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.
This post shared more about you than any other
You are( as we all are) a product of a dysfunctional family
But you are( as you know) a decent, well balanced and wonderful personality
I am proud to know you
I will never admit I was crying as I wrote it. Go on, do your worst you Welsh Gestapo swine herder, I can take it! But do me a favour and let me have drag of the cigarette before you stick it in my eyeball, there's a decent chap.Delete
Keep being you xxxxReplyDelete
FOUR kisses! Wow, I have a secret admirer!Delete
you are so cool! i loved this post. and a chow chow pup on top of it all!!?? my fave!ReplyDelete
I'm actually a fat old alcoholic, sorry to shatter your illusions! I'm glad you like the blog.Delete
Came across this pearl of a poem -ReplyDelete
There's the wonderful love of a beautiful maid,
And the love of a staunch true man,
And the love a baby that's unafraid--
All have existed since time began.
But the most wonderful love, the Love of all loves,
Even greater than the love for a Mother,
Is the infinite, tenderest, passionate love
Of one drunk for another.
RIP Uncle Trevor
Very good, and oh so true! Uncle Trevor had been clean for a number of years by the time he died. I wish I knew how he did it. Get clean I mean, dying I will figure out myself.Delete
I also had selective hearing. It was really a self-defence or self-preservation mechanism. I love books, too, and find that if they make my way into my library, i'm loathe to give them away.ReplyDelete
You can imagine how I felt having to throw so many books away that rotted in storage.Delete
Yes, i was very sad when i read about that, wondering frantically how any could be saved. It sounds balmy to many, but i'm sure you'll understand when i say that cherished books are like very dear friends to me.Delete
Glad to see a new post from you. Had been a while and was a little worried that the toe had taken a turn for the worse. Selective hearing is a wonderful thing, especially when you are older. You can ignore people who irritate you and they think it is because you are old and can't hear. Saves wasting time telling them your aren't interested in what they had to say in the first place.ReplyDelete
I find a simple, 'Bugger Off!' works well too!Delete
I think what you write makes me realise how lucky I was to be born the son of my mother (and father). Even being sent away to boarding school before aged 8 did not extinguish that love, although it was excruciatingly painful. But I survived it, and I am a strong person. My older brother survived it too, but he bears the scars and cannot forgive my parents even though my mother is dead and my father is now ready to board from the departure lounge. We are both emotional people, but I expressed mine, whereas he bottled it up. But we both became independent from 18 onwards, after we left school, and never lived at home again.ReplyDelete
Odd, isn't it? I could not handle boarding school yet excelled in the Army!Delete
Most of my childhood was spent away at school, so my parents were always on their best behaviour. However, I was thrashed stupid by senior boys on a regular basis (and even had to do a bit myself).ReplyDelete
I too had a non-uncle; he was my father's 'best man' and best friend, but was as boring as shit.
I suppose it was all good training for me. At Sandhurst I was undefeated light middleweight. Now I am just overweight!Delete
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.ReplyDelete
They may not mean to, but they do.
I won't quote the next two lines because I don't think they apply in your case.
Oh please do! Even if the missing lines do not apply, it has all the makings of a nice little ditty!Delete
It's a poem by Philip Larkin:Delete
This Be The Verse
By Philip Larkin (1922–1985)
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Thanks for this, Megan. Despite everything, I do not agree with the last line. Have 'em as early as you can and stick to your wife like glue.Delete
Confucius and I got bladdered once and he confided that he reckoned the physical world to be risibly easy to handle, it's dealing with ourselves and our fellow creatures that is the intractible problem. He was a wise old coot and did almost as much good as did Enid Blyton and W E Johns.ReplyDelete
So you are alive, Sir Owl! And, having quickly checked my favourite blog list, I see a new post from you. Excellent.Delete
Good to find another post from you….. I was getting worried that the snake bite had finally done you in! How is the foot? Leicestershire eh! I was born and bred in Leicester..lived there til I was 29. Father in law still there aged 99.ReplyDelete
The foot is really taking its time to either heal or fall off.Delete
After I could not handle boarding school, I went to Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
I always thought I would spend a few years in Africa, return laden with cash and buy one of the cottages in Shackerstone.
