Colin's Cornucopia

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1 The Early Years

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Chapter 1

The Early Years

Colin was born at seven thirty on a cold and misty December morning three months and three days after the beginning of the second world war which was to play a major part in his emotional, psychological and, later, his moral development.

He was the second son of a lower middle class English couple not unlike tens of thousands of others who crowded the rapidly expanding suburbs of England. Mother was a hairdresser who practised part time from home since marriage. Father was manager of grandfather’s manufacturing business. Father drank only occasionally and only cider. He considered beer drinking to be a resort of wasters. Like most of their contemporaries they both smoked cigarettes. It was the done thing.

The Old man had started the business in 1918 when his attachment to Alfred Herbert’s machine tool factory had ended. He thrived so well that when the bad times came in the thirties he survived by selling his houses one by one. In the mid thirties his wife died slowly of cancer and he took up with another woman before her death. Colin’s father took badly to this and left home to live in London. He spent his twenty-first birthday and the following week in bed with a serious bout of influenza. He returned home soon after and returned to run the business with his father. They worked together for the next ten years without speaking other than on business.

Colin’s mother was illegitimate. She had been the progeny of an itinerant tool-maker and one of his numerous girlfriends. Her mother had died when she was three. Father was attached for the duration of the war to the Admiralty Ordnance gun factory in Coventry. The baby was sent to live with father’s family. She became the youngest of five girls. They became her lifelong guardians but were too old, and too prejudiced, to be her friends. They also became moral preceptors to her children. She was nearly seventy when a cousin revealed the secret of her birth

One of the girls had married her boss who was reasonably well off and of the West Riding upper class. All of the other girls and their spouses danced attendance throughout their lives. Colin’s mother had no role models other than these obsequious and pretentious sisters. Money became an obsession with her. The lack of money in the immediate family became a source of considerable stress and distress.

When Colin was six months old Hitler started to knock seven kinds of shit out of Coventry. Father could not leave the business. He had volunteered in 1939 but they had given him permanent deferment when they discovered he ran a factory making parts for armoured cars. Mother and the two sons were fortunate to have a safe haven to resort to. In the bosom of the West Riding family Colin immediately developed extensive eczema that stayed with him for most of his life. He was treated by the best available doctors but to little avail. He was given such a restricted diet that he did not eat meat or baked beans until he was eighteen years old and rarely touched fish in the next 55 years.

The business did reasonably well during the war. The business made quite a lot of money but the vast majority of it was clawed straight back by the exorbitant tax payments at around 95% known as Post War Credits which were one of the biggest confidence tricks ever foisted upon the British public. The family did once manage a holiday at the Welsh seaside resort of Penmenmaur in 1943.

Some of Colin’s first memories date from this time. Searchlights on the sea; racing the smoky trains to the footbridge over the coast railway; a double bladed penknife; the Keystone Cops at a cinema. Mother tried to persuade Colin he could see a fairy in the Fairy Glen. Father’s glasses took off across the top of Snowden. A twelve hour train journey home in a non-corridor train.

It was that summer that Colin met Paul, the kid up the road who lived with his Grandma while dad was in the RAF. The first day they met they decided to move a bucket of soil from Grandma’s garden into Colin’s garden. The two three-year-olds half filled a bucket with soil and put a stick through the handle so they could share the load. They had just got the precious soil to its destination when Mother came out and told them they could be put in jail for breaking some sort of Land regulations. What a prat.  Wasn’t much of a game anyway.

It was around this time that mother began to take to her bed with her duodenal ulcer. At first these occurrences were mainly in the afternoons. Later they became frequent and protracted.

Father had developed a taste for beer. During the war he had done his civic duty as an ARP warden. This involved plenty of social events but cider was never available. ARP wardens drank beer. Father learned to partake. In the summer of 1944 the family used to go out on Saturday night to a local public house. The two boys could play in the garden. Father was a popular regular by now and would lead community singing at parties and Christmas. He was a regular player of darts and dominoes.

