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NICK CLEMENTS



I SWEAR BY Almighty

G-G-G-GOD



The politically incorrect memoirs of a police officer who tried to make a difference



Copyright © 2017 by Nick Clements


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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.


This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover, other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


ISBN: 978-1-86151-773-9





Dedicated to the memory of Blanche Meredith, my wonderfully understanding landlady in my time of need.



CONTENTS



Foreword

1 A Dad Who Didn’t Deserve the Name

2 A Post Mortem, Evil Men and an Apology

3 A Wife-Beating, Drunken Waster

4 Almost a Murderer

5 Primary School Memories and a Book on Birds

6 Secondary School, Sport, Stutters and Security

7 Boxing and Burglary

8 Cock of the School, and a Lifesaver

9 First Love, and Eternal Shame

10 A Job at Fifteen

11 Escape Plan

12 Three Bus Rides to Heaven

13 Life-Changing Day or April Fool?

14 Police Cadet

15 My Own Bedroom, and No Ashtrays

16 T-T-T-Tragedy!

17 Toilet Etiquette

18 Snooker, and Potting the Pink

19 Exam Failure – Career Success

20 1967 – Belper, and My New Saviour

21 Swimming With the Tide, For Once

22 Meeting a Mermaid

23 Dog Killer

24 Mobility, a Nervous Breakdown and Grandma’s Pride

25 A Fumbled Encounter, and a Serious Scolding

26 Cheshire Home

27 A Medical Life-Changer

28 A Slapped Face

29 Goodbye Virginity at Last

30 The Kick that Threatened My Career

31 Mam’s Divorce, and the End of My Stutter

32 A Police Constable, a New Career, a New Life and a New Wife

33 Goodbye Derby, Hello Leeds

34 Dark Nighting

35 Sexual Freedom – and a Mortgage

36 Another Wife-Beater

37 Sex in the Saddle

38 Frosted Glass

39 Vice and the Vice Squad

40 Arresting a Murderer

41 Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan

42 Talking Turkey

43 Guns and Toilets

44 A Very Odd Pregnancy, but a Healthy Baby

45 Bradford Drug Squad

46 Men in Tights, and the Beverley Sisters

47 Dustbin Lid Shields

48 The Real-Life Punchbag Who Couldn’t be Knocked Over

49 Sheila’s Departure

50 Demotion – A Blessing in Disguise

51 Single Father

52 BMXs and Small Urinals

53 Dog’s Dinner

54 Pancakes and a Legacy

55 Promotion and Tattoos

56 Shebeens, Scars and Rugby Heroes

57 Vice, with Responsibility

58 Bastard Pimps

59 And Finally




Foreword



These memoirs are not religious, despite the title. They are my memories of being an infant, child, teenager and young man in the 1950s and 60s, striving to escape from the wrong side of the tracks and a life dominated by my drunken, wife-beating, burgling, work-shy, narcissistic father. They are an accurate account of my unrelenting ambition to become a police officer, despite these obstacles and a stutter to boot. The memories of my childhood are, mostly, sad.

Memories of my police career began as a police cadet in the 1960s, not long after leaving school, no qualifications, at the tender age of fifteen, and with a stutter. ‘God’, ‘Nick’, ‘bread and butter,’ were my staple stumbling blocks to conversations and as a policeman, giving evidence. My memories of the politically-incorrect decades of the sixties, seventies and eighties are rich with anecdotes of horror, humour, fear, fun, passion, sex, marriages, excitement, commendations and above all, the determination to escape my past and make a future. If you are of a nervous disposition, put this book back on the shelf now!

I continuously reached for the stars. I never actually reached them, but I was over the moon – as they say – with the progress I made and the stubbornness that got me there. I had children, promotions and three marriages. I not only survived, but thrived. Think of this as ‘Billy Elliott’ meets ‘The Sweeney’, and you’ll have the gist of it.




