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Friday, 29 October 2010

Repressed memories

So I was chatting to a vague acquaintance the other day about their kid having been ill, as you do, you know. From out of nowhere I had this really vivid memory of being extremely ill as a child. I mean really ill, with projectile vomiting and coughing fits that damn near brought up a lung. Not a pleasant memory, you might think. But you'd be wrong. You see, this memory brought back a whole lot of others from the same time. A whole lot of very pleasant memories that I had somehow completely repressed.

I'd like to put them down on here, because I really do think they may be some of the happiest of my childhood, projectile vomiting notwithstanding.

We were staying with my Uncle Paul, the man for whom I was named. Every morning when I got up, I'd eat my breakfast and then sit with Paul, filling in his wordsearch puzzles. Or at least, after my own fashion. I always went to the answer section you see, and drew around the little dotted bubbles in the completed puzzles. I don't think I ever once did an actual puzzle. Paul would sit and laugh and congratulate me when I finished one and never once made me feel daft for taking so much pleasure in what was essentially the worlds easiest dot-to-dot puzzle.

Paul was the first person ever to ask me if I wanted to play 52 card pick-up.

Despite the anger of my parents and Pauls wife, who to my shame I can't remember the name of, Paul never once raised his voice about the vomit on his nice new hardwood floor in the dining room. (Incidentally, the only time I've ever lived in a house with a dedicated dining room. Such luxury.) I know it's odd to have fondness for a man simply because he didn't scold you for being ill but that was the culture in my family.

The school I attended while we stayed there had a completely different way of doing lots of little things. For example during P.E. they had a time out corner. I was sent there once and, not understanding the rules of the whole exercise, came back into play when the teacher waved. He was of course only waving for the person who had been sent there before me. My time wasn't up and I was punished again for 'being cheeky'.

The class I was in had a little toy shopfront thing made of plastic that you could sit behind and play at being shopkeepers. The teacher had hit upon the idea that this thing could be used essentially as a bribe. The best two in the class got to sit behind there all day every day for a week instead of at a desk and do their work on the little built in countertop thing. It was cramped and too close to a radiator and you had to move all your stuff at 'play' when the rest of the class were allowed to use it but it was a novelty and hotly contested. I once spent a week in there with a girl. Don't remember her name, don't remember what she looked like, don't remember anything much at all about the whole thing except that I was in a small, cramped, warm space with a girl for a week. And you bonded when you were in there, you had to, being separated from everyone else. Who knows, if I'd stayed at that school a little longer I could be married to her now. Whatever her name was.

I saw my very first, that I can remember, science fiction show on television. If you read my Impossible Quest blog you'll know how big a part of my life science fiction television is and this, I now realise, was the birth of it. It had a floppy haired man in a jumpsuit and a shiny silver robot with a flashing light for eyes. They were enemies stranded together who became friends and eventually the 'bad' robot helped the man evade death at the hands of some other robots. It was of course 'The Return Of Starbuck' . Pure gold, with a lot to answer for in my life.

There you go. Happy childhood memories of watching TV, being sick and having some very confusing feelings about a girl that I never quite got to grips with. The thing is though, is that until this recent reawakening I had absolutely forgotten all of it. To the extent that I now can't place it in the timeline of my life. Should it have come between moving out of the house and staying with my Grandparents? Or did we go to Pauls after leaving my Grandparents and before moving into the flat we'd end up in. I have no idea. If you'd asked me a week ago I'd have said that it went House-Grandparents-Flat, followed by bitter divorce and moving away from the area. This whole batch of memories just does not compute.

God, I hope I haven't imagined them. What kind of sad case would I be if I had to hallucinate some happy memories? And then made myself violently ill in one of them?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Birth of paranoia

So far, since I found a new groove with this blog, most of what I've posted has been fairly unthreatening stuff. Or at least, unthreatening to me anyway. I've slated my Grandfather as a violent bully, my Father and Uncles as cowards and my other Grandfather as, at the very least, a bit of a numpty. I've also mentioned that when I was forced to live apart from the rest of my family for a while, my parents made little effort to keep me in their lives. This last one is the only time I've come close to criticising myself, in admitting that their absence didn't really bother me.

