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Timeline and Biog

A little about me – a timeline:
+-- Born under a bare tree
I remember it. Born in 1945 in Gloucestershire, in the west countree of the UK, to parents of low self-esteem. It puts one at something of a disadvantage in life, having parents who regard themselves as generally lowly; for one thing, the expectations on you can be below your capabilities, and for another, people of low self-esteem often build for themselves a veneer of comfort and restricted confidence, but this leaves them vulnerable to being put down, and no one wants put-downs, especially by their children.
+-- Something of a gypo.
My paternal great grandfather was, according to family legend, a settled Romani Gypsy, settled in the sense that he married a non-Romani girl and lived in a flat in south London. He was probably ostracised by his family for marrying out of the fold. But there isn’t any documentation. It’s not clear how many children he had, either. I know of two who survived, one of which was my grandfather.
My grandfather was a small, tough, wiry man who never much looked at tomorrow. He did numerous jobs including running a lunchtime restaurant in Holborn, being a builder and carpenter, and working as a general handyman.
It was in the restaurant business that he met my grandmother whose family were also from south London, and whose brothers were meat porters at Smithfield market – a closed occupation at the time; closed to those not in the know of someone. Grandmother worked all her life, in kitchens. Plus she had six children, the oldest of which turned out to be my father.
+-- A dream unfulfilled.
My dad was posted to Gloucestershire in the wartime RAF. He would have liked to have stayed there after he left the military, but could find no work. The woollen mills were getting going again after the austerity of war, but at a reduced level to previously, indeed though no one knew it at the time they were on their way to being turned into the ubiquitous craft and shopping centres, so the jobs were few and far between and those that there were would be taken by local people with some experience in the trade, so my dad could find no work, and was pretty-much obliged to move back to London, where his family were and where there was work. After a few false starts in London he became a bus driver.
+-- I was a thoughtful child.
My main memories of my first four years are three: I remember walking with my dad and the man in whose house we lodged near Stroud, along a country lane, I was strolling along just behind them thinking about something when a grass snake shot out from the undergrowth and made its way back into the undergrowth at a different point. And I was really frightened, and ran to my dad crying, and he played the big man and tried to find it to kill it, but of course couldn’t find it. It had gone. I can still remember it now, and I still don’t know why I should have been so frightened. Snakes do that to some people. It seems ingrained. The second thing I remember was quite traumatic; I fell off the wall at the foot of the garden, below which there was a sloping field that led down to the railway line. I didn’t roll to the railway line, that was quite a way, what I did do was to land in a bed of stinging nettles. Great fuss and rubbing of skin with dock leaves. And the third memory is of travelling with my parents on the train to London. Possibly this was the very final trip, leaving the country for the town for good. In those days the train carriages were divided into compartments, with a padded bench seat on each side of the compartment that held perhaps four people, so you had to spend the journey looking at a stranger. I was sitting between my parents, I think that maybe the train was quite crowded, and a lady opposite tried to be sweet and said to me, ‘Hello little boy, what’s your name?’, to which I exclaimed, and I remember this quite distinctly, ‘Bugger!’. Much red faces and embarrassment and, ‘Where do they pick up these words?’, though the lady probably knew that where they pick them up is from their father. I can still remember feeling cross, and I think the rest of the journey passed in me feeling white (with anger) and my parents feeling red.
+-- School
School in London. I was the first child in the primary class to learn to read, for in them days you didn’t teach children to read at home because the teacher was the professional. I was the first to learn.
I was consistently top of the class in the primary school. Or if not top then second. I didn’t like going. On my first day I tried to tear apart the face of another boy, starting with his lips, but the teacher stopped me and asked why I did that, as the attack was unprovoked, and I poined to one of the other children and tried to say that he told me to, but the teacher wasn’t having any of that so I was made to sit apart. Something had told me to, I don’t know what, and this was the first of a number of incidents that I now think should have been dealt with with some therapy, but such was not available in those days (the early 1950s). But I learned to cope, somehow, and though I didn’t like school, I went, and suffered it, and managed to stay at the top of the class academically.
Then I did so well in my 11-plus, apparently getting 100% in one of the papers, that there was no question but that I would go to the grammar school.
At grammar school, my performance fluctuated wildly, I remember coming top in maths one year and bottom the next. My school reports said that if I didn’t pull up my socks and do some work, I would flunk the exams considerably. My parents did not know how to handle this. Mostly they ignored it, for in a way they did not want me to do that well in the exams, they wanted a child in their own image, not a brainbox. I now think that I was a mess, and could have benefited from something like therapy.
Some of my contemporaries dispute this, but I don’t think that the grammar school I went to was a very good school. I did not fulfil academic promise, but then neither did anyone one else that I’m aware of who was there at the same time as me. Although a grammar school was supposed to take the top 20–25 per cent of students in terms of academic brightness, I am aware of no one, not a single one, from my year of about 100 pupils, who went off to university. I know of someone in the year below me who did. He became a schoolteacher.
But then again, for me to have done so would have been hard to manage with regard to the family. They would have seen it as scary and definitely an inappropriate attempt at rising beyond one’s station. I doubt whether I would have been strong enough to handle this.
+-- Politics
Becoming interested in politics was one of the things that enabled me to grow apart from my parents. You can get interested in politics in secret. No one knows that you go to meetings where the upheaval of society is discussed, not even the other people in the meeting much of the time.
There are two sorts of people in the world: those who approve of upheaval and those who are afraid of it. My parents would clearly be in the afraid camp, because their life was built on maintaining their self-esteem and confidences with known conventions. Whereas I and my friends and colleagues of the time wanted to make the world a better place. I now think that we were similar in sentiment to the working-class self-help proponents of a couple of generations before. We saw the advancement of society coming from personal development through learning (which considering that we did so poorly in our exams at school, was a bit odd, but this may have had something to do with the school). We thought, quite wrongly as it turned out, that the accepting and shallow-thinking world of our parents’ generation was changing, that the new way was awareness, was learning and self-reliance. And that was what we tried to practise and preach. Partly through politics, or at least talking about politics, and of course an essentially egalitarian approach such as ours would imply left-wing politics, verging on the anarchist.
We quite liked the idea of upheaval because upheaval meant change, and change was what we desired, though what we were too young to see was that it was change in ourselves that we were really looking for – a break from the parents and a new way unconstrained by their increasingly to us foreign approach to life. We were a small group of eggheads in a stifling working-class world. And what we (and there were no more than a small handful of us) should have done would have been to walk away. Find another place. Which we did do from time to time but we always came back after a couple of weeks. The big mistake, was to stay locked in. Though then again we might have been too impressionable by charlatans, so perhaps it made less difference than I like to imagine.
+-- College
+-- Art school in London. My parents were not very happy with my going on to further education.
Every parent (probably) wants their children to do well. But one parent’s doing well is not necessarily the same as another’s. For parents of low self-esteem (such as mine) having a brainy son can be in the nature of a threat. It’s OK to be brainy, but when it comes to doing things that one’s parents have no concept of, that is way outside their comfort zone, that they will be the subject of tut-tutting and criticism for by relatives and friends, then brainy starts to equal put-down. But among concern mixed with dismissal of value, they did agree that I could go to the art school. It was all a very long time ago now, in any case.
I was very disappointed when I was rejected by the art school after one year, though knowing what happened to those of my contemporaries that I know about, maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
+-- Work
After, like Mae West, seeing places and being things, I met a man at a party who asked if I was good at maths. Not too good, I replied, but he wanted to do a friend of mine a favour so he offered me a job interview anyway, in compooters.
+-- Became a computer programmer
Computer programming is the finest job currently known to humankind.
+-- Academic study
My parents being no longer an influence on me, I was free to begin studying again, so I went and got a MSc (took a few years of course, years that I enjoyed immensely).
+-- Have a pathological aversion to anything to do with insurance
There are two sorts of people in the world, the farmers and the cowboys. Lots of my contemporaries are farmers – not real farmers you understand, rather they are of the farmer persuasion of staying in one place and tending their patch. Whereas I am a cowboy, who has been unable to stay at anything for long, ever. I’m onto the next pasture. Now I do believe that insurance makes the assumption (wrongly) that we are all farmers.
I’m also highly suspicious of insurance companies. This is partly because whenever you see a big-audience programme on the telly, eg a big football match, who are paying the premium price for the advertising slots? Also, see my page Filty Lucre Land.
+-- Still working
A cowboy never stops working. Until he falls of his horse.
+-- Have been privileged enough to be able to travel
When I hear from the farmers of my generation, they almost invariably say that when they retire (which most of them have by now) they want to travel more. I’m not entirely sure what they mean by this, but whatever it is they mean, I agree with them.
Dave Collier