1


A Dad Who Didn’t Deserve The Name



Having a dad – for want of a better word – who was a wife-beater, a drunk, a thief, a burglar and an idle, lazy, work-shy, vain, narcissistic egotist encouraged me to start work early and contribute to the family’s basic need for food and rent. One abiding memory of acute embarrassment is of going to primary school in summer wearing wellingtons because my shoes had so many holes they were flapping at the front and sole. Crying all the way there, and crying even harder when the usual suspects gloated and pointed out my situation to everyone else, running home, still crying, to sit in the shed next to the coal house, until I was rescued by my mam. Leaving school earlier than most and starting a job, not a career, to earn some money seemed to me the right thing to do to help my Mam and siblings.

How Mam and I often cried together when she told me he’d found the rent money she’d hidden, again, and gone off to the pub, again. How I hated him! Why couldn’t he just go to work like all the other dads in our street? That question was the most common one asked by Mam and I when we were in despair. So starting work earlier than my friends really wasn’t an option; it seemed to me a necessity.

Although I took a job as an apprentice fitter at a local engineering factory, my dream from as far back as I could remember was to be a policeman. I was asked the same question as everyone else. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘A policeman,’ I always replied. I suppose policemen were my role models in my early life, given that they were more frequent visitors to our house than relatives. Whenever they took my dad away for a stint in prison we would have some tranquillity or relief for a time; a bit of happiness and laughter.

When I say we, I include my siblings. My sister Margaret was born four years after me, my brother Gary four years after her, another sister, Gaynor, three years after Gary and another sister, Lisa, two years after that. Katherine, my stepsister, arrived after my mam was finally divorced, and long after I’d left home at the tender age of sixteen. I remember overhearing my mam telling my auntie that she didn’t think she’d ever had sex with my dad when he was sober. Funny how you remember little comments, but looking back, that probably explains a lot.

So how would it be possible for a 16 -year-old with my background to become a police cadet? How many stumbling blocks could there be? I had no qualifications, but I was exceptionally honest, hard-working and protective of my mother, grandmother and anyone who was weak or bullied – particularly female. ‘Old beyond my years,’ I heard many people say, but that was mainly down to trying to be a role model to my siblings, including shielding them from the drunken loutish behaviour of their dad whenever I could, and doing the shopping at the local Co-op every day. I was always first at the local paper shop waiting for the owner to open up and give me my sacks to distribute, seven days a week morning and evening, for the princely sum – in today’s money – of 75 pence per week. And more often than not I bought food with it.

But I knew my biggest problem would be my stutter. I struggled with my surname because it began with the letter C. It was the same with ‘bread and butter’ and, of course, ‘God’, although He wasn’t someone I referred to regularly, prior to joining the police service. There would be quite a few “Gs” before finally the word ‘God!’ exploded from my stammering lips, but I wasn’t to know that, until I was being trained how to give the Oath, with one hand on the Bible, in a witness box, in front of my peers. ‘I swear by Almighty… ’ Almost as embarrassing as going to school in wellies. But that comes later. And, for fellow stutterers, some great tips on how to stop stuttering!

And yet my new life as a police cadet nearly stopped just after it started.




2


A Post Mortem, Evil Men and an Apology



This is what can happen when you put yourself on a pedestal and believe with absolute sincerity that your life is on the way up. You can easily get knocked off. This happened in spectacular fashion about three months into my career as a cadet, as I’d now started referring to it, and it could so easily have been the end of that career. It started at the divisional headquarters of Derbyshire Constabulary, in Matlock.

One particular sergeant had obviously taken a dislike to me, when almost everyone else seemed to have taken a bit of a shine to me. Some of my superiors were by now referring to me as ‘lad’ or ‘Nick’, and said they had often seen me swimming up and down the local pool like a fish. I played snooker with quite a few of them in meal breaks and after work. But this one sadist, Sergeant Johnson, seemed to snarl at me whenever he asked me to do something or questioned me about what I had done. I was always very respectful towards him, but quite frankly I was scared to death of him. I don’t mind being disrespectful about him now, he’ll be long dead, and I would describe him as an ugly chain smoker with brown uneven teeth and bad breath. I did hear another sergeant tell him to leave me alone as I was doing all right, but it didn’t improve his attitude towards me.

