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Monday, 28 March 2011

The soap opera begins.

Apologies to anyone who may have read my self pitying whinge that I posted in the wee small hours a couple of days ago. Don't know what came over me. For anyone who is interested my Grandfather is, at time of posting, still alive. Fingers crossed.

Normal service is resumed now with the latest thrilling chapter in the roller coaster story of my formative years. Enjoy.

You know what's embarrassing? You know what's guaranteed to make you squirm for years afterward just at the merest hint of a fraction of a glimpse at the memory? I'll tell you, shall I?

Imagine you are lying in bed of an evening, not quite fully asleep but at the same time not fully aware of what's going on around you, not sure in your own mind whether you are awake or dreaming. You hear the door to your room open and a looming figure makes it's way towards you. It plonks itself down on the side of your bed, reaches over to shake you awake and slurs the words " I love him, I just love him, do you understand, I love him" over and over again. By this point you are praying that it's a dream.

It's not. It's your Mam, your recently separated from your Dad Mam, drunkenly begging you to tell her it's alright that she is having an affair with the boyfriend and (to co-opt a phrase a middle aged white man should never use) baby-daddy, of her sister. The same sister whose house we were living in since the aforementioned separation. Which was mere weeks past.

You are 9 years old.

Think about that. What, exactly, do you do in that situation? I mean, do you A)tell her what you know, even at your tender age, to be the truth? That what she is doing is wrong, and monstrous, and she should be ashamed of herself? Or B) take into account her fragile emotional state and try to calm her down, gently, whilst treading the fine line of not actually condoning her actions? Or do you, C) being completely out of your depth, panic.

How many of you thought 'C' was the answer. Well, maybe a fully functioning human child would have plumped for 'C' but I was made of sterner stuff. I told her it was a great idea and I was happy for her and she should go to him right now. Then I rolled over and went to sleep.

For a while there I wondered, would a different response from me have changed the course of events that followed. Of course I know now that she was gonna do what she was gonna do regardless of what I said and in all likelihood didn't even remember the conversation, given how drunk she seemed. (And wasn't that a taste of things to come) At the time though I genuinely felt like maybe I'd contributed to the break up of Micky and Maurices years long relationship. Didn't feel guilty, mind you, just sort of thought about it a bit then moved on.

Guilt is uncomfortably close to genuine emotion you see, too much like an admission of caring. Couldn't have that; not then, not now.

The beginnings of my mothers relationship with Maurice marked the crest of a very high, very slippery slope which my mother was about to plunge headfirst down, taking us kids with her. Some of us have managed to find some purchase and get ourselves on an even footing (to various degrees),whereas she's still falling. It's doubtful she'll ever stop.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

My Grandfather is dying. Regular readers of this blog will know that my paternal Grandfather died many years ago when I was a small child. He was no great loss to the world. Now though, my other Grandfather is dying. And he will be.

In fact, he's been ill for a while with numerous ailments, some exacerbated by the meds needed for others in a vicious and undeserved circle of pain that might make a less sanguine man than myself very fucking angry at the world.

As I type these words, the prevailing opinion, which I just learned from my sister this evening, seems to be that this particular visit to the hospital - the most recent of many - will be the one he doesn't come home from.

I saw my Grandfather once, a few months ago, when he seemed a little 'out there', in a vaguely comical way (I know, I know) but before that it had been years, and then years again before that. Twice in something like 15 years. Life just got in the way and I never had the time.

Bullshit. I had the time, I just didn't take the time. And now, as the end comes closer, everyone in my family (many of whom have had less contact with him than I have, though I'm not using that to justify my own actions) is flocking to his bedside, showing their concern and acting all , well, family like.

I want to go and see him. Or rather, I want to want to go and see him. Honestly though, I really don't. He is, by all acounts, totally out of it. He wouldn't even know I was there. Apparantly my Mother (spit), who is one of those who has seen him less than me, and ripped him off for a substantial sum the last time she did, visited him yesterday and he didn't know who she was. That being the case, if he is getting nothing out of it, I would be doing nothing more than making a token appearance for the sake of, well, appearances. Seems hypocritical to me.

