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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Is that a Rifle I see Before Me? - 1980

About a week after Dad had passed away it was back to school. My friends were great and I began to settle back into my teenage ways of going about things. I was heavily into girls by this time and was going from one girl to another in fairly quick succession, nothing too heavy, mainly kissing and amateur fumbling. My Dad had introduced me to a new friend called Alan Hamilton, whose father was disabled after suffering a stroke; he had been in the American Air force and was a tremendously spirited person and his wife had taken a job as my Dad’s PA. I was also friends with a chap named Richard Gordon; he came from Regina in Canada and was living with his grandparents just down the road. His Grandparents often took Richard and me out at weekends to the coast and his grandmother was very old fashioned in her ways. We once went to Great Yarmouth and paraded up and down the seafront looking for somewhere to have lunch. His Grandmother finally settled upon the Europa Restaurant (it’s still there!) as it looked “clean”. I love that, how the older generation use terms in that way. Richard recently found me again on Facebook, so I look forward to re-acquainting myself with him. At school I was studying English (which I really loved), Maths, Geography, Geology, Woodwork, Domestic Science (Cookery) and Local History and to be fair, I was not the sharpest tool in the woodshed. I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a career and was really in need of some guidance, but Dad was gone and Mum was not in a position to notice, which though harsh was true.

That summer (1979) I went on my School Cruise, around the Mediterranean. A few of my school friends were on the cruise as well, including Nigel Pritty, who was the school goalkeeper much to my chagrin! He was very good though and unless he was injured, you had no chance of getting his place in the team. Mum took me up to the school on the day of departure and we clambered aboard the coach to Southampton. We arrived at the docks, to find the SS Uganda waiting for us. I was to have a relationship with the ship to some extent, as 5 years later; I sailed back from my tour of the Falkland Islands on her as far as the Ascension Islands, but more of that to follow in future blogs. We were given berths in the Magellan dormitory and then all scrambled around the ship finding out where the galley and the heads (toilets) were. We also found out where we were not allowed to go; anywhere near the bridge and the bow and the top decks forward of the funnels. We lined the deck as she eased away from the key side and set sail for Cadiz in Spain. Ports of call were Cadiz (with an excursion to Seville), Sardinia, Crete, Santorini, Istanbul and Athens. We were to see some wonderful sights, including Tharros, Knossos and the Parthenon. Nigel and I stuck together and we met another kid called Phil, whose nickname was Wolfie, who I thought was the coolest bloke I had ever met and we became firm friends. Phil was from Thetford in Norfolk and we did see one another for sometime after we got back from the cruise, more or less until I joined up. We spent most of the time when at sea, chatting up girls in the disco and generally trying to look as cool as possible, which was not easy considering we wore bell bottoms trousers with 4 buttons at the waist, tight sweaters and had shoulder length hair! There was also a trend to wear very wide soled shoes that were platforms as well; goodness knows how we managed to stay upright! It was a great experience though and a highlight of my youth.

As 1979 progressed, I began to spend more time with another of my friends at school; Dean Daynes. I do not know how we came about to hear of it, but we turned up at party in Blofield, a village just outside of Norwich. It was at a teacher’s house and the place had very little furniture. I distinctly remember people smoking cannabis and being offered some, but in typical Bill Clinton fashion, if I did smoke I never inhaled!! During the night, I heard a song by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), called Messages. I remember asking for it to be played over and over again along with another single called Electricity. I was blown away by their sound and became a fan. Over the forthcoming years, I bought every 7” single, 12” single, Album and video. I still have my collection and there are some very rare pieces among it and they are probably worth a few pounds these days. So with OMD forming the soundtrack to my life, I set about failing in my education. I do not think I intentionally failed to study; I just did not have a father figure to sort me out. The real disappointment was English, the one class I did try hard in. My course work was up to date and I was really enjoying the work, especially as we were reading John Steinbeck. My folder contained all my work and was to be submitted, as it formed part of the overall mark for the exam. Somehow it went missing from the locker in the classroom. Upsettingly, the teacher appeared not to give care, so I never sat the exam and subsequently failed all the others. I left school with not one result higher than a “C”. I had no idea what I wanted to do and no one offering any advice either. Meanwhile Dean and I were getting into all sorts of scrapes, truanting from school and trying to drink as much Cider as possible.

