Family life suited our guy; he lived as if he’d always lived that way. In a way you can say he had. The home was modest and comfortable. The garden stretched all around the house ending at a point right at the back, where there was ‘the tip.’ It wasn’t really a tip, it was more bits of wood, gardening waste and other such things that were left to rot there, for compost he said. It made an excellent mountain to climb for the two youngest.
To the little girl the grass seemed as tall as she was at times. In the early days. The small tree in the corner of the garden was a wonderful place to hide and bury the toys in the dirt as they awaited rescue from the strapping Action man figure. Either him or the aliens. There was a small shelf running alongside the lawn that was used as a makeshift bench, many a summer the adults would sit and have a drink while the children played. The fence that lined the front of the garden was always an impasse for the little girl and one day, she escaped and went on an adventure down the street. She was very young and our man rallied everyone to go looking for her straight away. Luckily a kindly stranger brought her back safely not too long later. This was her first adventure.
The back garden was ever more interesting. A treasure trove of adventure and mystery and what lurked in that shed. For the plastic soldiers what lurked in there was a slow agonising death at the hands of an enormous vice, surrounded by the cackling laughter of two small children as they mercilessly crushed them. Along the back wall of a house our man built two benches. Both white, the longer, higher one for himself and his wife and a much smaller one for his children.
The little girl, never one to be held back by any kind of obstacle, relished climbing onto the smaller bench and using it as a stepping stone to climb onto the high bench. There she sat, little legs swinging, so high from the ground. The patriarch of the house would often sit out here, cigarette rolled up in one hand a pint of beer in the other. The little girl looked up to him so much, she adored her daddy and liked nothing more than to sit outside on warm evenings and listen to the birds as her father described what birds were making what noise. He also did an excellent pigeon impression. Sometimes they even sat outside at night looking at the stars, he pointed out the space station once, only a brief point of moving light but that was when the little girl fell in love with the stars.
The little girl was very often preoccupied in her little world of imagination, reading and writing gibberish that her father mostly went unnoticed in these early years. Memories were filled instead of adventures between the pages of books, read to her at bedtime with the excellent oratory skills of her mother at hand. Stories like Peter Pan and Heidi were more important to our little girl at this point. Even the boys got read to, TinTin was another favourite for the youngest and you could not get anyone who could impersonate those voices like their loving mother.
He made a lot of homebrew. Large white tubs always sat along the mantelpiece. Two at either end and in-between there was two rows of tall green bottles. The smell was delicious. The little girl loved to watch her dad stir in the mixture of yeast and hops into the plastic tubs, which were bigger than she was and drink in that wonderful fermenting smell. When they were done he kept them in a walk in cupboard in the kitchen, lined floor to ceiling with bottles of beer and homemade cider. He was very good at this.
He would venture out for hours at a time with his trademark green bag, carrying this homebrew and his trusty bong. Ever the socialite.
The family was a complete one, the couple had no need for any more children, with that knowledge our guy had a Vasectomy. Always one for awkward bluntness, he thoroughly enjoyed telling everyone about it too. One day he was out with his beer and his Cannabis at a friend’s flat, a friend called Chips. They ended up getting arrested for probably causing a disturbance, he had made a name for himself as the police already knew who he was so he proceeded to tell them about his operation too.
The house was always full of an evening. Friends came over and drank the readily available alcohol, smoked their Cannabis and played cards until the early hours of the morning. The kitchen had a grey cloud hanging loosely from the ceiling and the atmosphere was more often than not merry. The children were well taken care of, always in bed for a certain time and kept out of the way in the evening, well most of them, the little girl ever curious wandered into the kitchen she was only a toddler, perching her arms on the table and peering over the top the three year old proceeded to roll a joint, much to the shock, amusement and enjoyment of her father and his friends.
They were not sheltered children, and the little girl loved to just get up after bed time and wave from her front bedroom window at the guests that arrived. She even had to use her potty to stand on as she wasn’t the tallest thing in the world. This was done with much discomfort to the mother as the potty tended to be full when the girl decided to use it.
The little girl became aware of a darker side to their home at an early age. Hearing her mother and father shouting one night, she crept downstairs and stood at the kitchen door watching with growing anxiety and upset as her mum screamed at the drunken father slumped at the kitchen table. He always shouted back, his voice was always the scariest thing the little girl had ever heard when raised and it scared her now. What scared her more was the beer bottle that was hurled across the kitchen at her mum. In a blur of movement and tears the girl was scooped up, dressed and found herself hurrying down the cold streets clutching her mother’s hand tightly. All she wanted was to go home to bed, but he had been so scary. They got to sleep on a friend’s sofa that night. It was warm and safe. The little girl loved being close to her mum this way, although she seemed so angry and sad. Even at this young age the tiny girl just wanted to make everything ok, wanted her mum to smile. There they fell asleep together. A moment trapped in time.