Anyone can tell stories that paint others in an unflattering light, that's easy. The point of this thing was to be honest about myself. There will be a lot of unflattering stuff about me in future posts, most definitely, as I get into my life as a slightly older, and so slightly more independent child. But even at a very young age I was far from perfect. Time to talk about that.

The very first lie I can remember telling occurred during the 'staying with Grandparents' phase. It's something I've not had to dredge my memory for because I've thought of the situation often since then, in moments of self reflection and/or self recrimination. It wasn't a particularly big lie. I mean, how big a lie is a 6ish year old capable of telling? The reason I've never forgotten it, though I suspect every other person involved has, is because it was a pointless lie. It achieved nothing, and actually made me seem a bit silly. Not to mention a really bad liar.

I had been to school that day. A message had come around telling everyone that the school was putting together a football team and that anyone who was interested should go to a certain classroom at lunchtime. My best friend and I decided we'd go along. Now, I was very young at the time and the inherent stupidity in participating in sports, and especially in voluntarily participating in sports, had not yet occurred to me. Anyway, lunchtime came and after we'd eaten our fill we trudged off to the classroom in question, signed up and got given the practise times and whatnot. (There was no try-out or selection process or anything. If you turned up you were in, competition not being all that fierce amongst 6year olds.)

I can't pinpoint a specific moment in my childhood when I suddenly decided that I hated sport. I would imagine that it came early in my Secondary education, since that's when my perfectly logical reasons for disliking sporting activities - I'm no good at them and see no reason to waste time and effort on something at which I'm unskilled, risking ridicule in the process - would have presented themselves to me for the first time. Before Secondary school football and other sports were just a bit of fun, not to be taken seriously. You didn't need to be good. You didn't even need to know all the rules necessarily.

Anyway, at 6 I was definitely pre-hatred and was actually genuinely excited about being on the school football team. It was a new thing in my life, a fun new thing, and I was bouncing about it for the rest of the day. For all that I had done nothing to deserve or earn it I felt special. Then my Uncle came to collect me from school. Now, seeing as that drop off and pick up was one of the few times I saw my Mother you'd think that I'd be disappointed by her absence but no, I was happy to see my Uncle. It didn't matter that I would have seen him anyway once I got home - he was still young enough to be living at home with his parents - this was my cool Uncle and he was picking me up from school. He would be the first to hear my great news.

Except here comes the lie. I told him about the football team, but as I was talking I started to tell him that I hadn't wanted to join the team but had done so by accident. I explained that Peter (my best friend) and I had gotten into trouble at morning break and so had been told that we weren't allowed outside at lunchtime. We had been ordered to sit out the period in a classroom but the teacher doing the punishing hadn't known about the football meeting in the same room and we had been caught up in it. Being too shy to tell the football teacher (he being quite intimidating) that we were there for being naughty, we signed up for the team.

It was complete and utter nonsense. I know why I said it, I can remember the thought processes even now. As soon as I told my Uncle about being on the team a little voice in the back of my head said "he doesn't care", closely followed by "he won't think you're cool if you're excited". At that time he was probably the person in my family that I looked up to and admired the most. He was my hero, despite being little more than a kid himself and probably just wishing I'd bugger off and leave him alone with his porn mags and illicit VHS copies of gory horror movies. (I didn't realise that last part at the time though.) The thought of him thinking I was uncool was soul destroying. I had to think fast and the story I told was my way to seem indifferent to the team and also a little 'cool' for being in trouble.

Why did I assume that he wouldn't be interested? Where did that little voice come from? Thinking abut it now, it's tempting to think that the need for his approval was me compensating for the fact that I didn't seem to have any from my parents. Maybe, despite not seeming to care about that, I did, in my subconscious, crave adult attention. The problem with that is, I have no recollection of ever getting upset about the separation. If I can remember this tiny little white lie about a football team wouldn't I remember a traumatic separation? Even if I buried it, wouldn't it have manifested at least once, at the beginning? I don't know, I'm no psychologist. What I do know is that the story wasn't over and I was about to look even more foolish.

I had to go and tell my Mam about the football team. She would need to buy me some boots of course, and there was also the matter of Saturday practise sessions at the school, which I would need taking to and picking up from. So I headed off, after my tea, to see her. As I've said, the house they were staying in wasn't massively far awayand it took all of about a minute for me to get there. More than enough time for the little voice to raise it's head again. "She'll be angry" was the basic theme. "She won't want to pay for the boots". "She doesn't care enough to to deal with the practises". "She'll laugh and say you aren't good enough". And so on.

