Du Cane, London — January 2015
I’m with Dad in in the hospital where I was born and he is dying. I ask, “How did you get mum here from Davisville Road? Did you drive? I can’t see you getting a taxi.”
My father considers this briefly. He recognises me, knows I’m his only son, his last surviving child. The rest is a blur. “Sure, we must have walked,” he says firmly. ‘It’s only around the corner.”
That would depend on how you define a corner. I tried to imagine my heavily pregnant mother staggering the 1.2 miles I had just walked from our old house in Davisville Road. Somehow I couldn’t see her trundling down Bloemfontein, across the railway and over the dual-carriageway. Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane, we always called it, is famously inaccessible. From it’s upper floors you have a fine view of the adjacent high security prison.
“I’m sure someone drove you. Pat, maybe?”
“Oh yeah, Pat was in this morning,” said Dad with equal conviction.
I let it rest. It was time to let him rest.
However she got there, Mum gave birth to me in Hammersmith Hospital in the early hours of 31 March 1960. Twenty months later she was back to have my sister, Jacqueline. “I’d never let Kieran be an only child,” she had earlier told my father. “Not after what I went through.”
My mother had fulfilled her promise to me when she left Du Cane with Jacqui in her arms on that icy November morning. She had two lovely kids, a paid-for house and a good husband with a steady job.
But was walking into the beginning of the harshest winter in living memory. And something was already freezing inside her.
8 Davisville Road, Shepherds Bush— November 1962
This is the first photo I can find of the four of us — I would guess it was taken by a visiting relative from Ireland. The form in such photographs is to grin for the camera and show off how well things are going in your new life overseas. Instead, we look like we’re canvassing for an emergency payment from the Social.
Dad looks edgy, anxious, ready to spring up from the sofa when the camera clicks. My mother has edged away from him, away from the whole scene. Her expression is difficult to read — guarded maybe, inscrutable, vaguely bored.
I think you can see a touch of defiance in those crossed slippered feet: Can I go now, sir?
Is that all there is? Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
The ‘Big Freeze of 1962-63’ created the hardest winter in modern times. For three months Britain woke to the same remorseless tale of snow, ice and closed roads. One blizzard lasted 36 hours, causing snow drifts across the country
Not a good time to be feeling low.
Dad was a driver for Murphy’s at the time, battling the elements in his lorry. He worked long hours, six, sometimes seven days a week. Mum would have been at home, of course, looking after a new-born and a terrible-two (me). Day after dark day, from dawn until deep into the evening.
Not that it would have been a bundle of laughs when the snow forced my father’s lorry of the road. I can see him now, pacing the stairs with a face like thunder, itching to get out to work.
Was this how it started? Staring out the window at the never-ending snow?
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is…
Leitrim, Ireland — 1934 (?)
My mother was intensely private person who said very little about her childhood. I can’t remember her even mentioning her own mother, who I recently learned was named Mary Ellen. Dad hinted that Mary Ellen was a troubled, distant woman. This — I assume — left much of Mum’s welfare in the hands of my grandfather, Pat Beirne, the dapper fellow turning the hay.
Is the girl in the picture my mother? I have no other image from her childhood, nothing before she walked down the wedding aisle in her late twenties. When I found this photo amongst Dad’s things I thought I immediately recognised them both,
I want it to be Mum. Don’t think I ever saw her looking that happy.