MEMOIR

THIS PAGE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION AND IS NOT LIKELY TO BE COMPLETED FOR SOME WHILE - MAYBE A YEAR... OR SO - In the meantime anyone willing to tolerate typos, spelling errors, incomplete sentences, repetions etc., etc., is welcome to read work in progress...

   
 
PART - 1
PART - 2:
 
1949 - 1964
 
 

 

Contents

Introduction

Into the world

The Starting Block

Hometime

The Radio

The Farm, Chickens and Rabbits

Back in Day-Prison

Lucky Break

More on the Flipside of the Crazy Teen Years

 

Introduction

OED definitions:

Autobiography - a personal account of one's own life

Memoir - a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.

How clear is that? Just to check, I dipped into several publications labelled 'autobiography' and 'memoir'.

As far as I can make out, autobiography is not only comprehensive but concentrates chiefly on the person, which implies an underlying egoism, exhibitionism or vanity even. For some - Mohamed Ali, Margaret Thatcher (had they so indulged) - that might be appropriate.

A memoir, on the other hand, seems more to emphasise periods and events that have been instrumental in shaping how a person's thinking and life have evolved. This is what I'm aiming for here. In other words, less focus on me than on the issues that have influenced me.

A fine example of an objective opening is from the memoir of renowned philosopher Bryan Magee.

The implicit self-examination of 'autobiography' is a bit like placing oneself under a microscope or in the psychiatrist's chair - an intriguing indulgence for the subject, perhaps, but unless they possess some rare, qualifying attribute, I imagine tediously boring to anyone else. Besides which, in my case, I've already made many excursions 'into myself' elsewhere on this site. Apart from the 'Autobiographical' dropdown on the Home page, here, in no special order, are a few of the more introspective ones:

We All Have Our Lives (2006)

Tricks (2013)

Idle Reflections (2013)

Asimov (Intro) + Books in my life

Why I Think as I Do

Slacking

Wandering

Yo Ho Ho

A Memory + The Blob

Chess Tournament + Wedding Party

DIY

etc., etc.

There are touches of autobiography in some of the stories too: ie, most especially: 'Fired', 'The Button', 'Mrs Jolly...' & 'The Wild Beach'...

Furthermore, I'm far less interesting than what's happened around me. For one thing, I've never held a superior position, or any kind of power - over people, that is. (I don't count the brief period I spent as a schoolteacher because the kids were already well programmed. True, I could have steered the situation, and I did a bit, but I was there under contract so had little leeway.) Nor do I possess other than at best average intelligence. I don't say that from modesty: all too often I've envied those brain-heads who handle languages with ease, programme their tablet in seconds, are quick witted, articulate, sharp as a bayonet. But I've got by; regarding dexterity, practical ability, fixing things and so on, including lateral thinking and improvisation, I reckon I can equal most. And health-wise, I've somehow remained almost as when I was 20. So who's complaining?

Even so, despite a lifetime at a variety of jobs, I never advanced beyond basic level in any. I was an electrician for three years, chromatography-lab technician for four, maths teacher for one, telecine & video broadcast engineer for ten, telephone operator for one, carer for two, and at other times either a student or general dogsbody. Throughout it all, as I say, not once did I rise above the lowest grade. This is logical enough for someone with few aspirations and a mind of their own: more apt to keep to their principles than toe the line... and less apt to attend to the job than to how much free time can be wheedled.

Unless idling qualifies, I'm not sure that I've aspired to anything much since the age of about 25. I have, though, while 'retired' - essentially, now 15-years - attempted to write. And am still working at it, clearly. As a clue to how far I've progressed: I'd guess that even if I could lop 40-years off my age, the most lowly newspaper or magazine wouldn't recruit me on the strength of it. And that's after ~15-years of - admittedly sporadic - practice. So I can't claim merit in any discipline or activity. Which means there's nothing, certainly nothing I've done, that justifies a memoir. Yet, defiantly, stubbornly, I forge on.

Since non-activity - or more precisely 'idling' - is one thing I feel I have advanced in and do know something about, it's inevitably an issue on which I have a few things to say. I classify 'non-activity', incidentally, as a sub-division of idling. The latter is a disposition that's been with me from my earliest days, and which I always associated with pleasure - hence no attempt was ever made to avoid it; rather, the reverse. Which means that if it wasn't down to early conditioning (which it may well be), then it's probably an inborn trait. Likewise the propensity some people have to paint and draw, or to play music. These skills, if one is to develop and make something of them, require practice and application. Otherwise they're likely to shrivel and die. And the same for idling.

True, idling might belong in a different category, but like those other skills, to idle creatively requires a certain approach, certain techniques. As in other arts, to become adept one must attend to practice - and experimentation. You might laugh at this, but learning how to handle idle periods constructively can have considerable benefits. Most people are inclined to associate idling with boredom, or simply taking a rest, which it is, but with potential for more effective kinds of repose like tranquillity, serenity and so on. There are many ways to idle, each appropriate to a particular situation or desired state of mind. Observing oneself from 'above', as it were, can be useful in this: imagine watching yourself idling as though from the viewpoint of a bystander able also to detect and influence your thoughts - thoughts of which you think you are in control, but are you?

"Give me the first six years of a child's life and you can have the rest." - from page-1 of Kipling's memoir 'Something of Myself'

And from (I think?) Graham Greene: "Show me a child till he's seven and I'll show you the man."

Under different circumstances, I might have joined the military. I might have become a ruthless mercenary who hires himself to the highest bidder as a torturer or propagandist for MI6. Alternatively, my background could have steered me into medicine or astronomy or to emulate the lifestyle of the Dalai Lama. There seems no end to the possibilities. The only definitive analysis I've seen of the nature/nurture debate, if it still is a debate, is Oliver James' conclusions from statistical surveys: ie, nurture forms more, sometimes much more, than 50%. Which I think accords with the message in the Kipling and Greene quotes.

So now I have to decide what in my past is prominent or interesting enough to be worth telling. Anything I judge trivial or irrelevant, I'll be inclined to omit. Such judgement is subjective, of course. And there might be details I won't want to reveal, things that might show me in a bad light. I have to decide whether these are appropriate. I can't claim, by any measure, to have been any sort of an angel, uninfluenced by what might be generally regarded as malevolent or villainous. Though nor, I believe, have I given cause to be labelled a rogue. Pest, imp - certainly - once, flatteringly, 'gadfly' (a sobriquet Socrates acquired), and of the moment, a few derogatory adjectives I won't repeat.

What I intend here, as I say, is to reflect on key events and people that have influenced me. But how reliable is memory? Experiments have shown that no two people recall an event equally. Their past experience, state of mind, skills of observation, wakefulness, objectivity... all can affect what and how well someone remembers. We have only unreliable memory - as Clive James so reliably observed.

And I've never kept any kind of journal either, except while travelling. Then I've recorded only my location - in one of those little diaries with scarcely space for more than an appointment or birthday on any day. So I can only access 'truth' as I remember it.

All this means accuracy can't be guaranteed. At this moment I don't know how much I'll be able to remember. I'm bound to forget a significant event or two, which if reminded would probably astonish me to have left out.

So I'll recall and explain what I can. Grievances, and there are many, relate either to the 'human condition' (ie, politics) or adults of half a century ago not seen for many decades and now almost certainly dead (ie, from childhood). I'll include, in passing, the briefest mention of past relations: my total knowledge, since I never thought to quiz my parents when they were alive.

In his essay 'Memoirs' Roberto Bolaño states that a memoir is an attempt to self-justify. Generally, this may be true. But since, apart from me, only one or two people are likely to read this particular memoir, it might seem that I'm justifying myself to myself. Maybe I am? Essentially, though, I'm reminiscing in spare moments, recalling past events in my life while at the same time indulging in the subterfuge of writing - for the sheer creative hell of it. Besides, it's easier than making stuff up. The downside is that there are risks and dangers in looking back; I think, though, I have several attributes that protect me from these.

I'll explain: despite being a solid atheist from as far back as when I consciously thought about it, I still recognise that the bible contains - as well as a wealth of ludicrous myths, maxims and yarns - a wise lesson or two. Those I recall are from among stories read to us kids at school back in the 1950s. Presumably, some were intended to scare us, persuade us to conform. I guess my perception was already askew because I never saw them that way. As with many issues then (and since, for that matter), I was inclined to interpret things differently - even if the intended meaning was obvious, I'd usually take an oblique perspective by default. Those weird bible stories did spark my imagination, though - as did the great fables and secular tales Dad read to my brother and me at bedtime: 'The Axe in the Ceiling', 'The Wind and the Sun', 'The Old Woman in a Vinegar Bottle', 'The Hare and the Toitoise' and various other edifying tales from Aesop and elsewhere, etc., etc.

Most relevant here - ie, to writing a memoir - is the old gruesome story where God destroys a city and instructs those fleeing: 'Don't look back'. I remember thinking: who could resist such a spectacle: a collapsing, burning city? But one individual did look. And for punishment God turned them into a pillar of salt. (Gore Vidal's masterful 'The City and the Pillar' presents a fine illustration of what can happen from ignoring this metaphor.)

But to us kids the meaning was not explained. And if it had been, it certainly had no relevance in the life of an ~8-year old. I imagined God as a sadist, and pictured his hapless victim (the 'pillar') as a chalk-like plinth stuck there for all eternity in the desert. That's to say, since it was unexplained - I drew my own conclusion: condemning God (not intended) and identifying with the victim (intended) who in my eyes had done nothing inherently wrong. Presumably, the story is meant to say, simply: Obey God, or else! (ie, Obey teacher, the policeman, the adult... or else!).

This made the notion of God even more alien to me, apart from which: how does one 'hear' God's wishes in the first place? According to Colin Wilson in 'Frankenstein's Castle', when someone thinks they 'hear' God, they're actually detecting their unconscious right-brain speaking to their conscious left brain. This is a phenomenon I'm unaware of ever having experienced, though I believe it's fairly common, or used to be. Anyhow, once I was old enough to think analytically - I guess about 14 or 15 - it became suddenly obvious that looking back is indeed inclined to make people 'salty' - ie, bitter; they'll feel remorse, anger, gloom - though also nostalgia, but less often pleasure. Much safer to look forward (and 'dream'). At last the parable made sense.