The pub across the road from our house, “The Volunteer” did a fine line in Dry Blackthorn Cider. Dean and I aged 15, would go into the Off Licence and buy 2 litre bottles and go back to my bedroom. There we’d consume as much as possible, before the room invariably started to spin. I was also going to the YMCA youth club every Tuesday evening and on the way, I would buy as packet of 10 “Number 6” cigarettes and a box of matches for 17 pence. I was an ignorant little bugger as one evening they showed us tearaways a video about the effects of smoking on the body. We all sat there, sucking down the smoke as we watched, pathetic really. I also spent a lot of time with my sister Helen and David, riding my bike across town to see her and my nieces. I cycled everywhere and was once knocked off my bike whilst hurtling down Earlham Road. The lady driver in front was indicating to turn right, but pulled into the left, exactly where I was passing her. Trapped between her car and the kerb, I left my bike and flew over her car and onto the pavement. The woman was aghast and in shock, I thought I had broken my leg and was carted off to hospital for x-rays. Mum was cleaning (she had a cleaning job at a Hospital Consultants) and had to get a lift to the hospital. I was ok, no broken bones fortunately. A few weeks later, Julian and I were cycling down the same road, me ahead of him, when he called out. He had spotted a £10 note and stopped to pick it up. We went straight down to the Pool Club in Anglian Square and proceeded to spend it on video games and on the pool tables. Julian had also become a very talented Skateboarder, Dad had bought him all the gear and he was a regular at the indoor skate park, owned by the father of a school friend of mine, Garry Welsh.

My brother Richard had joined the Metropolitan Police and my younger brother Julian was to become quite a handful as he drifted into his mid-teens. Helen was busy with 2 young daughters and Mark had Jason, Michelle and Ben to look after. Mum was trying her best, but I honestly believe that beyond the day to day running of the house she was not “there”. I had a number of girlfriends but was always on the outside of the “cool” group at school. There were a couple of characters who bullied me to a degree and one particular family who had a qualification in bullying I think. I do not know why I became a target, but I was “mugged” of my football, boots and money on the way home from the park by one of the brothers, with a broken Coke bottle. My Mum went round to see their mother, who was actually a nice woman; she just had no idea how to control her kids. The great thing about that was when I was working in the Pickwick Pub some 12 years later, the bully came in and was served by another girl who worked there. I worked out who he was and when he came up to the bar for a refill, I took his glass and told him to sod off, as he was barred. He went ballistic and threatened all sorts of violence. He then asked why I would not serve him (by this time Jerry Steer the owner had joined me behind the bar) and I said that many years before he had mugged me as a kid, that he was a wanker and that he should go forth and multiply. He kicked off again, saying that was not a reason to bar him, but he did not get served and it felt great to get the bastard back, a minor victory.

The months rolled by and soon it was time for Mum and I to attend a school careers evening in May 1980. I had “decided” that I wanted to be a Painter and Decorator. Why? Well, because my friend Julian Wiseman wanted to be one. (Again, pretty pathetic and reflective of where my life had ended up with no one to guide me). All my contemporaries were taking entrance exams at the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) and I thought I may as well join them. I failed the exam. So, the careers evening was where I ended up and Mum and I wandered around it, with very little idea of what I was trying to achieve. The prospective employers were arranged around the school hall, behind desks, many local companies were represented and a number formed a row down the centre of the room. At the very end, sitting behind his desk, in full Number 2 Dress (smart) was a Sergeant from the Army Recruitment Office in Norwich. I wandered up to him and he asked me if I wanted to join the Army. Now if you knew me back then, I was very likely the last person you would expect to be soldier material as I was very immature for my age with very little common sense (I hear cries of no change there then JW). I told the Sergeant that “no, I had my heart set on becoming a Painter and Decorator but had failed the entrance exam”. “You can do your apprenticeship in the Army”, he said, “The Army has a Regiment with all the building trades within it and a dedicated college where you take your apprenticeship, based near Chepstow, in Wales”. A synapse obviously fired within my brain, (well it more than likely went “phut”) and the next thing I knew, I was signing a document, which meant I was to turn up at the Army Careers Office, for a medical the following week. Mum and I left and sure enough the next week, I was lined up, in a grubby room, top floor of the office in Magdalen Street, having my nuts felt by a doctor and being told to cough. “Fine” said the medic, and with that, it was pants up, downstairs and sign here. I had joined the British Army, Royal Engineers Regiment.

