13th July 1955, Swindon, England
The winds howled and the rain hit the windows with a never-ending torrent. Severe thunderstorms rumbled across the sky of southern England and seemed to build up to a resounding crash as a bolt of lightning struck the chimney top at Kingshill maternity hospital. Down below a child’s cry was heard, a little boy was born.
What a dramatic entry into the world you might say, but like most dramas, there is only a certain amount of truth to the account. First of all, I wasn’t that “little”. To tell the truth, giving birth to me was probably a harrowing experience for the young nineteen-year-old Audrey June, my mother, but it left no impression on the world.
When I was born, my proud father, Basil James (called Jim), gave me the name Robert Stephen, which was quite common at the time of my birth, and he was probably asking himself what the best solution was to the problem of feeding us. My father was that kind of pragmatist and born in 1932, he was a lorry-driver when my birth certificate was issued. He then went on to join the RASC, which was quite common for people looking for a rise in status. I remember him as a serious type of person who had to push himself to be easy going. He seemed very pragmatic in many issues and it seemed even being sociable was a problem to be solved. His upbringing was steered at being reliable, not like his father, who had disappeared when abroad as a soldier and turned up when everybody thought he was dead. My paternal Grandmother had learned
My father was also a source of science fiction paperbacks that I read later on in life, but also of “men’s magazines”, though they were detective stories and only hinted rather than the kind available today. He sometimes left them lying under the bed, which his inquisitive son soon discovered. He had taken up swimming early on and had a broad back and strong arms, but he was most gentle with his children. When he pretended to use the belt to discipline us, he used to cry afterward. I’m sure he thought this was the only way to make us boys become sensible adults, but I vowed not to use the same measures on my children. I don’t think I gave my father enough credit for what he did for me. He warned me of many things that came to
My mother, Audrey June, (born 1936) was a bright-eyed girl with a broad laugh. She was, and is the more sociable of the two and came from a large family that seemed full of contradictions to me as a child. Grandmother, Clara Maud, came from a Methodist lay preachers family of eleven and married Alfred George William, originally came from Wales, who in the war had worked on the railways as a carriage painter. After they married, they had three sons, Walter, the twins John and Brian and a daughter, Brenda. Later on, Grandad was a manager of a working man’s club, but Gran did most of the work, which may have influenced the way I saw her.
Her sister, my Great Aunt Sis was a very mild-mannered lady and an ardent Churchgoer. She always seemed to have the gentleness that I was missing with Grandmother, but it would be unfair to forget the fact that Grandfather spent a lot of time behind his newspaper and that Grandmother had worked during the war looking after “mums with new babies” as my mother put it. And that despite Grandmother having such a large family herself. My mother also found herself allotted to this work, which probably explained why, occasionally, I would find myself sleeping with my brothers because a young woman was staying overnight. My mother was also an auxiliary nurse for a while, which echoed in my life later on.
I had the feeling that my maternal uncles and aunts acted in a strange way towards me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was, I thought that perhaps it was me that was different. At some time, Brenda’s husband, Pete, manhandled us boys in a way that we weren’t used to and I remember giving him a punch on the chin. It didn’t hurt him, he was far larger and stronger than I but it appeared to have an effect if only to make him a bit cautious.
Of my cousins, with whom I only had a brief relationship with any of them, the most time I remember spending in Swindon was with my cousin Linda, followed by Karen. We liked each other and I remember how both my mother and hers constantly warned us that we weren’t “kissing cousins”. Linda was full of energy, had a cute smile and insisted on wearing the tiniest of minis. Muriel, her mother, constantly told her, “I can see your knickers, girl!” To me, Linda was one of those people with whom I got on well with, and later in life, I would constantly find that I could get on with women better than men. Karen was also a soul with whom I resonated and I was deeply saddened when I heard that she had died. They were two members of the family with whom I had shared secrets from the adults. Diane, their sister, was a sprightly young girl who always wanted to be in on the secrets, and complained that we were mean because we wouldn’t let her in.
But many of the people I have mentioned came into my life later, or at least that is my memory. To begin with, my mother and father were my
I think the furthest back I can remember was when we lived at 3 Seattle Terrace in Northam, Bideford, after moving there when my
The world was changing, commercial television aired its first broadcast, People were talking about the ‘Cambridge Spies’ who had finally surfaced after disappearing in 1951. The Clean Air Act was passed in response to the severe London smog in 1952. Nuclear power was available via Calder Hall Power Station, the British tested its first Hydrogen Bomb and teamed up with France to invade Egypt to secure passage via the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and beyond. Politicians came and went, but there was something in the air. Prime Minister Harold McMillan spoke of the “Wind of Change”.
Of course, I wasn’t bothered about what was going on in the world. For nearly four years I was the only child, and consequently, I had imaginary friends with whom I fittingly conversed, as many children do. I had such a vivid imagination I often saw figures walking across the plastered wall. The faint shadows began to move and form into people, animals or trees on the rough surface in the low light at night. Occasionally I would try to dream on keeping those figures in mind, slipping into a nocturnal world of fantasy and imagination. One particular instance comes to mind when I had a fever and that unquiet dream turned gruesome. I awoke with fright and sweat with mother and father looking down at me.
Life then is full of dim memories of cockle-collecting with a bucket and spade, the wind-swept Northam Burrows, and kissing the
Soon my brother, Colin James, was born. He seems to have been a friendly bundle that only occasionally made noises that disturbed the peace. I frequently found him wrapped up on the sofa and later crawling on the floor. I can’t remember registering him more than that until one day when my father told me hurriedly that I had to look all over for the three-year-old Colin, who’d gone missing. My mother wasn’t at home. I presume that she was then pregnant with Jeff, and I must have been approaching seven. Colin hardly moved much at that age and my father said as much, but we were to search for him. He was quite frantic. He even ran outside and called the
There are memories of meeting various members of the family, but I can’t say where it was. I remember travelling in a VW bus between the mattresses, small pieces of furniture
On reaching 6 years of age, I
The hernia treatment was postponed first of all, but I was soon back in trouble after the traumatic event of being hit by a
Life then seemed
I haven’t found any articles on the accident with the
I think that accident had more to do
In 1963 my father received a posting abroad and we were to travel to Malaya via Swindon and London Airport. There was a lot
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
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
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. 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.