Her daddy always worked, at this time he had a part-time job, cash in hand. Had a few on the go and always worked hard. He had given up his full time job at the meat factory shortly before his little girl was born because of an argument with his boss. He was not one for authority.
Despite needing to earn money, when his two youngest children were a little older, he would take them out of a weekend and go on very long walks. Over fields, through farms, through woods and parks. Traversing hills and many different places away from their home. The children relished this time. The girl especially, she loved spending time with her daddy. It was a special time for them all and life was pretty simple.
Sundays was a great day. Sunday roast for everyone but the little girl. She was fussy. The family friend Ifor always brought tasty treats and that included bits of pastry for the lass as she didn’t eat the filling of his pie. He gave the biggest, strongest bear hugs and always had a warm inviting presence. He was like a Granddad to all three children and they loved him as such too.
The parents and Ifor would sit for hours after the Sunday lunch playing scrabble. Our guy always won, but he was one for throwing a little bit of a wobbler if he didn’t so some of the time, they let him win. Sunday’s were the slowest days, Antiques Road show always on the TV and no full kitchen in the evening. Yes Sunday’s were a good day.
Christmas was a wonderful time for the children. They had a tall green tree decorated by their mum. Lovely presents that their mum had painstakingly wrapped with precision neatness and a great, tasty Christmas dinner which their mum cooked. The dad would sit in his chair in the morning and watch his children open their presents. He started early on Christmas day and the alcohol was soon cracked open. After the festivities had passed he entertained his friends and drank in the kitchen. He always made sure to point out to everyone that his little girl was his Christmas Day baby. The little girl loved being called this and felt that she held a special place in her father’s heart. This feeling filled her with a great joy, whenever he mentioned it, while she was still young. This pet name was to become almost ridicule to the girl in years to come, but this time was not that time.
Right now they were as happy as they could be in their lives.
Two Faced Man
‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’ If you mean it.
This is a darker chapter in the story of our man, all judgements should be reserved until the end of his tale, I mean who really knows what drives a human being to carry out actions others would deem despicable and others would accept. This is a journey of discovery and truth; do you still want to join me? I leave with a quote to help you make up your own mind;
“Take a pill if you wish to feel better. If however you wish to make it right, face the truth.” Anonymous.
We venture to a small, understated town located deep within the bowels of the North West. Like all towns, it has its beauty and it has its underbelly. To continue with this story I have to take you to its underbelly, to a grotty, damp terraced house, the downstairs is dilapidated and inhospitable. The new little boy gets to spend his first days in the upstairs of this house. He is looked after well despite his surroundings. Our young woman despises the small abode that they live in, but being short of money there aren’t many options available to our family. The focus of our story, our man, adapts pretty well to most areas that he lives in, he’s had experience as we discovered. He finds the local pub and settles in well.
One night he gets too drunk and is incapable of entering the house, being resourceful and slightly inebriated, he walks off the shed roof and sleeps in the gutter of the house. This is humorous if not embarrassing for a grown man to be doing when there is a family waiting at home for him.
The baby grows to be two weeks old; he’s a happy baby, content and healthy. The midwife visits regularly and in particularly to help our young woman, who finds that having a baby has brought her down to earth quite hard. Hormones raging, husband out most nights at the local pub, depression sets in not soon after birth. The midwife is firm and resolved and ensures that our woman – remember she is still only a teenager at this point at a mere 18 years old – gets dressed and eats and takes care of her beautiful baby boy. She is a responsible woman and with some prompting takes hold of the reigns and shines as a mother, even at her young age.
To add insult to injury, literally so to speak, our antagonist returns home from the pub one night, he is, as the saying goes, ‘pissed as a fart’. For seemingly no reason, well no reason that was ever explained he beat his wife for the first time. Who can say whether it was the alcohol or some base urge that drove him to such an act. People can say he came from a different time, one where husbands ruled with a heavy hand and women were kept in their place. Finding justification for beating another is just as bad as carrying out the beating, in my view. You do not have to agree, this is why you’re here. To make up your own mind, keep it open now; don’t dismiss him through his one transgression. We must face the truth or forever keep it in shadow, lurking eating away at us, wondering always, why?