I was given a card with my next assignment on it, which was to take a train to Camberley in Surrey, for a 2 day fitness and aptitude test to see if my brain cell had the capability to grasp how to hold a paintbrush in one hand and a 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle in the other. As I was pretty fit and healthy, I walked the fitness tests, which included circuit training evaluations, (press ups, squat thrusts, star jumps, pull ups, sit ups) and a run through the woods, up hills and through bogs etc. When it came to the aptitude tests, it was a different kettle of fish. All it consisted of was multiple choice questions and was probably fairly easy. I failed, again. However, they must have been desperate, as they accepted me as “A Potential Apprentice”, not as “An Apprentice”. This meant I would have to complete additional schooling at Chepstow, (Maths mainly) whilst I was doing the apprenticeship, but we started 3 months after the intake of Apprentice Soldiers. Still, I was in the Army and had until November 1980 before I left home, so needed to fill the period between June and November. Dean and I got jobs picking lettuces, we lasted a week. I would have lasted longer, but Dean told the farmer to f’off, over something such as the crap wages we were being paid and so, in a show of solidarity, I joined him in the walk out. I then got a job as a butcher’s lad, and was pretty good at making sausages and burgers, and John, the butcher, even showed me how to bone a hind quarter, (take all the meat of a cows leg, leaving only the bone and wasting nothing of use). Dean meanwhile started his Carpenters apprenticeship at Bush Builders.

Richard had, as I have said, joined the Metropolitan Police. He had done well at school, so I can’t blame all my failures on Mum and having no Dad, and went off to Hendon Police College. Reflecting upon his joining the Police and me the Army, one might say we were running away from home? I cannot speak for Richard, and actually he has always been so strong mentally and physically, that he was very likely just doing what he wanted to do, but I think I was so “lost” (is that the right word?); I just did not have a clue. Plus there was the immaturity, which was to play a major part in my disciplinary record at Chepstow, and I was primed for a long, drawn out 2 years at Chepstow. I turned 16 on the 17th June 1980, within 4 months I would be staring into the mouth of a drill sergeant, getting beasted (bullied) by the Trained Soldiers Cadre (the group leaving to join their regiments after completing their apprenticeships but who then had to complete 3 months of hell called Combat Engineer Training), breaking all sorts of records for misbehaviour and generally being a prat and very nearly walking out 3 months in. More of that to come thanks for reading!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky - 1979 - 1980

My Father died on 26th May 1979. An air of desolation and emptiness pervaded our once hectic, laughter filled, noisy and often very loud home as we all came to terms with our loss in our own way. Coming to terms for me continues until this day and will forever I think. I know that I never really thought of myself as coming from a single parent household until I was around the age of 24. Even when in the Army, serving with men who to a high proportion were from single parent families, I always felt sorry for them, thinking how sad it was that they never had both parents and never considered myself in the same category. Many of my comrades were from families whose parents had divorced. One guy’s father had actually killed his mother! He had joined up to get away from all that and his Dad was in prison. 

Contrary to what happens nowadays, there wasn’t any counselling, case workers’ supporting a bereaved family and Social Workers helping to define what single parent benefits were available, or at least I did not see any of them. My brother Mark was heavily involved in sorting through Dads papers, his Will, debts and insurances, whilst for me the days were lost in grief. I considered asking Mark to tell me all about the weeks immediately following our loss and Mark kindly offered to tell me the same, but given the nature of this story, to gain an understanding of all that happened, (apart from me, separate from my involvement), would mean I would actually be telling someone else’s story, so I have decided to not seek out that detail, leaving it for others to tell should they so wish.

I think one idiosyncrasy of bereavement for me, was a loss of memory, of the distinct occurrences in those early days, as I hid from the reality of what had happened, protecting myself from confronting not only the mortality of my parents, (who were not supposed to die) but moreover confronting my own mortality, the sudden “knowing” that death becomes us all, no matter where we hide from it. The only contradiction of “knowing” is that we are blind to when it happens and where we will be when it calls. That I have no recollection of those weeks perhaps comes as a blessing. As I was wrapped up in life’s sudden diversion from the road I was so comfortably following, lead by a man, who had so clearly defined in me what was right and wrong and who was everyday a presence in my life, (probably beyond his own understanding), I became a new person, caterpillar to moth. Except my metamorphosis was to take years, not days!

One event that does stand out was the day we buried Dad’s ashes. Earlham Cemetery and Crematorium was directly across the road from our house, shielded by a row of houses, whose gardens backed onto the cemetery itself. I had friends in some of these homes and almost directly across from our house stood a Pub, The Volunteer. It had extensive grounds that included lock ups (Garages) and a walled bowling green. It was not unknown for kids to use the bowling green as a football pitch and to gain access to the cemetery to explore the grounds and play spooky games. I recall that only the immediate family came to the internment. We walked through the lines of gravestones and approached the Garden of Remembrance, set among mature trees and well tended rose gardens. Dad’s “plaque” was to be placed next to a Red Rose bush, 2nd row in and his ashes buried directly in front of it in a hole cut through the turf.