My biggest worry though is that I'm not entirely sure how to behave around my Grandmother. I'm not particularly upset, you see. I don't 'do' grief or sorrow or any of those emotions you are supposed to feel at a time like this. Believe me, I now how cold that makes me sound. I want to feel something, I just can't. I don't have it in me. So do I show up and stand around awkwardly,looking like I don't give a shit, purely to salve a guilty conscience I think I should have? How does that help her? Or him? Or anyone?

I love the guy, I really do. So far as I am capable. He's one of the very few people in this world, family or no, for whom I have any genuine affection at all. And yet...

You know the worst part? The part that I feel so shit about? The bit that honestly, truly, makes me hate myself just a little bit? It's that I know full well that my life won't change a bit when he does die. I won't cry, I won't break down, I won't grieve. I'll go on as before. I'll be watching my shows and reading my comics and going about my business 5 minutes after I get the news. I don't want to say I won't care, because I don't want to believe it of myself but in truth...

If nothing else, he has had one effect on me. For years I have gone through life, happy in my own little world, able to pretend that I'm normal. Able to forget, or at least intellectualise and accept, the coldness inside me. He is making me confront the truth about myself full on. And I don't think I like me very much.

Hell, my Grandad is dying and I've just written 600 words. About me.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

First day at a new school.

While moving away from the village I'd lived in all my life and the separation of my parents meant that things were a little bit up in the air I was coping pretty well, thanks to my sociopathic inability to give a toss about anything. Which was just as well, because things would get a whole lot more messed up before much longer. Indeed, from this point on, my life and the lives of my family would come to resemble more and more a bizarre soap opera, thanks in large part to my Mothers love life. In fact, scrap that; her sex life.

That was all still to come though. (Something for you to look forward to.) In the meantime, first order of business in our new environment, was to get us signed up in a new school.

Now, you know how, in todays modern urban sprawl lots of little villages are kind of melding together thanks to new estates being tacked onto the boundaries so the gap between gets smaller and smaller until eventually they meet in the middle and no-one really knows where one ends and the other begins anymore? Well, that was the case with the little village we'd moved to. Sunnybrow, it was called, and it had about 9 streets to it's name. It was conjoined (I've never used that word in any other context than bad taste jokes about genetic deformities. This felt like the time.) with a slightly larger but still pretty insignificant village called Willington. I say was; it still is. Probably more so now than then. The fact that I haven't been there in years doesn't mean it's ceased to exist. Unless the voices are telling the truth and the world really is all about me. That seems unlikely though, so I'll go with the theory that it's still there.

Anyway, Sunnybrow and Willington. There was much talk between my Mother and the dynamic duo of Mickie and Maurice as to where the best school was. It was decided that we (me and my Sis) would be sent to Sunnybrow Primary. Makes sense right? So the new week rolled around and Monday morning dawned and off we went. Along the old train track past the woods, over the road and hey presto, school.

Not Sunnybrow Primary though. Once again the random whims of my Mother would trip me up because after the hours of debate that led to the decision, she had apparently changed her mind and enrolled us in Chapel Street Primary, situated in Willington. Without telling us.

Chapel Steet. Seats are after my time.

So on my first day I get into a very embarrassing argument wherein I adamantly insist that we were in Sunnybrow, to the mockery of all the other kids who knew they were in Willington. Teacher interference was required before I'd accept defeat.

But that's not the story I planned to tell today. Just as well really because it was bloody dull, wasn't it? The point of this post is how the smallest of decisions can shape and/or change your life. You see, Chapel Street, like my previous school, Hogwarts and a good proportion of other schools in Britain, had a House system. They assigned all pupils to a House at the start of their Junior school careers but as a latecomer I got to choose my own. Such an honour. Of course, having been put on the spot I just blurted out that I'd be in 'Brancepeth' because that was the one I'd been in at my last school. (The Houses were all named after local-ish Castles. Brancepeth and Durham were common choices for schools in my area. I think Raby was another one. Drawing a blank on the 4th.)

What I had not been told however, probably because the teachers weren't supposed to do it and certainly wouldn't tell the kids even if they were, was that at this particular school, Brancepeth was used as the - I don't want to say dumping ground but you get the idea - for all the kids who had failed to impress in the Infant school. The thickos, if you will.*

Now, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I'm not. A thicko that is. Or at least, I can do a passable enough imitation of someone with half a brain that I excelled at school, at least when I wanted to and could be bothered. How much I retained is up for debate and 'real world' or 'street' smarts have never been my strong suit but on the day I could answer most questions and pass any test. Proper little swot I was. All of which made me a bit of a novelty (and a bit of a mascot I suppose) in good old Brancepeth House.