As it turns out he remembered what he’d done and was sorry, so sorry to show his love he bought her an eternity ring, this sadly was later stolen.
He kept himself busy in the evenings once work was done. He played darts and dominoes, he was good at these games, and he was even on the team which gave him lots of friends, he was a popular guy. At the pub they all threw a 19th birthday party for his wife. The landlady even looked after the baby boy in the back room. It was a great evening, the booze flowed freely and everyone enjoyed themselves. Life was back on track and it remained on the straight and narrow for the next 12 months, they even found a council flat on an estate called Hagfold, I am aware of the unfortunate nomenclature of these old estates, this one however lived up to its name. It was and is a rough estate but the flat that they found was a palace compared to their current hovel. Our guy had it carpeted all through for his girl and on moving day took everything they owned in a van, with help from his mate and disappeared until the following day. Our woman had to move in with the help of a kind family friend, Ifor. She relied on him, he was like a father to her and he got on well with her husband and so became a fast family friend.
Time flies as the saying goes, and soon enough it was their first anniversary. Our antagonist ventured off to the Isle of Man with his friends to celebrate, he bought a silver locket for his young wife.
Being a free spirited sort of fellow, our man got into smoking cannabis, as did many others around that time and before. Our girl wasn’t too happy about it but as there was not much she could do, she tolerated it. To make up for the poor anniversary gesture, he took her to the Isle of Man twice. They had a good holiday both times. The monster that is alcohol reared its ugly head once again however, when he got so drunk he ended up wetting the bed in the hotel room. Why do people do this to themselves you ask? Some people just don’t know when to stop, it’s a sad fact but we’ve all pushed our limits, its part of what makes us human. Our guy however, enjoyed pushing his limits and then smashing them when they wouldn’t yield. I told you he was a fighter didn’t I? Resilient and stubborn to the last.
He succumbed to the addiction of alcohol on many occasions, once in quite a funny way. The bus from his work came past his flat and one Saturday our girl watched him go past, sat on the bus no less than three times. He’d gotten himself so drunk that he’d passed out and the driver kindly left him to sleep it off until he was ready to get off. There is only so much sympathy you can give a drunk and our man invoked more than most did through his charm.
His father in law came to stay, a rare occurrence indeed, they got on like a house on fire and bonded nicely during his short stay. Life went on at the same steady pace and the little boy grew into a bright toddler.
Things in the marriage took a turn for the worse however at this time, our guy for reasons only he knows, had an affair, he left his wife for this woman before realising his mistake and returning to his family. Our woman was forgiving and in a funny twist of fate became friends with his ex mistress. Most women will be screaming at me now. ‘Why did she take him back? What is she thinking?!’ Truth being, she had nowhere else to go and was too stubborn to turn to her mother for help.
The routine in the house dwindled to him staying up half the night bonging away his cannabis. In an attempt to save their marriage maybe, or just to give them something to focus on they decided to have another baby. Now come on I never said all their decisions were the best ones now did I?
She got pregnant quickly but after 3 months tragedy struck and in tears she phoned her husband at work to tell him that she’d miscarried. He took charge; he looked after his little boy, helped around the house, doing the washing, the ironing and the cooking. He became a model father and a doting husband. He did however quit his job due to an argument with his boss and was on the lookout for a new one.
The demons that plagued him, stayed with him, haunting him and in response he drank a lot. One day in a fit of alcoholic rage he head-butted his wife and broke her nose, he gave no reason. His behaviour spiralled, he developed weird habits. He could always be found with his large green bag that he took everywhere with him, it contained his bong and equipment for smoking pot. He had his friends around the house regularly and often disappeared without as much as a word to anyone. He left his wife in the house once with a bunch of his friends who fell out and had a punch up in his living room. He returned drunk, understandably his wife was angry and made a point of letting him know. He responded by beating her so badly that she had to run away to a friend’s flat. Realising what he’d done, when he’d sobered up he found her and apologised, begged her to come back. Now having children involved made it so much harder, for someone who had nowhere to go, to leave.
In another incident he sold his wife’s sewing machine to buy a lump of cannabis when she had ventured out to the shops. She loved that sewing machine, when she was younger she used to make her own clothes and make new clothes out of the ones she already had. It was the one thing she considered herself good at and it was replaced for a habit.
It wasn’t all bad, they used to spend time together, they’d go out to the local pub and they would enjoy it, until half way through the night he would disappear no matter where they were. Once during their second pregnancy he disappeared for a week to Torquay, his wife didn’t know if he was coming back, but he did. Our woman built up a thick skin and a tolerance for such behaviour. She had made her choice and was not about to validate her mother’s disappointment in her by turning away from it. This was her life and she was going to get the most out of it that she could. What else did she deserve?