We gathered around the hole, some may have cried I do not remember, but I stood close to my sister and watched as an attendant carried a silver box towards us. I remember looking into the hole and even putting my hand down into it, to see how deep it was and being told off by someone (?) probably. Our family vicar, Reverend Ives, spoke the words and we watched as the attendant poured the ashes through a tall steel funnel into the hole. It was unfortunately, a windy day, windy enough to disrupt the flow of ashes. Windy enough to take the stream of ash that was once my Father and blow it away from the funnel and even windy enough to blow that ash directly into the faces of my sister and I. We both got a face full of Eddie, but for the comic value alone, the story is worth repeating.

My father’s younger brother Derek, had travelled up to Norwich after his death and remained with the family for sometime afterwards, helping manage his affairs and providing much needed support to my brothers, sister and mother. Of all my father’s siblings, Derek was the Uncle we saw the most from those left behind when we moved from Leicester, along with his wife June, and our cousins, Stephen (Steve), Gail and Debbie. We “sort of” grew up together, even though we were separated by some 120 miles, as whenever we went west to Leicester, it was a stop at their place as well as my mum’s sister Betty, as they both lived on the eastern edge of the city. Steve became a very talented chef, Gail a nurse and Debbie is now in the catering business as well, based in Kent. In fact they all live in Kent! Derek now remains the last of the Weaver family of his generation, but is still going strong and will be 80 next year.

He is still as sharp as a tack and has a calm aura about him that draws one to him and means you want to spend as much time with him as possible. I spent a few days with him a few years ago, staying with Debbie, and he looks very much like I would expect my father to appear, as he has the same facial features. I woke early one morning and walked into the kitchen to find him stood, just in trousers, naked from the waist up, making breakfast. For one brief fleeting moment, I wished, so wished for him to be my dad, for him to turn and smile at me as Eddie would have done, to put his arms out and hug me and say “Hi”. He did turn, he did hug me and he did say “Hi”, Uncle Derek is better than no one at all and my cousins are very lucky to have him. When my brother Mark got married, Derek and his second wife, Noreen, came up to Norwich and took me shopping to buy them a wedding present with my pocket money.

One of my “jobs” when I was younger was to act as City Guide to all the foreign students and so I knew my way around the streets of the City well. Derek, Noreen, Julian and I ended up on Elm Hill in Norwich (http://www.elmhill.co.uk/) a beautiful ancient part of the City. I bought Mark and Monica a set of Chinese Rice Bowls and Spoons from a little antique shop. I will have to check they still have them.

I digress! So, Dad was in his hole in the ground and life slowly moved forward. Just before my father died, I had started to suffer ailments, the first involved my “ahem” Penis and the second my ankles, though neither was related to the other (you thought I was going to say my Penis was knocking against my ankles didn’t you?). The first problem was resolved before his death and involved the well travelled (as we learnt previously) Dr Pearson. Those of a squeamish nature should jump paragraphs at this point. My foreskin was steadfastly refusing to roll back, I had pointed this out to my Dad and being the broad minded individual he was, he decided a trip to wandering Pearson was the answer. Dr Pearson’s surgery was on our road in an ornate terrace block. We were ushered into his room and he sat behind his desk, a mantelpiece behind him and a gurney along one wall. My Dad told Dr Pearson what the issue was and the intrepid doctor took a look. “Oh, we can sort that out here, no problem” (I paraphrase but hey, it’s my blog). I think my Dad expected him to recommend circumcision. Nope! The solution involved, my pants down, Dad holding my arms tightly by circling his left arm around my body and Dr Pearson taking my little JW in his hands and peeling back for all he was worth.

Now, foreskins sometimes “stick” to little boys Penises and my was stuck, firmly, so he peeled more and I started to cry, then scream as he continued, commenting “nearly there, not to worry, brave lad, good boy, well done, nearly there, not much farther to go, etc”. My Dad had by this time, decided my volume was far too high, so he placed his right hand over my mouth, to stifle, if you will, my screams. “Done” shouted the good doctor, I looked down at the blood and he was wrapping bandages around my appendage, loads of bandages. I looked up at my Dad, who was sobbing his heart out, telling me I was so brave and so strong, I looked back at Dr Pearson, who considering the impact upon my mental health, that the procedure he had just completed would likely have, turned behind him to the mantelpiece and collected a Rollo Toffee (for overseas readers, this is like a small button of toffee wrapped in chocolate). These come in tubes of foil and paper, but obviously this one was from a roll he had begun enjoying some years previously, as he blew the dust of it, rubbed it on his jacket sleeve and said, open up. I duly obliged, following a prod from my Dad, and the good doctor dropped the offensive sweet into my mouth, Yum! I limped out of his rooms, to my Dads car and we drove the short distance home. I think, once shown the affects of Pearson’s handy work that my Mum hit my Dad, but he never got a Rollo of her, Ha!

