My last visit with my mother | Blogging a dead horse

Blogging a dead horse

Is a barrel of naked monkeys more fun than a barrel of hairy ones?

My last visit with my mother

A little bit of nostalgia visiting our old home with my mother.


What year is it? 2019? Damn! How did that happen?


I mean, it was 1952 once and then suddenly it became 2019.


Here’s me at the school I used to go to circa 1956. 

That’s when I thought I would never have to work because robots would do it all. Instead of work we’d fly around the universe having adventures - providing that green men didn’t try and spoil all the fun. 


All this was supposed to be happening in the 21st century. But those boffin chappies have been a bit slacking in all manner of regards. They have only just managed to make robots that can walk without falling over. They still haven’t managed to make a car that can drive itself without getting lost and running into people. And Google translate is still more garble than any self respecting Babel Fish would allow without exposing itself to a dose of Vogon Poetry and ending it all. 


But despite the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy mocking digital watches in 1978, we are beginning to wear them again. That’s because they now tell you to stand up and not be fat lazy slobs. I suppose that’s as far as they’ve got with a cure for old age. Where’s that medical tricordor that cured everything as easy as a beam me up Scotty? We’re still watching people drop off the conveyor belt knowing that when they’ve dropped, you are next in line! Fear and despair is usually overcome with plans for the future but as the future shrinks, we turn to melancholy and nostalgia.

So this Christmas you find me here, outside the apartment that my parents brought me to sixty five years ago. I thought I would take my mother to see the place. As far as she was concerned London might as well have been Timbuktu. No phones. No Skype. And nobody from Gomersal ever moved more than a mile from their parents. What an adventure moving here must have been!


That’s me in the living room about sixty Christmases ago. We had a Budgie for Christmas. It used to have free range of the flat, with a fondness for perching on your head and trying to fish seeds out of your ears. We tried to teach it to say “Who’s a Pretty Boy?” but it only rolled its eyes and flew off to peck threads off the sofa cushions.  The other hit of that year were a pair of roller skates.


I would skate that path at break neck speed, managing to smash the garden gate off its hinges when I failed to stop. I can recall listening as neighbours complained how some random vandal must have smashed the gate out of spite! I feel I can confess now. It was I. And better still, I got away with it! I wish I still had that Dennis the Menace annual that I have my hand on. It taught me everything worth knowing.

12The Garden of Stanley Lodge

As you can see, not a lot seems to have changed in the garden, apart from it not being in black and white anymore. Colour came to this country around 1968 but as you can see by my hair, I’ve been slowly turning into a negative. I suppose eventually the whole place will look like an X-ray. Who knows what the next stage will be.


That’s me with all the ribs, posing with my sister and random neighbours, none of whom will thank me for showing the world this photograph.They are all drawing their pensions now, which is extremely scary. 


Those two are my grandparents who I imagine are actually younger there than I am now, which is even scarier. My grandfather was a labourer but as you can see, always a snappy dresser. What I regret is being a child then and thus unaware that others had a story that was worth listening to. But of course, I wouldn’t listen! Damn you, you stupid boy! Why did you not listen?

It is only now that I have begun to piece together what produced them and who they were despite them being a regular presence in my life into my forties.


No! That isn’t me on the right with the gold crown. That’s my Uncle Reg, in his Zapata period. I’m at the back there in my black beard period.


Once upon a time my Grandfather was not too dissimilar to me!


The difference was that he was being shot at in the trenches of the first world war. He managed to get shot through the lung, twice! The only story I heard him tell about the war was how he could never get a pair of long flannel “Combs” that didn’t have one leg two foot shorter than the other.


There’s my grandmother on the right with the man who adopted her. She was classified as a “lodger” on the 1901 census, but essentially she had been adopted by this stone mason. I know nothing of him other than he carved his own gravestone and suggested that she call my uncle, “Reg”. So Reg he was, and never Reginald, because that would have been too grand. “Like you’d name a dog,” Uncle Reg would mutter as he told the story of how he was named.