Their new baby, their second baby was born on Christmas day 1983, it snowed for the first time in years at Christmas. The baby girl was a week early and had a couple of complications soon after birth where she stopped breathing and had to have her throat cleaned out. Her father chose her name, he wanted to keep the theme going and so their little girl was called Carrie-Anne. Anne was the name of our woman’s best friend the one we met right at the start of this relationship; I’ll let you guess where the first name came from. It was a happy day; her big brother was with them at the hospital watching the film Superman. Upon being shown his little sister, he merely commented on how ugly she was and returned to watching his film; you can’t ask for much more from a 5 year old at Christmas now can you? In celebration her father went to her Grandmother’s and got drunk.
Two days later the baby girl was brought home. He was a good dad, he carried out night feeds and nappy changing and fortunately he rested his heavy handed discipline for a while too. Shortly after having their second child his wife became pregnant with their third. Their family was growing and their flat was now too small. Taking responsibility, our man took the council to court and had all the rent arrears wiped clean, he also persuaded them to give his family a council house which they had previously been refused. Like I told you he was charming, you would have liked him.
The little boy started school and in January of 1985 they moved to their new house. They had another little boy on the 16th of March that year. He shone as a father and a husband in these times, he couldn’t attend the baby boys birth as he had two young children to care for but they were all together again the next day. His family was complete and this house would be their home for a long time to come.
Our story will take a different turn from this point in, most of the story will be told through the eyes of a little girl trapped within this dysfunctional family. I know the truth is difficult but we must move forward, and see past it, if we are ever to make it right.
There is a great white fog rolling towards us. You can’t see the road in front and once it engulfs you, you can no longer see the road behind. You are with me and we can only stand still or move on. It is cold, and damp. Its murky depths hide untold truths, within which, we will probably never reach for fear of falling over the edge of the cliff and plummeting to the rocks below.
There is a part in our wanderer’s life in which we can not visit. To me it is like the fog that I have detailed above. All I can tell you of these early days is that our man got married. They were married for a while and I presume there were happy days. Born from this marriage were three children. There were two girls and one boy. They were an all round healthy, happy family. Well that’s the story the photographs will tell you. How happy it was I will never know. I can imagine it was filled with its sadness and pain. I can say this because I know it didn’t last.
This is where the mist around you fades; the path is visible once again. The road ahead looks a little rocky, but I promise you, hold my hand, follow me and it’ll turn out to be ok.
How do I know?
Well I’ve walked back along this path to come and get you and I won’t leave you behind. Shall we?
The young man of our tale journeyed back up to the North of England in his mid to late twenties, along with family in tow. I imagine this was for familial closeness more than anything and most certainly not on our wanderer’s part. The wedded bliss faded over a time and through reasons unbeknownst to me, they went their separate ways. He always remained in touch with his children; well I know he tried to, in his own way.
Let’s skip over the stones shall we.
It’s the year 1978, we’re in a small, out of the way town called; Little Hulton. It’s as mundane as any other town in the North. If you’ve ever visited, then you’ll understand what I mean. Houses cramped together for space, built swiftly for the miners and the cotton mill workers. It is slightly more modern than it was in those days. Only slightly mind you. People spend their free time down the local pub after a long days work and some of them never seem to leave, work or no work.
There is one such place in the middle of town, Cyn’s Tavern. Our man is the barman and possible manager of this little town pub. He works hard, drinks hard and is a charmer to all who know him. Now in his early thirties, he is more mature, responsible and is making a life for himself. By day he works as a manager in the local pet food factory. Nobody can ever say this man was work shy.
One night a pretty young woman enters the bar, her dark hair drapes to her shoulders in a loose wave and it frames her pale, heart-shaped face perfectly. She is with her friend. She can drink with the best of them and exudes a confidence that is immediately attractive and simultaneously intimidating to our guy. Alcohol lubricates the wheels of conversation and a spark flickers into life. Maybe it’s not like the bolt of lightening we always wish for. You know the one promised to many a girl through fairy tales, but it was an attraction nonetheless.
I might add that alcohol is very much present in their frequent meetings.
She is much younger than he at 18 years old, but has a deep intelligence about her and a need to be loved and cared for. They become a couple, an unlikely couple at that. I like to think that there was something in the both of them that found a kindred spirit and a comfort, in knowing that they had the other. The attraction is more than likely a product of sex though. All things seemed to be governed by this act in one way or another.