The problem with my Ankles was that they were becoming very tender and sore to touch. Our family had its own Orthopaedic Surgeon, linked to Julian’s Perthes Disease, Mr Keith Tucker, who had his own consulting rooms on Newmarket Road. Mr Tucker was a very likeable man, himself a sufferer from Polio I believe and he was sort of hunched over when he walked. (He and I would meet again in 1992 under a far darker cloud). For now, he was focused on my painful Achilles Tendons and decided the best course of action would be to immobilise my ankles with the help of plaster casts, from my toes to my knees.

However, this consultation took place mere weeks before my father died, so I was not able to take him up on his offer of plaster casts for a few months. It eventually transpired that the casts were fitted in the autumn of 1979 and I wore them for 2 months straight. Well, I say straight, but in fact, because I couldn’t behave myself and decided that I was still able to play basketball in the gym at school, football in the fields and parks near home and could run as fast with the casts as without, the casts were changed 3 times, due to the fact that they crumbled apart.

By this time, Mum was taking me back and forth to the hospital and I caused her untold trouble as she did not drive and we did not have a car anyway. Mr Elson, my Head of Year used to pick me up and take me to school in his Land Rover and would take me home, but being Head of, usually stayed behind after school for meetings and so I never went home until well after 5pm most days. I therefore missed, Grange Hill, Blue Peter, Scooby Doo and all the other kids TV series on after school! The selfish bugger!

But my ankles improved and I recovered enough to try out for the school football team and continue my cross country running. I came to really love running, my dad took me to races sometimes and in one I came 17th out of 164 contenders. Not bad, but coming into the final 200 metres, my dad was running alongside, cheering me and urging me on, that stays with me, his pride and excitement. He did not give me a Rollo for that, but he was there.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Hold the Lobster Thermidor - 1979

On May 26th 1979, England was due to play Scotland, in a home international football match at Wembley. Dad was home that weekend and he planned to take my sister Helen, her husband David, Mum, Mark and Monica out that night for Helens birthday. They were going to the Savoy Restaurant, on Prince Of Wales Road and no doubt Mark would have had the Lobster Thermidor! Friday evening, I had stayed at Mark's house and he planned to take me home on Saturday, to watch the game with Dad and my brothers.

My Dad, Earnest Edgar (Eddie) Weaver

Dad had been working in Wales the previous week and had driven back to Norwich on the Friday. Mark, Monica and I headed over to Mum and Dad's around lunchtime on the Saturday. When we got there, Mum told us that Dad was unwell, the doctor had been out to see him (Dr Pearson; about whom I shall share another story on another day), had given him an injection and had dashed off to the countryside to see another patient. Dad was suffering with chest pains.

I went to see him and ask him how he was, "not to worry Jonathan, can you go and get me a glass of water". I loved my Dad and decided that this glass of water was to be the best glass of water in the world, ever! I went into the kitchen, got Ice, Lemon and a straw and ran a glass of water. By the time I had finished the glass of water looked like a cocktail! I went back into the living room and presented my creation. Dad’s reaction was not one I expected as he shouted at me, saying all he wanted was a simple glass of water. He was quite red in the face and I shrunk away, back to the kitchen and got another glass, took it back and went off to my room, in fear of another blast. This was around 2pm and all thoughts of football evaporated as Dad slowly went downhill. Looking back, he should have been in the Hospital already, but this was 1979 and so, injected with probably a clot buster and a painkiller, he sat in the living room of our home and declined and declined.

By 8pm (or as close as that I can figure), Mum, Mark and Helen, (who had come round to find out how Dad was), had decided things had progressed too far. I think they had called Dr Pearson again and he was stuck with the other patient, so they called an ambulance. Richard had gone to Helens and David remained there with him. Julian and I were becoming witnesses to a tragedy, one that was not playing out on the TV, which can be switched off, if it gets too scary.

We were watching our Dad getting more and more ill and I cannot remember at anytime having a conversation with anyone about what was happening in front of us. Try as hard as I can, I cannot remember anything until eventually an ambulance turned up and 2 men came into the house to assess Dad. They gave him oxygen, I stood in the hallway, Dad and the family in the living room, lots of talking, raised voices and one of the men going out to the ambulance and coming back in with a what looked like a stretcher. It was in fact a small frame wheel chair.

I see my Dad wheeled out of the living room across the parquet floor in the hallway; I am stood with my back to the wall between the living room door and kitchen door, below the grandfather clock. “He will be ok”, someone is saying, my Dad looks directly at me, I am scared, so scared and afraid. He moves his hand out of the blanket, I step forward and kiss his cheek, and he looks scared as well. I look at him and he looks at me, then, he moves off towards the front door and tears are streaming down my face. I would like to think that is what happened at that precise moment.

