Saturday, 15 August 2015

Turn and face the strain

In October I face a major change in my life. My two daughters will be going to University. I can scarcely believe it. It only seems like yesterday that we were dropping them off at St Vincents for their first day of school. So my son will become an only child and the house will be less full of the teenage friends (lovingly called "The Pongo Mafia" by me). I am not looking forward to this at all. Being the youngest of six children, I was raised in a house full of people. My parents moved to Millway in 1960, our house a four bed semi backing onto the M1. As well as my folks and my five siblings, we always had a constant stream of people staying with us. When I was a wee nipper, Aunty Mary, my Grandma's sister came down for an extended stay. She was a lovely old lady and I can remember being really sad when she departed. Every summer, we'd have Bernard Matthiew stay with us. Bernard was a French student. He had come to the UK as part of an exchange that went badly wrong (I'm not overly sure of the circumstances, I was anout 2 at the time). He ended up being billetted with us by the local parish priest. He was the same age as my twin brothers, who are 16 years old then me. Bernard was a champion swimmer and a karate expert. He was also a great bloke and fitted right in. We all considered him our French brother and he came over every summer until he got married. He developed a love of England and the English and became a professor of English at Reims University. He's still in contact with the family. When I was small, the house was full every night. Both of my brothers are great musicians, so the house was full of music and sing songs and fun.

Gradually all of my siblings got married, went to Uni, got flats etc, so by 1976 I was an only child myself. I hated the experience. My parents would dispatch me in the summer to my brother Frank or my Sister Catherine. They would look after me and keep me entertained. They had families, so there was someone to keep me amused. But most of the time, I was just on my own and did not really enjoy that period. In 1977, I discovered punk rock music, developed a group of teenage friends and all of a sudden, our house became a hive of activity. Whilst my brothers friends had been largely local lads from the Church, my lot looked like visitors from another planet. I will long remember my Dad returning from work and saying "I just saw a girl wearing a dustbin bag and a plug around her neck walking up the broadway". He thought this was hilarious. A minute later, there was a knock on the door. It was my friend Mandy. My Dad nearly fell off his chair. As ever my parents were full of hospitality and offered Mandy some dinner. She duly scoffed it down. Without being asked, she cleared the table and did all the washing up. She then proceeded to clean the whole kitchen. We went out later. The next day my Dad apologised for his comments about Mandy and announced that she was a lovely girl. He added that "if she got some decent clothes and learned how to do her make up she'd be really pretty". I explained that this was the trendy look. My sister chimed in saying that Dad should really mind his own business. Another thing that shocked him was when our singer, Pete was going through his skinhead phase. He had a new girlfriend, Deb who was also a skinhead. Pete turned up with Deb and my Dad, not expecting a girl with a crew cut, asked "Pete, do you and your mate want a cup of tea?". Pete was outraged "That's not my mate, this is Deb, she's my fiance". My Dad was stunned, but simply replied "Sorry Peter, does your fiance want a cup of tea?". He asked me later "Why would anyone want a crewcut. I had to have one when I joined the army, but I hated it".

Despite all of this, my folks loved having all of the waifs and strays we accumilated around the house. Unlike most of my friends, my parents took the time to get to know my friends, make them welcome and help them if they had problems. When I consider some of the things we got up to, in hindsight I am gobsmacked by their tolerance and generosity. My Dad was often intriguied by our shenanigans. One time, he caught Paul, my bands bassplayer, attempting to sabotage the van of another local band. When my Dad quizzed him, Paul explained that a member of the band had robbed his girlfriends sister of her holiday money. Dad was suitably outraged and assisted Paul in the act of sabotage, ensuring the van was completely knackered.

Years after, I was talking to my mum about the period. She said that she used to love my friends coming around. She said that once she'd got over how odd a few of them looked, she realised that they were a lovely bunch and would do anything for anyone. My parents realised that the world had changed and in the late 1970's the country held little prospects for my generation. Young people felt alienated and felt let down. They responded by helping me start the studio, which gave some sort of outlet for some of this energy.

As my own children reach the same stage, I have tried to be the same in my dealings. A couple of years ago, I wasn't getting on too well with my eldest daughter. Nothing serious, but she was going through an "It's not fair" stage. Recently when my son had a similar short period, my wife heard her saying "I used to feel like you do, but when you see how some other people's Dads act, you soon realise you are lucky". Like my parents, I don't want to live in my childrens pockets. I just want to be there when they need me and I want their friends to feel that they are welcome in the house. It's the only thing I can really do to repay my parents for the way they tolerated me and my friends.

When they go, I know I'll miss them!

1 comment:

Mrs Angry said...

Don't be too sad: they come back again at regular intervals and drop wet towels on the bathroom floor, and eat all your food, then they graduate, and - they come back again, penniless, and with three years washing in a bin bag.