There is mystique surrounding my birth as we only lived in that town for a few years, ostensibly for a job that didn’t really work out for my father, or just so that I’d be born in Yorkshire. Either way I only lived there for a year and then we moved to North London.
I remember this as happy times. I do remember my sisters occasionally fighting on the floor, pulling each other’s hair out but I was mostly oblivious to them as they seemed that much older. 2sis got baptised in a full immersion that we all went to. I think she joined the church as a way of escaping from the family. My parents were atheists although I never really remember discussing the subject all all; they were passive in their beliefs or lack of them.
I had trouble at school as I could already read when I arrived. My mother had taught us all to read before school and it wasn’t until I had my own children that I realised quite how remarkable this is. However it confused school and I do remember sitting in the back of the class being bored while other children looked at flashcards with the teacher. My mother said she tried getting me jumped up a year but it was not really possible. I had one best friend and a good group of friends although I do remember once crying bitterly in the playground as I had to go round to play with someone I didn’t want to. What she thought was never recorded.
I was scared of going upstairs on my own in the daytime. There was some fear of monsters and/or flames. I would think about what I wanted to get, prepare myself and run up and get it as fast as I could. I had a space in the sitting room behind the sofa where I could play, with a toy box containing I know not what and as long as I put it away afterwards and was quiet I was free. We had a huge garden and a big swing that I fell off once from a height.
We had a Pakistani family next door to us and every once in a while my parents would dress up and go over with great excitement for a curry. My mother later said that she was allowed to sit with the men but she had to drink like them with large tumblerfuls of whisky being offered so she was quite merry before eating. I didn’t get it myself; it took me years before I enjoyed curry and I didn’t like the smell of their house. Our neighbours on the other side had a peculiar shape to their house and I once got lost inside it. I’ve often wanted to go back to find out how that was possible as it wasn’t that big a house.
My father used to take me into work with him sometimes on a Saturday. He would often put someone else in charge of me for the day while he carried on working but I really enjoyed those trips and that sensation that the curtain was being lifted on what exactly he did all day.
I did get excited by the first time my parents went to a posh dinner, an annual banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor. I didn’t really understand who he was but was aware that my parents were excited and apprehensive about this in a way I hadn’t seen before. So I created a ‘Have a Happy Dinner’ card for the Lord Mayor, sealed it up in an envelope and gave it to my father to pass on. At the time I did not realise what an act of faith it must have been for my father to pass this on unopened but I still have the response.
My father used to tuck me in bed sometimes, telling me stories about his youth or the days of his National Service, tales never since repeated.
My mother took me to open air theatre, and local amateur dramatics; she took me to virtually every museum in London and I still walk into new ones today and dimly remember them. Once I started at school full time she got a part time job at a local baker’s. Again it wasn’t until my children were all in school that I understood why she was so excited about getting out of the house.
We would go on long walks at the weekend, often over Hampstead Heath ending up in a pub but also driving out to the country and plodding forward with a square of chocolate being offered every few hours as sustenance. I had little legs and couldn’t keep up and so would fall behind and entertain myself by having long conversations in my head. It never crossed my parents’ mind to slow down for us. There would be a pub afterwards but children were often not allowed inside then so the three of us would perch outside with a lemonade and packet of crisps between us while parents drank beer inside.
Overall though I think of these years as mostly good ones. They were stable and secure. My mother was almost always at home after school; my father didn’t disappear for trips the way he did later although he worked late and often on Saturdays as well. There seemed to be time for all us and many of the existing stresses with my sisters were completely over my head.
When I was seven came the announcement that we were moving abroad and with that, life changed dramatically for all of us.