I would like to think I had the presence of thought to capture that moment, like a video memory, one that can be replayed whenever I want, so I can remember him sitting there, I can remember his eyes, his words, everything. The only surety I have of that moment was the kiss. I kissed him and watched him go. I was 14, scared out of my mind, totally bewildered, surrounded by family and utterly alone.

Mark and Mum go in the ambulance with Dad. I sit on the stairs and we wait, Monica, Helen, Julian and I. We wait for the phone call to say my Dad is fine, sitting up in bed and having a cup of tea. Only we seem to wait for what seems like hours, the interminable waiting that occurs when you want news, any news, and time slows as if taunting you. Julian and I had a packet of crisps each and then the phone rings, Monica answers and talks to Mark. The rest of us stand there, trying to understand what Mark is saying, from the responses Monica gives him. She hangs up and says that the doctors are with Dad, he is talking to them and he will call back soon.

I think the phone rang the second time, almost as soon as Monica had finished telling us what Mark had said. None the less, Monica answered again and we stood there again. Anguish!  Monica hung up and turned to us. I remember my sister almost screaming at Monica to tell us something. Perversely and probably quite aptly, Monica said “I don’t know what to say”. I remember Helen screaming again at Monica, and Monica, so brave, so scared, so unwilling to be the messenger, looked at her and said, “He is dead”.

It really is a surreal moment when told that your father is dead, well, surreal when you at 14. I did not know how to react (is there a way to react?), I saw Jules throw his crisps at the wall at the bottom of the stairs and I just stood there and thought, he’ll be in trouble for that. I thought I was supposed to cry, but don’t remember doing so and now looking back, know the last time I saw my father was when he was being wheeled out of our home, both of us scared and both of us going to suffer in different ways.

We then waited for Mum and Mark to come home. They eventually did so, but I cannot remember any comforting words expressed to me, no warm hugs, no one seeking me out. The family probably did and we all very likely cried and hugged one another for quite some time. Dr Pearson showed up later, we sat all of us, together in the front room. He spoke of massive heart attacks, of there being nothing anyone could have done and he was in all probability correct. I remember looking at him with total disdain, why had he not come back earlier? Why was Dad still at home and not in hospital after he had been to see him? I sat on the Ercol settee in the front room, next to my Mum, silent and devastated.

I went to bed that night and woke the next day, to a changed world. I walked downstairs, the house silent. I went into the kitchen and was met by my mother, stood at the sink, looking down the garden. I did not say anything and waited for her to notice me. I wanted to hold her, wanted her to hold me, to tell me he was alive and that my dream was a nightmare. She turned and she looked at me, put her arms out and I walked into her arms and I cried.

Sundays were never going to be the same again, nor any day of the week. I left the house and walked up the round to the home of my friend, Andrew Bunn. Bunny’s Mum and Dad were there and I went in and sat in the kitchen. I remember saying, “My Dad died yesterday” and Andrews Mum, Barbara, looking at me aghast and in shock, asking what I was on about. I told them the story and she rang my home, to tell them where I was, I expect.

I wanted someone to feel sorry for me. Is that selfish? Is that what you are supposed to do when confronted with this sort of thing at 14 years old? I stayed at Andrews for a while and then walked up the road to Gary Harrison’s house. His Mum (Coralie) and Dad (John, who was a Fireman), got pretty much the same story. I went home and don’t remember anything until the day of the funeral, only that we were off school all the time.

And the funeral? Big cars, lots of people, I mean LOTS of people. I was later told, possibly a couple of hundred, crammed into the church. Then the long walk down the centre of the church, behind my Dad, behind my Mum, with my brothers and sister. Sitting there for a while, in the pews, some singing, I remember the singing; getting back into the cars; here comes Mr Potts, the headmaster, appearing at the car window, offering his condolences and saying no need to rush back to school, and the drive to the crematorium. Lots of people back at our house, all my Dad’s brother and sisters, my cousins, my Dad’s friends and colleagues, lots and lots of people and no deep abiding memory of it.

No memories of talking to people, of Uncles taking me to one side, of Aunts covering me in kisses, and in our family, kisses were always the order of the day when family came over. My Dad’s sisters were all big kissers, one, Glady’s, had a mole on her face, I think her cheek, could have been her lip and for a long time I was scared of that face, but as I grew up, she turned into a wonderfully warm lady, she was big and cuddly and her face was a face of love and kindness.

I later learnt from Mark, that Dad had a massive heart attack in the ambulance, not half a mile down the road from our house. The medic was working on him continually all the way to the hospital, but that he had probably died in that ambulance. When they got to the Accident and Emergency, he was swept into a resuscitation room and they actually carried out some pretty strong procedures to try and save him. Nothing worked. It was while he was in that room, getting worked on, that Mark had called us. The Doctor had then come to see Mark almost as he put the phone down. He told me that all he could say to Monica was, “He’s Gone”.