This particular day, referring to me as Cadet 8, he asked me if I’d seen a post -mortem. It wasn’t really a question, more of a statement, because obviously I hadn’t. How many 16-year-olds had even seen a dead body? I knew there was a mortuary exactly opposite our police station and I’d often seen ambulances and plain vans driving round the back of it from the window where my desk was. No one had ever discussed the term ‘post mortem’ with me, let alone prepared me for one and what it entailed. Until recently, I’d been more into Workers’ Playtime on the radio, in the company of my mam and the Daleks in Doctor Who – watching through slatted fingers from behind the settee at my friend’s house.

It was quite apparent that he’d organised something, because a minute later he told me to get up and put my jacket and cap on, I was going to see one. As I walked through the office I heard the civilian switchboard operator call him a bastard, and it wasn’t long before I was thinking the same. I walked across the road with him and he unlocked the big heavy brass hinged door at the front of the mortuary and we went in together. It was like a very big garage; concrete floor painted cream, brick walls painted cream, very bright, and very cold. As we entered I saw a couple of long, smooth stone tables on blocks of stone, with shallow curves towards the centre down the length of them, and a hole at one end leading to a drain hole in the floor. They were like large static operating tables, but concave instead of flat. There was a large writing bureau in a small office and some large steel cabinets along one wall, where I presumed the bodies were stored.

Despite its cleanliness, tidiness and brightness, it was characterless and absolutely uninviting. Mind you, what mortuary would be inviting?

The sergeant grabbed my right arm and pulled me round a corner, then pulled harder when I stopped. Lying on a sheet of tin on top of a stone table was the body of a woman in her twenties or thirties. She was completely naked, with small breasts and a lot of pubic hair. There was nothing sexual about that first sight of a naked woman.

The Bastard Sergeant pulled me harder, until we were in front of the body and standing on a wooden platform, presumably there to stop your feet from freezing over. My eyes were torn between staring at her and up at the ceiling. I heard him reminding me that I was a police cadet and would be seeing a lot of dead bodies and I had better get used to it.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when the pathologist, it couldn’t have been anyone else, suddenly appeared on my other side. He looked as if he’d stepped out of a Boris Karloff film. He was about a foot shorter than me, almost bald, with milk-bottle glasses that made his eyes look as though they were on stalks, and wearing a heavy-duty rubber apron and rubber gloves. His bottom lip protruded. I’d never heard the word ‘malevolent’, but now that I’m more worldly-wise, that’s how I would describe his appearance.

The Bastard Sergeant told him I was Cadet 8 and I was here to watch a post-mortem. He said he would be back in half an hour or so. Who should I be most afraid of, I asked myself, the living or the dead? I know he asked me some questions, and I know I was unable to speak. He leaned across the woman, telling me she was quite dead. Her eyes were closed. He lifted her left arm up and it creaked and stayed up almost vertical, leaning against the far wall. Then, mercifully, he rolled out a leather bag, containing all sorts of metal instruments, including scalpels, spoons and a small tenon saw, across the top of her legs, covering her private parts. That definitely helped. He told me he was going to open her body. His finger pointed to her throat, where he was going to cut, down to her stomach. He would, he said, saw either side of her rib cage and lift it up to see inside her chest.

I know he took delight in explaining that he would insert the scalpel he was holding into the bottom of her neck, cut down and then peel back her skin. I was transfixed. I still hadn’t spoken a word. I was shivering and sweating at the same time and I wanted to put my hand on the stone table to stop myself from swaying, but I didn’t. I just stood there mesmerised, frightened and feeling childish. Exactly the opposite of what a police cadet should be doing, presumably.