I knew I had to tell her about the team, there was no way out of that. But I found myself so convinced that I would be in trouble about it that I just knew I had to make up a reason why it wasn't my fault. And it couldn't be the one I told my Uncle, since that one involved me already being in trouble. What to do? Well, I blamed it all on Peter. I'd gone along because he wanted to sign up. He put my name down without telling me and now I couldn't get out of it. Oh, the creative juices were pumping that day, I can tell you.

Can you see the problems here? I'd told my Mother one thing, my Uncle another, not really thinking through the fact that since they were brother and sister there was an ever so slight possibility that they would, you know, talk to each other at some point. Then there was the chance that, by saying I didn't want to do it, I might make my Mother try to get me out of it. My Mother was friends with Peters Mam as well, so would likely talk to her at some point. And if my involvement in the team went ahead, members of my family would come into contact with the teacher whom I had been so enthusiastic with originally. In short, there was no way in Hell I was coming out of this looking anything other than a total prat.

Which is exactly what happened. The thing is though, there was very little comeback. I was a little kid after all, and tradition in my family was that you didn't take little kids particularly seriously. None of that heart to heart, "tell me what made you do this", 'special chat' bullshit that you see in soap operas. No, what I got was a half-hearted bit of a telling off that lasted for all of 30 seconds and then a week or so of being mocked and made fun of by everyone I knew. It was fucking horrible. I was too embarrassed to talk to my cool uncle. My Mam, when I saw her, never shut up about it and when I told her something she'd say "Is that right? Or should I ask you uncle Darren?". I was mortified about the whole thing and they just thought it was a joke.

I ended up playing on the team for the rest of that term and then the team was scrapped because too many kids dropped out once the novelty wore off and we didn't have enough to make up a squad. Truth be told, I wasn't particularly bothered, since the whole thing had become a bit of a chore for me as well and I was glad of the excuse to be rid of it. I can't remember the name of the teacher, or any of the other kids on the team apart from Peter and the whole experience was one big damp squib.

But I'll never forget that first day and the way I turned what should have been a little bit of fun into a huge big deal and drove myself to panic attacks. It was the first time I can remember those little paranoid 'voices' wreaking their havoc on my life but they didn't stop there. As I grew older they would strike more and more often and were largely responsible for the crippling social shyness that gripped me throughout my teens and led to my being mercilessly bullied. But that's a story (or 10) for another day.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Nothing of consequence. Move along there.

Got no internet at home, yet again, so I'm sitting here in the library trying to think of something I can slap on here as a placeholder entry, seeing as how the entry I was going to post is saved on my laptop.

So I thought of something, typed it up, just a load of random stream of consciousness waffle really, and then I tried to post it. Only to find that the library restricts the amount of time on blogger, I'd exceeded the time limit and it hadn't seen fit to tell me until I tried to move further into the posting process.

I started another session, only to find that everything I'd typed was gone, due to my not having saved it. So instead you are just getting this daft bit of a moan because I don't have time for anything else and I'm determined to post something every week.

So, as the heading says, nothing of consequence, move along there.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A little amputation never hurt anyone

Random coincidence time. The big stories that we were always told in our family, when we were kids, were about getting fingers chopped off. That's stories, plural. Both of my Grandfathers had been involved in accidents involving fingers getting cut off.

Granda Andy (Mams Dad, aka The Nice One) was a builder. Not a massive builder, he didn't actually build houses or anything but he would knock up an extension, or a replacement roof, or a partitioning wall or whatever. Had a nice sideline in fitting bathrooms as well, but that's by the by. Anyway, he had a shed in the garden at home and in this shed he had a circular saw built into a workbench. You see where this is going right?

So anyway, long story short, yes, he cut off his finger. Now, having been in the building trade all of his adult life (and in the days before Health & Safety became the ridiculous Big Brotheresque monsters that they are today), he had seen his fair share of accidents of this type. He knew what to do. Packing his finger in ice from the freezer and staunching the flow of blood from the stump,he made his way to the Hospital. This being in the times when Hospitals with Emergency facilities where the norm rather than the exception, he didn't have far to drive. Yes, he did drive himself.

