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Sunday, 28 November 2010

A horse, a horse, my school run has a horse

This is a picture of a horse:

This is a picture of a small boy:

What would happen, do you think, if that horse kicked that small boy in the chest, with all of it's might? Yeah man, he'd be proper dead, innit.*

Not I though. Oh no, for I was Invinca-boy. Fleet of foot and with pecs of steel. Kicked with all the ferocity the beast could muster, I shrugged off the blow with a hearty guffaw and was away about my business.

The incident took place while we (my little sis and I) were taking our usual shortcut up through the fields to school. The horse, or rather the horses, were a regular fixture, and we'd had no fear, with that recklessness of youth, of walking amongst them and scratching and petting them and feeding them clumps of grass. You know, as kids do. For some reason though, (I probably just approached from the wrong angle and spooked it) on this particular day one horse took exception and booted me full force with it's hind legs. In all honesty, I don't think you'll be surprised to hear that it did indeed hurt, not a little but a very very lot.

My reaction was to fall to the floor, stare at the sky and think I was dying.

My sisters reaction was to laugh, then when I didn't get up, cry, then run off to school and leave me lying there.

The horses reaction was to eat a bit more grass.

Now the truth is, I was kicked in the belly, not the chest and the horse, far from looking like that magnificent beast above, was more along these lines :

It was young, anyway.

Still, I was in pain and (likely) shock and I stayed on the ground for what was a very long time. A very confused phone conversation had apparently been had by my teacher and my mother, and when the story was wheedled out of my sister (who had said nothing to anybody on arrival at school) they both set out to look for me and met in the middle, so to speak, when they found me lying on the ground.

In my defence though, once I was back on my feet and had calmed down, I turned down the chance to go home and headed off to school with my teacher. What a man, eh?

This was not the last time I would be convinced I was going to die (or that my sister would abandon me to it for that matter) but those stories are for another day.

Next : The Big Woman oo-er

*After attempting a sports metaphor recently, which failed miserably, I am now attempting to get 'down wit da kids'. I'm not convinced it's a good idea.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Dad in a box.

"I'm going over to the cricket ground to help your Grandma with the teas, are you coming?"

"No, we're watching this on the telly"

An innocent exchange between my mother and myself one sunny Saturday morning. Who would have thought that it would lead to the false imprisonment of my father and myself receiving what was, at that time, the worst beating of my young life? Not me.

The close proximity of the flat to the cricket ground meant that my mother would often be roped in help out and it also meant that we would often go over and help ourselves to a few cakes and whatnot from the refreshment table. It meant feigning interest in cricket, of course, which was never easy, but we made it work. On this particular Saturday though, we were watching something, I forget what, and so we declined, reasoning that if we changed our minds we could just go over later.

Later came. Whatever it was we had been watching was finished, we were bored, and we decided that a trip over to the ground was just what the Doctor ordered.

Except that Daddy dearest decided that we weren't allowed. We weren't being punished for anything, we weren't in the bad books at all, he just decided, for whatever reason, that he wouldn't let us go. We had had our chance earlier in the day and said no, and he wasn't pissing about taking us over there now, he said. It was our own fault apparently.

Now, the thing is, he didn't need to take us anywhere. We lived, quite literally, 10 seconds walk from the ground. It was directly opposite us. Step out of our front door, cross the road, step through the gate and you're there. His not wanting to go was not a factor. I truly believe that it was sheer pettiness on his part; an attempt to show a couple of little kids that he was Boss. He was like that, my Dad. You know, a knobhead.

Anyway, after arguing the point for 5mins we were told to play in the bedroom or the yard, but either way to leave him alone. So we did. Now, I've mentioned before the outside toilet facilities. Well, long story short, we were playing outside, my Dad came down to use the loo, we locked him in and pissed off to the cricket ground.

Now, I'm not particularly proud of this. Not because of the inherent wrongness of locking your Dad in a filthy outdoor loo, but rather because, when you think about it, there was no way I wasn't going to get caught. I don't know what the Hell I was thinking, to be honest. Anyone with half a brain would have thought, "he's using the loo, once he's finished he's not likely to need it again soon, we can go to the ground and he'll never know we're gone". Simple. Not me though, oh no, genius over here had to lock him in. I didn't give him a second thought either, the whole time we were gone, even though as far as I knew he was still locked in. (He wasn't, one of the shop staff came in to the yard, heard him shouting and let him out.)

We returned home to a somewhat angry Dad who did what all angry Dads in his situation would have done. He blamed the oldest, which was me,(fair play though, it was my idea) and he beat seven shades of shite out of me.