The woman falls pregnant soon after they start to date. Now we would say young and irresponsible but this was the 70’s, nobody thought of the consequences there was too much fun to be had.
Living on a modest wage, they have to live in the upstairs of a terraced house. The downstairs is derelict. Having come from slightly more decadent surroundings herself, this is quite a system shock to the young woman. Never one to back off from a challenge, she digs her heels in and sees it through.
A few months into the pregnancy our man, ever the romantic, calls our girl up at work one day, to tell her that they’re getting married. The date is set for May 26th 1979 a Saturday at the local registry office. Always liking to be the one in control in his life, he has planned the day to the letter and surprises his companion out of the blue without so much as a proposal. She does however get to choose her own wedding ring.
Our wanderer is one day confronted by his now soon to be wife and mother of his future child. She has had a harrowing experience at the bus stop in Walkden. The ex-wife. She tells him a tale of how she was warned not to marry him because of the fact that he would beat her. Clearly upset by this, the man comforts his bride to be and tells her not to worry. “She’s just jealous.” He soothes. “She just wants me back. I’m yours. Don’t worry.” Whether she just believed him or she was wary, one can never really know, yet for reasons alien to me and you, she stayed.
Not being close to her own mother, the young woman finally decides to tell her when she is seven and a half months pregnant. Later on in the pregnancy there are some complications and our girl has to go into hospital. Our man regretfully isn’t around for this; the young woman doesn’t see him much in the early days. He is either working or getting pissed up at the local pub. Her resolve doesn’t crack, she accepts this as her life, the way it is and takes it all in her young stride. A great deal of responsibility for a girl not quite a complete woman.
Around this time she witnesses evidence of what her man’s ex wife had told her. In a fit of rage, for reasons she can neither discern nor recall, he smashes his way through a glass door at the pub where he works. His hand is badly cut open. Being a fighter and a feisty character to boot, our girl is not initially intimidated. Although her hormones do make her prone to being slightly uneasy at the situation and defensive, she promptly dismisses the incident and immediately adopts the caring persona that fits her like a glove. They get to spend the remainder of their evening at A and E at the local hospital to fix our man’s hand.
For the working class people, there wasn’t much luxury. They make do with going to the pub and visiting the cinema. His woman being a fan of horrors, our guy takes her to see the new ‘Omen’ film. It’s a good night; they enjoy each other’s company. He leads her home by the hand when it’s over, as if they have all the time in the world. Still the romantic at heart he decides to treat her once again. She is now heavily 8 months pregnant. His friend has tickets to go and watch ‘Shawody wady’ live in a small club in the town of Farnworth. This makes our girl sad as the girl’s friend is supposed to be going with our guy’s friend. In a moment of generosity he gives the tickets to our knight in shining armour so our girl can go. Her friend is not pleased by this outcome. Due to being heavily pregnant, she gets to sit on the front row, her man stood behind her, ever the protective one. She has a thoroughly enjoyable night with him and is smiling and humming all the way home.
As promised on the 26th of May, they get married at the local registry office. It is a modest affair. Her dress is a flowing, flowery pregnancy gown, which is about as flattering as a sack. Our girl’s mum attends and shows her support, our man doesn’t bare any witnesses from his family. The friends there are enough. She at least got to choose the wedding ring, our girl remembers with satisfaction. A white gold band, etched with a beautifully detailed wreath of leaves, a poignant symbol for eternal love and commitment. Even as the ring slides onto her slender fingers, our girl knows, in her heart, it is not forever. For now though she is as happy as she can be.
On the 10th of July 1979 at 5.30pm the baby finally arrives. He is a beautiful baby boy, full of tears, full of life. It is one of the hardest things our girl has ever done in her life. Her face is red from the effort and she is sore and tired. Tear stains streak her pale skin, she glows with pride as she gazes with loving eyes at her baby boy. They name him, after her favourite film of the time ‘The Omen’.
A fitting film if there ever was one.
The newly-wed couple are now a unit, a new family heading out bravely into the world that awaits them. They will face it together, well; they will at least start it together.
I take you now to a place that lies outside of my memory. Baguley Sanatorium is a place I can only piece together from pictures and the memories of others. It is an old hospital built in 1902. In 1912 it became a 150 bed sanatorium for TB patients, although its origins predate this. I can only post a picture of the original building to give you an idea of its stately architecture. Welcome to Wythenshawe Hospital, as it was known during the time that we will be visiting. Now this hospital became well known in its own right during the Second World War.
