Dare to come close
I have MND and this is my story. There is no known cure and little understanding as to who and why people are struck down with this illness. I hope that my life’s story may be helpful one day in unlocking that mystery.
Tuesday's Child is full of Grace
Those famous words in 1966 of, 'They think it's all over...It is now', as England beat Germany 4-2 in the Football World Cup was similar to the relief my mother must have felt just a month earlier when she had endured a 30 mile trip, in labour in an ambulance to the RAF Princess Mary Hospital in Wendover. That was the previous day and by late afternoon on the 21st June, the longest day of the year, I eventually decided to make my appearance weighing in at around 5 pounds. I was an ugly baby. My mother told me that her mother, my nan, asked, 'is that it?' My mum thought I was a little dinky, a bit wrinkled and covered in jet black hair that ran down my back but nevertheless a beauty in her eyes. We went home to our house in Putnoe.
My mother was twenty two years old then and I was her second child, having a brother, Anthony, three and a half years older. Anthony was born in the RAF base at Gutersloh in Germany. My mum had two miscarriages between Anthony and me. When I was born the doctor told my mum afterwards that there was another baby but it had not developed. In an odd way I miss my twin I could of had. Sadly my mother had another miscarriage after me. She is sure the miscarriages were caused by Mick, her husband, my father, because he used to beat her up and push her down the stairs when she was pregnant. So I consider myself to be very lucky to have survived at all.
My father was an RAF Sergeant and an alcoholic. Although I remember little of him I do remember my brother taking me behind the sweet pea trellis at the bottom of the garden to protect me from whatever was happening in the house when my father came home drunk. My mother explained that virtually all of the baby photographs were destroyed in a deliberate fire by my father after he had taken an axe to the furniture. I remember quite clearly the headboard of my bed, being repaired by my Granddad with a yellow wooden diamond to cover up the axe damage.
That was the final straw for my mother. We were collected by my Granddad and Nan and taken to live at their house in Clapham. I loved that large semi-detached house with a garden that stretched down to a wonderland. As a child it was just the best place in the world, safe and full of adventure. There were spiders the size of my hands, fresh food ready to eat, such as ripening tomatoes in one of the three green houses, raspberry and gooseberry bushes laden with juicy fruit and peas in a pod that tasted sweeter than candyfloss. There was also, a dog kennel for Dusty a golden Labrador that always smelt of Jay’s fluid, a rose garden that doubled as an assault course, a woodwork shed that my Granddad could always be found in and a creosoted fence just made for climbing. During the winter months we would stage plays with various props made from cardboard boxes which my Nan would have to politely sit through and then applaud enthusiastically. My nan used to say I was the ugly duckling that grew up into the beautiful swan.
And those are the three existing photo's of me as a baby and small child.
It was whilst living at Clapham that I met my lifelong friend Sue. Sue is six months older than me although we were in the same reception class at school. I had spent just a couple of terms at my first school, Amy Johnson before attending Ursula Taylor School in Mrs Hollanby's class. To this day I remember the end of day prayer. Chairs had to be lifted up onto the desks and Mrs Hollanby made us recite the prayer just before we all raced out of the classroom.
'Father we thank thee for the night and for the blessed morning light,
For rest and food and loving care and all that makes the world so fair.'
I was the new girl and Sue was told to look after me. Had she known at the time what an undertaking that was to become she would probably have never accepted the task! From that day on, we became inseparable. Sue and I would be in each other’s houses. Sue lived in a maisonette, which was like a house with an upstairs but in a block of flats. The upstairs was cold and damp and we were rarely allowed to play there. Sue was very bright and was on the Wide Range Readers books while I was still struggling at interpreting the pictures in the Janet and John books. What I did have was a cracking memory. I could 'read' my book, The Three Little Pigs, entirely from memory and even turned the page at the appropriate point.
At Clapham we would play in "the Pit" which in fact was quite a dangerous piece of waste ground prone to fly tipping but at the time was a huge adventure playground with all manner of exciting things to find and play with. Sue was extremely accident prone and always had cuts, scrapes and bruises. She even managed to tread on a plank of wood with a rusty nail in it. The nail went through the sole of her shoe and into her foot and it took some time to remove. She insists she still has "pit scars" to this day.
I went to Brownies and came home all excited one evening, declaring that I was going to be' involved' next week. I had misheard and was in fact enrolled in the Brownies the following week.
Sue's mum encouraged us to learn our times table and gave five pence for each set of numbers up to twelve learnt. The reason we learnt up to twelve was because it was just before we were decimalised in 1971. Sue's mum became desperately ill with cancer and died in hospital. I was sad at the loss and learnt then that people died and it hurt when they went. My Granddad was soon to fall ill after that, with spine cancer and died in a London hospital. Sue's dad, Morris, took over looking after her, working ‘parent shifts’ at work, which was incredibly forward thinking of Vauxhall's at that time.
My mum got a divorce and custody of Anthony and me. Mum married the man who lived next door, John, who became my Dad. Which made an interesting subject when asked to talk about what you did at the weekend, 'I went to my mum's wedding'. They bought a dilapidated house in Chapel Close. There was no chapel in the close just a couple of rows of semi-detached houses linked by a side entry, a large detached house and some new bungalows. There was a lady who would shout 'doodle bug' as we run up and down the street with sticks, which were either swords or machine guns depending on the war game we were playing at the time. I had no choice but to play war games as I had an older brother who dictated the activities for the day both for me and the 'Black' boys who lived in the big detached house, of which there were four of them all having names starting with R:, Richard, Russell, Robert and Roland. There was one much older girl, called Ruth but she was too old to play with the likes of us. My brother, Anthony was one of the eldest and he made sure we played together, be it cricket, tennis, hide and seek, war, going scrumping for apples or exploring the huge gas towers. Whatever we played he always seemed to win and it was always by his rules. Anthony was always protective of me though and would never allow anyone to pick on me, which could easily have happened as the only girl in the ‘gang’. They did tease me calling me Big Bum Bowles. After the wedding I adopted my dad's surname from Davis to Bowles.
