I’ve not been at my absolute best this last week. Liz brought the last dregs of a cold over with her from the UK here to Lanzarote and gradually gave it to me. While I’ve been coughing and sneezing I’ve been lacking in a little inspiration for my blog posts and so have just written about our holiday. Two things have given me some ideas. One was a new book I’ve started, the autobiography of Agatha Christie, one of the best-selling authors ever. Her book has so far been a delightful read. She describes scenes and events from her childhood, in the days before Queen Victoria passed away, (Agatha was born in 1890) with great charm.
Another was a blog I read recently on the website Medium.com and the author quotes a poem, Rock Me To Sleep by Elizabeth Akers Allen, which in part goes like this:
Backward, turn backward, O time, in your flight,
Make me a child again, just for tonight!
In my early teens we moved to a house in Cheshire which was on a new ‘overspill’ estate built by Manchester city council. It was only a two bedroomed house so my brother and I had to share a room, much to our mutual annoyance. Originally both beds were under the window, one on either side of the room with a chest of drawers in between. Later I moved my bed to the opposite end, just by the door and closing my eyes I can just see the sunlight coming through the thin curtains. My brother is not there, he has gone to school I suppose and I must either be off sick or it was one of those wonderful days when the school boiler broke down and everyone was sent home on a Thursday for an early weekend.
After a while Mum comes in with a cup of tea and announces that lying in bed all day will not be permitted. She opens the curtains and the light comes flooding in.
‘Your breakfast will be ready in ten minutes’ she says. ‘If you’re not there I’ll be giving it to the dog.’
That’s me told I think so I drink my tea and scan through whatever comic or book is down by the bedside. Later Mum shouts ‘It’s on the table!’ and I throw on some clothes and go down to the kitchen. There bacon, egg and tomatoes await me.
‘Have you had a wash?’ Mum asks.
‘Not yet,’ I answer.
‘Well make sure you have one.’
I start eating and Bob our dog walks over. He sits down on the floor beside me and I look at him, hold out my hand and say ‘Gimme your paw’ which he obediently does.
‘Don’t go feeding that dog,’ warns Mum.
After breakfast Mum makes more tea and sits down herself with some bread and jam before reminding me to have a wash. Then she shoos me away saying that this is her and Bob’s private time. She had probably been on the go all morning getting my dad ready for work, making his breakfast and his sandwiches as well as doing the same for my brother. She was always busy.
Some years later I had left home and came to visit on a Sunday. Mum was in tears because Bob had dropped dead on the previous evening. Dad was going to bury the dog where all the family animals were buried, in the garden but this house was a new build, and he found that when he dug down there was a layer of rubble there that he couldn’t get through so Mum resolved to take the dog to the vet on Monday where she knew they could dispose of the body.
She had intended to put poor old Bob in her shopping trolley but by Monday rigor mortis had set in and she couldn’t get Bob into the trolley. Happily, one of her neighbours came to the rescue and drove Mum and Bob to the vets.
I have to add this one last story about Bob before moving on. A few years ago, Liz and I were motoring through France in our motorhome and we stopped in a pretty big town where they had a large municipal stopover for motorhomes. We found ourselves a spot in this busy place and the parking bays backed onto a grassy area with picnic tables. It was really quite a lovely spot. Liz began to sort out our food while I took plates and cutlery over to the table. As I approached, I had a sort of odd feeling that something was about to happen and there was a really friendly dog who greeted me like a long lost friend. He wasn’t jumping up or anything but he was pleased to see me. Anyway, we brought the food and wine over and sat down and the dog sat just by me.
I looked at the dog and held out my hand and said ‘Gimme your paw’ and the dog gave me a doggy smile and placed his paw in my hand. Now I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m certain that dog was my old dog, either reincarnated, or possessed of the spirit of old Bob in some way. Whether by accident or design, Bob had come back to see me. A few people passing by saw him and asked about him and what his name was and so on. I told them I didn’t know and assumed he came from one of the many vans parked nearby. All the while he was there he watched me intently with that same doggy smile on his face. Later when I took the plates and things back inside the van, Bob the dog was nowhere to be seen.
Mum had mentioned her private time but my private time back then was reading books and comics and there was little in the way of daytime TV in the late 1960’s and early 70’s although sometimes there were some pretty good school programmes. I always remember watching one about how newspapers and journalism had been used or portrayed in films. In one part they showed clips in which a comic strip artist set up various scenes and had a photographer take pictures. Later he rendered the scenes into a comic strip for a newspaper and the character, played by Jack Lemmon turned to his valet played by Terry-Thomas and started to talk about their next ‘caper’ as they called it. I wish we’d been able to watch it at our school. We had this huge TV in a cabinet. The teacher used to wheel it out and we’d watch some schools programme but we never saw one half as good as the comic strip one. It took me years to find out what the film was. It was called How to Murder Your Wife and if you ever catch it on TV, it’s well worth watching.
