My first memories as a child are rarely positive ones, or even happy ones, in the main. I remember the taste and feel of bitten off paint fragments as I gnawed with bright fresh front teeth on the edge of my cot as a very young child. Also I recall, again during babyhood, a vivid memory of noticing how the pointed hat of my clown dolly had changed to a round shape over night. It seems I used to suck the pointy titfer and make it soggy so my mother changed the clown’s hat shape and probably ruined my favourite comforter. I’m aware these are quite vivid recollections for one so young….perhaps not yet two years old….but they are deep memories! Baby blue cot paint and a red, blue and yellow clown.
Other memories are still with me from my childhood as I grew and an outstanding feature of many of them, has to be, I must say, a feeling of insecurity, fright and, sadly, unhappiness. The rowing and squabbling. Listening intently, with heart thumping, over the bannister rail, at unpleasant and harsh words.
As a young teenager I was given the attic as my own room. Great eh! Well during the day it was fine and I could spend many an hour doing sweet fek all with very little apart from paper, pencil and imagination. Yes, I had my vivid imagination to fill up time. Remember, it was 1960, well before toys and things had become more affordable and more readily available.
During the long nights though, eery shadows crept around my attic room of seeming solitary confinement. These spectral shadows were cast by the night time moon whose dim light ventured through the frosted glass of the tiny rooflight. These innocent and harmless shadows plagued this youngster’s vivid, childish and furtive thoughts.
Knowing that a previous occupant of the house, a sad recluse who had kept chickens in the loft space and who had hanged himself over the actual stairwell to my attic, using the very bannister rails at the foot of my bed, only gave me cause to fear the night. I saw ghosts, heard ghosts, felt ghosts and sweated night after night, sometimes waking from a nightmare, terrified and calling out for my parents to save me. The drip, drip, drip of the condensation from the pushup rod for the rooflight sounded like footsteps. I imagined those footsteps to be creeping around my room. I felt the icy hanging fingers of the cadaverous recluse reach into the freezing corners of my army blanketed and cotton sheeted creaky bed.
These regular and nightly experiences contributed highly, via a regularly disturbed sleep pattern, to my constant lethargy, unhappiness and only limited success at the grammar school.
Other vivid memories of childhood include the lack of love shown by my parents to each other and also to me. My four years younger sister got plenty of attention from my father. My mother used me as a weapon against my father (she used to claim that I was her favourite, seemingly to encourage him to compensate for my sister’s lack of maternal affection) Truth is however, that I do not recall an instance, ever, of my mother’s love; no hugs, kisses, cuddles or even kindly words. None. None at all. As for paternal affection, there was more chance of the ethereal spooks in the attic showering me with signs of love and affection. He managed to find a son he could adore once my brother, 11 years my younger, was born. I came in useful, for a while, as a baby minder, at that time, I seem to recall!
I recognise clearly that that need for warmth and love and affection has taken its toll on me as a young child, as an adolescent and, actually, throughout my life.
I think I’ve always had demons to conquer and I’ve known fears that ought not to have sat on young and formative shoulders.
I hated my parents rowing and bickering. I hated the atmosphere at home and I hated the feelings of unhappiness and despair that characterised my young years up until I was 18 and escaped to Teacher Training College in Twickenham, London, some 200 miles away from Colne in Lancashire.
So to now. Well, I’m still me. And I’m still here, some 68 years further on. I’ve a wonderful wife and four successful and accomplished children. I’ve had a fruitful and rewarding career in Education and I’ve hobbies a-plenty to amuse me in my retirement.
I did my utmost to ensure that my children lived in a loving home. I tried to give them security, love, affection and guidance as they grew up. No, I wasn’t always successful but I gave it my best. I believe that my kids know I loved them. I’m happy with that.
My childhood ghosties and ghoulies are long gone now but the unpleasant memories of my childhood unhappiness linger on. I suppose I’ll never get over them. I suppose you can’t, ever, get over a father who encouraged an 11 years younger brother to “find someone better to play with” rather than to play with me, or the thrashing I got from my mother, with a bamboo cane, for being home late from school as a 6 year old.
I learned from those years. They helped me become who I am. I can still get fearful. I still find my own adult demons to conquer and, worst of all, I still over-seek approval at home at times, rather than trust an unspoken acceptance of what I have done. I remember that I sought approval from my father and it never came. I still miss the father I never had.
I am still thrilled by and grateful for, the successes I’ve had as a Headteacher within my career and I still remain devastated when a lack of success over something or other looms on the horizon.
No. I’ll never change. And nor would I want to. We are the sum of our parts, both physical and emotional. We’re a product of our experiences. I have a myriad of experiences, gained throughout my lifetime, that I can recall now; mostly positive and some less so.
There ain’t no going back in life and truly, as it’s said, you really can choose your friends but you surely can’t choose your parents!
Just as I was
Is what I was
And so may it just be
Now what I am
Is what I am
And long still may it be
What I will be
Well who can see
I just still hope I see it’s me