Another weird notion from around that time was that Christ died to save us. How could a person's death save anyone, I'd wondered? Reflecting on this in my teens, it appeared that regardless of his fate, by refusing to obey a tyrannical emperor Christ set a great example. For someone so popular to become a martyr was probably rare 2000-years ago, likewise the anti-authority publicity. The lesson, in other words: if no one stands up against corrupt governments/BIG Corp... or any tyrant... then 'civilisation' can hardly prevail over barbarism. Hence another profound story never explained. In this instance, it's pretty obvious why: teaching kids about the corrupt nature of authority and the need to rebel presents a classic conflict of interest.

Here's another of several less sinister unexplained bible mysteries from that period: how, by cutting-off his long hair while he slept, was Delilah able to diminish Samson's strength? Years later, the only rational interpretation was that the hair-cutting formed a metaphor for castration.

As I say, due to certain attributes, it's a small risk I take of becoming 'a pillar of salt'. First, I don't take life that seriously, what's past is past, and anyway I don't recall committing what I'd regard as a particularly heinous act, at least not that might return to haunt me. Any 'transgressions' I'm guilty of are, as I see it, trivial - and probably common enough. Secondly, I'm really a feeble character: under pressure of practical circumstances I'm inclined to shy from principles and take the easy or cowardly route - so no way would I put my life on the line for a cause or an ideal that I might otherwise avidly support. If this means I'm a hypocrite, so be it.

Yet, unlike Édith Piaf ("Non, je ne regrette rien” 1956) I have many regrets, alas. These are not so much for what I've done as for what I've failed to do - especially when my brain was young, vigorous, wild and full of life. If only I'd had more confidence as a teenager, to be more bold, more ready to take risks, more awake to adventure... if only I'd stumbled on the following quote from Mark Twain... who knows, it might have made all the difference (assuming I'd taken note of it, which I'm not certain I would):

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

 

PAGES SUBJECT TO TEXT GENERATOR PSCHO-SEIZURE + FAILURE OF PAP DETECTOR (including when complete).

 

 

Into the World

I remember above all the time when I was held over a vast stone chalice, gazing down into a glorious deep pool of glittering clear water. Vivid dark blues, reds, golds and greens sparkled, rippled and flickered around the surface, constantly appearing and disappearing. Far below, through the water, ever-changing patterns of distorted greys and illuminated rectangles reflected brightly around the rough inside surface.

Suddenly, ecstasy turns to horror. I'm being lowered, and turned over. I can't see where I'm going. I scream out, petrified, certain I'm about to be plunged into that enormous chalice and drowned. As my head touches the surface, there's a pause. Now, instead of struggling I'm rigid with fear; then drips land on my forehead and I go calm. There the memory ends. It's the earliest one I have.

Years later, I discover I was baptised at 6-months old. The church is in Wadhurst. The stone font stands near a big stained-glass window to the left of the entrance. At times it catches the sun, throwing patterns on and around the plinth.

I believe memory and trauma are closely linked. While some people's brain blanks-out recollections of trauma, mine seems to exaggerate them. I recall them as clearly as the good times. This is probably because the adversities I later suffered hardly rate as genuine trauma, plus that they were few and brief. Yet their influence was considerable - though perhaps not ultimately negative. Who can say?

Next I picture the concrete yard where I played during my first 2-years or so. Our small three-storey house was an end terrace of three. A block of three outside toilets stood across the yard. No grass, no garden, just concrete. We moved out of there when I was 3, and the whole area was razed some years after to make way for a telephone exchange. I recall little else from that period: only our cheerfully eccentric neighbours, the Herrings, an old woman - Miss Chapman - in the furthest house, and occasional excursions.

For instance, the fabulous adventure of riding the crossbar-seat on Dad's bicycle. This was usually to his allotment a mile or so away, which involved crossing roads and ditches and a big common. I still have a scar on my thumb from one of those trips. Topping a carrot with Dad's razor-sharp pocket-knife required less pressure than I expected. I remember the blood, and several attempts of him tying my thumb with a handkerchief. Some people might wonder how an intelligent guy of 35 could trust a 2-year-old even to hold such a knife. But I've never doubted he was right to give me that opportunity, no matter the risk. It was an important and later appreciated example in self-dependence, even at 2. A great lesson, I think.

After we moved to a brand new semi, Mum took me along to the local nursery. I guess she'd have been glad to offload me for a few hours on weekdays. My brother, now at infant school, had claimed to have enjoyed it. Even at age 3 or 4, I was aware that everyone had their own perspective; and my brother's wasn't mine. A couple of years earlier while being wheeled around town in a push-chair, including often to the river and lock gates with exciting ominous swirling black water, my brother, as I now interpreted it, had been trapped in some dismal, regimented day-prison. I saw - and I remember this well - his claim of 'enjoyment' as either a steadfast resilience I didn't share, or self-deception - a ploy to cope with adverse conditions.

Once in sight of the place I declared that I wasn't at all keen on the idea. I remember my delight when Mum accepted this without question and we returned home. She didn't even try to persuade me. The fact was, as I saw it (which is key), she respected my feelings, even as a ~4-year old. I think this, as with the knife incident, formed another great example.

In similar small ways, and as well as much else before the end of my first decade, I learned that what to a small kid can appear profound - and even, I later realised, life-changing - an adult is inclined to regard as trivial or insignificant. There are many examples of this. How often famous artists of whatever persuasion cite a brief or outwardly minor childhood experience as pivotal in deciding the course their life has taken: an auspicious visit to a theatre, a ride in an aeroplane, hearing a particular piece of music... often when younger than ten.

Likewise: what to a small kid appears inconsequential or merely natural, an adult might regard as profound - death, for instance, or their own poverty. Does a kid ever complain about untidiness, traffic-noise, living in a small house, or having only a concrete yard to play in as I did till age 3?

One Saturday, when I was around 8 or 9, wandering among anonymous crowds in Huntingdon market, I noticed an old tramp sitting on the pavement with a cap containing a few coins in front of him. In those days kids were not over-protected or fawned over as now. Freedom to roam was enjoyed by all and taken for granted. A few straggles of hair criss-crossed the tramp's scabby head, and he was draped in a old mack that looked ripe for the dump. Feeling sorry for him, I chucked my silver 6p pocket money into the hat. 'Thank you.' he said pleasantly, with a nod.

Whatever I might have bought instead would soon have been forgotten, whereas for a long time afterwards when I thought of it I was warmed by my little act of altruism. Back then, with poverty more widespread and conspicuous than now, tramps and vagrants were common and likely to be genuine. Sometimes they'd even knock on our door and ask for a handout or to fill a flask with hot water. Mum would always oblige. Nowadays, with a 'welfare state' (fickle as it is), most householders would probably respond negatively? It strikes me as scandalous, though, that beggars still exist in abundance 60-years on, scarcely to mention homelessness, food banks, etc. Considering those few elites who government, regardless of which party, always represents above all, I guess these anomalies are really not surprising. To quote John Dewey (1859 - 1952, Philosopher, Psychologist and Educational Reformer): "Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business." The word 'shadow' is an understatement. So the age-old struggle continues...

 

Starting Block

The sub-title is intentionally ambiguous: for one thing, it's when my conscious life really began - synonymous with the start of a race and being compelled for the first time to deliberately engage my brain; for another, I soon hit a formidable barrier - hence 'block' in the obstructive sense.

They might appear trifling and prosaic, but I believe events I recall below made a substantial impact on the way my mind developed, both in how I thought and what I thought about - which is why I go into some detail. This period, from age ~6 to 11 - as I guess any psychologist would confirm - is second only in significance to years 0 to 5. Perhaps if a person's first 5 impact on the personality, then the second 5 influence world-outlook? Either way, in other circumstances, I'm certain my life would have taken a quite different direction. And although, had that happened, and I'd adapted to school - tough as it was in those days compared with now - and later to other areas of society that have always eluded or in some sense repulsed me, I'm not sure that it would have been of greater benefit to me in the long run. Adversity, challenge and friction can inspire and awaken as well as crush. In my case it seemed to do both - to different parts of my brain.

How fabulous anyone's life would turn out, I now muse, if at around this age (6 to 11) they were a pupil at Summerhill, embarked on a prolonged several-year trip around the world, or merely received consistent personal attention from an inspired mentor or 'nanny'.

As to what took place for me: one might suggest that perhaps I should, after all, have attended that optional nursery my brother so 'enjoyed'? It may not have prepared me for the shocks, but it would probably have hardened me a bit, given me a protective edge. Of course, I should have known that at some point I'd have to face harsh reality alone - though at that stage I'd yet to experience any kind of harshness. How much more advantageous, perhaps, if the challenges had been rational: against 'the elements', say, and not from the arbitrary, incoherent moods and whims of unhinged or misguided adults.

In contrast to how my last day at secondary school (one of the few I actually attended during those long awaited final months) evokes recollections of happy celebration, my initiation into infant school only brings to mind dread and remorse - a stark omen, so it was to transpire.

Lucky for me my relationship with peers was consistently positive throughout that early 6-year ordeal. There were other glimmers of light, to be sure, but as usually happens in such circumstances the more gentle moments are swamped by the harsher ones.

It began one rainy morning in September 1954. I was 5½ years old. Mum walked me out of the rain and into a long wide hall with a hard dark brown floor. The walls were cream-painted breeze-block, and an enormous fireplace stood in the centre. The whole area was solid with frenetic 5-year olds, screaming and jostling. Most were clad in wet macks or coats. The air was heavy with the stench of wet clothes. And that hall-way was as near to bedlam as I've ever witnessed. As if this wasn't frightening enough, Mum abandoned me there. I couldn't believe what was happening to me. Twice I tried to follow her out, twice she drove me back; perhaps my situation anguished her as much as it did me? When I realised she'd gone I just stood there feeling lost. Scared and deafened by the mayhem, I began to weep.

Then a girl, pushed against me in the crush, wrapped an arm around me and said, 'Don't cry.' I hugged her back, and my focus switched from the mayhem. I stopped crying and began to feel better. I'm not sure how long that lasted, but I describe what happened next in Item-2 of 'We All Have Our Lives': I was snatched brutally and suddenly from behind by what turned out to be an old woman who closely resembled the witch in 'Snow White' (as grotesquely depicted in a big colourful fairy-tale book I had). She shoved me into a side-room and proceeded to scold and then hit me. I never did discover my offence. Had I kissed the girl, appeared to fondle her? Or was it something else entirely?