It is hard to imagine what Great Adopted Grandfather thought, but here I am looking at this trying to read old minds, trying to grasp whether anything lives on. My own mind having been turned to such thoughts by a dodgy lymphoma I just had dug out of my hand, followed by an alarming array of tests to see if anything nasty had shortened a life I always thought would last forever.


That’s my grandmother on the left with my grandfather on a trip to Cleethorpes. It is a sobering thought that all those smiling people are now dead and that one day someone will look at a photograph of me and that is all that will be left of me. It says, I was here, and these shadows are what I leave behind, but even those are fading and will eventually disappear.


But not yet.

When my mother arrived in Canonbury, she found the whole apartment filled with soot. This was because before my father went to Kings Cross Station to meet the train bringing us from Bridlingtion, he lit a fire to warm the place and make it as cozy as possible. London in those days was a bit grey, worn out and smog bound so my father probably thought that given a chance mother would run back home to Bridlington.


However, I guess my father seemed far too cool to desert, despite his dodgy fire making capabilities. And, so the story goes, someone had climbed on the roof and poured cement into the chimney because they didn’t like policemen. 


The government had recruited lots of ex-soldiers into the Metropolitan police to combat the armed robberies common at the time. So the lure that pulled us out of Yorkshire was a good pension and an apartment in what has become one of the most desirable locations in London. In those days though, it was surrounded by bomb sites where adhoc traders would set up shop flogging their loot and I suppose deeply resenting the billeting of a lot of police in the area.


My father is the top left cop preparing to launch himself onto the criminal classes. He was one of the models for the likes of seventies TV’s Jack Regan, or the latest UK TV incarnation of the seventies cop, Gene Hunt. His reputation as a bit of a tough guy led to him being shipped off to Belfast during the troubles. His experience there convinced him that all politics was merely armed robbery and gangsterism. And the biggest villains ran the country now. He often said 21st century Britain was certainly not the country he fought for! It is hardly surprising that I drifted into writing TV Cop Shows.


Oh look! There’s the newsagent where I used to buy a Jamboree Bag and a bottle of Tizer when returning from Saturday Morning Pictures. 


You can imagine what damage those sweets did to my teeth. And as I recall they weren’t up to much, but some of them would whistle while you sucked them, which was cool. And an armful of transfers, a kind of temporary tattoo, featuring rocket ships were an absolute must if you wanted to be part of the gang. 


And when walking around the place it is not surprising that I had a deluge of Edwardian memories wash over me. 
A man did used to come and light the gaslights in the street. The local pub had its deliveries brought by horse drawn carts. Gypsy knife grinders used to set up their peddle powered grinders at the gate. The Mounted Police used to ride down the gritted roads to their stables. Marching bands of various kinds would march through on Sundays. Perhaps the only thing indicating that that world was truly dying out, was that the whole area was awash with children running about with toy guns. 


We were preparing ourselves for the next war. I think we intended to be on the side of the Vikings, just like Tony Curtis. But with automatic weaponry. We weren’t stupid! We knew a winning weapon when we saw it.  We also wanted Bat Cars!


But hardly anyone had cars, and the cars that did exist had runner boards to help you step up to the seat and all signals were hand signals. And we all went to those bomb sites and markets where one ogled the mad stacks of Hornby Dublo train sets. I assume a warehouse of such stuff had been looted ten years before when they cleared up after the war.


Now of course, the kids are all ogling the latest digital watch to pair with their mobile phone. I know I am. That’s what I got for Christmas. And as we walked along the New River Walk, opened not long after I arrived in London, I could check how many steps I had taken and how many calories I had burnt, and check that my pulse was still beating. Once upon a time I didn’t need a watch to tell me that.


This century seems to have been born with me and it is struggling to meet my generation’s expectations. Which is probably why Elon Musk is offering my generation chances to hand over our pension funds to his company by dangling the prospect of flying to Mars in rockets like this…


I’ve got my space helmet ready for blast off.