It was pure theatre, or more like pure horror. He laid the scalpel on her breast and took out a packet of Capstan Full Strength cigarettes and lit one. He left it dangling from his lips, picked the scalpel up and just stuck it in the bottom of her throat. She exhaled loudly and her arm dropped from vertical to crash against the sheet of tin. The noise was deafening.

My next recollection was dodging the traffic as I ran across the road into the police station foyer. I was fumbling with the coded access buttons trying to get in when the Bastard Sergeant opened it, grabbed my arm and pulled me back out of the station, shouting things like, ‘what do you think you’re doing?’, ‘where’s your cap?’, ‘you’re a disgrace’, as he dragged me back across the road towards the mortuary door. I kept shouting, ‘she’s alive, she’s alive!’

Suddenly I was on the wooden platform again, my right arm held tightly as the pathologist walked from his desk to us. He showed no emotion as he lit another Capstan full strength from the stub of the previous one and dropped that on the floor. I normally hated the smell of cigarettes, but I wasn’t aware of anything other than watching him pick up the scalpel from where he had left it between her breasts.

The next half hour was a blur. He cut her open, peeled back her skin and flesh across and under her breasts, and then used his saw to cut down the side of her rib cage. Mercifully, in some respects, when he pulled her rib cage up it covered her face. He spoke through the haze of cigarette smoke as he pulled body parts out of the cavity, weighed them and put them in separate metal dishes on a nearby mobile table. I noticed that the Bastard Sergeant had gone, but at what point I had no idea. I was stupefied with fear and horror, concentrating on keeping my own bile inside my body and hoping against hope I wouldn’t fall over.

Mr Malevolent chain-smoked throughout, lighting each new fag from the old one. When he told me he was going to examine her brain he asked me to stand next to him. I couldn’t move or speak and watched as the top of her head was pulled over from back to front to hide her eyes and heard him sawing the top of her head off. I went into a trance, I think, and just stood there as he weighed, made notes, examined bits and pieces and smoked.

I think I could have lived with my experience and moved on if I had witnessed only the post-mortem, bearing in mind what I would witness in years to come. But the way she breathed out and her arm fell down continues to this day to haunt my dreams and nightmares.

It was ten years later, as a seasoned detective in drugs squad, when the vision again came to mind and it dawned on me that I had been set up by the two of them. They knew that the build-up of gases inside her body would create the exhalation noise when the hole was made in her neck, and the release of that pressure would also cause her arm to fall down. Their little game was designed to create the effect it had on me. Bastards.

At least recognising what they had done, at last, helped me come to terms with my demons. What I should have done was talk about what had happened instead of keeping my silence. Not for the purpose of recriminations, but telling friends might have lessened the immediate effect it had on me. Perhaps someone might even have spotted the malicious “trick” they had played.

But, all that said, there is no way I can move on from the pathologist’s final act. Even as I write this, my blood boils in anger. I’m ashamed of myself, at my lack of action then and subsequently. My own inadequacies come to the fore every time I recollect what he did. I should have grabbed the pathologist by the throat, or at the very least, spoken up of the injustice, abuse and the malfeasance I witnessed, when, as he was sewing up her body he spat his final cigarette into her cavity. His final words to me were, ‘It doesn’t matter to her, she’s dead.’

When the Bastard Sergeant came for me I know he held my arm as we walked across the road with him stopping the traffic. I was in the toilet for so long there was nothing left in my stomach other than pain. I don’t remember talking to anyone in the station afterwards, but one of the older officers came and sat with me and asked if I was going to be okay. He definitely said, ‘He’s a bastard!’ Looking back, I don’t know if he was referring to the sergeant or the pathologist.