“Wooden huts were constructed and used to treat injured soldiers who had been injured or burned. As a result the hospital became an early pioneer of plastic surgery.”
This story takes you to a time shortly after WWII. We arrive on Friday13th June 1947. Lying in the maternity ward is a small woman roughly between the ages of 25 and 35, I’m afraid I can’t narrow it down any further than that. She is waiting to give birth. A lot of births, at this time, could be carried out at home; however, this case is special. The woman eventually gives birth – I will spare you the detail – to twins. A girl arrives first and then a boy follows soon after. Both healthy babies, they are soon allowed home, to a modest council house on the estates of Wythenshawe.
Growing up the young girl is considered ‘delicate’ and as a result is sheltered by her siblings and parents. Being the only boy and the youngest child in a family of five girls’ means the boy is subject to the strict temperament of his disciplined father. He once had an older brother, who sadly died before he was born. This, the eldest child of his mother and father, was tragically killed while on his motorbike in a freak accident, where a truck banked too sharply around a corner and crushed the poor man to death. Our young boy never knew his brother. Maybe the firm hand his father dealt him, was his own method of trying to keep him in line and alive.
Now being an older sister myself, I understand the base urge to torment your younger brother for no other reason than; because you can. The young boy had to play dress up for his sisters on more than one occasion and if he did not comply with their wishes, his father would beat him, as was the discipline in those days. At some point in his early life the young boy’s father was stricken to a wheel-chair. Details as to why or how this occurred are sketchy at best, so all I can give you is; that his father’s health deteriorated in the young boy’s early teen years. His mother worked hard to provide for her family and like her eldest boy, rode a motorbike to get to and from her work.
Life continued like this throughout his school life. When he was 14, he left school; it was customary to do so at this age. His mother got him his first job, delivering milk on a horse and cart. This may seem quite archaic for 1961 but, this is a poor area of Manchester and time seems to move much more slowly for the working class people of Northern England, at this time anyway. At some point in his early teens, this hard working young man was sadly hit by a car and he suffered a fractured skull. This was followed by a prolonged stay in the hospital. When recovered, this seemingly foolish adolescent, decided to learn boxing. He did this without telling the ring Doctor about his head injury and managed to continue for some time until he was finally found out and banned from doing it again.
At the age of 15 or 16 years old, when most children are leaving school for the first time in, our present climate, the young teen lost his father. No details again as to how or why he died, just that he did. For any child to lose a parent; it is traumatic, but for one so young and to lose someone so strong, the loss must have shaken this boy’s world apart. His mother found another partner in due time and when he moved into the family home, the young boy, for reasons unknown, left. For a short time in his life, the young boy had to survive by living on the dirty, cobbled streets and underground cellars in the city of Manchester. Once he found a pair of Hush Puppy boots. They were unfortunately too small for him, but, for lack of anything else to wear, he claimed them. He suffered terribly with rotten feet and this affliction haunted him in later life.
Life wasn’t always so desperate for our boy. As an older teenager, he found work in the local hospital, probably the very one in which he was born. Training to be a theatre technician the teenager worked hard and diligently as a body porter for the morgue. Life granted this young man with a twisted sense of humour, thus enabling him to deal with the difficulties in life with humour and a joke that many among us may find inappropriate. Such as in the case of the dead, fat man. The young man and his colleague had to move a body to the morgue from an upstairs ward. The lifts/elevators were offline and this unfortunate fellow was not to be understated in his size. In their attempts to get him down the stairs, they kept dropping the body due to the sheer dead weight of the corpse. This they found quite hilarious as the poor man’s body had far more broken bones and bruises than he had probably suffered in his life previously. Although obviously contrite, the young man could not help but see the funny side to this rather morbid and inappropriate incident.
Even trying to picture it in my head now, I can’t help but smirk at the oddities that seem like something taken from a ‘Carry On’ film.
A small romantic existed inside this young man. When he was 18 years old, he obtained a rowing boat. With his girlfriend in tow; a pretty girl with long, red hair, he rowed out to Radio Caroline which was anchored off the coast of the Isle of Man. I have posted a picture of this floating radio station for posterity and to emphasise the sheer romantic nature of our man’s actions.
This was probably one of the final things the young man did in his home town of Manchester. For in his early twenties he moved to Babbacombe and spent much time in the South as a deck chair attendant on the beaches near Torquay.
Never again, did he return home.
The story begins with the end, in a quiet street, in a poor town, located somewhere between the city of Manchester and oblivion. It is an understated place with a bad reputation. To me it will always be home.
