My Childhood Years
Memories of very early childhood are limited. My mother had just finished her finals in Agricultural Chemistry when I arrived on the scene. We remained in Headingley, Leeds, whilst my father completed his degree – in Oil and Colour Chemistry. His first job was in London, where we stayed for about 18 months, I think… Woodford Bridge. We lived above a local branch of Barclays Bank. The Bank Manager at the time would remember me for flooding the place, and having to be taken to hospital after swallowing a penny (it was one of those large ones). Then we moved back up North – to Teeside.
It is Eaglescliffe that I think of as my first ‘home’, a place that I grew up in, and belonged to. I have numerous treasured memories – both good and bad – of my life between 1973 and 1981. This was a period that was to shape my later existance in many ways.
My childhood years were centred around school-life and friends. I was happy, comfortable, and secure. I had a number of close friends, and was not usually short of company, in spite of being an only child. I enjoyed my early years at Durham Lane Primary School; that was until I fell prey to some debilitating illness that, at the age of 7, left me feeling weak, nervous, and quite unmotivated. It seemed that it was very glandular fever-like, however no diagnosis was ever made.
A MYSTERY ILLNESS
I had limited energy and became very nervous and afraid. I remember traipsing back and forth to the doctor’s (it was a long walk!) with no ensuing diagnosis; I would return home feeling confused and very unsure of myself. Only my mother seemed to appreciate that I wasn’t right. Noone else believed me! Well that’s how it seemed at the time. I struggled through several weeks (or was it months?) like this, before I finally felt “forced” to return to school. This was very difficult, and I truly don’t know how I managed to get through each day. My friends at the time, probably did more for me than I (or they) will ever appreciate.
I don’t remember specifically recovering from this period in my life; for many years, I would suffer ‘relapses’ and at such times I would be thrown back into the increasingly familiar scenario of having a dubious mystery illness.
In the long term, I was robbed of the innocent security that I enjoyed in my early days of childhood, and it has taken thirty years to regain my balance in a psychological sense.
A few years later, when it seemed that I was just getting back to ‘normal’, my maternal Grandfather died suddenly. It was September 1980. I have vivid memories of the phone call, of the long drive down from Teeside to Ipswich, late at night. I remember the cottage cheese sandwiches, the sun red as it went down in the sky, the tears, the seemingly endless journey.
The worst part, however, was still to come – I was not to go to the funeral. At the tender age of ten, I was considered too young. The cleaner lady came to babysit me. Being the only grandchild, it was a very lonely funeral for me. And I never really got to say my goodbyes. I talk to the photo that sits in my office – Grandad stays with me.
Yet, although this seems to be an event that continues to haunt my life, I am now able to draw comfort from the knowledge and experience that I did have of my Grandfather. At work, he was an important and highly respected regional manager in one of the country’s leading banks; but to me he was always just “Grandad”, who met us at the train station, chief organiser of the Lego pieces, and the one I wrote letters to in code.
Soon after this my father was made redundant and our little family sank into a bleak and miserable existance for some time…
The icing on the cake (so to speak) was when I then developed diabetes*. In the space of a few months, my life – indeed all of our lives – had been turned upside down.
After several topsy-turvy months, my father got a new job in Buckingham. He left to start his new job, whilst Mother and I stayed behind to sell our little home at 71 Mayfield Crsescent (and in theory so that I could finish the school year although in practise I wasn’t at school very much, having shrunk back into that nervous and frightened child’s mind once more).
We eventually moved “down south” and, after a difficult period adjusting to life with diabetes in addition to adjusting to life in a foreign land(!), I began to settle into a happy and more stable period of my life.
I continued with my violin playing, and felt quite privelidged to play in the ‘adult’ orchestra. I swam regularly in the local open air pool (sadly this is a car park now) and played badminton when I could. Any other spare time was spent walking Tigger, a very special black labrador that belonged to neighbours in Chandos Close.
After a year at Chandos Middle School I went on to the Royal Latin Grammar School in Buckingham. I thrived in the academic school environment, and was a happy and confident young person. Sadly though, this was not to last for long; another redundancy left my father looking for work again, and as is the case these days with professional people, it inevitably meant another move.
We left Buckingham for Broadstairs (“Isle of Thanet”, Kent) at the beginning of September 1983. On moving day unfortunately I tripped up the curb after a long Goodby Walk with Tigger – and I broke my arm. Of course no-one took any notice of me, it was assumed that I was moping about because I didn’t want to leave! Eventually though, someone must have realised that I really was in pain because I was taken to the family doctor’s, and then we went down to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to get the arm plastered up. We spent the night on the floor of our next door neighbour’s, and rejoined the removal party the following day. It wasn’t the ideal start to the next phase in our lives!
*The early days with diabetes are documented in detail on the ‘My Life with Diabetes’ page in this section. However, since diabetes is such an integral part of my life it inevitably crops up time and again throughout these pages.