After forging his birth certificate at seventeen, my father joined the Royal Navy and spent six years as a gunner on the battleship HMS Eskimo. Mates the same age died in his arms. He came out of the war feeling lucky to have survived and determined to have a happy life.
My mother at fourteen was evacuated to Cornwall with her little brother Teddy. At seventeen she was back in London working at the Metal Box factory packing munitions and learning to dance with the American soldiers stationed in London.
Dad was demobbed in 1946. He met mum at a bus garage. It was love at first sight. They were young, penniless, optimistic and married the following year. They moved in with mum’s parents.
My grandparents had lost their home in East London during the Blitz and moved to a big old house in North London with Old Granny, my great-grandmother, and Uncle Ted.
Ted was still at school while I was growing up and brought his friends home to practise cricket in the garden. Years later, they formed a jazz band and bought an old taxi to travel around the country.
My mother had two sisters, Alice and Edna, who visited almost every day with their husbands, Norman and Jack. Norman had been an Eighth Army Desert Rat and had marched across North Africa in the campaign to defeat General Rommel. Norman had one lasting memory from the war: watching Lord Montgomery riding across the sands on a white horse threatening to put a bullet in any soldier who didn’t climb the cliffs to attack the Germans dug in at the top. Norman had a clear shot and his one regret was that he didn’t shoot him.
A couple of years passed and I was born on a hot July day, the first grandchild, a summer baby, a symbol of light in the post-war darkness. I was surrounded by adults who treated me like a little Sun God.
In a folk story, the hero needs a rival. Mine was Old Granny, who couldn’t stand the sight of me. She occupied the bay-windowed room at the front of the house and played the piano day and night. I was intrigued by the music wafting up the stairs and would creep into her room to listen.
A Penguin for Bravery
As I drew closer, her right hand would flash back to slap my face and she carried on stroking the keyboard without missing a beat. I would run off wailing like a sea lion to the welcoming arms of my mother or grandmother or a visiting aunt. They would scold Granny. She would say I was a fibber always trying to get attention and I’d be given a Penguin chocolate bar for being brave.
At the age of five, I had a red tricycle with a trunk at the back. I would steal tins of food and vegetables from the cupboard and deliver them to neighbours who indulged me by buying my wares for pennies and threepenny bits before returning them to my mother.
She told me a thousand times to stop raiding the larder but I continued my small business until she drew upon the ultimate threat: to tell my father and to expect a good thrashing when he got home from work.
She delivered her report. Dad looked stern as he took me into the bedroom and closed the door. He clapped his big hands together for the sound effects, then put a finger to his lips to show we shared a secret. He’d seen enough violence in the war to last a lifetime.
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Trying to steal granny’s thunder ? Or did she maybe have Tourette’s ? Beautiful memories beautifully evoked and you really haven’t changed very much ! Happy Xmas Clifford
What a cheeky smile
What a lovely story. Pity about Old Granny.
I wonder if something happened in her life during WW1.
I say that as my hubby had a “Nasty” grandmother who had no time for her grandsons by her adopted son, his father.
Years later, he did some research and found that her first husband was killed in WW1 in France, and her two natural children had died as young children from childhood diseases. The poor woman carried the sadness and anger inside her for the rest of her life.
Wonderful! They’re alive in those words.
This is just my opinion but think your story should start at “I was born in a hot July day…” then refer to your parent’s past later. From that point on it drew me in.
Also, if you haven’t heard it already, show don’t tell. I know…I’ve heard this a dozen times about my story!
I really like your start! Reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes. If you haven’t read that memoir, you should.
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I loved this. What memories, especially stealing the food to sell and your Dad pretending to smack you. Great writing.
I love this story ❤️
Quaint and amusing a good Sunday morning read, all the better to get glimpses of a good friends childhood.
Old Granny had reached that stage in her life when she felt comfortable with herself and got pleasure out of belting the over indulged youngster with the cheeky smile.
my mum and dad married at the start of the war,my brother was born when dad was away in the desert they finally met when my brother was almost 3…total strangers .Mum always told the story of how ,when she was living with her inlaws in the war she happened to say good morning to a passing soldier ,nan heard this and said…’if thats the sort of thing you are getting up to my girl, you can pack your bags and go !!!
How lucky we have been to grow up in more liberal times.
One of 7 children of a Lithuanian immigrant, my father obtained a scholarship to Cambridge. This was the formation of his left wing views. My Mother, the daughter of a German/Irish parents and also 7 brothers and sisters, was not so fortunate to have such a chance of education as when her mother died she was put into a workhouse. Such an unlikely couple but they met at a leftwing political meeting and chalk and cheese were married. I was born at the beginning of the War and only remember a house full of relatives staying in our tiny cottage in Buckinghamshire. My Dad’s family home, in London, was bombed to the ground. Times were happy but hard for the adults. Maybe we were grateful for small mercies and fewer possessions. Hardship does not do you any harm and sees you through the difficulties encountered in life. We remember our Parents with fondness . People continue to live through our memories that is what is called an afterlife. So many memories….
Thanks for sharing your story, so interesting and relevant.
Hi Clifford you’re a perfect cross of your lovely mam and dad! I was saying ditto all the way through reading your story – Ditto Dad joined up a year younger – but the RM commandoes 1931 – swore that’s what kept him alive – proper training and ready! Ditto – He and his mates ended up hating the Brit leaders esp. Churchill – as much as Hitler! Ditto dad was as soft as Putty – Just Laughed when mam ‘Told him’ what we’d been up to!’ I Never saw him blind drunk – but mam told me years later – he always had to go to the pub -to have his few pints before being able to get to sleep! He saw so many horrors and many young lads – he’d had to send out with minimum training to their deaths!