We will focus in on one particular house in this street: a council built, semi-detached red brick house. It’s quite serene to look at and to look out from. Across the road, two large acorn trees stand proud and tall, the left one a little smaller, and both bearing scars on their bark from numerous car accidents. They flank the house opposite, which is almost a replica of the house we’re interested in. They stand like watchmen, guarding the gates. The gate itself to our house, as we approach is a tall and black gate, hand built by the protagonist of this story himself. It is glossy black and smooth. Not perfectly so, just enough roughness to feel real and solid enough to deter at least some wayward criminals.
The small, perfectly square front garden is well kept. Daffodils used to grow in the soil surrounding the island of grass, but that was a long time ago; now it’s just soil. In the middle sits a very large pebble, it’s white and grey and so very smooth. Always cool to the touch, it looks like the surface of the moon. It’s such a beautifully simplistic item in a very mundane garden that makes it stand out just so. As a little girl, I used to stand on top of this pebble. I call it a pebble but it is in reality the size of a basketball, irregular shaped – not quite oval and not perfectly round – a state of in-between that is seemingly the theme the whole house attempts to convey. To your right are the straight bushes, cut evenly and neat, separating the front path from the rest of the garden that spills off around the side of the house. It is an irregular triangle, coming to its peak where a five foot tree of flowers stands rooted on a slight hill overlooking the rest of the garden. Along the outskirts is the same neatly cut bushes rising over seven feet, obscuring the view from the street. It’s a lovely garden, well kept, trimmed and so very green. A perfect picture of what you would want a family home to look like.
Without much further distraction I will take you into the house. The wallpaper is old and stained by tobacco smoke. The carpet on the stairs is worn and dark and irregular splotches of colour are visible in the thread. The front room, the main room, is to your left through a very modest and slightly damaged plywood door. The room is dark and occupied. Two old and unsightly chairs are positioned directly to your right, facing in to the room. On the first; is a pale young boy, quiet and looking like he could fall asleep at any moment. On the second there is a young girl; roughly the same age as the boy, her face a picture of boredom and anxiety. Their eyes betray sadness and a maturity beyond their teenage years. They don’t speak. The girl sits curled on the chair, facing the large central window. This is the only source of light and it doesn’t seem to reach far into this small, over-crowded room. To the right of the girl there is a bed, its occupant is – for the moment – subdued and the room is silent. Next to the bed, perched on the end of an amber wooden table is a young man. Older than the two teenagers, his face is a picture of stern responsibility. He watches the occupant of the bed closely, his hands clasped in front of him. A resigned and tired sigh sounds from his lips, betraying a desire for some kind of relief from the limbo in which he now sits, quietly waiting.
The figure in the bed stirs and moans very slightly. He is an old man. Looking at him, you’d be forgiven for thinking this man was as old as 80 or 90 years, however, this man is only a modest 55 years old. The paper-thin, creased skin and the yellow pallor to his complexion, are a product of a body riddled with disease and one in its dying throes. When he wakes, he is groggy and unaware of his surroundings. The young man, his son, dutifully and firmly attempts to keep the older man in his bed, much to the older man’s dissatisfaction. His once muscular frame is all but a skeleton of its former self; muscles have all but wasted away as his body tries to fight off the cancer that resides within him. Trying to push the young man from his path, he demands to know who this intruder is and why he isn’t allowed to get up and continue on his daily routine. It is funny how the brain returns to a basic state of mundane living, when the body itself can no longer obey the commands.
“I’m your son.”
The young man utters firmly and assuredly, a fact he has long since come to terms with. Finally recognising his seed, the older man relaxes a little, yet, still demanding to be allowed out of bed. The sad matter is; that even moving – for him – is more or less impossible. His ankles have swollen with excess fluid, his muscles are too weak and all bodily functions are now maintained by devices and tools that only man can devise, in his attempt to stall death. Succumbing to the grim determination of the younger man’s resolve, he falls heavily back onto the bed and again returns to drifting in and out of our world, as we are aware of it. His son clearly irritated by the affair, immediately phones the services – trained and qualified to help in these situations – only to be told that; an ambulance can only be sent in due time. You see, death itself, when irreversible, is not considered an emergency. The logic is there; the ones who will live and need emergency treatment are the priority for the ambulance service. You can’t really blame them. It is called triage on a battle field, it is logical, despite lacking in a certain degree of humanity.
Death had never been so real for these three children, never so grey and tangible. The two younger siblings didn’t speak and the girl seemed to curl even tighter into the chair, as if willing herself to disappear to a place, a place anywhere but where she was.