I have silently apologised to that woman’s family thousands of times since, and still do. If only I could turn back the clock and have an opportunity to change just one thing in my life, I would defend her decency in a forceful way. That experience, together with memories of my own mother’s treatment, certainly paved the way for my future unswerving need to stand up for justice and speak out against injustice, particularly where that involved women and girls. But my personal shame, created by my inactivity that day, remains.

I never told anyone at work, or any of my friends, about my experience. I thought of it as part of my training and my daily life continued, if rather subdued for a while. But my nightlife changed dramatically, without my knowledge. My landlady asked me numerous times over the next few weeks what was wrong as she heard me screaming out in my sleep. Of course my memory of that day was indelible and I did know sometimes I was having nightmares about it, but she told me I was screaming every night and she was concerned.

It must have been very disconcerting for my landlady’s family, because she reported her concerns to the Chief Inspector of Cadets. I didn’t know at the time that she had done that. Out of the blue, it seemed to me, he called my extension and asked me to come up to his office. Although I was fearful of anyone in authority at this time, I was always pleased to see him when he walked through the office, rather as a Labrador looks at his master, I suspect. I saluted smartly and anticipated our first in-depth talk about swimming and life-saving training. Instead he told me he was sending me home for a week, that I should enjoy the rest and consider talking to a doctor about my nightmares. He never mentioned my visit to the mortuary.

I had by this time bought one of the oldest 125cc motorbikes in existence, similar in appearance to the ones used in the war, with just the one seat shaped like a large pedal cycle seat. I had goggles but no helmet. I went home first, anticipating going on to stay with my grandma after spending some time with my siblings. But Mam had received a letter from the Chief Inspector of Cadets and she asked me to stay the night and said she wanted to talk to me about what I had been up to. Mam and I had always talked and even laughed together during my school days and I had no problem accepting her invitation, even though our relationship had become slightly strained since I had left home.

The very next morning she told me she had to take me to the doctor’s. She said I shouldn’t be screaming like that in my sleep and she went with me to the surgery in Clay Cross, our nearest town. There was no appointment made in those days, you just sat and waited your turn. Like the time I told my mam I’d been weeing blood. I’d flushed the toilet so there was no evidence, but she made me drink glasses of water until I could go again. She watched, told me to hold it, got a milk bottle and I half filled it with bloodied urine. We went straight to the doctors, after waiting at the bus stop for ages and then waiting all over again in the queue at the surgery, me panicking and my mam apparently stoic. Two minutes after showing the doctor my blood sample, I was told to cut down on the beetroot sandwiches.

This time my mam came into the surgery with me, but after she had told the doctor about my noisy sleeping habits, I asked her to wait outside, as I wanted to talk to the doctor confidentially. I told him some of what had happened, but most importantly I missed the opportunity to explain all the details and bring the Boris Karloff pathologist to justice.

The doctor called my mother in and asked me to wait outside this time. When we left I had some tablets to take. My mother was very thoughtful, suggesting I stayed with her and not at my grandma’s as I might frighten her during the night. I don’t recollect my dad being there at this juncture. I took the tablets for two nights, threw the rest of them in the bin and went back to my digs, after only three nights away. I believed I should be stronger and didn’t want a blemish on my record. I would live with my issue and sleep with it. I was sure I could stop myself from screaming and upsetting people during the night. I asked my landlady after a couple of nights if I had woken anyone up, and she said the tablets must be working.

There was a very noticeable change though. As a consequence of my experience my stutter was back, with a vengeance. Not just back, but worse than before. I knew I could and would conquer it though. I had to be a successful police cadet, if not the brightest. I had to. I could not fail. I was still in my cadetship probationary period and I knew I couldn’t afford to be seen as unsuitable, in either attitude or commitment.