Apart from learning to read - performed in a formal atmosphere of fear and a manner that made it easy but also excruciatingly dull - that's about all I remember of those first months. I think the horror of that incident, though, remained with me a long time. The constant threat of repetition seemed to sit in my mind so that everything was infected by it, like perceiving through a haze of apprehension. Which meant a teacher's anger or aggression, usually as inexplicable as it was unpredictable, would evoke fear to the point where it woke a part of my psyche that I believe would normally have lain dormant until my teens. For one thing, I now had my guard up: these people were not to be trusted; they were capricious, petulant and spiteful. One could feel safe only when out of their sight and range. I'd routinely assess their state-of-mind, judge their actions. My disquiet was continually fed by a multitude of small events, so even when the rancour wasn't aimed at me, these observations came to form a significant part of my education, somewhat more perhaps than academic learning.

I guess this went some way towards imprinting what eventually became my acute scepticism, distrust and even hatred, of authority (arbitrary authority, that is... which is to say: when not dependent on some kind of technical knowledge or skill - ie, see 'Why I Distrust People in Authority').

One day a teacher who sometimes wore glasses scolded a girl for forgetting hers, and I spontaneously observed out loud - a big mistake in those days - that she, the teacher, also sometimes forgot hers. And hers were no ordinary glasses: conspicuously bright pink with a grotesque upward curlicue each side, they reflected sinisterly when she glared out at us. Like with a Halloween mask, I had the impression that the intention was more to intimidate than aid vision: at least, she would habitually don them when angry. Then she'd scrunch her fat little mouth and release a stream of piercing staccato shrieks. But my inopportune remark meant this response now aimed at me was accompanied by an outstretched arm and pointing finger - towards the door. And so I was abruptly consigned to the corridor. Obviously, I'd noticed an example of blatant hypocrisy. If I'd been her I'd have praised the astuteness of the comment, and either made my excuses or confessed.

On another occasion I was thrown out for voicing my observation one rainy morning that the boots worn by another kid's mother - a fat clumsy woman in a huge sou'wester that dripped all around - were big. How that could have caused offence baffles me to this day. Yet punishment - exclusion - ensued.

I could list several other such examples. (One rare dramatic incident from this period is described HERE.) Usually absurdly trifling, and generally for no reason that I could fathom, these were the kinds of instances that landed me in the corridor (until I learned to keep my mouth shut - maybe I was a slow learner? The lesson: NOT to be spontaneous).

Neglected and forgotten till class ended, frequently seeming hours away, I soon discovered how to manage the time quite well. Possibly, I was thrown out only six or seven times during those years, and it just seems more. That first expulsion, though, over the glasses, was both the worst and most auspicious. Like that traumatic encounter on my first day, this was precisely the sort of incident that can have a stunning and lasting impact on the mind of a small kid. Who, after all, wants to be ostracised, singled-out and left isolated and alone - especially with no intelligible justification?

Already a bit impervious, I didn't cry, but I did feel tearful and I remember it well: the curious lump in my throat that I'd never experienced before. A kid of 6 or 7 soon toughens, though, and quickly adopts strategies to make an unpleasant situation tolerable, even desirable. Whether deliberate or not, my solution was to become philosophical.

What immediately occupied my mind - obviously not for the first time - was the notion that teachers were sadistic and idiotic. I didn't have those words, of course, just the emotions they aroused. With no distractions, just standing quietly alone, this was the first ever opportunity I can remember of reflecting undisturbed on a real predicament, a measured and reasoned assessment of a quandary, of my practical circumstances and what had led to them. So I'd ponder: initially and briefly on what had happened, then I'd dwell self-pityingly on the gloom of standing there alone listening to the various muted echoing voices and sounds from classrooms along the corridor. After a while, I'd notice birds on a tree outside a high window, and in the same sad mood consider how lucky they were to be free.

True, I wasn't actually confined, but if I walked away, what then? I'd be seen and caught, most likely, or if I got clear I'd be in trouble the next day. And where would I go until home-time? Sifting through a whole range of scenarios, I remember, above all, reflecting on freedom: how absurd that I, a 'superior' human being was trapped and miserable, while those 'lesser' birds were happy and free. (I remembered this instance many years later when my dad quoted the little epigram: 'To see a creature in a cage puts all of heaven in a rage'). But it was the concept of freedom that occupied me most - then the pain of aching legs and the baffling injustice of my situation.

How many 6 or 7-year olds find themselves in circumstances that force them into this kind of reasoning and the need to develop inner self-reliance? How many land in a predicament that inspires - or gives space for - such thinking? I imagine there are many in war zones or where desperate poverty is common, places where life is truly tough, where real hostility and unpredictability exist all around. Such victims probably use psychological survival tactics that would impress a Nobel laureate in psychology. These days with lessons and exercises in 'mindfulness', perhaps kids can learn to think for themselves - though if not from a position of adversity, where is the challenge, where is the stimulus for learning genuine, reasoned self-reliance? It seems to me that instead of climbing a rock face, as it were, these kids would be climbing a pile of cushions. Which means the experience is superficial and probably only marginally effective at best.

Obviously, for me, although real and poignant, these 'diversions' - beside the grand scheme of things - were relatively tame and fleeting; none of them even remotely life-threatening. So it was hardly a 'rock face' for me either. Crucially, though, these events stood out. They provided a perspective, an angle on the world, even a kind of grounding, that most kids - as it seemed to me then - don't get. Did these experiences make me unusually precocious? I don't recall other kids being excluded, though perhaps they were? Although I noticed a lot, I was probably too self-absorbed - as inevitably kids often are - to notice everything that went on around me. Occasionally I'd quietly suffer the travails of empathy, though, where I'd feel for other kids who became victim to some injustice, misfortune or undeserved (as I saw it) rebuke, almost as if it was me at the receiving end.

But unlike my peers, so I believed at the time, I was cultivating an ability to judge events around me in an objective light, neither rose-tinted nor learned from somewhere or someone else. I didn't, however, deliberately invite exclusions. They were still heavily tainted with a sense of shock and unpleasantness. Yet when they happened, I accepted them stoically; and although downhearted, I'd attempt to regard them as positive: I'd unfailingly see myself not as a culprit, but a victim.

It was a chance too for those rare private contemplations on life - why I never ruminated at happier times mystifies me now since there was a strange pleasure in it despite, or maybe because, it left me feeling contingent... superfluous to requirements, unwanted. Above all it provided a period for idling - to which I was becoming increasingly partial - and again to reflect on the birds and the idea of freedom. The only drawback, as I say: aching legs. I can't imagine now why I never sat on the floor (no one kept an eye on me as far as I knew).

Later, as a teenager at secondary-modern, I noticed several hapless kids who I'd often seen looking perennially forlorn and unkempt in infant school, usually in some kind of trouble, and whose lives were clearly far more dismal and problematic than mine. Probably, due to shortcomings in their upbringing, they lacked the confidence I had to inwardly rise above the ill-treatment. And probably their conditions at home weren't much different from school: bullied, assaulted, broken and crushed by a staff and system fit only for what these days would be some kind of punitive 'boot-camp'. Unlike them, I guess, my early circumstances had enabled the development of a solid and resilient sense of self that formed a defensive barrier I could always hide behind or within, an invulnerable protection against psychological attack. Without daring to reveal the fact, I always 'knew' I was right and 'the other' - the adult - wrong, or at least disproportionate, unreasonable, excessive. In other words, despite feeling increasingly contingent, I was always inwardly sure of myself.

This sense of self, I believe, manifests as a survival mechanism in which inner confidence reigns supreme. One feels, to an extent, invincible. This is not at all like the misnamed 'self-confidence' of those who assert themselves and take control or feel/act superior within a group. A person can experience self-confidence while also acknowledging their comparative irrelevance, shying from any form of ostentation or power over others. Imagine the confidence/independence of the intrepid Ed 'Bear' Grylls as he scales some daunting precipice. That was the kind of confidence I could have related to then - though my precipice was the fickle world of school and the erratic nature of those who ruled.

An early sense of independence and especially contingency has, I'm certain, protected me from all kinds of misconceptions - notably expecting much of other people. Which means I have few illusions of why anyone (apart maybe from a close relative or a lover - and even then a surprise turnabout would present no problem) should care about me or afford me special treatment or attention. This means I have a level of immunity from disappointment. I've always found it easy to shrug-off offensive people and disrespect. Such affronts wash over me scarcely noticed... or rather, clearly noticed, but not taken personally or inwardly - an attribute that was to come in useful at secondary school.

This probably also explains why I've often felt like an outsider, not quite belonging to whatever 'institution' or outfit I'm involved with - usually more comfortable on the fringes or margins, more at home with the 'oddballs', the 'misfits', the 'rejects'. Most prominently, this has been with regard to social and official situations, where - however plush and accommodating (indeed, the more plush and accommodating the stronger the impression) - I've had the sense of being an intruder who's somehow escaped notice, and that to be 'discovered' is just a matter of time. This would have left me uneasily 'looking-over-my-shoulder' but for a certain indifference and sense of inevitability in such situations where 'superior' others are in control.

Numerous memories remain of irrationally vexed teachers, and of finding them - together with school and rules and everything associated with these - disturbing and unpleasant, something to endure, to survive and to ultimately escape: obligations, work, effort, hassle... all aspects of essentially the same hostility and repression.... trouble always close by if you just said or did the (unpredictably) 'wrong' thing. At the same time, as I say, I was of the firm belief that although they were undoubtedly real, these perspectives were exclusive to me - for instance that we are, all of us, essentially contingent.

I'm sure now (in 2015 as I write this) that there must have been a few other kids who experienced school as I did - possibly more than a few - and inwardly felt the same way. But at that age one has no way of articulating such observations and experiences, nor of noticing them in others.

I remember too determining many times over that when I grew-up I'd avoid such repulsive people, and certainly never inflict cruelty on anyone, especially kids. How was it, I wondered, that teachers were so oblivious or insensitive to how their actions were perceived and how they affected the kids in their charge? When it came to their own sensitivities they were as fickle and thin-skinned as the most deranged psychopath. How could I, as a mere 7-year old, recognise what they couldn't? Surely if only they could see themselves they'd never behave in such a cranky, petty manner - it would be just too shameful, damning, ridiculous, embarrassing. How could an adult be so feeble-minded, infantile, blind? I remember thinking this above all - because how else was I to make sense of their apparently irrational actions? I had no choice but to conclude as originally: that they were sadistic psychos who gained some kind of weird kick from intimidating kids.