So I was placed in a group of under achievers. Houses did everything together. Sport and academic competitions alike were decided by House. You couldn't escape them and you didn't want to. That first day I formed friendships in minutes that would endure for years. They were my mates. End of.

Brancepeth Castle. Arbitrary symbol of my youthful loyalty.

It wasn't until years later, during the GCSE / A Level period of my life, that I realised what that decision had really meant. My friends, the people I'd grown up with, the only people I was truly comfortable around, were never going to be a part of school life. They weren't going to be in top tier classes and planning University careers. If I was to follow my ambitions and achieve my dreams I would have to separate from them even more than Secondary education had already mandated. I would have to leave them behind.

In the end, I couldn't do it. I couldn't function amongst academics and 'swots'. They weren't my people. I was lost in that world. So I left it and never looked back. Until now.

I didn't know any of that though, on that first day at my new school. I may not have known what town I was in, but I knew what House. It was the House with my friends.

* I have no proof of this assertion. There was never any controversy; no big expose in the local rag or anything like that. It just seems like one hell of a big coincidence to me that all of the pupils who might conceivably have been labeled as troublemakers or under-achievers would all end up in the same House. Unless there was 2 or 3 and the rest all synchronised like a bunch of women in an office. Yeah, could have been that I suppose.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Saying Goodbye. Or rather, not.

Dear Diary,
today my teacher confiscated my space invaders game that I just got and also my packet of crisps. I got very upset but he said I could have it back at the end of the week. Maths was hard and at reading time I got through two chapters of my book about the Faraway Tree.

Oh, and Mam said we don't live with Dad anymore.

Yes, I have come to the end of my memories of what I consider the first of 3 major stages in my childhood, although I'm sure loads more will come back to me now I'm moving on. It's surprised me a little, to be honest, how few memories I've been able to dredge up from that time and how many of those have fallen apart when examined, given the strength of feeling I've always had about that period of my life and about living in that place. The smallest things really can make the biggest impact on people I suppose.

So yeah, we came home from school and my Mother was there, along with one of my Uncles, packing our belongings into his car. We were leaving, right then, before my Dad came in from work. The plan was to go and stay at good old Auntie Mickies house until we got sorted with somewhere else more permanent. (I did get a trifle excited about the possibility of seeing a little more of the 'annoying' Anne,although I'd never have admitted it of course) We were bundled into the car and out of there within 10 minutes of getting home. Didn't even take our coats off.

It could have been a very traumatic time for a young lad. Being separated from his Father, without even being given a chance to say goodbye, not having any idea as to why it was happening; it could scar a boy for life. So, naturally, I didn't care. My relationship with my Dad had never been the best and the thought of no longer living with him didn't really bother me in the slightest.

I never did find out what caused the separation. I certainly don't remember any arguing or things being particularly tense between them, and given the shoebox we were living in I'd imagine it would have been pretty hard to hide, even if they'd cared enough about us kids to try. Maybe it was simply a whim on my Mams part, who knows? She certainly isn't known for her good decision making when it comes to men. Or, you know, anything else.

And so in the space of about 20minutes we left behind everything we'd ever known. The flat, which despite the deprivations I had thoroughly enjoyed living in. The sheds with the lethal swings. The school, with it's defunct sports program. The fields out the back with the killer horses. The cricket ground and the free cakes on match day so long as you didn't let on just how dull you thought cricket actually was. The Grandparents and Uncles who seemed to live pretty much everywhere you turned in that village and meant you were never far from a welcoming door. Most importantly though, we left behind my brand new space invaders game, which was still sitting in my teachers drawer. I was gutted about all of those things; just not about my Dad.

I could say that my Dad maybe got dealt something of a rough hand in this whole affair. I'm not going to though. You see, after the separation, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we had contact. A lot of promises were made and a lot of promises were broken. My own attitude shielded me from any major disappointment but I watched a lot of tears fall from my sister and brother so I think I'll save my sympathies for them.