Double summer time was in force and in June 1944 the family would walk home at 10.30 in the bright evening light. Those were good times.

It was about this time that Colin learned to wank. He and his brother and another lad sat in the bathroom for half an hour pulling their thingymajigs to little effect. One Sunday morning they lay late in bed and were playing with the tools which father kept in the bottom drawer of the dresser in their room. Peter got a pair of pincers, opened them up, placed his pecker in the jaws and then gently closed the pincers. Great game. Colin, who was only three took the pincers, jammed them open, placed the jaws round his pecker and pushed on the hand grips. The pincers had locked open but suddenly released with a jerk. Colin’s pecker was battered and bruised and nearly cut in two. He never did that again.

Occasionally the two boys were left at home while mum and dad went to the pub. The boys would raid the cupboards for whatever goodies might be available. Oxo cubes were pretty
good. Sugar lumps were like manna from heaven. One night Colin’s brother Peter who was three years older had been instructed that they were both to go to bed by nine o’clock. They normally stayed up until they saw their parents coming along the main road. A quick scramble and they would be safely tucked up when mum and dad came to check. This nightColin wanted to listen to Saturday Night Theatre on the BBC Light Program. It was his favourite program. Peter wanted to go to bed. He insisted Colin should go too. Colin would not. Peter shouted and tried to drag Colin to bed.

Although not much more than half the size of Peter, Colin would not give in. Peter hit Colin. Colin screamed defiance. A running battle followed through every room in the house for half an hour. All this time Colin was sobbing and screaming and crying and shouting but would not submit Peter rained more and more blows down on the defiant junior. Eventually the fight was interrupted by a hammering on the door. The next-door neighbours were worried that someone was about to be killed. Peter went to bed and Colin listened to his play.

This event and a couple of similar but less intense fights set the tone of the brother’s relationship for the next ten years. They eventually became quite good friends but something had been set that night.

Around “D” day in June 1944 the order book at the factory became decidedly thin. There were more armoured vehicles in Europe than could be used if the war lasted three more years. The family fortunes went rapidly downhill. The old man was getting too old to bother but would not leave father to run the business that gradually languished. Mother became pregnant in April 1945 to celebrate the end of the war.

One of grandfather’s debtors had walked in one day and paid him in notes. Cash Is almost unknown in manufacturing. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Father bought a Riley Kestrel. We were the only people in the street with a car. For a while things were good.

In August 1945mother and the boys spent a month on a farm in south Warwickshire. Father visited at weekends. The farm was at the end of a long and narrow lane and was bounded on one side by a railway line and another by the Oxford Canal. The weather was good every day. They rushed to watch the trains passing, raced canal boats down to the locks and played around in the haystack. They went to town in a donkey cart and later got to ride in father’s new car. Colin took to wearing boots rather than shoes. The laces were always difficult to undo. He lost large swathes of hair bending over the paraffin lamp at night to undo his laces.

The farm was primitive. There were two toilets, one at either end of a storehouse immediately opposite the farm door. Both were earth closets and both stunk to high heaven. Colin hated them. The first time he went in he looked through the hole in the seat and could see a big tub of shit down below. The smell was awful. He went round to the other one but that was even worse. He went without a shit that day. When he became desperate he ran off across a couple of fields and crapped behind the hedge. He wiped his bum with grass. For the next month he never went into those outhouses again. The return to a home with a civilised water closet was a day of joy Six months later the farmer’s wife posted back a pair of his underpants she had found, soiled, behind one of her wardrobes.