My decision to go back to work earlier than I was supposed to was not based on reasoning, or better health; it was more intuitive. Throughout my life I have never really spent much time thinking and planning my future, short or long term. My actions have always been the result of instinct, rapidly implemented with enthusiasm, before I have had time to counsel myself to be cautious. This was something I have never practised; it just happens that way, and I’m thankful for it. I would never have applied to join the police cadets if I’d reasoned with myself or procrastinated, or taken advice from my family or friends – or girlfriend. I would never have progressed in my career if I’d waited until I was sure that what I was attempting to achieve was achievable. And I certainly wouldn’t have been awarded so many Crown Court and Chief Constable commendations if I’d faltered for a second, or thought of the consequences of making a mistake.

I don’t know who passed these genes down to me, but thanks anyway. They seem to have worked, at least on Pareto’s Principle of eighty-twenty, so far. To save some of you Googling Pareto’s Principle, or Pareto’s Law, it is a well-established description of averages. Examine any troubles you have. Eighty per cent of your problems at home or work are caused by twenty per cent of your staff. The idea is to concentrate on the twenty per cent to simplify improving your life. In many cases eighty per cent of things just happen and are achieved without planning and forethought – but that twenty per cent can catch you out. The same applies in the police service too. More often than not, eighty per cent of the crime in an area will be committed by twenty per cent of the criminal fraternity. So concentrate your efforts on the prolific ones – the twenty per cent – using a smaller group of officers rather than more officers chasing everyone.

When I went back to work I noticed a subtle change in my colleagues’ attitude towards me. The atmosphere was friendlier, and more people involved me in conversations. There were more snooker opportunities and the two other cadets who joined with me even asked if they could come swimming with me and asked if I would teach them life-saving techniques. I liked to think it was my personality that had won them over, but I soon realised it was because the Bastard Sergeant had moved to another police station during my short, but enforced, time off work. I wasn’t the only person in the station who was pleased.

No one ever asked me about my post-mortem experience and I never talked about it to anyone. It was a shameful omission on my part not to stand up for that poor woman and her family, but if the Bastard Sergeant had been moved because of what he’d done to me, the pathologist should have been rotting in hell. But should a 16-year-old youth, I reasoned, police cadet or otherwise, have to consider wielding that amount of destructive power, affecting the futures of “superior” men in higher places, and their unwitting families? I took the easy option I suppose and have lived to regret my inadequacy. The lady and her family will never know of course – but for my own peace of mind at last, please let this be my apology in writing.




3


A Wife-Beating, Drunken Waster



But let me explain how I managed to become a police cadet in the first place, and talk about the hurdles I needed to overcome, and the luck that helped. Being the son of a miner (and I use that description loosely, as my ‘dad’ spent more time in the pub propping up the bar than he did propping a mineshaft), I was also the relative of many other miners. I was obviously expected to go down that route – or, rather, that mine. But I recall having the mindset from an early age, probably about five, that I would never follow in his footsteps. Having a dad who was the antithesis of an upstanding hard-working family man, I would never be a miner because I would never be like him.

From that age onwards, I also remember him being asleep on the settee stinking of beer after a session in the pub, or prior to going back to the pub. My mam and I would keep out of his way when he woke up if he was looking anything like angry or nasty. Too often he would shout, threaten and violently demand the rent money. He would search her purse, handbag and cupboards, shouting and swearing and threatening her until eventually he would, literally, throttle her into submission and she would go to a hiding place and give him some of the money. If only he knew that I was always privy to the different places where my mam hid the money. I would have submitted far more easily than she did. We were close to eviction so many times. How many times did we hide under the stairs when the rent man came to collect something that was being spent in the pub? ‘Dad’ would whistle and sing and clean his shoes with his slippers and tell me with a wink that the sign of a good lover is clean shoes. Once he’d got his hands on the rent money he swaggered to the pub, leaving my mam with bruises and little money for food, sitting on a chair with her head in her hands crying. It wouldn’t be long before I was sent to a neighbour with a cup to borrow some sugar or milk for a cup of tea and, as many times as I came back without any, I was sent to another, further down the road, always mindful of missing out the ones I had already borrowed from that week.

