Swings & Roundabouts

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Occasionally, I would escape to the local playground which was opposite a parade of shops and a garage block. This playground was half park and half grass area, the park area had a huge metal slide which, in the hot summer months would give you third degree burns, there was a roundabout which use to spin out of control and I remember once being so dizzy I was physically sick. Then there were the monkey bars which were so high off the ground, if you did fall you knew you would be straight down A&E with a broken arm or leg. Thankfully, this never happened to me but I remember a few kids who had injured themselves quite badly… there was nothing below the equipment to cushion your fall, apart from tarmac. Even on the swings, kids would gain such a momentum they would go flying off head first, or over the bars.  Health and safety didn’t appear to be a priority back then and I swear to this day there was a conspiracy… a way of trying to reduce the population.

What a ‘Carry On’

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From my experiences of being raised on a council estate, there were many good times which I liked to believe, balanced out the bad… I have many fond memories, not to mention comical ones and some you literally couldn’t make up.

My eldest brother loved cars, well, he loved anything which had an engine and moved extremely fast. One of his hobbies was drag racing and there were many times, before he set off to one of his weekend events, he would be outside, tinkering with one of his pride and joys… his head would be under the bonnet, then he would be behind the wheel, foot flat on the pedal. His mates would gather out front with their Kit cars and our street would be alive with the sound of beefy engines. The fragrance of oil and diesel fumes would fill the air…  I used to enjoy  watching all the commotion.

Our garden was like a graveyard for car parts, there was an engine in the back garden and various other bits and pieces like tyres, tools and tins of Castrol oil. One morning, I woke up to find a speed boat in our front garden… a real life speed boat. Where it came from, I had no idea, but I knew my eldest brother was responsible. I used to love sitting behind the wheel and I would let my imagination run wild. Dad had gone crazy, this boat was almost as big as the front garden and Dad absolutely cherished his garden. So the boat had to go… my brother managed to sell it eventually, to a politician.

I was only eight years old when I had another slightly traumatic experience, well, I think my Mum was more traumatised than I was, so here’s what happened…

One hot summers evening, my brother was out the front with his mates as per usual, with his car jacked up at a precarious angle, obviously trying to fix something or another. Music was blasting out from the car stereo and I was running up and down the garden path without a care in the world… up until I tripped over my own feet and fell head first. Slightly dazed, I managed to stumble to the back door and into the kitchen shouting and screaming for Mum.

My Mum came running out from the sitting room thinking someone had been murdered. She took one look at me and then shouted for Dad…  Mum grabbed some clean cloths out of the airing cupboard and wrapped them around my left knee as tight as she could while Dad stood there not knowing what to do for the best. Then the next minute, I remember being carried to my brother’s little white work van… a van he used to borrow occasionally and thank goodness he had borrowed it on this particular day. My sister was out and his other car was still up in the air with most of it’s parts scattered all over the road.  This van was a two seater, so I had to sit on my Mum’s lap with no seatbelt, whilst my brother, drove like a lunatic to the hospital. Mum suffered with terrible car sickness back in those days and my brother’s driving skills certainly didn’t help, he had to stop several times on the way, Mum did suffer terribly, bless her.

Once at the hospital, to our relief and our surprise, we were seen almost straight away. A lovely Nurse asked Mum what had happened and then we were led into a little cubicle. I hadn’t realised the extent of the damage until the Nurse unwrapped my Mum’s impressive bandaging skills… and to my horror, my left knee had been sliced open from one end to the other, the perfect slice, there was hardly any blood at all. I started to panic, the Nurse chatted away and made jokes, she did her very best to calm me down. I had eight stitches altogether and I was told not to put any extra pressure on my leg for at least 4-5 weeks. Thankfully, because this occurred during the school holidays, I had enough time to recover. The journey home from the hospital was very similar to the one going, my brother tried not to drive like a maniac… but Mum still suffered. We were in and out of the van like a Jack-In-The-Box and because I was sitting on Mum’s lap with my bandaged knee, I had to manoeuvre myself out of the van as quickly as I could before it was too late, so you can imagine what the outcome was. We were so happy to arrive home.

The following day, Dad went to check the garden path to see what could have sliced my knee open. After scanning it throughly, he found one flint stone slightly raised… one single flint stone was to blame for my poorly knee and I happened to fall right onto it.

