When I was a kid, I loved to read. If I walked into someone’s house and they had a loaded bookshelf I was instantly impressed with them. This is why I liked Uncle Trevor. He wasn’t my real Uncle, he was a long term mate of my Father’s from Army days but the two of them, on discharge from the Army settled on the same road, Myatt Avenue in Chaseterrace, a village in which, for the first time, I went to school in England. It was horrible. If I wasn’t being beaten up for being me (which, as the years have gone by I realize is hardly a crime), I was being beaten up for protecting my younger brothers.Uncle Trevor could quote most of the famous English poets. He could recite the Ancient Mariner from start to finish in a manner so expressive it would grace any Shakespearian stage in Stratford and enthralled us boys. It was Uncle Trevor who introduced me to Kipling and Owen. When my father died so early and, as his oldest son, instead of a boring eulogy I recited Tommy Atkins, Uncle Trevor burst into tears, a fact that did not escape me even though he had positioned himself quietly at the very back of the church in his ill-fitting suit knowing my mother did not approve of him, and caused my own voice to break.
Uncle Trevor was an alcoholic. But all us boys loved him. If we were in for a thrashing from our Mum, we knew we only had to run round the corner to Uncle Trevor’s. He was a big fat bastard and no.one could get past him down the corridor to where we were hiding trying to avoid a hiding.
Alcoholics don’t have many friends so it was hard for Uncle Trevor to see his last real mate buried so he cried. I wanted to cry too. It may have been his mate but this was my Dad we were burying but, nevertheless, I was suddenly more concerned about Uncle Trevor. I knew that he was fucked. There was no longer anyone for him to lean on anymore, no more bungs to get him out of the shit. All that was left was Mother and she wasn’t particularly keen on either of us. We both knew we were screwed. So the pair of us stood, side by side beside my father’s graveside and the only thing I could think of to say as they lowered my dead Dad down was, ‘Do you know why they line the graves with crimson cloth?’ ‘No,’ sniffed Uncle Trevor. ‘It’s so you can’t see the worms queuing up to get in’ I said. I know it is wrong but two old soldiers were giggling as we lowered one of our own into cold Leicestershire soil.My mother had the last laugh. I was in Africa so she just forgot to tell me that Uncle Trevor died after a short illness a few years later. I recall her outrage when I cleared my dead Father’s shelves of his Kipling collection and gave them to Uncle Trevor. She was never going to read them. Now there was no chance I would hold one of my father’s treasured books in my hand. Both he and Uncle Trevor were dead.
As a kid, I learnt how to be selectively deaf. Well that’s what they call it now. Looking back, I see it as retreating into a world of Enid Blyton or later on, all the other wonderful books I was exposed to on people’s bookshelves. I can recommend High Citadel by Neville Shute, I read it aged ten. It’s brilliant. Ever since I have been itching to try chewing coca leaf paste so I could climb the Andes without oxygen. You could shout my name, you could scream in my ear. If I was buried in a book, the rest of the world did not exist. My real world was horrible. The worlds of Captain Marryat and Biggles were so much more attractive. Why should I wake up to yet another thrashing?
Alex is five and he can’t even write his own name on a piece of paper yet he is an absolute whizz on an iPad. How is this possible? He can type his own name and access You Tube. I had to ask him to show me how to pull up a type screen which he did in an instant, but he can’t put pen to paper.So we spent the afternoon trying to copy out alphabets and writing names. I could see he was constantly distracted by Ben 10 and other cartoons on the TV so I switched it over, for the first time ever, to a music channel. This seemed to work. I would print out alphabets in big block type and together we would work our way through them. Basically all he had to do was copy the letters. Then I printed out our names, Alex, Marcia and Tom. He did well with those too. Then we danced a bit to the music. A few tough rappy ones came on so I let him punch me in time with the beat. He still hit like a girl, slapping rather than punching so we worked on that for a bit and pretty soon he had bust my lip. Blood never tasted so sweet. In only a few hours I had taught the kid to write not only his own name, but those of his parents as well. And his right jab was spot on.
Then this appeared on the music channel.
Substitute the abusive father for a very aggressive mother and you can see why I tried to lose myself in books. So many people have asked me why I ended up in Angola. Well, basically it was to be as far away from my mother as I could get before I ran out of money.
The thing that genuinely upsets me about this video (don’t get me wrong, I love and related to the music and lyrics), is that in the end, the kid gets shafted, literally. They dump him in a mine and steal his dog. Well that’s the way I see it.I may be cynical, but as far as I am concerned, it can be bloody tough being a kid if all you have to rely on is adults.