I accept, now, of course, that those teachers may have been overstressed or exhausted, and us kids infuriatingly unruly and hard to control. And I recognise that those with problematic yearnings, teaching is an easy route to power over people. But why, I used to wonder, didn't they simply change their job so someone 'pleasant' could teach us instead, someone who wasn't interested in power, but rather in making kids happy?

Back in 1977-78 when I was a teacher myself for a year, the kids were fine - in fact, superb (including the difficult ones). Maybe I was just lucky, but even then I was amazed to notice that adversities emanated exclusively from adults - their pettiness, short-sightedness, lack of tolerance, inability to relate, etc., and I'd argue with them (but more on this later). Besides, I can only describe how if felt for me as a kid on the receiving end.

Nor were all our teachers so hardbitten or callous, but the contrast of the many who were beside the few who weren't seemed to emphasise the effect. And of the ones who weren't, apart from one woman, all - curiously - were men. (No wonder I remained wary of dominant women for a long time afterwards.... but that's another story). Curiously, at secondary school the situation was reversed: it was male teachers who were predominately over-strict and hostile.

So, instead of drifting smoothly through those pivotal years, I endured them. Crucially, though, I learned, as I say, to assess and think for myself, to accept my own insignificance (contingency), and especially to appreciate freedom.... in whatever guise it became available or could be found.

Although by the time I was 10 I'd been forced into mute compliance, I was no weakling or outsider when it came to mixing with other kids, among whom I experienced no rejection or hierarchical structures - none that troubled me, that is. I mean, I noticed the tough, ignorant, bullying, competitive kids - the ones I was inclined to avoid and who just weren't my type, though they never gave me any trouble - were usually keen on sport and thereby, mysteriously, gained the favour of teachers. An intriguing if baffling parallel, I thought at the time.

Obviously now, this was because sport appeals to base instincts such as seeking primacy in a hierarchy of strength and power, and involves conforming with rituals, which is fundamental to obedience and control. Is there a school not run according to the rules of Fascism? Countesthorpe, perhaps (back in the 70s), and a few like Summerhill is all, I imagine. I'm not surprised that competitive sport, like school in general, conflicted so resoundingly with my temperament. See The Sport Delusion.

I learned too, of course, about Pi and circles, and the multiplication table up to 12, and a how to spell, plus a few other academic things, most of which I found interesting and enjoyed. But like attractive TV ads between lousy programmes, these pursuits that school is 'supposed' to be for were in fact intermittent and essentially peripheral.

 

Home-time

During this period - age ~6 to ~11 - home life contained little if anything to lament about.... predominately stable and pleasant, the only blemish I recall is being jealous of my brother. Almost 3-years my senior, he would naturally have the advantage. But I felt (quite wrongly, I believe now) that his fate - usually through pure chance - was always superior to mine: his Christmas or birthday presents, his achievements, his friends... in fact, he was remarkably tolerant: I remember going with him to visit his friends, and them allowing me - when I was too young to have a clue - to join in a game of Monopoly, for instance.

Perhaps I was only 5 or younger when someone gave me a big solitaire game. The effect was sensational, mesmerising: numerous glittering metallic-coloured balls: green, blue, purple... etc. The colours fascinated me immensely. I'd play with them for hours, just staring and wondering at the spectacle of such vivid colours. At school they had crayons which likewise I found just to hold and gaze at was a delight. Why I never bothered to draw with the crayons mystifies me now. Apart from the traumatic moment when I was baptised, as recounted above, I have no recollection of these amazing hues and pigmentations before the age of around 5.

One Christmas morning, I guess when I was ~7, my brother and I came down stairs to find on the dining-room table a magnificent electric-train set. Dad showed us how to work it by adjusting a speed control on the transformer-box. There were signals, carriages and trucks - and a mail-pick-up carriage that was triggered by a raised section of track. Dad had made a station from wood and painted it to replicate Wadhurst station. My brother played with this present a bit, but mostly it was me who fell for its technical aspects and enjoyed it for several years. I loved the 'ozone' smell of the engine.

Another year Dad made a board about 40cm square with 9 bull's-eye targets, each with its score number and a hook at the centre. This hung on the wall diagonally, and we threw rubber rings from maybe 3-metres away. Dad had painted it very professionally, so it looked like something one could buy, but better.

One crucial obvious fact I took entirely for granted but can state without reservation when I reflect on it, is that my parents were unusually kind and easy-going. I believe kids remember everything, and those who suffer cruelty (as perceived by the kid) suppress the memory. Then they grow-up with underlying tensions that emerge later with sometimes devastating results. Only as an adult can I begin to realise how incredibly lucky I've been. Always cheerful, generous and decent in every way, even though they lived just above the breadline, both my parents were calm, loving and gentle. But as always happens, being second born I received little personal attention in my first two or three years. I'd never have been left to cry, as often happens to babies, and would always have been made comfortable and contented. But I think that's about as far as it went before I reached year 5, certainly year 3. True, I enjoyed outings in the pushchair, as mentioned (plus instances as described HERE), and those excursions to Dad's allotment. But little else.

The problem is I have a definite lack of brain power. This, I believe, derives from a low number of neural synapses that mental stimulation is so crucial to forming in the brain during the first year or so of life. After that, nothing can make up for it. Similarly, I'd speculate, nothing later can eliminate the damage suffered by victims of cruelty in that period. And 'cruelty' can be inadvertent, which is why I think a baby shouldn't be left to cry, and definitely not ignored. This is probably why I've never suffered depression or anything near it, for which I'm certain I have the good nature of my parents to thank. This was probably obvious to them without thinking. But the significance of mental stimulation would not have been, and I can't blame them for that. As I've said, I didn't do too bad - many people do far worse - so who's complaining? And if anyone had to choose, who wouldn't rather be mentally slow and contented than brainy and miserable? A few lucky people enjoy braininess and contentment....

Coincidentally, both my parents were the eldest of three: Dad of three boys, Mum of three girls. I was told of a period back in the 1930s when all had met and that the two brothers had become 'friendly' with the respective two sisters... nothing transpired of it. Dad's background can be found in his memoir, so I won't repeat it here.

We always enjoyed great holidays, though, both away and at home. Beside what middle-class families did, of which I knew nothing, our holidays were positively modest. The idea of us going abroad would have seemed as absurd as going to the moon. My maternal grandparents lived near Wadhurst, and we used to spend a fabulous 'magical' fortnight there every summer. The house especially, but also the garden, even the village 'Durgates' and the surrounding lanes were truly enchanting to me, and I believe to my brother. Most remarkably - though to a much smaller extent - they remain so. And now I live less than 20-miles away. I don't go there too often for fear of out-wearing and spoiling that mysterious charmed, kind-of nostalgic quality.

I still recall the summer when I was six, just after my sister was born. I think my brother must have been unwell because Dad took me to Hastings alone. It was the day I learned to swim. Dad sat on the pebbles while I played in the water. It was rare for him not to go in the sea - maybe he hadn't brought his swimming gear. There was no sand because the tide was in, and the water was unusually clear and warm. I don't think Dad noticed me swimming. Since everyone else seemed able to, I didn't think being able to swim was anything special, but I remember feeling inwardly pleased, like the first time I could ride a bike without falling off.

Before Dad acquired his first car when I was 12, we travelled by train. This involved crossing London, which was always taken full advantage of. I remember watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, visiting Madame Tussauds and the Planetarium in Baker Street, wandering along an elevated walkway in Battersea Park, and Dad taking my eager brother and a reluctant me up and around the inside rim of the dome of St Pauls where I edged petrified as close to the wall as possible trying not to look down.

Sometimes we'd stay for a day, or on at least one occasion several days, with cousins who lived in Wanstead in East London. I can just about remember being there when the adults attended the 1952 Great Exhibition on the Southbank, site of the then new Royal Festival Hall.

Most prominent for me, though, are memories of Wadhurst and the surrounding areas. For the first week Dad would buy railway runabout tickets valid for the week. So we'd take day-trips to Hastings, Eastbourne or other towns in the area, including Tunbridge Wells. The usual choice was Hastings and the beach or walks on the cliffs. After Dad bought his first car, a Morris Minor, we'd visit stately homes, gardens, castles, places like Charleston Manor, Hever Castle with its outstanding grounds, and so on.

All my great grandparents died before I was born - my paternal great grandmothers by only a few years. Paternal grandma's mother had long been housekeeper for a vicar. This was after her husband had died of a heart attack when still in his forties. It happened shortly after he ran across a field from the main road near Hemingford Abbots in Cambridgeshire where the family lived. His hurry was to get help for someone injured in a road accident. This must have been close to the year 1900, so I guess it involved horse-drawn wagons. My grandmother, Margery, was an only child and 7 at the time, she told me. Some years later, I guess soon after the end of WW1, having somehow saved enough money, her mother was able to buy a pair of semi-detached cottages with a large garden in Huntingdon.

A local famous meadow ' Portholme', maybe ~200 hectares in size, was flat and on a solid gravel bed. This, apparently, made it ideal to build war planes on. In those days, planes were built mostly from wood so when WW1 became imminent carpenters were recruited from all around the country. One young guy of ~20, Frank Clarke, travelled up from near Sherbourne in Devon - where his dad was, or had been, a vicar's gardener. He had no siblings and probably by then his dad had died because his mother - a kindly old woman who years later my dad spoke highly of - moved with him and to a small house in St John's Street. He met and fell for my grandma - who, going by old photos, was quite attractive and only ~16 at the time - and they married. They moved into one of her mother's cottages and remained there for the rest of their lives.

When my great grandma in the other cottage became terminally ill my grandma looked after her with the help of a couple of friends. One of these was an actress, Clair Lillywhite, whose father had been a bigshot cricketer and played for England in the W G Grace team.

In 1952 a new pair of semi-detached houses was built in the large garden that belonged to the cottages. These were for my dad and his brother Denis, both with two kids (me being the youngest of the four). The other brother, Francis, also with two kids, had moved into the cottage where great-grandma had lived. Around 1957 Denis was the first (probably in the street) to buy a TV. This was a unanimous decision by his family (now including a third son), instead of going on holiday that year. I remember that summer, and the day I found our house and everywhere deserted and wondered where the hell everyone had gone. Eventually, after exhausting gardens, paths and roadway, I detected weird sounds emanating from our neighbour's open door. I wandered in to discover their lounge solid with the rest of the Clarke family all watching this amazing new 14" monochrome TV. In those days a TV comprised a big wooden box about 3 feet high, split 50:50: speaker below, screen above and recessed in a wide grey surround. They were watching an air show presented by Raymond Baxter. I watched for maybe 10-minutes, then got bored and left. In around 1960 Denis, who worked as an operator supervisor for what is now BT, got a promotion to Northampton, so moved out.