The 5 weeks went by fairly quickly and it wasn’t long before a lovely Nurse visited our home to see how I was doing and to remove the bandages and stitches. The Nurse asked me if I wanted to keep them… so I did, in a little plastic container. Sadly, overtime, they turned a shade of green so Mum decided to throw them away, but I will always have the scar to remind me of that day.

Looking back, I can only compare this moment to a scene from a ‘Carry On’ film… chaos and comedy all rolled into one. Little did I know at the time, there were many more of these comedy moments to come…

The Fear

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After Dad passed away, I slept in the same bedroom as Mum.  I wanted to stay as close to her as possible because I was so scared we would lose her too.  This might sound daft, but when it was Mum’s birthday, I would find out her age and then try to calculate the remaining years up to 100… because there were loads of people who survived until the ripe old age of 100, that’s what I liked to believe anyway. As time went by, my fear and anxiety became a lot worse and I dreaded night time, I was so scared to go to bed.  Mum would let me stay up until she was ready to ‘go up the wooden hill’.  We would sit and watch whatever was on the small portable black and white TV,  I remember watching episodes of The Sweeney or Rising Damp.  It wasn’t until the late 1980s, when we eventually purchased a colour TV.  This was a luxury for us, because most of the items we owned were either second hand or family hand me downs.

I always smile when I think about the days when Dad, in exchange for his handiwork, was happy to accept items instead of money. This must have frustrated the hell out of Mum, but she never got angry… well, apart from the one time when Dad gave me fifty pence so I could buy some sweets from the shop around the corner. Mum went up the wall ‘that fifty pence could have gone in the meter!’ she said. There was me, feeling like all my birthday’s had come at once, munching away on fifty penny sweets.  I’m surprised I didn’t have a mouthful of fillings back in those days.

I will never forget the time when Dad brought home a ZX81 with a metallic printer. Chuffed to bits he was, this was our first computer and we were so excited, until we switched it on. Sadly, it wasn’t in 100% working order and my brother, a budding computer genius, decided he would have a go at fixing it… so he took it apart and that was the end of our ZX81.  I also remember when somebody gave Dad a sofa and a couple of armchairs. They weren’t in great condition and the design was straight out of the 1960s or 70s… but they were a lot comfier than the ones we had.  One of the chairs spun around and I would spend many an hour spinning until I was dizzy, this was my happy chair and I would spin all my cares away whilst listening to recordings of the Top 40 on my cassette player.

Mum tried her best to carry on with the routine after Dad passed away, which included myself and my brother starting back to school in September. I wasn’t ready to go back, all I wanted to do was hideaway at home and spin around in my happy chair.  Soon enough, the news had circulated around the playground. That’s when the whispering, pointing and laughing started. I will never forget the time when one kid said out loud in class ‘I heard your Dad is dead’ I chose to ignore what was said, but I was so upset and angry. I never did tell the teacher, I just wanted to pretend it never happened.  I started to comfort eat and over time I gained a lot of weight which only added fuel to the fire, I tried to ignore the cruel remarks, but occasionally I would retaliate. I never told Mum what was going on, she had enough on her plate.

Two years after losing Dad, we lost Nan, my Mum’s mum. I had just started to cope with life again but now I was back on the downward spiral.  There was this one girl who lived around the corner and whenever I was playing out front she would always be there. We had a green directly opposite our house as well as a block of flats with some garages located behind.  A majority of the kids in the area would ride their bikes around the green or play football… even though there was a sign which stated no ball games. If a ball hit one of the windows, which happened fairly often, one of the residents would often shout and swear at us, but this didn’t stop us from playing. Anyway, this girl would run over to me and pinch me or kick me, call me names, laugh and then run away again. I tolerated her behaviour for a while until one day, I completely snapped. I chased her down an alleyway and basically gave her a taste of her own medicine and she ran home in floods of tears.