The baby was due at Christmas and the boys were sent to the West Riding for a month. They were well looked after in the main but none of the aunts or their spouses had children and they really did not have the faintest idea how to treat youngsters. Especially when Peter decided to nick the money left out to pay the milkman’s weekly bill. That didn’t go down well at all; neither did his blank denials. Colin was not happy as he was under equal suspicion but was totally innocent and also confused. It was pretty obvious to him that Peter had nicked the money but he could not believe his brother would do such a thing.
The last straw was when they knocked the telephone off the hallstand and broke the cradle. That crime rated somewhere between GBH and arson. The brothers vowed that on the day they left they were going to let a giant fart and blow the house over the next mountain.

Sister Susan was a well-loved and well cared for daughter and sister. When Colin got home he rushed in to see his new sister. It took him several seconds to realize the tiny cradle hidden in the corner contained a living being.

At Christmas 1946 every school in Britain had a collection of sweets to send to the children of Germany. Things were pretty bad over there they were told and the response was almost complete. The local children had a ration of only four ounces of sweets each week anyway but everybody in the school responded positively. They were so inured to such deprivations that one more made little difference.

Just after Christmas one of the Sisters from the West Riding came to visit. She was the best of the four, a spinster who had been engaged to a duke in 1918. He never came back from France and she never married. During the second world war she had hidden conscientious objectors in a cottage on the moors. She was a very strong willed woman. In 1946 she worked as a Social officer for the BOAR in Germany. She had access to the American PX and brought back for the family a whole box of Hershey’s milk chocolate. Colin wondered at a world where he had to send his meager sweet ration to Germany and his Aunty could bring a fortune in chocolate back from the same place. The chocolate lasted a long time. Colin remembers stealing the last but one bar towards the end of the summer holidays nine months later.

On Christmas morning Colin awoke to find a bicycle beside his bed. He woke Peter and they jumped out to admire this superb present. It soon appeared the bicycle was for Peter as it was too big for Colin. But that did nothing to reduce the wonderment. It was nearly ten minutes before Colin realized there was another bicycle on the other side of the bed. They and their friends spent many hours traveling up to five miles from home quite regularly.

Within a couple of summers there were few places within this radius they did not know intimately.

The next few years were ones of fun and development within a group of boys, with a few girls, who called themselves a gang and built dens in a local builders yard, smoked plants cut and dried in the autumn on the local wasteland, and fought pitched battles with their opponents in the next street The summer holidays saw many trips to the stream which could be bridged, dammed, splashed in, jumped over and fallen into. Tiddlers and newts were easy to find in the spring. One day they took home a jar full of frogspawn and were dismayed to find a dessert of tapioca pudding on the table.

Sister Susan in her pram often accompanied the gang and was pushed, pulled, carried, manhandled through fields and hedges and even thrown across streams. She never came to any harm.

For the last two years mother had regularly taken to her bed suffering from her duodenal ulcer. In the early days Peter had already started school and Colin looked after her in the day. By the time he was four he could light and stoke up the fire, make a pot of tea, wash the kitchen floor and wash the dinner pots. He also took the bucket she kept beside the bed when she was ill and emptied the foul smelling bile down the toilet and cleaned the bucket for her.

By the time Colin was eight both boys could wash and iron, change a bed, scrub a floor, hoover, wash windows, feed and change the baby, knit, sew, cook a meal and wash up. They could and they did. In later years when friends came to call they took it for granted they would have to help with the washing up before they could go out.

From then until Colin was thirteen years old the boys did all the housekeeping when Mother was ill. Father went out at 8 30 in the morning and did not return until the pub closed at ten pm. In the early postwar years she believed he worked until nine o’clock and then had a quick drink. It was many years before she found he finished at seven and drank till ten.

Colin saw his father drunk only once in his life and then he was by no means incapable. But he could sink some ale. While others got loud and boisterous with alcohol he was always quiet and reserved. He could have drunk most men under the table but he never tried and never boasted. He did not consider it an achievement. He simply enjoyed it.

On Friday and Saturday night the boys would often stay up very late and father would talk to them about science and astronomy and the universe and engineering and engendered in them both a love for these subjects which remained with them for life.

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