Our new neighbours, Mr & Mrs Redman, had one kid, David, who was away in the merchant navy. But our house was where my parents lived for the rest of their lives, and me too till I went to polytech in 1973.

My maternal grandad, Ebenezer Trayton Goldsmith (mother: Elizabeth Frances, nee Lower - father Ebenezer, a carpenter) in Wadhurst (one of whose two brothers, Frank Thomas, 12-years younger, was killed 'in action' during WW1 in France June 1917 age 21) died of coronary thrombosis in 1957 age 74; he also had a sister, but there my knowledge stops. We visited him at the Tunbridge Wells hospital the day before he died. Because I wasn't allowed in the ward for some weird reason, he could only wave to me from his bed. He'd been a 'boot-maker' and was well known and well liked. I used to love riding on the treadle of his polishing machine, and to watch him sewing boots. He'd been a sergeant in the home guard - portrayed so comically, to my parents' delight, in the popular 70s TV show 'Dad's Army'. He was 27, and my grandma 23, when they married in 1910 at Wadhurst church.

Back in July 1957, when I was 8, I gloomily watched his funeral go by from the house of one of my grandma's many kind-hearted sisters - all extremely gentle, friendly women, several of whom we'd visit during our fortnight holiday. There was one brother, Joe, who like Frank, was killed in WW1 and whose old briar walking stick my mum used (and cherished) when she was old; she always said what a lovely man uncle Joe was. I still have that walking-stick.

My carpenter grandad in Huntingdon died around ~1971 age 77. I was the last in the family to see him alive. After suffering a stroke he'd been taken to a hospice in Cambridge, where I then worked. He once told me - when I was ~9 or 10 - of an event his dad had described to him that happened before he was born. His dad's grandad, apparently, had been deported to Australia after being convicted of manslaughter for knocking a man down in a fight who'd died of the fall. But the conviction was short, and instead of returning to England he started a sheep farm. The farm was very successful so when he died he left a huge fortune. In those days his son, my grandad's grandad, was obliged to go to Australia to claim the inheritance in person; no one else was acceptable. Though I said nothing, it sounded even then a bit of a 'tall story'. The more apposite term: 'urban myth' is how I'd describe it now. But who knows? Unfortunately, my grandad concluded - while I silently thought, 'or fortunately (for me)' - the old man was too ill to go, so the money went to the Australian government.

I say 'fortunately' for me because had my grandad when a boy been elevated to a middle-class lifestyle, there's no way he'd have become a carpenter, or at any rate have travelled to Huntingdon to build war-planes. Which would have meant no my dad and no me. Other people would have come into existence instead, I guess, but not me.

 

The Radio

The 'consciousness' phenomenon puzzled me for ages. It's precisely the kind of enigma that I imagine most kids wonder about at some time or another. I vaguely recall reflecting on it during those sombre occasions when standing for what seemed like hours in those bleak echoing corridors at primary school. What is it, I'd ask myself, about this entity I call 'me' that is so separate and unique and, as for everyone else, so dependent on the most fickle of unlikely circumstances for its coming into existence? What if it had been someone else? Why is it me? What is it that makes it me? What were the chances of it, whatever it is, being this strange sense I feel called me - and not another (a you)? One might continue on the following tack: after billions of years of evolving galaxies, planetary systems, then Earth, plants and animals forming, and finally, so far, people... and even then the most improbable of fluke situations a mere fraction of which I've alluded to above - could so easily have been otherwise in just one crucial minuscule detail... after all that, here now is this amazing weird unique consciousness I call me? Why? Or more to the point, perhaps, how?

Of course, there's no answer to this, nor any of the similar kinds of 'juvenile' questions I used to wonder about: the word 'why' - even frequently the 'how' - is meaningless. It's on the same lines as asking why the universe exists (though 'how', of course, is another issue).

Which brings to mind the time when I briefly wondered about the existence of God. But first I must track back slightly. Before I was five and still at home, Mum would turn the radio on every weekday around lunchtime for 'Listen with Mother'. I remember it well, especially the music and the patronising woman's voice all formal and stiff - I noticed this ominously cold, strict tone even then. I also recognised that she was trying very hard, and failing, to sound friendly. But I was more curious about what was going-on inside the radio, which - as usual in those days - was about the size of an oversized shoe-box.

I soon learned to manoeuvre myself so I could get behind it. Then, once Mum was out of the room, I'd peer for ages through the slots in the back. How the voices and music came from what looked like a miniature city with dimly-glowing lights, strange faint humming and whistling sounds and an almost tropical warmth wafting out, truly intrigued me. I didn't pursue that curiosity, but like much else then I accepted it - until, that is, I was ~11.

It was around 1960, shortly after he'd moved in next-door, when our new neighbour Charlie Redman decided to throw-out a whole stack of old 'Practical Wireless' magazines just as I happened to be passing. He invited me to take them, saying I might be interested. When I saw a picture of a radio on the top cover, I thought: Yes!

Charlie worked up at 'Quad' across the common from where we lived. Quad was renowned for their high-quality domestic sound systems: tuners, amplifiers, etc. People would come from all around the UK to acquire these superior products.

But I began to devour ravenously what I could of those wonderful magazines - almost with the same fervour as I had 'The Beezer' and 'The Topper' - passed on to me a week or so late by a friend (Brian). I should say the adjective 'ravenous' as it applied to me, would to anyone else be interpreted as 'casual' - in accord with my idling predisposition. The magazines, though, contained articles explaining how a capacitor worked (in those days called a condenser), how an inductor worked (then called a choke), a demodulator - comprising a single resistor and a capacitor (what could be simpler?) - and above all a valve: those curious delicate glass 'towers' that spookily illuminated the city in the back of our old radio.

How a valve and amplification worked were above all the two things I was most keen to learn. Both, as it turned out, were explained in the same article. This included a sketch of a basic three-stage (three-valve) amplifier, each valve connected across a battery via a couple of resistors and a capacitor. A small high-frequency sine-wave with its amplitude changing at a much lower frequency was shown at the aerial output; this fed into the demod circuit, which removed (via a shorting capacitor) the high-frequency part of the signal - ie, the 'carrier' that carried the signal from the transmitter - so the low-frequency 'sound' went to the input of the first valve. A much larger but otherwise identical signal appeared at the valve output and fed to the input of the next valve and so on in a cascade until the last valve's output powered the loud-speaker. I loved this stuff. It made sense - at least superficially - it was logical, rational... it was science. I felt like I was learning magic. Although there was a lot I didn't understand, this stuff gripped me as football gripped most other kids.

Several months later, after scanning the ads in the most recent of those magazines, I found a kit for sale: to build one's own transistor radio. So for '59/6' or £2-19s-6d (a whisker under £3) I bought a 'Transona-6'. This came with six transistors; ie, six-stages of amplification. There was a cheaper 'Transona-5' and I think a dearer 'Transona-7'. The notion was that the more transistors, the more powerful the radio, and the better it would sound. Since the amplification part of this radio was more-or-less identical to that of the valve amplifier, with transistors instead of valves, I 'felt' that I understood how it worked. Which maybe, in principle, I did.

I hadn't thought what tools I'd need, so when the kit arrived I asked Charlie next door. Obligingly, he produced a slightly-used soldering iron, solder, pliers and cutters... and said if I brought the kit around he'd get me started. And so, with his help, a week or so later hey-presto: a radio - which, amazingly, worked first time. I still have that soldering iron (it's been extremely handy over the decades), and I still have the cutters and pliers. I saw the radio only a year or so ago amidst my junk in the garage. Since then, in the hope of creating a bit of space, a friend helped clear-out some of that junk - only to make room for more, so it seems. But now: can I locate that radio? No chance! Maybe it's there... maybe it isn't... who can say?

Back ~1960-61 my first listening was to pirate stations such as Radio-Caroline and Radio Luxembourg for their pop-music, of which there was little I liked. I've never been much into music; maybe jazz a few years later and several classical pieces alerted - for the first time I'd heard such amazing music - from the early Moog synthesised 'Switched-on Bach' and suchlike, then Jacques Loussier's jazz in his 'Play Bach' series. Even so, I only ever owned about five LPs, which still lurk somewhere among my clutter. It soon became obvious, though, that I was less interested in what was broadcast than in the technical aspects of radio.

Since it had both long- and medium-wave aerials, which were inbuilt and wound on a single ferrite rod, I could tune the radio across a fairly wide range of frequencies. So while I continued reading the magazines, I was finding many weird remote stations that seemed to emanate from all parts of the world. I picked up quite a few foreign-language channels, at any rate, together with intriguing gliding noises, rumbles and various whistles whose pitch would change in strange puzzling ways.

Some signals appeared to come from the USA, going by the accents: one station that was only occasionally on-air had this guy who'd pronounce in a strong baritone voice (doubtless, I realise now, with base-boost and whatever else to create an illusion of authority and power): "This is Garner Ted Armstrong bringing you the plain truth. Does God exist?" and so on... I'd long before discarded any notion of God along with Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and various other ghosts and monsters. Yet at first I was gripped. Ludicrous as it seems to me now, this guy's voice somehow mesmerised me into expecting any moment that he'd reveal some astounding, newly discovered and incontrovertible proof that God - the notion of who's existence had so far been so elusive, scarcely to say ridiculous - actually existed after all. My juvenile brain had somehow fallen for this rich compelling voice, so bursting with vigour and confidence - how could it possibly be wrong? And the anecdotes he described were so convincing and persuasive. So I'd listen, and listen.... then the programme would end on a kind-of 'cliff-hanger' with the promise that 'next week' the amazing secret truth would finally be proved and announced. Then I'd make a point of catching it.... only to find another infuriating 'cliff-hanger' and further declaration that after all it would be 'next week' when all would be revealed... This continued for several weeks until I woke-up. The nonsense of it, the fraud and humbug, suddenly dawned on me - as did the inevitable answer to 'Does God Exist?' that I'd known for years anyway: ie, a monumental, resounding NO! How easily one can be 'hypnotised' and duped by a confident voice preaching subtle propaganda, however absurd. So I learned another great lesson: reflecting also on other dubious 'authority' figures, such as our unsavoury headmaster - and later not-a-few managers and politicians... that assertive, confident speakers should be regarded with deep scepticism and distrust.