My worst memories stem from his being at the pub during the day and then coming back again at night. We were guaranteed to be in for a nasty and violent night that invariably ended up with my police officer role models taking him away for assaulting my mam or being drunk and disorderly. I was an avid reader of books borrowed from the local library, and my favourites were the Jennings and Darbishire books of humorous schoolboy adventures. I have some fantastic memories of sitting on the settee next to my mam in front of the coal fire reading by candlelight and sharing out loud some of the funnier passages, which had us both hysterical with laughter. Then we would hear him coming up the path shouting some ribald comment to one of his mates and we would pray he would go straight to bed without coming into the room where we were. We sat and waited in fear.

Remember, when I was five I had a one-year-old sister and when I was nine, we both had a brother aged one. At various times, depending on how my ‘dad’ behaved in drink, the night could be filled with a cacophony of noise with my mam screaming in agony from black eyes, broken noses and fingers and massive bruises from his fist and feet attacks, plus the higher-pitched screaming and wailing of one to three children. First the neighbouring men would come round and pull him off my mam, followed by their wives to put us back into bed and sit with us as we waited for my role models to come and arrest him, or if mam had to be taken to hospital.

Sometimes I would have the company of a neighbour all night if Mam was taken to hospital, but more times than I can remember I was left in charge of the house and my sister and brother for hours at a time. I still have nightmares about feeding my one-year-old brother with a spoon, as he sat in his wooden high chair in the living room, when my dad started on my mam. I left my brother for literally seconds to close the kitchen door to reduce the noise and he slid out of the chair because I hadn’t strapped him. He fell onto the floor and his head caught the tiled hearth. There was blood everywhere. Not only did he have a nasty scar on his forehead when he came out of hospital, he still had it 50-odd years later. Not that we’ve ever talked about it. I was in horrific shock at the sight of all the blood and him crying and I’ve been in denial ever since. It did however rescue my mam from the other ordeal, temporarily.

I wasn’t a fan of my sister and brother in the early days, mainly because of imposed baby-sitting duties. I didn’t have a problem in the house, but when my brother was about a year old and still in a pram, I was forced to take him and my five-year -old sister when I went out to play with my gang. She would hold the side of the pram, while he was invariably asleep as I joined my mates to race around to the estate park half a mile away.

I had to join in, despite my encumbrances, because I was joint leader of our gang, the Black Hand Gang. Members of the gang had to rub the charcoal from a burnt stick on their left palm before we set off. No black hand, no membership. So I treated the pram as a racing car and chased around the hurdles and obstacles created by playground furniture or used it as part of a wagon train whilst the rest of the gang played Cowboys and Indians. My sister obviously wasn’t a member, being just a girl, but she was normally content to play on the swings on her own. We only went home when it became apparent it was baby-feeding time.

I don’t have many solid memories of my younger family. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, and particularly during this writing, and I can only believe that subconsciously I’ve blocked those times and memories out of my life. It’s a bit late to see a psychiatrist now, but I do believe that’s what I’ve done. My memory is clouded about the births of the five children who followed me. I have some recollections of my mam going to hospital in ambulances, but I don’t know for sure if she was off to give birth or be treated in A&E for husband-inflicted injuries. I have only one memory of being alone with my dad, and that still makes me shudder. I do know I could have and should have been a better brother, but I can’t change that. I can’t even turn the clock back to any particular incidents of shared love or even shared pain – other than the nightmare when we were locked in the bedroom together. There were certainly no picnics, holidays or shopping trips as a family. I don’t remember any birthday parties for any of us. I do remember getting a two-wheeled bike for Christmas once and my dad asking me to go to the Co-op and get him ten Park Drive fags on it. It was to be my first journey on it and I didn’t want to do it because I was so anti-smoking and anti-him. I remember the two incidents, the new bike and shopping for fags for him, each as memorable as the other.


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