I started writing all this as an exercise in tackling inner demons. I’ve talked a lot about my childhood and you could be forgiven for thinking I had a rotten time.
This isn’t true at all, I was largely pretty happy as a child, certainly till I got to about 11, and everyone hates puberty (which along with back trouble and the common cold is a strong argument against intelligent design)
I love both my parents dearly, the list of things they got right vastly eclipses the slack handful of things they got wrong. If they are following this, I would ask them to read that sentence again.
But the process of trying to understand who I am inevitably leads, in the first instance to my parents. “They fuck you up” as Larkin would have it. While superficially that may be true to an extent, it’s a lazy way of thinking. Whichever side of the nature/nurture debate you fall, it ends up being their fault — But parents have parents to0, and so on ad infinitum. It’s as peurile an argument as “We inherited this situation from the previous govenment”.
My mum’s actions were, in my opinion, largely based on the impossible standards set for her by her bullying, abusive father. Other family members have come forward in the course of these writings and yesterday I found something out about him that made me wish he was still alive. So I could beat him to death. With his own chain.
But of course, in some ways, he lives on. My incandescent reaction (to hearing what he did to my mother) didn’t come from my parents or my upbringing. To have a genetic predisposition to violent rage is a worrying thought.
My dad, in contrast came from a working class, matriarchal family. Old man Loomes had buggered off when he was three or four, I think. Like my other grandad, his blood is in my veins and I’m very glad I don’t know much about him. He was, I gather, another violent drunk, a womaniser and played the one row melodeon. That’s about all I know.
After he left, Nana had held everything together, working like a slave to provide for the two children, effectively a single mother in the 1950’s. She took in lodgers to help make ends meet and my father speaks fondly of “ze old Mike”, a German ex POW who lived with them while he was a child. Germans, after the war were not universally welcome in England, but she took in all sorts of “waifs and strays” as she put it. Germans and Poles would share her breakfast table and exchange stories of the various campaigns in which they’d participated. And Nana always maintained that “people are the same wherever you go”.
Nana was a very intelligent woman and was very damaged by the men in her life — Her father was a man named Tom Dooley, I kid you not. She always said “He wasn’t hanged. But he should have been”. He, like mum’s dad was a yet another violent drunk. He eventually drowned in an outdoor lavatory upon which he hit his head whilst looking for his false teeth after throwing up.
But. One lodger stood out. Harry Whiteley, a Cheshire man who had served as a radio operator. He’d seen a lot of action. He didn’t talk about it much, but legend has it he was present at an alarming number of the major battles of the war. Accounts differ and he’s not here to ask for confirmation, but my favourite version of his story insists that he never carried a gun “far too heavy - the radio was bad enough on it’s own”. He was finally de-mobbed (after Tobruk, I think), where he was shot in the bum. He had been laying a communications cable, 60 feet from enemy lines, with nothing but the camber of the road for cover.
And to cut a long story short, he was the best thing ever to happen to Nana. And, after initial resistance from a fatherless 16 year old, probably the best thing to happen to Dad. He grew to love Harry as a father and was truly devastated when he died.