Keeping the record
Chapter one; part one; draft one
Note: I’m engaged in writing a bit of a novel, in a piece-meal way. It’s likely to be an auto-bio-fic with a varying degree of bio and fic for reasons which will hopefully become apparent. I enjoy writing into this little text box on my computer screen, and welcome comments as I go along. If I have the strength and tenacity to go on to some kind of finishing point in about 90,000-120,000 words, I’ll do what I can to review, edit and pull it together as a finished product. Don’t nag me on this! Meantime, as and when I feel in the mood, I’ll chuck a segment or two your way and see where we go. Here’s the first 600-odd words.
When you’re young there’s a feeling of eternal life about your approach to record keeping. Plenty of time. No need to waste it now. Come back later.
So you get on with it, with enjoying what comes and with trying not to regret too much what doesn’t. You sit around when your family meets, playing with the laces on uncle’s shoes, listening to the stories and sipping from glasses of dark beer when you think no-one is watching.
Life, even though there was a war on, and yes, I did know it, may have had a strange colour, taste and smell to it, but I didn’t know that it wasn’t really strange. Seemed normal enough to me. When you’re three or four years old the cru-u-u-mp of bombs falling in the night and the stac-ack-ack-ack-ack of the anti-aircraft guns that answered them are part of your world and the only frightening thing about them is the stories the grown-ups tell in an effort to comfort you.
Oh, the noise, when it got really loud and wall-shakingly close, the noise was alarming enough, drowning out the comfortable sound of the BBC and sifting solidity from the ceilings in a gentle drift of dry plaster dust. Sometimes there was a coincidence between a particularly loud thump and the loss of power, turning out the lights and raising a curse from my mother as she scrabbled for matches and candles. Bless her, for a woman who got things done, who managed a small family and a succession of homes through Blitz and botherations of all kinds, she wasn’t the most organised of people. If she’d had her evening half-glass of brown ale it was sometimes that she’d laugh at Hitler, and take several long drags on her Player’s Weight, sparking the cinder to light until she found the errant saucer with its candle stub.
Light would sputter, the wet-cell battery would continue pulling the BBC out of the aether, and the air-raid would rumble on.
That was the London end of our life, with my mother holding things up day by day and my father off for days and weeks at a time being a London fireman, Hero of the Universe. Or so he was for me.
When my mother felt in need of a break from it she’d pack a couple of bags, buy a workman’s ticket on the train from Liverpool Street to Chelmsford, and take me off to join another group of survivors, centered on her own mother. I’d smile, settle on the floor with a different set of legs, socks and lace-up shoes, and dreamily sip on unguarded glasses of ale and stout until I was rescued, washed, wrapped up, and lodged in the big feather bed in the front-room, safe until my mother slipped in beside me, and safer still as we slipped into sleep cuddled up together.