus to
coach station and then the coach to Romford. Without fail I would be sick on
the way. I dont think it was a very long trip but enough for me be queasy,
and so somewhere along the way Mum had to jump up and call out to the driver to
stop the bus and wait while I threw up in the gutter and then wed clamber
back on and arrive without further incident. Strangely though, I only remember
being sick on the way there and not coming home.
We always had a great day with
. There was always a special treat for us or she would give us sixpence when we
left. We used to love staying there, and often did, during the school holidays,
just Jac and I. Nan had a huge double bed which seemed to be very high off the
floor, and we would take it in turns to sleep with her and on a mattress on the
floor. Nothing was ever hidden with
and we were allowed to rummage in her drawers and cupboards whenever we liked.
Mr Gurney, the old man who
was housekeeper for, was seldom to be seen and, at least when we were there,
kept in his room which was like a bedsitter.
just took in his meals and looked in on him every now and then to see if he was
all right or needed anything. The house was used as two flats with people living
upstairs and we had strict instructions never to go up the stairs.
was no actual bathroom downstairs but a bath had been installed in the kitchen,
with a wooden cover over it. We thought it all quite exciting whenever we had a
bath there in the kitchen. There was also an outside toilet, which was part of
the house but just outside the back door. The toilet was very old fashioned like
a big commode and there was no toilet paper but bits of cut up newspaper.
had a boyfriend, Arthur, who used
to call in every Saturday evening with a packet of ten cigarettes and a tiny
bottle of gin for her. He was very good hearted and was around for years. He had
asked Nan to marry him one time but
enjoyed her life of independence and turned him down.
Saturday was market day in
Romford and so we would always go for a wander round. There were all sorts of
wonderful things to see and hear with stallholders shouting out their wares. It
was a cattle market as well and just about everything else was on sale. We had
to keep close to
while she bargained for her fruit and veg otherwise it was easy to get lost in
the hordes of people crowding around the various stalls.
Uncle Jack was Dads
brother, he was married to Peggy and they had one adopted girl and two of their
own. Uncle Jack was the superintendent at the local open-air swimming pool. We
didnt see much of Auntie Peggy and the girls but as Dad was very keen on
swimming we were regular visitors to the pool and had special passes to get in.
We spent many summers at the pool.
and Dad were not very social and so we didnt have many visitors and they
seldom went out anywhere on their own. Mum had a life-long friend, Auntie
Marjorie we called her, but she was always Madge to Mum. They met at
school and remained friends throughout their lives. Madge was married to Ron and
they had two girls: Dawn, a year older than me, and Cheryl, who was about three
years younger. We would see the whole family every now and then, but Mum used to
see Madge more often on her own.
Then there were the Pierces or
Pee-arses as Mum in her usual humour dubbed them. Les Pierce was one of Dads
chums from the war; he was married to Margaret and they had two boys. I dont
remember ever going to their home but they came to visit us. Jac and I hated
these visits because we were banished to the front room and were expected to
entertain the boys who were a little younger than us and seemed to have no
personality at all. I dont think Mum liked any of them and always complained
when the Pee-arses were coming for a visit.
So that was about the extent
of my world of family and friends in those early days.