 

The Farm, Chickens and Rabbits

About 5-miles north-east of Huntingdon is the hamlet of Oldhurst. My paternal grandma's cousin, Sidney Johnson ran a farm there: mostly dairy and arable. His wife Robina suffered from arthritis and walked about bent almost double. They had a son, George, and an older daughter, Brenda, both around twice my age of 12 at the time. For two or three years, maybe once every 6-months or so, I'd get the bus there and spend a Saturday on the farm, some of the day with George, some with Brenda, and some with their big docile dog. The whole family were the most kind, friendly, accommodating and cheerful bunch ever, if also a little rough-&-ready - a detail that much appealed to me, and still does.

Perhaps with animals - loads of chickens, many cows and a few pigs - one has to be ready for anything and well able to improvise? Ever since I learned self-reliance, I've been impressed by flexibility and improvisation, the make-shift approach. Rules, I early discovered, are to be regarded with scepticism: fine if you don't understand something, otherwise they form merely a guide; or can even be, in non-technical situations, a liability. My solution: trust nothing, but above all: engage the brain.

George would maybe feed the pigs, shift hay, organise the milking... I'm not sure that I've ever tasted anything more luscious than the sweet warm creamy froth that bubbled up on the filter through which the fresh milk was poured into large churns. Sometimes Brenda would take me wandering through nearby woods, or out on various errands on her motor-scooter - which scared me, though I never mentioned it. I'd help Robina collect eggs, and she'd give me a whole pack of biscuits to feed the dog which I'd take walking around the farm (eating a few of the dog biscuits myself). By some fluke I never got ill.

Many years later - around the turn of the millennium - Brenda gave me a copy of the family tree. She'd researched back several hundred years. And I learned too that George's sons had set-up a crocodile farm in Oldhurst, partly as a 'tourist' attraction, and partly for trading the meat.

But back in the 50s and 60s many people kept chickens. Dad would have maybe 6 or 7 in what became the woodshed, though they were let out to forage in the garden now and then for a few hours. They provided eggs - and when they stopped laying, a treat for Sunday lunch. Around dusk when they were roosting Dad would go in and feel for one with an empty, or least full, crop. Gently, he'd lift it out, then in the garden stroking it would suddenly wring its neck. This kind of shocked me when I first saw it. I never watched it again, and if present would turn away. I accepted it though, and would even accompany him when called on to perform this 'onerous' task for other people who kept chickens. I guess it wasn't just me who was squeamish about killing.

Preparing the dead chicken, though, was another issue; at least, for me it was. In those days most people, if they didn't keep their own, would buy a chicken for Christmas from a local supplier - often not a butcher, but via some informal contact or from the Saturday market. Usually un-plucked and un-drawn - and significantly cheaper that way - the bird would need preparing by someone who knew how. In his teens back in the early 1930s, Dad earned his pocket money by keeping ~100 chickens, so had learned just about everything one needed to about them. Now he was called on by several people to prepare their bird.

Every process has its methods, derived from practice. Even plucking a chicken can be easy or difficult, done badly or well. Drawing (gutting, etc) a chicken, though, required a definite procedure. By the time I was ~10 I'd picked-up these techniques from Dad - as well as how to skin and prepare a rabbit - and was, to his delight, keen to take over the annual chore. So now it was me who'd be rewarded with a free beer - or for those who considered me too young, maybe a half-crown.

I might mention here that when I was 11 Dad would send me with an empty bottle up to the local pub to get it filled with draught bitter. And in those days the bitter was truly delicious. The nearest now in 2015 is the best real ale, I guess, such as local to Hastings 'Sussex Bitter' but even that excellent brew strikes me as inferior to the bitter I tasted as a kid. Oddly, kids usually don't like the bitter taste, but to me it was better than nectar. Then, suddenly, before I was 12, it became illegal for anyone under 18 to buy alcohol. Unfortunately, Dad rarely bothered to visit the pub himself; if he did he'd consume the beer there. So that was the end of my micro-tipples...

My best friend for several years from the age of ~8 - until he moved away during that glorious summer which formed the transition to dreaded secondary school - owned several bantams. Both our dads worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, though his held a fairly senior position, which meant they were quite a bit better-off. It was his dad who always organised the supply of new chickens. The bantams lived in a separate shed adjacent to his dad's chickens and laid their own miniature eggs. That year when this kid moved, I went too and stayed for a week at their fabulous house in the Lincolnshire countryside. I'd joined them on holiday the year before, and I think the previous year too. But that final year formed the last days of a great friendship. We corresponded a couple of times but that was all.... now, nearly 60-years on, I discover via the internet that he runs an estate agent in Norfolk.

 

Back in Day-Prison

I've spelt-out in another article the peculiar travesty I experienced concerning the farce that was the 11+ exam. In essence, this insidious transition formed - as, of course, it was designed to - a fairly crucial staging-post at which the decision was made where potential 'slaves' go next in the great hierarchy of corporate-fodder. The apparently 'brightest' would be creamed off to train as middle-managers or higher at the grammar school, while the rest - the riff-raff, the rejects - were herded 'down' to become factory or office dogsbodies.

I assume the 'comprehensive-system' that replaced this was little different, just more subtle in methods and presentation. These days too, with rapid changes in technology plus an increasingly unruly and ravenous predatory private interest lobby together with dwindling public-services, the western world has come to expose, or at least to much more resemble, the jungle it always has been beneath the fragile veneer we call 'civilisation'. Even the 'grammar' kids have become part of the riff-raff - the less 'enterprising' (grasping) ones, at any rate. With the free-for-all philosophy nowadays of great riches for the few shrewdest and strongest, while poverty and destitution is the lot of the masses, it's an arena of increasing competition, increasing disparity and increasing discontent.

Where you end-up in this feral maze can make quite a difference to how comfortable the rest of your life turns out to be. Even so, anyone can opt-out altogether - as I belatedly did. See related article HERE.

So at age 11, I ended-up with the riff-raff at the secondary modern. I have to admit I was a bit peeved at this. I had the impression that grammar school was where one learned predominately interesting things like in the best lessons at primary school, and that other aspects of life would be easier too in that one would at least be treated with some level of respect. This was indeed true: a friend who passed the 11+ told me about it years later. On arrival that first day, he said, the class was informed that they were the elite, that the secondary modern was for dullards and the general rabble. They were told to regard themselves as special. Also true, I soon discovered, the sec-mod was predominately as expected: hassle, drudgery, and general disrespect that was often extreme and even violent.

Lucky for me my parents were ignorant of this disparity, or at least the extent of it, and seemed indifferent to which school I went to. This meant I didn't have the added burden of complaint from them for having landed 'in the mire', so to speak. I'm sure the only thing that concerned them was to avoid any sort of trouble. And that, together with them treating me as well as they did, was why I never discussed the issue with them, nor bothered them about the horrors I experienced, whether infant, primary or now secondary school. I think I felt it was my burden and my problem to solve - as maybe is how abused kids these days reason so fail to tell someone who, unlike in my day, might take their side.

I remember how the headmaster would get up on the stage at the school assembly each morning. Then, after a tiresome dragged-out mini religious-service during which, bored out of our heads - at least I was - and while standing, or sitting on a floor where everyone had walked with the dirt of the playground, he would conclude by reciting 'The Lord's Prayer' in which the entire school were expected to join (trouble for anyone who didn't at least 'mouth' the words). It must have been around the time of the radio kit and that 'Garner Ted Armstrong' episode, when one phrase in that prayer stood out for me. It went something like: 'And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.' This struck me as especially poignant one morning because seconds later during 'announcements' the head, to my dismay, sternly barked my name adding that I must go straight to his office after the assembly. I well knew that any kind of 'forgiving of trespasses' would no-way apply to me in this environment of hypocrisy and hostility.

I'd already suffered one horrific experience of that obnoxious office. So the prospect of going there again was almost like being summoned to the gallows. I think my heart rate doubled when I heard myself being announced... it was this kind of situation that made me begin to hate my name even, as if it wasn't me but the name that was the problem. I thought to change my name would be a fine thing to do if only I could find out how. With nerves tingling, I slouched slowly out of that hideous hall and like an obedient idiot-robot went where I was instructed. Had I been a couple of years older I'd have scarpered... wandered into the countryside for the day like William Saroyan, or across fields and away like Hesse when he absconded from Maulbronn at age 12. At age 11 I still lacked the courage for such insubordination, nor - amazingly - had I acquired the confidence and sense of autonomy for such initiative.

It escapes me now precisely what my offence had been (persistent lateness probably?), but it earned me a second dose of three-strokes from a vicious thick little cane the head kept on top of a cupboard in that foul office of his.

It had been a month or so earlier when I'd first met with this institutionalised violence - my brain still reverberated from it, and the fear was still there. Unlike most adversities, violence was something I was unable to shrug off. What led to that first assault, only a matter of weeks after starting at the school, begun during a geometry lesson - taken, curiously, by the head (why was the head taking lessons?). The kid beside me, Stephen (I remember this like yesterday), whispered some puerile remark that made me laugh. The head immediately ordered me out and to wait by his office.

He should, of course, have asked if I'd like to share the joke, and if so then good-cheer all around - this was my approach 17-years later as a teacher for a year.... any excuse, I reasoned, to brighten kids' lives and create more laughter in the world.

But this was 1960 when the slightest hint of pleasure or fun at school had to be thwarted and instantly stamped-on; gloom and trepidation were the order of the day and took precedence. Incredible as it sounds now in 2015, this analysis is not cynicism on my part, but fact, hard detestable fact. Such conditions were, alas, only too common back then... not even common, but standard.

After about half-an-hour, when the lesson ended - long enough for the ache in my legs to constitute serious discomfort - the head appeared and marched me into his repugnant lair. I'd expected he might give me a ticking-off and lecture me on self-control or some such issue of conduct. Instead he reached up for the cane, ordered me to touch my toes then without another word wielded three swift vicious swipes. How can I ever forget the agony of it? He then ordered me to wait again outside in the corridor. Did he suspect my inevitable anger/resentment might spur me to take some impulsive destructive retaliatory action that a 20-minute delay of standing would quell? And why didn't I just walk away after such a horrific brutal assault - so unwarranted and unexpected? These days only a fool would fail to react. I had every justification for some kind of vengeance. Lucky for him I didn't have a gun in my pocket.