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting thing about your parents' low self-esteem. Do you think this is true of your friends' parents? Is/was it a working class thing to not rise above your station? Also the expectation that children will follow in their parents' footsteps. It was a changed world from their upbringing but perhaps it was hard for them to accept change. As an aside I do remember your dad farting loudly in their front room and saying "Was that you Roger?" I laugh about it now but was extremely embarrassed at the time! Mind you that probably says something about the level of my self-esteem then. Roj

Haze Dweller said...

I'm not sure about friends' parents, I don't know. I think there is an element of working class expectations in there. If you had said to my dad that he had low self-esteem he would have disputed it, pointing to what he saw as his work achievements and success in holding together, in to him an exemplary way, his home and family.

Yet here's a story: when I got a piece of paper in 1992 saying that I had a master's degree, my brother Bob asked if that meant I now had 'letters after my name'. I confirmed that it did, and to all this my mum totally cocked a deaf 'un. Literally. Because this piece of paper was a put-down to all that my parents, and my dad in particular, believed, that those with 'letters after their name' were the people whose views were to be looked up to and respected. I should have said I bought it in the market, that might have been acceptable.

It's incidents like this that convince me of the low self-esteem tag. Their life was cocooned in a fragile comfort shell, very vulnerable to cracking, so accepting change would definitely be very scary. (Though this more true of my dad than my mum, I think that her main concern was not to have him, or his memory, dented at all)

As for friends' parents, I suspect that for each there's a slightly different story to tell.

The public farting was one of my dad's party pieces, embarrassing for all around, not least because it was a sad attempt at appearing the big man.

I know we all have our shortcomings and foibles, but it's our parents shortcomings that are the ones we have to fight against, some need to do this harder than others, I do accept that.

Dave

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