Mark later went to see Dad at the Chapel of Rest, as we wanted to go and see him, to say goodbye. Mark came back and told us that, “No, that was not our Dad in there”. He later told me that he looked bad, his face was purple and bloated and that he could not in all conscience let us in to see him. I was angry at the time and for some years later, as I felt I had been robbed of something. I did not then think I’d had a chance to say goodbye.

But I had done so in the hall and have done so many times since. Later in life, living in California, I would write long letters to my sister, saying how much I missed him, how I felt cheated of all those firsts; those things that son’s get to do with their fathers; first pint, first car, first time pointing out a beautiful woman on the beach and having your Dad nod his head, instead of clipping the back of yours!

So, the Seventies ended in despair and disarray. Is the person I am now, different from the person whom I might have been, had he lived? I only know one thing for certain, I had my Mum and she was to become someone who she probably never would have been, had he lived.

Oh and England beat Scotland 3 – 1.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Teenage Kicks

1970s Contd

My father Eddie, (or to give him his full name; Ernest Edgar Weaver), was a busy man during his life and especially during the 1970's, with 5 children all progressing well. Chief among my memories is that whenever I had a chance, I would cuddle up to him on the leather chesterfield couch. He had a particular smell (as Dads do), tobacco (cigarettes and cigars), scotch, aftershave and something I cannot quite put my mind to, but it was that smell that made you feel secure, that you were safe and that you were loved. I would rest my head against his (not slight) stomach and chest and as he talked would hear his voice through his chest, a deep booming sound that soothed.
Eddie, somewhere abroad in Europe, whats going on with his hair though?

I loved Xmas at our house, it was a beautiful home, (2 large living rooms, a fair sized kitchen, 4 bedrooms) and despite sharing a room with Richard and Julian, there was always space to play, alone or together, and not get in any ones way. The custom in our house was for pillow cases on beds for Santa to fill. Never in my memory, was that pillow case light on content. And there was always a Satsuma in there, along with books, and I was an avid reader when I was younger. All our relatives lived in Leicester and there were always presents from my mother’s sisters, Rosemary and Betty. It amazes me now that they were probably bought in August, wrapped and waiting for collection when we went over altogether.

I also never found them stashed in the house, (despite looking) and as Dad had an office just around the corner from our house, expect they were held there until required by Santa on the day of delivery. My brothers and I would be up early of course and would tear into our pillow cases for the goodies inside. A stocking holding chocolate, a book, a game, top trumps, cars, one year a battery operated Chieftain Tank, another year, a cowboy, horse and his kit, both of which I still have in the original boxes. Max, my son, now has the tank in his care, my daughter, Isabella, has the horse, but has managed to make it lame (snap it leg at the knee), through use.

I expect the following happened to all my brothers and my sister, but this is an abiding memory I have of my father. Every Xmas, from when I was around 10 years old, once the general raucousness of Xmas morning had died down, my Dad would find me and take me into the front room of our house. There, he would present me with a special gift, something he obviously put a great deal of thought into and as such it was something he particularly wanted me to take from him personally.

On one occasion it was a fantastic racing bike, a blue one, with the curved handle bars, 5 gears, black tape around the brake handles and a pump on the cross bar. Another year, it was a pair of Gola football boots, black with a white flash and another year a new football, Norwich City colours. The last one I got he produced from behind his back, in a small black case. It was my first watch, my own watch, a Timex, with a black strap, silver back and white face. It was the only time I cried when I got a present when I was a child, as it meant so much to me, it meant I was growing up (at last) but not fast.

The house was always full of pets, cats primarily, although there was a poodle, Mitzi, who came to Norwich from Leicester with us. I had a rabbit called August (!?) and he had his hutch just outside our back door. Just after Xmas 1976, I went out one morning to clean him out, refresh his straw and generally pay him some attention. He was a stiff as a board. He had died in the night. I went back into the house and found Dad, took him back out and showed August to him. He put his hand on my shoulder and explained what had happened, we wandered down the garden together, Dad with spade in hand and we picked a place where we could bury August. My Dad dug the hole, where the fish pond used to be before the goldfish froze the previous year (!) and we collected August from his hutch, placed him in bag, with some straw to keep him warm............ and laid him in the hole.
August in my arms. 
Nice sandals and sock combination there.

I waited for Dad to start filling in the hole with soil and waited and waited. I looked up and he was stood next to me crying his eyes out. He was crying for me, stood there over August, saying goodbye. He was crying as he knew what I was feeling and he was so sorry for that. Desperately trying to find the right words and for once falling short "I" asked "him" if he was alright, he pulled me tight to him and held me for ages. We then both dried our eyes and covered up August and he held my hand as we walked back to the house.

