3. Swindon

In 1963 my father received a posting abroad and we were to travel to Malaya via Swindon and London Airport. There was a lot of excitement because my father had to go before us and then we’d follow him. Meeting my maternal Grandparents, Grandfather a voice behind the Swindon Advertiser, and Grandmother a stern lady who told us off far more often than our mother did, was an experience that I disliked. There was something in the air that disturbed me, and it wasn’t just fearing doing something wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it. There was, of course, the tension when my father was gone. I sensed it in my mother. She was always someone who hoped that everything would be harmonious and people would get along. She often warned me, even later on, about saying too much and getting myself into trouble, which seemed to be her method of getting through life. Now everything was in turmoil. I can imagine how she felt about having to cope with the situation with three boys at our ages.
As far as I can remember we were split up and I lived with my paternal grandparents whereas my two brothers lived with our maternal grandparents. Grandpa Brewer was a right character and kept pigeons, so I help to feed them and clean up the loft. His face seemed a bit screwed up and his hair was curly and silver in places, not like Grandma at all. He was always annoying Grandma for some reasons and was continually being sent off somewhere. I think he was still working, it was probably at the Great Western Railway workshops, which were the biggest employer then. There is a photograph of Gran, Dad, Colin and me with our cousins, Linda, who is a year younger than me and Karen in front of a pigeon loft before dad left for Malaya. At that time we were just kids getting to know each other but we got to know each other better later.
My uncle Geoff still lived at home and was a young, lean curly-haired young man who seemed to smile all the time and had a loud voice. The big event then was when he let me ride his adult size bicycle with derailleur gears although I was quite small then. It was quite an achievement and I often showed off in front of other children. However, I borrowed the bicycle without permission and managed to break it somehow, which Geoff always reminded me of – even at my father’s funeral.
My Grandparents had a piano in the front room on which I pounded away until I got on everyone’s nerves. I never did have the knack of playing, even though I like to listen. At the end of the street there was a small garden with two or three apple trees, and I remember that I got into trouble for “scrumping” but my memory of this time is interwoven with the time when we returned from Malaya, so I’m not sure when exactly things happened. I have some memories of buying things at the corner shop at Hythe Road which also had a post office, which was before we went to Malaya, so I couldn’t have spent all the time in Rodbourne.
Swindon was only a small town then and our stay there was relatively short before we started on our journey, but I remember looking through a hole in a wall, finding a gang of boys in the back streets that didn’t want anything to do with me, sitting in outside closets with lots of newspapers to read and playing with children in the streets. It is all so long ago and when I drove down the main road there 40 or more years later, I could see how much it had changed on the surface. But there were still buildings standing that hadn’t changed over the years. The street where Gran and Gramp lived was demolished in between, which said a lot about the standard of housing they had put up with. My main expectations about Swindon, considering the changes I’ve experienced over the years living in Germany, was that the same degree of development would happen in the UK, but it didn’t. The town just became larger. At the same time, I think that people weren’t unhappy with their lot and just accepted it as the way it was.

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