Roland, Richard and me.
The move to Chapel Close meant another change of school and moving away from Sue. Fortunately Sue managed to convince her dad to bring her to my new house, called Fern Cottage. I attended Goldington Green infant and junior school. It was whilst there that I went into hospital and had my appendix removed. My mum read to me all the get well letters from my class mates as I chomped on the bar of chocolate that came with the good wishes. I was a slow learner and had turned eight before I was able to write my name without copying it. The teacher at that time, Mr Green described me as 'never going to amount to much but a dear little thing'.
Times were hard then. I remember seeing my mother having severe asthma attacks from worry. She would count out, literally pennies; into my Dad's old Golden Virginia tobacco tins to budget for the weeks spend. The house was at the end of the row of houses and was uninhabitable initially. We all stayed living in Clapham, with my Nan during the week and in a caravan outside the house at weekends. My dad did everything, made sash windows, laid new floors, damp proofed, fitted central heating and re-pointed the brickwork. I was scared of that old house as one of the Black boys, Roland told me it was haunted by the old lady that lived there before and had died in the house. My mum could feel a presence in the house and garden but thankfully I never did. The population of the semi detached houses were elderly, having all been through the war. Mrs Favell lived next door and was a sweet lady that was game for anything. I remember giving her space dust once to try and laughed so much as this 80 year old tried to keep her mouth closed with popping candy in her mouth. Further up the street lived Miss Amy, although Amy was her first name I never knew her surname. She lived opposite the privet hedge and creosoted telegraph pole. These two made an excellent shelter for me against the wind and rain. Given that my mum and dad worked hard on the house and did not need young children under their feet whilst building, so we would happily go out to play first thing and was not get back until tea time. On very cold days Miss Amy would call me to come down the side passage and sit in her kitchen. Fern Cottage was colder still than the air outside until the fire and central heating was added. She would make me coffee, half milk and half water, and it tasted delicious. She would also make rock cakes that were still warm, sweet and full of soft currants. Miss Amy was a spinster and looked after her mum until she died. Miss Amy had worked in an ammunitions factory during the war and would relate tales of what it was like during that time. I could sit and listen to her for hours. We also used to play a game where we chose categories, like flower, river, country, town or fruit and then one of us would mentally go through the alphabet until the other would shout stop. That would then be the letter and the race was on as to who could think of names of the categories for that letter. I always said the alphabet backwards, just because I could.
The house used to flood every time the River Ouse burst it's banks. We would have little warning as the river levels rose and we would scrabble to get as much of the furniture upstairs as we could. My brother's rubber dinghy was brought into service to get about on the ground floor, which was too deep for my Wellington boots. We played in the flood water and it was just another adventure to us. I would always go in too deep and fill my Wellington's with goodness knows what was in that flood water. I had the tell tale red mark around my leg where the wet edge would rub at my skin. During one of the floods I remember my mum suffering from severe bronchiolitis.
Even though my mum had to carefully watch the money we always had holidays and went away in the caravan to Whitley Bay and Seahouses. Northumbria for Easter, and a week at Whitsun to Auntie Bessie's in the Lake District. For summer we went to Whitley Bay for the weekend, then on to the West Coast of Scotland. Oban, White Sands of Morar and Mallaig were some of the places we stayed. Sue would come on holiday with us in the summer and Morris, would take me away with them for a week in Cornwall at Sue's relatives or camping in a large tent he bought. Morris made the best ever chunky chips and fried egg in that tent. It has long since gone now, but there was an amusement area called Spanish City at Whitley Bay. It had a Ghost train, slot machines and a fortune teller. My Mum and Nan went in to see the fortune teller one time. My Nan was told she would remarry and despite her shear indignation at the time, as it was not so long after my Granddad's death, she did in fact remarry to a good family friend, Jack. My mother was told that her son would be a disappointment to her and I would travel a lot.
Well my brother soon ended up in care after that, he was too much for my parents to cope with. Anthony would run away and steal. I know my nan would shield him from the Police denying he was at her house when he ran away. He had an assessment at a children's home in Northampton where they diagnosed both mental health and a drug problem from an early age with cannabis that later on led to harder drugs of heroin. Anthony was 13 when he went into care and I saw him periodically then until I was 15. I think the drugs were the final demise of my brother. No one has heard from him for many years and so is presumed dead. My husband made some enquiries with the Metropolitan Police and there was some suggestion that he died in a fire at a squat in central London in the late 1980's. The last contact I had from him, which came totally out of the blue, was when he had managed to trace me to the CID office in Redditch in 1988. He rang and asked me for Nan's address and telephone number as by then she had moved to Kidderminster. I told him to ring me back in a couple of days as I would check with Nan first she was happy for me to do that. Of course she was, but he never rang back. I often wonder whether I could and should have done more to help him at that time. I will never know. I feel sad at the loss and only wish it could have been different.
I may have been born on a Tuesday but my gracefulness lasted up until my first scream when I was born. From that point on any gracefulness was lost and I grew up as a tom boy.