I was an avid footballer. Richard and I would spend many summer evenings, and winter afternoons, playing football at the Recreation ground. We would collect friends from their homes on the way, or they'd collect us, including Andrew Bunn, Gary Harrison, Dale and Julian Wiseman, Richard and Patrick Holmes, Andrew and Christopher Riches and Andrew Lake. We'd play for ages, centres and headers, attack and defence. It marks a stark contrast to what parents allow their children to do nowadays, as even when on my own, I would not think of coming home until I could no longer see the ball being passed around. And the number of times my Mum would stand at the gates of our house, waiting to see my silhouette appearing on the rise of Earlham road as I neared home, I cannot count. She would be more worried of the reaction of my Dad to my not being at home in bed, than as to what other harm I might have come to! She would tell him I was in bed anyway and then sneak out and wait for me, a thick ear being my reward and fortunately for me, my only punishment.

Julian was also poorly as a child as he was born with Perthes disease, a condition where the femoral head (ball on thigh bone) breaks down and softens, causing a limp and other symptoms. There were many treatments dependent upon the severity of the illness, and through some recent research for this blog, it appears that Jules got the mother lode. He was either in a hospital bed with his leg in a sling, or home and in a leg brace. I smile now when I consider just how "mobile" Jules was, as I can still see him haring around the garden both in Leicester and in Norwich.

There are photographs of us children, in rough jeans and Guernsey jumpers, playing with Mitzi in Leicester, and there is Jules, one leg in a normal shoe the other leg with this Heath Robinson contraption that had a suspended shoe an inch or so above a rubber support, itself attached to a steel cage that ran up either side of the leg, to a leather cuff that fitted against his thigh muscle. Far from slowing the bugger down, he sped up and using the calliper as a weapon, and could deliver a stunning kick to the shins.

Julian, plus Caliper (His kicking shins equipment)
 my Grandma Ada and myself circa 1971

My own and Richards shins and the impact scars, stand as testament to Julian's ability to dent bone with steel. Julian spent some time, once we had moved to Norwich, in the Jenny Lind Children's hospital, and I visited him there with Mum and Dad. He also had operations on his knee and his hip when a child and I never once saw him cry or moan, he just got on with it. As a reward, Mum and Dad took him to London, just them and him, to see the sights and we have wonderful pictures of Jules with Mum and Dad in Trafalgar Square, Pigeons ET AL.

Richard was a typical older brother, smart. By his teens, he had an amazing capacity for sarcastic commentary, would call me Joan-athan, which was guaranteed to kick off an argument, but all the same and probably despite his mates preferences, typically included me in most things he did. He had plenty of friends and was liked at school, (we all went to Avenues Infant and Junior schools and Earlham Comprehensive). He was also very protective, which was contrary to how he appeared to others, or made himself appear to others. I was always invited up to Earlham Park, where, behind the Elizabeth Fry home, was a large green lawn.

His friends, Jonathan and Jeremy Steer (who i worked for later in life at the Pickwick Pub in Norwich), Richard and I would play football for hours with me in goal and the other 3 blasting the ball toward me. Typically, these sessions involved a period where the fun of playing football would wear thin and the fun of beasting me would come to the fore. Looking back though, I loved being with Richard, he was grown up, a proper big brother (Mark also, but he was 10 years older than I) and I felt safe in his company, he never let the hidings others gave me go to far (ha ha)!

Richard and another couple of friends, Gary Pye and Jeremy Goodchild would frequent the Disco, held at the Roman Catholic Cathedral community centre, at the top of Earlham Road in Norwich. I remember all of them being good dancers, Gary especially being a great Disco Dancer. Initially, I was to young to go, but Richard became my introducer to music. He was very much into Northern Soul and Motown and still is, and would come home with a new 45' and play me the latest thing he'd heard or found. Although I was musically minded, I was not musically gifted and could not play an instrument to save my life, apart from smacking homemade drums, with broken drumsticks. I also fancied myself as a bit of a singer/songwriter, and used to sing to my Dad in the car.

By the time I was 14, Julian was 12 and Richard 16, life was pretty much in its groove. Helen and David were parents; Mark and Monica were settled and about to marry; Mum (who I will write about much more as this blog progresses), was managing to juggle being a housewife and mother, wife and support to my older sister and brother, along with a morning cleaning job (her holiday money) and Dad was going all out, working as hard as possible, providing as wonderful an upbringing for his children as possible and enjoying all the perks and benefits, such a wide network and respect could bring.

What on earth could go wrong..........................................?