This chain of events, and others very similar, are par for the course with me. It comes down to the old saying "respect your elders and betters" and the fact that I think it's total bollocks. If I think someone is talking out of their arse, or is doing something out of pettiness, or spite or just because they can, I'll do something about it, no matter how much older they are than me or how much authority they think they have over me. As a child it got me into trouble an awful lot with my parents and teachers and as an adult it has caused a fair few ructions in my work life. It's just the kind of person I am though. If you're wrong you're wrong and I'm going to tell you. At least I'll do it to your face though, so we all know were we stand.

Next : The time I was almost killed by a Horse. Good times.

Friday, 12 November 2010


Shall I tell you something? It's something I've only recently realised, on account of writing this blog really. I don't know my grandmothers name. The grandmother on my Fathers side of the family that is.

In my defence, she died when I was very young, at an age where I probably thought her name was Grandma and I've had no contact with that side of the family since not long after her death. I only know My grandfathers name on that side because it's my brothers middle name. (My brother is called Andrew. As is my maternal grandfather. My parents claimed that they hadn't realised the connection, since my grandfather always went by Andy, rather than Andrew. When they cottoned on, they figured they had to name him for both, so as not to show favouritism.) Anyway, I don't know her name.

It saddens me a little - real human emotion, whoda thunk it - that this tiny, timid little woman who had such a crappy life, caring for a disabled child and violent husband, should be so easily forgotten. It feels like she deserves better than that. Sadly, it's not to be.

I take a little solace in the fact that the last few months of her life were made slightly better by the fact that my grandfather died first. She didn't survive him by long but she had at least a short little bit of freedom.

I remember the morning that I found out he had died. We hadn't been living in the flat long when it happened - had he died just a little bit sooner the rest of my family would have still been living with him. My sister possibly had a lucky escape there. Imagine if she had been the one to find him, at 5 years old. (He got up in the night for the lav, collapsed and ended up at the bottom of the stairs.) Could have scarred her for life. Anyway, I got out of bed, made my way out to the living room and found my Dad looking very upset. He and my Mam sat me down and told me that Granda was dead.

They were very solemn and trying really hard to be sensitive and gentle but they needn't have bothered. The truth is, while this was the first real bereavement I'd ever suffered, never even having had a pet, I understood what Death was and what it meant. I understood that he was gone forever and I was never going to see him again. I remember, very clearly, thinking "I should probably be sad". Sadness never came, no tears fell, I just sat there, feeling really uncomfortable because I could tell that my parents were upset and they were expecting a reaction from me that just wasn't coming. In the end I said that I would go and wake up my sister and tell her what had happened, just as an excuse to get out of there.

Why did they let me do it? I was about 7. Should I have been allowed, at that age, to assume the burden of telling a 5yr old that her grandfather was dead? At a guess, thinking about it now, I think that either my lack of a reaction had made my parents as uncomfortable as it had me and they were as glad of the excuse as I was, or they had perhaps thought that my lack of reaction had been down to shock and were hoping that talking to my sister would bring me out of it a little. Either way, I had the dubious honour of informing my sister, who was bouncing quite happily up and down on her bed and giggling, about what had happened, and then giving her a cuddle when it finally sank in. Unlike me, she did have tears for the old man.

It turned out that the fall down the stairs hadn't killed him. He had in fact been dead before he fell, because something had burst in his brain. Very quick, apparently, over before he knew anything about it. I'm tempted to say it was too quick, given the way he lived his life, but as the old saying goes, you shouldn't speak ill of the dead. I mention the cause of his death because several months later, when my grandmother passed away, she did so from exactly the same thing. I've often joked (yes, I know) about the coincidence, saying that it's odd because they were a married couple, not blood relatives, "Unless there was something they weren't telling us, ha ha"

The added tragedy of my grandmothers death, apart from the fact that she finally seemed happy out of his shadow, was that it happened whilst she was pushing my aunt, in her wheelchair, up the access ramp outside their home. She fell to one side, leaving my aunt to roll back to the foot of the ramp, where she had to sit and look at her dead mother until help came. Given her mental state normally, and the fact that she still wasn't fully over the death of her father, it must have been torture for her. Which makes my joking about the whole thing all the more reprehensible really.

I didn't cry for my grandmother either. I could, if I were looking to make excuses for myself, blame his years of bullying and abuse as the reason I didn't mourn for him, but her...? She was more his victim than I ever was and she always treated me with kindness. So why couldn't I cry for her? I didn't know then, and I don't know now. Nor why I have never, in my 31 years of life, felt any depth of emotion for the passing of any human being. (Real human beings that is. I will weep like a baby at TV shows, movies, books and comics. Oh, and animals. I lose it completely at the thought of an animals pain or death.)

I do know why I joke though. I know exactly why I make fun of their deaths, and insinuate things about the coincidence. And it's not a reason that reflects well on me. You see, death terrifies me. That all consuming fear of ceasing to exist that takes hold of you as a child, but which you somehow come to terms with, or at the very least repress, as you get older, has never seen fit to leave me. So the coincidence of their deaths terrifies me. The idea that I am 50% genetically predisposed to die at a relatively young age, from something that kills you from out of nowhere, would pretty much drive me insane if I let it. Essentially, I mock the deaths of my family members because I am a quivering wreck of a coward.

