The ‘Gang Plank’ of life
The plan for a brighter future was now in disarray. On setting foot on Southampton my mother’s first introduction of what life is going to be was being introduced to a priest. My mother’s world had collapsed, her rock & love had gone to leave this world with three boys & herself to look after. I didn’t understand the implications this would cause. My mother’s grief would live with her till she passed away at the age of 75.
Each boy didn’t become brothers in arms, in fact in time each brother felt he had the brunt of the situation & probably felt the strain of responsibility was on their shoulders. Considering the other’s feelings didn’t seem to matter & to this day there seems to be an anger towards one another. How has this happened; well one theory is that mother manipulated each brother to give her the utmost help & support through various means & in doing so the burden of responsibility felt that each brother was doing things they didn’t want to do. So, family love was lost & eventually there was no closeness. The irony here is that, that’s what my mother wanted the most. Possibly, the age gaps proved the undoing of this love. The three of us were at different stages of growing up.
I realise now that my eldest brother took offence to be the head of the family. At the age of 16 he didn’t have the maturity or the knowledge on how to go about things. How could he. Unfortunately, he did take it out on his brothers of nine & three. He was probably feeling the pressure of bringing in money for the family & with my mother not being bold or strong enough to get a job. Again, how could she, with two younger boys to cope with, in a new country, with no friends or family to give her loving support.
There was help from the government, with rent support & food bills. Also, I think an immense amount of charity clothing. To be honest I don’t think at this period in London, a lot of people were in the same boat, whether they were an immigrant or British. This was less than 20 years after world war two. There were huge amounts of people on the bread line. We settled in West London, mainly in the Bayswater, Paddington, Notting Hill Gate area. I remember living in the top flat in a Victorian house in Powis Square, just a road away from Portobello Market. I am sure it was the top floor flat, as I used to dread going up, in what I thought was a mountain, especially with my little legs. Years later I found out & indeed watched the film ‘Performance’, a film with which the Rolling Stones clan were involved in. Part of the filming was in a flat Keith Richards owned somewhere in Powis Square. I became a big fan years later, seeing the Stones perform three times, in the 80’s & 90’s. I of course always claimed that I lived next to Keith Richard. *
Then I remember we moved to Monmouth Road off Westbourne Grove. In what felt like a large flat for me. A road where I remember seeing a picture of my dad standing proudly in front of a wall, in that street, in a uniform, depicting a job in the railway. This was temporary until we eventually moved to the basement of a very grand house of the upper class, back in the day, one thinks. This was split up into three flats. We took residence in one of these flats, with a shared bathroom & outside loo. Of course, in those years there was no central heating & no fridge, so your milk was left outside in the small courtyard that housed the outside loo.
I remember the front doors were impressively large & once indoors there was a hallway that led to a grand winding staircase, to the first floor, for here again what used to be large family living rooms were divided into rooms to let. A Mrs Whitaker used to own the whole building, she lived on the ground floor, just as you entered the building. Our basement flat, still had the curly bells from the past situated on the
walls that separated the three flats, these bells were rung from upstairs to notify the servants of the time to come & acknowledge their masters ring. The local outside area was great for me. Children could play on the pavements, our back garden so to speak was Kensington Park just across the Bayswater Road. I went to infant school & primary school which was less than 10 minutes’ walk away. Then there was Queensway high street with the impressive Whitley’s department store. This was the first department store in London, if not in the UK. The area was for the upper crust, so you would go there in your horse & carriage & be served by very well-dressed assistants, the men wearing their top hats while they let you enter this new experience. How times have changed. So, firstly there was a very well to do place, to now after the war, a very working-class area & now where we lived are very fancy hotels, with the area being very expensive to live in.
We had two rooms, one small which we called our reception room & best room where my eldest brother stayed & then the larger room, which was our bedroom for my middle brother me & my mum, with our kitchen/dining area within this space. We shared this space with a family of mice & for warmth, sixpences were used to fire up the gas fire. I remember my brother & I trying to jimmy the padlocked container of coins, as one sixpence could buy in a hoard of sweeties to keep us smiling in the very cold winters.
Talking about cold winters. I was chosen to be Joseph in the Christmas play. My mum who was protecting her little boys chilled legs, had me wearing red ribbed tights with my grey shorts. My life had ended. Not only did I have to eat two raw eggs with ‘seasoning’ for breakfast I was wearing girls leg warmers. I always knew my mum wanted a girl. Our family photo album had a portrait picture of me sitting down wearing a pink twin set overlapping my shorts, hence making me look I was wearing a dress. Worst of all I was sporting a wonderful curl as a centre piece to my hair style. So, crying in embarrassment at the side of the stage the teacher asked why I was not coming on my cue to enter center stage. After hearing of my distress, she said don’t worry she would sort it out. Oh, at last someone who understands; a sigh of relief. She explained, there was a problem to my peers & asked not to laugh & accept the gross injustice my mum has put me through & so to give me a rousing cheer as I came on. Well, what do you think happened. In hindsight I would have shouted, give me the drugs now. That saying kids can be cruel; well to this day I don’t know how I got through that day.
The school was multi-cultural, so I wasn’t alone with the racism outside school. But that seemed normal, so in a weird way it was ok. The family went to a catholic church around the corner & I further education at that age was Sunday school. Here again played Joseph in the Christmas play, this time not with tights.
Life was tough, but I didn’t know that. I tried to fit in & didn’t realise I had learning difficulties, something my eldest daughter had, although she achieved her degree & became a teacher.
I remember being left alone a lot of the times, something that probably wouldn’t happen now. Also, being told to walk home from school from a very tender age. Here again, in that era everyone was doing it. I remember daydreaming a lot & making up all sort of stories in my head, to keep myself amused. Lastly, my eldest brother was a hard task master, the cane was used, something I tried to hide in the outside courtyard.
One of the neighbours was a Malaysian man who was studying to be a lawyer. One day he would go back to his country & become a High Judge who could sentence people to death. Umm. Anyway, he
became my Uncle Sidney. At last there was a bit of guidance & a reprieve for my mum. I think he was part of the committee to suggest for my eldest brother to lessen the burden by sending him to the RAF.
Which was great for me & my other brother, less telling off’s let’s say.
Although, it all sounds rough, as I said I didn’t know & I feel landing in west London was a godsend. It was probably the best time in away where we were all at our closest. Plus, having the park on your doorstep, the west end was one mile away. We might not have had much but we didn’t realise we were in a great part of London. Somehow, I could wing my school work by answering questions through patterns rather than knowing the equation. I got accepted to a Catholic school of the Ladbroke Grove, called Cardinal Manning. I was eleven & the year 1971.