Once arriving at the Hospital, he was sorted out by a Doctor, or rather, I'm assuming, a Doctor and a couple of Nurses (credit where they it's due) and his finger was reattached. It was bound up and he was sent home. (The Doctor insisted that a couple of my Uncles go and pick him up, they weren't letting him drive home) Arriving back at home he promptly went back into the shed and started cutting up wood again. Decreased use of his hand because of the earlier wound and massive dressing, coupled with being on pain medication meant that, well, again, it doesn't take a genius. The same finger. He was too embarrassed to go back to the Hospital so he sewed it back on over the bathroom sink. It hasn't worked since.

Now, I would assume, looking back, that the second part of that story was an exaggeration. A little gruesome aftershock to properly gross out the kiddies. I certainly wouldn't bet money on it being true, I mean, who tries to sew on their own finger? Is it even possible? How do you hold it in place if the other hand has the needle? As a little kid though, we hung on every word. He did like to make us squirm. His finger is useless mind, so make of that what you will.

Family lore at the other end of the street, at chez violent bully, was similarly bloodthirsty. Most Council or Housing Association owned homes at that time were furnished with a wood/coal burning fireplace. My Grandfather, like most people, would begrudge the purchasing of too much coal, or, for that matter, pre-cut logs. Instead, he would saw and chop whatever odds and ends of scrap wood he would get his hands on. Quite where this endless supply of wood came from I never did find out, especially puzzling since pretty much everyone we knew had the same habit. A small forest probably gave it's life to the hearths of that street, just in the time we lived there.

One of my Aunts, whilst a child, had been holding some wood steady. My Grandfather (the implication, never explicitly stated, was that he was the worse for drink at the time) got a little too energetic with the saw and swoosh, one thrust later, bye bye fingers. All four fingers on one hand were gone from the middle knuckle. Unlike in the first story, there is no slightly humorous end to the tale. She was taken to Hospital by my Grandmother, (not, you'll note, the culprit himself) where they sorted things out as best they could, but since no-one had thought to take the fingers along she ended up going through life with no fingers on one of her hands.

This story I don't doubt at all. I saw her hand for one thing and for another, my Grandfather, ever the gent, would make great sport of tormenting us with the tale while we were holding wood for him to cut and then laughing at us when we got nervous. The one time anyone refused to help him because of this story he went into a mad rant, followed by a spanking session that ended in a fair few tears. (It wasn't me by the way, I was always far too much of a coward to stand up to him.)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Separation (non)Anxiety

So, we've moved out of our house, for reasons that are never made clear and into the home of my Dads parents.

Only one problem, they didn't have room for all of us. One of the kids had to live elsewhere, with the other set of Grandparents. As the eldest I was chosen, presumably on the basis that because I was the eldest I would handle separation from my parents better. Either that or it was just a cunning ploy to get rid of me.

To be fair, the two houses were in the same street, 8 houses apart, which meant I wasn't exactly on the other side of the world. Fact was though, other than walking to school and back I never saw my Mother, and I could go days without seeing my Dad at all. Weekends, unless I made the effort to walk up the street I never saw them either because they never came to me. And do you know what, I wasn't the least bit bothered. Does that sound odd? I don't claim to be an expert on child psychology or anything, but shouldn't a child who still counts his age in single figures be at least a little upset at being separated from his parents?

Not me. To be honest, I loved it. It felt like freedom. I had my own room (which had a huge bookshelf full of my Grandas old paperbacks and served as my first real introduction to proper novels), I didn't have to play with my frankly annoying younger siblings and best of all, so long as I didn't burn the house down or anything similarly drastic, my Grandparents and Uncle pretty much left me to my own devices. The arrangement also had the added benefit that I wasn't under the same roof as the other Granda, although I won't lie, I don't remember that ever being a part of my thinking. I suppose even then I was a little conditioned to not see violence in the home as being particularly noteworthy.

I doubt I gave my parents a second thought the whole time I was there.The way my life is now, with me being estranged from almost my entire family and frankly, being better off because of it, it's easy to think that maybe the young me knew something that adult me should have remembered. When you don't care, abandonment and betrayal lose their sting.