Mum went crazy when she found out and I was forced to apologise to both the girl and her Mum.  This was not one of my proudest moments and I wished I had dealt with the situation differently, I should have told Mum what was going on in the first place. Regardless of what the girl had done to me, she didn’t deserve what I did to her. She probably had her own issues and that’s why she acted like she did. I was no better than her and I hated myself, I wasn’t angry with the girl, I was angry with myself and I had no idea how to control my emotions. I needed to stop blaming everyone around me and to stop being so selfish. This was my wake up call, I had to change my attitude, make amends and to focus on what was truly important… my Mum and my family.

Life Was About To Change

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I was 10 years old, the month was August and the sun was shining on what had appeared to be the perfect summer’s evening.  The time was around 7pm, Top of the Pops was playing the latest ‘80s tunes on the goggle box and that’s when we had a knock on the front door.  My Mum, being none the wiser, thought it was the neighbourhood kids messing around.  Oh how we wished it had been… instead, it was the Police. My Dad had popped out that day and we had no idea where he had gone. Obviously, there were no mobile phones back in the 1980s, we didn’t even have a landline because my Mum and Dad couldn’t afford one.  If we needed to contact anyone in an emergency, we had to run to the nearest phone box which was situated a couple of miles down the road.

I didn’t hear the entire conversation, I was hiding in the kitchen at the time and what happened next was a bit of a blur… it had felt like we were in a movie playing out in slow motion. Then, we were in my sisters car and on our way to the local hospital.  Once inside, we were taken into a little room. Myself and my sister stayed in this room whilst Mum was led away into another room.  I was so frightened, nobody was telling me anything and I had no idea what was going on.

On the way home, I remember asking my Mum and my sister over and over again ‘why is Dad not coming home with us?’.  Then eventually I heard the words… ‘Dad is dead’.  No, this wasn’t happening, not really… I would soon wake up from this nightmare and everything would be fine again… Dad had gone away for a little while, yes, that’s all it was.

I was in complete denial, I could not accept the harsh reality that I would never see my Dad ever again.

My Earliest Memories

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I was lucky enough to be raised by caring and loving parents who did their very best to make sure myself, my sister and my three brother’s childhood was stable. We all grew up in a three bed house on a council estate, quite a rough council estate come to think of it.  There was never a dull moment, day or night and on one occasion the Police even gave up on the area.  Apart from this, I have many fond memories of my younger years. Especially of Christmas, my Mum always made sure the festive season was one to remember. Our house would be full of colour and sparkling lights along with hand made decorations adorning the walls. We used to go for lovely long walks in the countryside and on rare occasions we would take a day trip to London. We would catch a bus to the train station, Mum would purchase the travel cards and then off we went, we never bothered to plan our day, we would literally go with the flow and it was always an exciting adventure.

We lived in close proximity to an aerodrome and my Mum and Dad would take us there during the weekends or school holidays, Mum and Dad would always walk and we would ride our bikes or roller skate. On occasions, a few of the kids from our neighbourhood would tag along too and we used to sit near the fuel pumps watching the planes take off and land. We had no idea how dangerous that was until one of the pilots shouted at us to move out of the way because we were in their blind spot.  A few years later they decided to cordon off most of the area… we were lucky none of us were seriously hurt.

I spent most of my childhood outdoors and I absolutely loved every minute of it.  I was definitely a Daddy’s girl, there was no doubt about that.  I enjoyed assisting Dad when he had to repair a bike, or plant some seeds.  Dad was a very clever man, I remember my Mum telling me he was an Engineer for a time, but he was sadly made redundant during the early 1980s. This was a tough time for our family and money was extremely tight,  we had to survive on the bare minimum.   The times we would all be sitting in the dark or by candle light due to not having enough fifty pence’s to power the electricity meter… My Dad would always shout ‘Power to the People’… a phrase used in a comedy show back in mid 1970s… to make light of the situation.  My Dad had a great sense of humour.

After being made redundant, Dad experienced bouts of depression. He also suffered with many aches and pains and I had no idea how serious these pains were.  Mum knew they were very serious and no matter how many times she would tell Dad to make an appointment with the doctor, he would always reply, ‘if I go to the doctors, they’ll keep me in and not let me go’.  Instead, Dad’s way of coping was to spend as much time outdoors as possible, so he decided to become an odd job man.  Dad loved to help others whenever he could, whether they needed items repaired or their windows cleaned.  Our life appeared to be rolling along at a steady pace for a little while, well, that’s how it seemed anyway…