I may not be a very nice man.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Practically cave dwellers

Okay, so, depending on the timeline, which I remain fuzzy about, either we moved out of my uncle Paul s house and into our new flat or we moved out of the respective Grandparents and into our new flat. It was the dawning of a new day for our, for want of a better word, family.

The flat was above a shop. I'm gonna try to describe the set-up as best I can but I warn you, it won't be pretty. First of all, imagine a shop on a front street. To the right of the shop is a large wooden gate, wide and tall enough that when opened a small lorry could enter. (I say tall as well as wide because it was built into a brick wall above) Anyway, this gate was there to allow deliveries to the shop. Built into the large gate was a smaller one, person sized, that allowed people to enter the yard without having to open the whole thing. This was our front door. Going through that, you were in a kind of tunnel that lead to the little yard but to your left were 2 doors. The first of these opened onto a staircase. The other opened onto something else, which I'll get to later.

So, you open a door and you are at the foot of a flight of stairs. You go up these stairs and you reach another door. Go through that one and you have entered The Flat. Now, I'm not entirely convinced, now, that it was ever designed as a flat. Or a living place of any description. It was a storage/work area basically, that the shop owner had decided to make a bit of cash on the side from. You had two rooms, with no door on the gap between them. Off one room, you had a 'kitchen'. This was an alcove, containing a sink and enough floor space for one person to stand in front of it. That was it. There was no bathroom, nor any toilet facilities at all. The full extent of the plumbing was a cold water tap and a wall mounted heater situated above the sink which took an age to heat water and gave it out in a fine spray. How did we 'go potty' you might ask. Well, we went outside, to the second door in the tunnel.

This door was not a door you'd find on a house. It was a rotten wooden shed type of door, with rusted hinges that were hanging loose and a sliding bolt to keep out intruders. Which it would have taken a braver kid than me to use, seeing as how it had no electricity in there, so no light. Even with the door open it was dingy, natural light struggling to reach that far into the tunnel. There I was, all of about 7 yrs old, and my choice was sit in the pitch blackness while I took a dump (pardon the crudeness) or sit with the door open to the elements (not to mention the shop staff and delivery people) while I sat there with my trousers round my ankles. Oh the luxury.

We bathed once a week in a tin bath, filled by boiling the kettle lots of times, which would be situated in the middle of the living room. It was in and out as quick as you could because the whole family had to have a turn and it didn't stay hot for long.

The second room was designated the bedroom. A couple of wardrobes were placed across the centre of the room with a little gap between them. One side was for the kids, the other for the adults. The kids got the side with the window, so as to allow us a little natural light, while the parents had the side with the door(or hole in the wall rather) and light switch, so they could control access.

Near the gap between wardrobes, on the parents side because there was not enough floor space on the kids side (you literally had a foot wide walkway between each bed, with none at the foot, which were flush with the wardrobe), was a bucket. The bucket was for liquid waste of a night. If you wanted to pass solids, you went outside. Believe me when I tell you, we soon got into the habit of clearing our bowels before going to bed.

I loved that flat. The bedroom was so small it was practically a cocoon and was therefore very cosy. The outside toilet, for all that it was obviously a great deprivation, actually felt like a bit of a novelty. During the day anyway. And the fact that we kind of took it upon ourselves to have free run of the yard meant that we were constantly mixing with (and being accepted by) the staff and delivery personnell of the shop. We were like little mascots or something. And there was nothing cooler than coming home to that great big gate that we had walked past and wondered about for years and actually having the key. It was like being able to raise the drawbridge of a castle. What?, I was a kid.

The shop was not as large a concern as it had once been and so only one of the sheds out in the yard was in use. The other was empty. It made an awesome playroom/camp and we had a ball customising it to our needs. We even built swings from the rafters out of some old cord we found in there. These swings were deadly, as we didn't know how to attach the cord to boards in order to make seats so we simply had a big loop of thin whatever-it-was that would slice into our backsides when we sat on it. They became a competition of endurance, with no-one willing to admit that they were in agony because it would mean giving up the swing to the next person. We really were that competitive.

That flat was the last place that the Finch family all lived in the same place. Afterwards, following the separation, my Mother would revert to her maiden name and there would be various men in her life, some lasting longer than others, with the three of us kids being joined by three more over the years, but it never really felt like a proper family again. Maybe that accounts for some of the affection I have for that time. I've spoken before about never feeling particularly close to my family as a child but who knows, perhaps my sub-conscious craves the family unit more than I realised. Although,I know that if money and employment factors would allow it, I'd move back to that village tomorrow. Make of that what you will. Perhaps it's the place rather than the people that induces the nostalgia.