Look at that one over there… she always says she can’t get a bloody cup of tea… she’s just had one. I don’t know if her husband’s alive or not… she stands for hours looking out the window… looking for her Billy… whether he’s alive or not I don’t know. Nobody comes to see her. She’ll walk round and round here all day and if she goes out they bring her back. I hope I don’t end up like her.
My father had two families and he didn’t want the kids from either of them… It was my sister’s twentieth birthday yesterday… no, that’s not right… eighty… eightieth… she died two months ago. I couldn’t go to her funeral. My daughter-in-law brought her kids up here… a lovely little girl… she’s just beginning to walk now… funny ’cos that old girl over there, she’s just beginning to stop.
I think my very first memory might be my mother leaving my father and taking my sisters and me to my grandmother’s and leaving us there. My father started with, “Please come back. I’ll be alright this time.” He never was. She must have seen something in him. She was always so smart and he used to get his clothes from second hands shops. He was a grumpy old tramp. That first Christmas my father said he would come over and spend Christmas with us and he didn’t come… I’ll never forgive him for that… and I’ll never forget it.
Considering he didn’t like kids it was always funny that he had so many of us… four from his first wife and four from his second… right down to my brother who died last year… Dad was in his sixties and he was still knocking out kids. Mum must have seen something in him but I couldn’t see it… he was a horrible man… she went back to him in South London. As we grew up my father stopped us from seeing my grandparents where we’d been living… we used to sneak over there for weekends, me and my sister… but he put a stop to it. He threatened to put us into care if we went back to my Gran but we went anyway. He didn’t even want them at my wedding.
He worked for Handley Page’s for donkeys’ years… and he lost two fingers in an accident there… I didn’t think that was enough… it’s a pity he didn’t lose all of them and a bit more. I think I look very much like him now because I’m old and wrinkled but he always looked like that to me… he was old and wrinkled when he was young. I always thought he was better looking in a gas mask.
I once had Christmas with my Dad and on Christmas Eve he went up Chapel Market and bought half a dozen jam doughnuts for Christmas Dinner… he’d wait until they were clearing out at the end of the day… they threw a leg of pork at him once to get him to clear off. He never even bought us a pair of shoes. I don’t know why he was like that but he made his own life a misery and he made everybody else’s life a misery. He was tight-fisted but he wasn’t hard up. He used to walk around with his pockets bulging. When he lost his marbles and didn’t know what was going on we thought it’s about time Mum had something so we took the money out of his pockets. He died of cancer but he would have died of shock if he’d known we’d had his money.
The only thing I ever had was a toy pram bought for me by my Gran. I had the pram until we had an incendiary bomb hit the house. When we came out we found my father trying to put out somebody else’s fire while his own house was on fire. Dad was a firewatcher in the war but the only fires he ever watched were in the pub. He was useless. When he felt like it he’d go on a sulk and not talk… do you know he didn’t speak to mum for three years? It’s a funny thing looking back that my mother and father were never married… to me that’s a bugbear… he was already married… he left his wife and children but he didn’t know whether she was dead or not. He wanted to go and find out but my mum said for him not to… she’d rather stay as she was.
She had to go into hospital because she had pernicious anaemia… at first he wouldn’t let her go… the doctor told him it’s a matter of life and death. If he didn’t let her go into hospital it’d be murder. The day she went in she had a breakdown. My father didn’t go into hospital to see her once… he sent flowers and took my brother down to take them in to her, but he wouldn’t go in. That was the last straw. Every time we had a row he’d say he was going to take his belt off to me. “Your bloody trousers will fall down, you miserable old bugger!” He had his baggy old tramps trousers pulled up under his armpits. “Saucy sod!” that’s what he called me. He never laid a hand on us… too much of a coward… he threatened me but never laid a finger on us.