The ambulance arrives, the paramedics are friendly while doing their job with a cool, dispassionate head, they ask who will join the older man. The eldest son and the girl agree to go, both in their own way trying to shield and protect their younger brother from the grim truth they are all facing. The younger brother merely shrugs and heads home, it is impossible to tell what he is thinking at this time, some thoughts are meant to be private. The small truck is clean and cramped. The brother and sister face each other. The novelty of riding in an ambulance is not lost on the girl, how ironic that in a moment of mortality, the human spirit finds something new and special in each passing second, something that is always remembered and taken away with each individual and replayed countless times, in countless minds, never truly fading into the abyss of time. The hospice is as warm and friendly as any place could be – not forgetting that this is a place where people come to die – its atmosphere is one of warmth and understanding. The older man is made comfortable and is cleaned by the attentive nurses. The young girl excuses herself and heads to the toilets. Her thoughts are blank, her emotions are hard, just another day to survive. She heads back to the small, bright, room and as she does so, the younger of the two nurses meets her enroute.
“I came to look for you. I think it’s time.”
The girl nods in understanding and enters the room. Standing next to her is her bigger, older brother. Silently she takes the jaundiced, withered hand of the older man in hers. Hers are so small and pale by comparison to the older man’s once strong hands. Even now they dwarf hers. She squeezes very softly. His chest rises and falls and then a tiny bubble of fluid it bursts on his cracked lips and the chest goes silent.
No one speaks, no one moves. A minute passes. The hand held by the girl is still warm, still soft, she doesn’t let go. Not just yet. Her older brother succumbs finally to the anguish and grief inside; turning to his younger sister he rests his head heavily on her much smaller shoulder and sobs, loudly, unashamedly. At a loss of what to do, the teenage girl relinquishes her father’s hand to rest a small, comforting palm on the shoulder of her brother. The nurses moved by the sudden and quiet passing also give in to their tears. Compassion for a fellow human being crosses all boundaries between friends, family and strangers. The brother stops crying, the girl glances at him with wry amusement.
“If you continue, we’re going to need a bigger boat or at least someone with a bigger shoulder.”
She smiles at him. Laughing lightly the brother wipes his eyes.
“Yeah I’m sorry.”
She shrugs and looks at the nurses.
“We’ll keep him here for now, there is a living area where you can wait if you want, we’ll clean him up and you can come back and say goodbye.”
The siblings nod and thank the nurses and exit to find a comfy seat. Leaving the room, they’re greeted by friends of their father, each one as distraught as the next. All of them feeling the need to be able to comfort the young adults, but not quite knowing what to say. Hugs are received, condolences and tears are shared, between family and friends alike. The girl having shed no tears, feels uneasy at the prospect of revealing her pain and suffering to others, for her, it isn’t something that needs to be shared.
The days pass quickly, arrangements are made and family arrive. The day of the funeral is again a mixture of sadness and joy. The joy being; the warmth and camaraderie that obviously existed between the older man, his friends and acquaintances. The girl relishes the chance to sit in the hearse, morbid though that maybe, it is a new experience. The church ceremony is simple and eloquent, the speech from the Vicar moving and gentle. The girl cannot hold back all the tears this time and they fall freely down her cheeks, her distant family comfort and understand. One of the most notable is her Grandmother, a tiny, frail woman, no bigger than four foot. She exudes more strength and resolve than people half her age and with a lot less to lose. It is a bright day, with a little wind and a tiny amount of drizzle. The crowd gathers around an unmarked plot. The Vicar has joined them, her white visage a stark contrast to the black suits and clothing of those who have come to mourn. A few words are said and the pale wooden coffin is lowered into the ground. A song requested by the man himself is played.
‘Coz I got high.’ An appropriate song filled with humour and underlying meaning, as the surrounding family know all too well. Everyone laughs; it’s what he would have wanted, always the one with a twisted sense of humour. The day draws to a close. It is the end of the day. The crowd disperses to join together at a local pub and to drink to their fallen friend and share experiences and memories of times long since passed.
This is where I join you, let’s raise our glasses and remember a man, a father, a son, a brother and a husband, a friend and an outcast. This is where I introduce you to my Dad and our story can truly begin where it all truly started. Please relax and get comfy, as I tell you his story from his birth, to his death. A story filled with laughter, with pain, sadness and life, so he can always be remembered. No one I have ever known has lived so much in just a mere fifty five years on this Earth, and these are the stories I choose to share with you.
I give you the Stories of the Two Faced Man.