A bit later on I was tasked to take out the dog so we walked up to the old abandoned RAF camp that was just across from our estate. Entry was strictly forbidden but the locals had opened up gaps in the fence and it was easy to walk in. I loved that RAF camp. It covered a huge area and all the camp roads and buildings were still in place. The roads were in good condition but a lot of the buildings looked ready to collapse. There were about three or four huge towers going up about three storeys high. One had an iron ladder attached to the outside wall but it started about six feet up so to get to it you had to scale the crumbling brickwork just to get a handle on the ladder. One day I managed to do it and hauled myself up the ladder. I went right to the top and was just able to pull myself into a small space right at the very pinnacle. If I’d have fallen off or had the ladder fallen away, I’d have been killed but it was one of those daft things that kids do. There was a great view but the hard bit was slipping down from that top space onto the ladder to get down.
Sometimes on the camp a kart racing team appeared. It was just a man and his son and they prepared the kart; Dad did some engine tuning and his son took off for a few laps. I was always asking if I could have a drive but they wouldn’t let me although we chatted a lot about motor racing. They told me about a kart track in Heysham where they had raced and once, when we went on holiday to Morecambe we visited the track although sadly, there was no racing on.
I took Bob home and it was time for more tea and then I took my bike to the RAF camp for some laps round the camp roads. I had worked out a racetrack in my note book around the camp and timed myself racing round there on my bike and used to jot down my lap times including things like fastest lap on a weekday, fastest weekend lap, all time fastest lap and so on. One day the council decided to send in a tractor which deposited a load of rubble at each of the junctions so neither me nor my friendly father and son kart team could race around there anymore. Later the tower and all the buildings were reduced to rubble. Today all remains of the camp have gone and a new private housing estate occupies the site.
Later my Dad arrived home from work on his pushbike. In Agatha Christie’s autobiography she describes her own father as ‘a very agreeable man’ and even adds a quote from my favourite book David Copperfield:
‘Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggoty?’ I enquired anxiously.
‘Oh what an agreeable man he is!’ exclaimed Peggoty.
My Dad was an agreeable man just like Agatha’s and it was that comment which sparked off most of these memories. Anyway, after Dad arrived home it was usually time for tea. My Mum was a good cook but she had a limited repertoire of dishes. Curries, pizzas and pasta dishes were unheard of for her and even today when she is 92 years old, stricken with dementia and living in a home, if I can’t seem to get a reaction out of her, I’ll simply tell her curry is on the menu for tea and she will be almost jumping out of her chair ‘I’m not eating curry!’ and she won’t relax until I say I’m joking.
Back then my favourite meal must have been meat pie. Mum used to buy her meat from the butchers and she always minced the meat herself with an old metal mincer which she screwed to the table top. She cooked it slowly and always made her own pastry. She’d serve it with either mash and carrots or chips and peas, both with lashings of gravy and piles of bread and butter. It was lovely.
One of my favourite TV shows then was MASH with Alan Alda. I just loved it and still do, the way they could mix madcap humour with tragedy, and I used to record my favourite episodes. Alas, there were no VHS recorders back then and a hard driver recorder was just a twinkle in some pre-teen inventor’s eye. What I did was record the soundtrack on my cassette tape recorder. Our TV didn’t have a jack plug either so I had to use the microphone and ask people to be quiet which was an absolute impossibility for both my Dad and my brother.
Once during a recording, Mum called ‘dinner’s ready’ and we all trooped silently out to the kitchen. Afterwards Dad and my brother would try to be the first back to make some silly comment on the tape.
Bedtime was usually about 10pm. Sometimes I’d myther Mum so that I could stay up late to watch either Monty Python’s Flying Circus or something like The Invaders. I loved the opening titles to the Invaders and the way the narrator read out everything. ‘The Invaders: A Quinn Martin Production!’
David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!
Eventually I would be sent off to bed. Back then I couldn’t sleep without reading something for a while. My brother would complain because I had the light on and I’d say to him ‘go under. Go under the covers just for five minutes!’ Eventually I put out the lights. Just outside was a street light that would light up our room with a reddish amber glow. I can see it now and I can look over and see my posters, one of Jackie Stewart in his F1 Championship winning Matra and another of the lovely Olivia Newton-John, my childhood crush.
I close my eyes for a moment and then open them again. I’m back in my room in Lanzarote, the overhead fan sending cooling air towards me. It is 7.30am. Should I get up or go back to sleep?