This post made me feel really sad but at least one good thing has come from such a miserable childhood and that is that you have learnt how to be a good - no great - parent.ReplyDelete
I have often wondered how you came to end up in Angola. Hope you aren't feeling down because you're ill ( from that bloody toe !!!).
It was a morose post, wasn't it? I am sure it is the toeDelete
Awww. That's so sad. Such a shame that the wrong sort of people have kids and then make their lives hell with lasting results.ReplyDelete
Absolutely. Yet they'll spend millions on TV adverts before Christmas reminding us that 'A Puppy is for Life'.Delete
Interesting that Alex has naturally embraced computer technology but is behind with old-fashioned reading and writing. Of course when we were that age there was no alternative. At the age of three and a half I apparently came downstairs and said, "Mummy I want to learn how to read and how write my name" and an hour later I returned to my bed with the rudiments already fixed in my brain. So when many years later I saw NUT car stickers - "If you can read this thank a teacher" I was somewhat confused.ReplyDelete
Illiteracy among school children is down to parents abrogating their responsibility.Delete
With my eyesight as bad as it is now, the NUT sticker you saw should have read, 'If you can read this, you are lying on the bonnet of my car'
We are all different in how we deal with the past. My dad left when I was about 8-9. I next saw him when I was 14 and that was it. He remarried, more kids etc. So, a bit like you, I am making sure I am there for my kids, doing the best I can. They both love the computer but the older one also loves books. AND is selectively deaf when so engrossed.ReplyDelete
The video made me think of The Wizard of Oz. Did like it though.
I am sure there is a deeper meaning to the video but it escapes me. I wish there was someone brainy who could explain it to me.Delete
I always thought my mom was a bit of a bitch. Then when I had my own kid, I found that being a bit of a bitch was often helpful. I think my own childhood was pretty great in comparison to some of you Europeans. No one was sent away to school, our small school was truly a community endeavor. I had lots of relatives on both sides of the family who lived within 25 miles, so we saw them often. Like Pud, I learned to read before I went to school and thought that's how everyone did it. When my own computer-savvy son turned out to be dyslexic and could barely read by 5th grade, I took over teaching him myself. I found books on tape to be a wonderful thing. His favorites were the classics and Michener. By the time he was 16 he'd "read" more than 300 really good books. His reading had improved, but it might never be good enough for him to pick up an actual book and enjoy it. Nevertheless, he is quite literate and writes well, did well in college because he's an accomplished listener, and now his computer skills and the spatial understanding dyslexics often have are serving him well at work. One bitchy thing I did, though, was toss the TV when he was 10 years old and never replaced it. You're correct, illiteracy often results when parents don't do their job.ReplyDelete
Tossing the TV? Here in Europe, even in Africa where I am now, we just turn it off using something called an 'On Off Button'. Not sure if you had them in the States in those days.Delete
I have just acquired a collection of Tin Tin comic books and am weaning the boy with those. The funniest part is that last night as we were tucked up in bed, he fell asleep but I carried on reading it to the end by torchlight!
This is my third attempt at an answer, Tom. My relationship with my son, his with me, is so diametrically the opposite of your experience there is nothing meaningful I can say without possibly hurting you as to what might have been.ReplyDelete
From the bottom of this mother's heart I am truly truly sorry for your experience. As I am sorry for your mother on missing out on the biggest joy in life.
Oh come on Ursula, you're such a tease. Hurt me you blonde Aryan dominatrix.Delete
You are a Mother? Damn, I thought you were a virgin. I even bought a rowing machine to get fit again so I did not disappoint.
Keep rowing. I am as good as new.Delete
I hate reading about peoples unhappy childhoods. I had a truely great one and I hope to give my girls the same. I'm sorry that you didn't but I guess it made you the tough son of a gun you are today.ReplyDelete
I often think that when my family is a little older I'd maybe like to try fostering, the thought of giving a child some stablity, even for a short while, really feels like what I should do with what I've got.
I think that alex will look back on his childhood with fond memories and laugh about how much he loved his crazy dad.