At 11-years old this was the second time in my life that I'd been hit by a teacher (the first being at age-5, a spectre that came back to me then). I recall this new assault in detail in 'We All Have Our Lives'. If I'd committed some genuinely heinous act, I'd have understood the attack at least, if also regarded it as inappropriate. In the event, it was a profound shock. And the effect it had on me was also profound: it completely altered the direction my school life was to take from then on. You might say it was a 'moment of truth' - a 'moment of awakening'.

For several weeks I walked around in a kind-of daze, always just shrugging if a teacher addressed me on any issue. They probably wondered what was wrong with me, and thought it best to leave me alone. I just didn't give a sod about anything any more to do with school, and more-or-less switched-off. Once out of school or with friends I'd flip back to normal easily enough, otherwise my attitude was probably the same as a wrongly convicted prisoner towards incredulous guards. Eventually, once I'd had time to assimilate what had happened and decide objectively where to take it, the daze morphed into a deliberate, calculated avoidance of effort - a 'soft' rebellion, you might say.

It was at this point when that second assault took place. This merely hardened me, made me more resolute in my decision to rebel. For instance, I never did a single item of homework during my whole time at that school (a detail that spawned its own repercussions)... I'd fool around when I thought I could get away with it... and committed several other acts of insubordination. After that, over the next couple of years I went down a few classes, and was the victim of several more doses of institutionalised violence... from other canes, various slippers and so on.... until I decided I'd taken enough.

I remember another startling event in those first months at the sec mod. My cousin Derek had also failed the 11+, which was amazing since he was very bright. I could only assume he'd fallen for the same error that I'd made. But he was lucky because a few months later his family moved house to Northampton as noted above: making way for the Redmans to move into their house, which as explained turned out to be greatly auspicious for me. Anyhow, at the start of an English lesson, the teacher - a stern woman called Mrs Walton whose husband also taught at the school - asked the class if anyone had seen a newspaper that morning. Several kids including my cousin raised his hand. Randomly selecting him, she asked what he remembered. He replied 'Noddy & Big Ears' (which indeed was a regular front-page cartoon feature in a daily paper at the time). She immediately shouted at him to stand up, then went over and smashed him hard around the head. She ordered him to remain standing for the rest of the lesson, which was most of it.

I felt that smash as if it had been aimed at me and almost cried out in protest, but fear got the better of me; doubtless had I done so I'd have received the same treatment. Now as an adult, it's hard to understand how anyone could hit a kid of 11 - at that age they are so small and frail. Even the concept of 'punishment' seems inappropriate to me these days, scarcely to say counterproductive; A S Neil, for one, had already demonstarted vastly more intelligent alternatives. But these kinds of instances were not uncommon, creating a backdrop of general gloom that pervaded the entire place throughout the time I was there.

During the third year me and Brian, a good friend through all those secondary school years, systematically unscrewed the brass domes from probably every radiator in the school. These were close to floor level and were supposed to protect the valves. Over several weeks we accumulated hundreds of them. At the far end of Brian's back garden was a steep bank along the top of which ran the main railway between London and Edinburgh. Telegraph poles alongside the railway carried several dozen wires - in those days, before multicore cables, each wire was supported on its individual porcelain insulator. In Brian's yard we hammered the domes into flat discs then 'spun' them at the insulators to see how many we could hit and even break. Quite a few chinks of porcelain were knocked clear, and the wires would twang, but neither of us managed to dislodge any.

So by the end of the 3rd year if I wouldn't be caned, slippered or otherwise assaulted, it was threats of expulsion. First came the 'long-hair' fiasco. I was 14 now, and there was a rule that if a boy's hair reached the top of their ears it was too long. Girls somehow escaped this sexist rule. Unlike Brian, who stood his ground and was expelled for 'long' hair, I caved-in and got my hair cut to save my parents the worry. It struck me at the time that only a demented lunatic would concoct such an irrational, intrusive and pointless rule, and by failing to recognise that fact meant the headmaster was even more deranged. Not that mad rules were anything unexpected or rare at that school. Did he, I wondered, spend his time sat in that repugnant den of his cooking-up the most heinous, absurd and antagonising rules and rituals possible?

On other matters there were pathetic attempts to 'reason' with me. But it was too late by then, far too late. I'd become a confirmed drop-out and was well past any soft-soaping. Besides which I soon discovered how to truant undetected: by year-4 (age 15) it was relatively easy at the start of term to avoid getting on the register of most lessons.

Reflecting on when I was caned for laughing by what I took for an aggressive moron who every morning 'prayed' forgiveness: imagine how anyone on the receiving end of such hypocrisy and violence might have responded, at least in thought? What else was possible - regardless of whether or not one had already ditched the idea - than to conclude that religion was not merely a scam and deception, a tool for unprincipled thugs, and that those who preached it were not just charlatans (or at best unreflective imbeciles), but more often than not, sadists too - indeed, that the entire establishment (which in those days embraced religion like the proverbial beetle embraces dung)... at least, what I'd seen of it... was corrupt, ruthless and insane, something to regard with repugnance and contempt. To me, all this was no longer supposition, but solid, irrefutable fact.

In more than half-a-century since, I've witnessed nothing to invalidate that conclusion. Rather, everything I've experienced has only consolidated it, together with much else I've learned that's even more disturbing. For instance, Big Corp's role in controlling political decisions: in the arms industry, to provoke war - no matter the millions of ordinary people like me killed - merely to satisfy its greed. Then Big Media, Big Pharma and Big Food (all arms - in both senses - of Big Corp) working together against the interests and health of millions more like me. I could continue... but to do so would be repetition since there's a wealth of detail concerning these matters elsewhere on this site: see INDEX.

 

Lucky Break

So with all those adverse experiences at primary school resurrected at secondary, what else for me but 'down-hill'. Down-hill into the mire of revenge, trouble, more punishment, eventual escape, etc., and down-hill as a natural direction of many things in nature, but for me: into truancy, idling and eventually a life of ease. Lucky for me, the latter was to predominate.... so despite the many ordeals, I was to enjoy more than my share of good fortune.

Although I was well hardened to punishment by then, one penalty was truly auspicious. This time it involved, at the end of each day for a week, going around the school putting chairs on desks. This was to make the cleaners' job easier sweeping the floors. Most chairs were already on desks, but the first day I noticed an open cupboard containing packs of exercise books. The second day, having considered this observation, I took my empty duffel bag and stuffed in a couple of packs. On each of the following three days I nicked several more from various cupboards. I hadn't expected I'd ever use them, and regarded the theft as revenge. Yet these lasted about 7-years of tech-college... almost until I went to polytech, which meant I saved the cost of ~7-years of paper and exercise books.

Another example of luck was that there was no comparison between the 'science' we did at school and my activities at home regarding radios, old TVs, transformers, valves, amplifiers and so on. Otherwise I might have ditched the whole topic, who knows? Nor did school 'science' remotely resemble the subjects covered in an impressive little paperback I perchance stumbled on three-years later: 'The Laws of Physics' by Milton Rothman. This mini masterpiece opened my eyes to a whole new landscape in science.

Back in the early 60s, though, and well used to my radio - maybe a year or so after that insane 'Garner Ted Armstrong' humbug - I had the idea one day of visiting the local TV shop to see if they had any defunct TV sets they were likely to chuck out - or anything else electronic that might be interesting to dismantle.

Within a few weeks, and with the aid of my dad's big wooden wheelbarrow, I had six old TVs in our back shed (lucky for me, we no longer kept chickens). These TVs I eagerly dismantled. Among other components, I removed and 'tested' the transformers. I'd read in 'Practical Wireless' how a transformer could step-up voltage, even to many thousands of volts. I was in my element all right. This was better than fireworks...

Using a small battery and trial-&-error I discovered that substantial sparks (shocks) could be generated. I went on to perfect what came to be called a 'shock-machine' (not sure who coined the term, maybe Mum?). This comprised a transformer screwed to a small flat piece of wood with bits of tin-lid (such as from a tin of peaches, and cut to shape with tin-snips) for battery-clips, and two screws forming terminals where the 'shock' appeared when one wire to the transformer input was brushed across one of the clips. I made several of these, each of different 'power' according to the transformer or connections on the transformer. At some point I stupidly took one to school, and a kid offered me half-a-crown for it. That created a demand, so I took a few more, and - since, as explained, I'm no entrepreneur - I ended up giving them away.

Then came the blowback - trouble: one stupendously thick kid tried it on a teacher who, surprise surprise, wasn't impressed. The head was alerted, and the device confiscated. Then the loudmouth gave me away and I was summoned and warned: if just one more of my gadgets appeared at the school I'd be expelled immediately.

I really liked the idea of expulsion, but again had no wish to cause my parents trouble. No way would I have conformed otherwise.

All this technical 'dabbling', though, gained me a bit of a reputation (dubious as it predominately was back then). Like most technical gear in those days, TVs were temperamental: dodgy controls, loose or corroded valve and other connections, feeble internal fuses, etc., people would frequently ask me if I could try and fix a faulty set before calling the repair guy. Their intention to avoid call-out and other charges sometimes paid-off. About half the time I was able to fix a problem - it would be some basic fault that almost corrected itself when I removed the back, wriggled a valve, or wound a bit of wire around a blown fuse. Otherwise they'd have to send for the repair guy, who if he took their TV back to the workshop, as sometimes happened, they'd be left without their evening opiate... though if they were lucky he might loan them a set. Either way, it would land them with a bill, whereas if my intervention succeeded then the repair was free - though occasionally I might get a beer or some other little reward (rarely money).

I always told people the truth, though: that I actually knew no more about how to repair their TV than they did. They'd invariably grin back and tell me to get on with it, clearly not believing a word. So with the set switched-on I'd remove the back - ignoring safety instructions printed there - and proceed to poke around through a layer of dust like a sprinkling of grey snow, taking care to keep clear of the high-voltage transformer. By some amazing fluke nothing duff ever happened, and often, to my pleasure and surprise, the set would come good - such was the fickle nature in those days of these things. No chance these days, but then nothing ever goes wrong; now it's merely a matter of updates and new technology.

 

More on the Flipside of the Crazy Teen Years

Few if any memoir I've read or dipped into dwells much if at all on the everyday minutia of, for instance, dreams, smoking, eating, drinking, minor sex relationships, going down the pub or other relatively mundane or commonplace experiences, weird or otherwise, that everyone faces or engages in. Maybe William Burroughs is an exception, but unless there's some obvious good reason then I think this memoir should accord with that. It's probably boring enough already, so it seems to me, without adding more trivia - but if it's me who I'm writing it for (plus anyone who thinks it's worth eavesdropping) then who's to complain?

