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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

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.

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