I've already outlined above most of my early teenage years (and there's quite a bit more in articles on this site I've placed links to at the start of the Introduction). Yet when I reflect it's as if back then I was living several parallel lives, because interlaced with - and often in tandem with - events so far described, I was involved in numerous other activities. I'll leave out though, as I say, prosaic minutia - even if it did contain the inevitable weird and unique variation.

During these crucial years (the first three of which I felt were 'stolen' by day-prison school), there was a lot happening around me. Being in prime daytime, I suppose those 30-hours a week of school just seemed more than they were. At least, the time that remained allowed considerable scope. To most teenagers evening is the best time of day, when one is most alert, vibrant and creative. And evenings were always free.

By the time I was 13, I was working part-time at a local cinema. I've written about this in semi-fictional form in The Menace, and touched on it in an autobiographical item HERE. The route to this stroke of luck was my brother's involvement with a pop group called 'The Inmates' of which he was leader. He'd learned piano since the age of ~7 and a few years later with Dad's help had made his own guitar from a kit - like me with the radio. Now he'd acquired an electric guitar. This was ~1962, just when the Beatles were emerging into the limelight and pop groups were suddenly in demand.

The enterprising, though slightly inept, manager of the 'The Grand' - colloquially known as the 'Flea-Pit' - had decided to take several budding 'pop-groups' under his wing. With many contacts (friends in local media), he knew how to advertise and 'spread the word', and although not altogether a rogue, had a reputation as a bit of a spiv - ever on the lookout for some entertaining, if modest, profitable sideline. Somehow the cinema seemed to manage itself, so I suppose he was to some extent competent - if a little reckless - in trusting and delegating to kids like me (inevitably at 13 or 14 of questionable diligence and honesty), and a couple of adult female staff who weren't exactly the brightest or sharpest specimens, though were friendly enough - one of them, Babs, especially!

The pop groups were generally good in an amateurish way, and were well-liked. They would be bussed to various venues Friday and Saturday nights in a small fleet of dormobiles the manager owned. My involvement began by helping my brother's group with their gear, but I soon started to participate in the work of the cinema. At first selling tickets or ushering for the Saturday afternoon matinee, I eventually stood-in and ushered for all films.

A kid called Ivan, who was in my class at school, had somehow got involved there too - though not through me (I think he knew one of the permanent women staff). Always a fairly laid-back affair, the matinees were great fun. In the rare event when a film failed to grip, the kids would fool around, and it was up to me and Ivan to keep order. More often, to the delight of our juvenile clientele, we'd stir up the disorder. Fortunately for us it would have been way beneath the manager's dignity to concern himself directly with the matinee, which perhaps he regarded more as an obligation than a prime function.

Occasionally, at other times, we'd assist the projectionist, Stan Weazer (sp?), a friendly old fat guy who was immensely strong. To demonstrate, he'd hold-out his arm horizontally and me or Ivan could grab and hang from it. We'd watch him lug and lace the big spools of film into the projectors; then after each showing they had to be rewound - everything by hand in those days. At each changeover he'd watch for the cue dot top-right of screen to start the other projector, then on the second dot he'd shove the lever that operated the shutters, closing one lens and opening the other simultaneously. As well as all this, he'd be constantly checking the carbon rods, inching them closer to maintain arc brightness as they burned away. I've no idea how he - or any projectionist - could keep pace with it. The reels rarely lasted more than 15- or 20-minutes - 25, at most (and that would be unusually big).

Hardly could I have known that 15-years later I'd become what my dad teasingly called 'A glorified projectionist' myself - at BBC TV Centre. So I ended-up in the 80s projecting films to several million viewers. Although still quite basic, the TV projectors were automatic - we'd attach a metal 'dot' to the film at the changeover point, which would trigger the second machine, then changeover would happen exactly 8-seconds later.

Those years at the cinema, though, held a lingering magical quality: the whole curious atmosphere of the place: loud echoing voices from the films, the dark seclusion of the back row, even the smell... a mixture, I guess, of seat-fabric, dust and tobacco; not unpleasant, but characteristic of theatres and cinemas in those days. In those days too, smoking - in which most of us indulged - was normal and accepted, never questioned. I liked watching the smoke float up, curl, twist and spread in the powerful projector beam.

And we saw some outstanding films: weird graveyard horror with spooky music, sensational wide-screen westerns with amazing landscapes, dramatic films like 'The Great Escape' and 'The Third Man' with their unforgettable theme-music, gloomy plaintive haunting films that are hard to classify, plus loads of 'Film Noir'.... ie, Hitchcock, Chandler... etc. And then the matinee of light-entertainment animations for kids: 'Woody Woodpecker', 'Tom & Jerry', various Disney productions, etc. What a fabulous contrast all this presented against the drabness and hassle of school.

In addition to spending time at the 'Flea Pit', there was Chivers' Pit. Both are described in The Menace. Chivers' 'pit' was in a peaceful rural location just beyond the town. It was a large pond beside a pair of lock-gates in the final section of tributary that ran from Alconbury, through Hinchingbrooke and fed into the river Ouse close by. Two large iron pipes rose from the pit and entered a pump-house that serviced a huge pea-canning factory about half-a-mile away. We often chatted with the friendly old bloke, Harry Lovegrove, who ran the pump-house. A bunch of us used to spend a fair bit of time there, some kids fished and swam there in summer. I preferred to laze about and watch, or roam surrounding fields, along sub-tributaries, and so on - especially during that glorious summer when I was 14 and supposed to be at school. I, with aforementioned Brian (expelled for long hair), would go out in an old leaky punt we had moored at the pit. I wince now when I think of the risks we used to take on that river, though we were all swimmers.

Playing truant in winter was an entirely different prospect. We'd shelter from the cold in a railway arch near the station and watch trains while we smoked and wished away the days. Sometimes we'd visit other railway arches further up the line. Occasionally, sitting outside on a fine winter day, a friendly railwayman would see us and come over for a chat, never mentioning that we were trespassing.

Roughly opposite where we lived was a big house with a yard and workshops and when I was ~10 a family moved in there with several kids, one of whom was about my age: Tom. His parents began a taxi and a paraffin delivery service, but were very strict with the kids about having to attend church, avoid alcohol and so on. They were also a bit naive, which I suppose fits the strict mentality. Curiously, they didn't even check the cellar when they moved in because several months after getting to know Tom, he discovered a load of wine in that cellar: a row of about a dozen dusty bottles on a shelf. We sneaked them out to my house and into an old trunk in my bedroom where we could indulge at will.

As I've implied, my parents were quite laid back and let us kids live our lives without interference or breathing down our necks, though they were always there if needed. So one day, following an impulsive high-spirited session of 'testing' the various wines, we wandered into town half-drunk. I remember the local vicar coming towards us, bemusedly watching as we wavered and staggered along the pavement, me falling over at one point. I guess he must have thought we were just larking about, since no-one ever mentioned it. So we escaped trouble on that occasion. One day, a year or so later, Tom's parents found a bottle of pale-ale he'd taken home. They were livid, and put it in the dustbin - which struck me as ludicrous. (When we were old enough to frequent the local pubs Tom was capable of drinking me, and most other guys our age, under the table with ease).

At around this time - I must have been ~12 - I came into possession of an old gramophone plus a dozen or so '78' records. They'd belonged to a friendly Irish guy called Gerry who lived a few doors away. He had a family of about 7 kids, every year a new addition. He ran a hairdressing shop in town that was very popular. Even I, by order of school, had my hair-cut there in those days before forever after to this day either letting it grow long or cutting it myself. I guess Gerry was making space for yet another member to the family. So for about a year we - me, Tom and a few other friends - enjoyed listening to very loud badly scratched rowdy music from the likes of Buddy Holly, Paul Robeson, Glen Miller... etc. But, regardless of sound-quality, one can listen to the same old records only so many times before tiring of them; besides which, a year or so later, the gramophone arm broke.... hence a dismantling exercise became appropriate. Luckily, after the experience of taking apart old TVs and making 'shock-machines', I'd become more adept at dismantling, so the old gramophone became a superb working amplifier.

That was around when new neighbours moved into the big house across the alley from us - on the other side from the Redmans. A great bonus of this was that it included Ray. About a year younger than me, Ray had a fabulous wild personality, he was loud and argumentative, very bright - though most people thought he was stupid or backward - and was quite anarchic both politically and in temperament. Like me, he had a brother and a sister - though unlike for me both were older than him.

And Ray's parents were even more laid-back than mine. Every few months, it seemed, they'd hold a huge party where booze and fun and idling and loud political discussion would predominate - the whole family were political. How it was that I failed to seriously latch-on to this amazes me now. Yet it all somehow washed over me as I looked on... not exactly indifferent, but more like a bemused spectator. I guess my brain was a bit stuck in technical and academic scientific issues, so saw no attraction in diversions such as the ideals of civilisation: the plight of the poor, the undemocratic nature of government, the propaganda of the corporate media, the allure of anarchy, and so on. If it didn't affect me directly then my interest was mild at best, though I remember it well and regret failing to become more involved. I might have learned a few things, at least. Considering my adverse experience of school, it strikes me now that I should have been ripe for political awakening. If only I'd been presented with the wider view in how it related to - or even grew out of? - the Fascism of school... then I'd surely have latched-on.

In fact, my copy of Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse-5' originates from the tail end of that period - they were being dished-out like sweets, I remember. Ironically, it was several years earlier when going on holiday with Ray and his family to Wittering near Chichester that I discovered 'Science-Journal' at the station bookstall as described HERE. Why had I not unearthed that fabulous magazine before?

It was during this period too when we attended a ludicrous Billy Graham show, and rigged wires across the alley between us - all as depicted in Mrs Jolly and the Intercom (Mrs Jolly, I'm sorry to say, is entirely fictitious, purely a creation of my imagination as a vehicle for the moral of the story - though the excursion is true enough, and especially the sentiments).

The intercom essentially was that old gramophone. I was astonished to discover - as ever by trial & error - that a loud-speaker connected across the input (instead of the crystal, where the needle was attached) functioned perfectly as a microphone. And the result produced amazing sound quality, so good that the person at the other end sounded as if they were in the room. Not yet skilled enough to design a circuit so input and output could operate simultaneously, I fitted switches to swap output with input. This meant only one of us could speak at a time, then state 'over' or 'over and out' like in old films.

Due to excessive page size the Memoir continues on a new page: PART - 2

Work: That dreaded word