page 17 :: previous << home >> next

Where were we? The year Mabs was born, 1937. These days I suppose you’d think about post partum depression but things between our parents got pretty bad. I used to watch them anxiously. Mum talked about killing herself. A fallacy for many years was that people who talked about committing suicide didn’t do it. Dad also had that view and passed it on to us. One day she left the room and I was worried about her. I went to go to her. Dad and Les tried to stop me but I pushed past. When I got to the scullery I found she had removed some shelves from the gas oven, had put a cushion for her head and was lying with her head inside the oven and the gas full on. I pulled her out, turned the gas off, opened the back door and held her. She cried and promised me she’d never do it again. To be fair she never did but I didn’t know it at that time. When I tried to tell Dad and Les they didn’t believe me. Les still doesn’t believe me. I was 14, I was hardly likely to be making it up or imagining things. I didn’t persist but kept it to myself. I couldn’t tell anybody because I was afraid of the police finding out.

Attempted suicide was a crime in those days and from time to time you read in the paper about some poor soul being sent to prison for 3 weeks. Coroners dealing with successful suicides had a stock formula. “Took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed.” Now we know better but that was the view for many years.

Some weeks later Dad left home. I was now more worried than ever. I’d get through the morning at school somehow or other, run home at lunchtime not knowing what I might find and she’d be right as rain. I did tell one former mate who was now in a different form. Whether he passed that on to the teachers I don’t know but I ceased to have much to do with him after that. I guess there’s a Freudian explanation for that. A teacher stopped me in the corridor once and asked me if I had trouble at home. I said I hadn’t and it was never mentioned again. Whether they’d heard from my ex-chum or whether they could see that I was in a highly nervous state I don’t know.

One day Mum had word to go to a solicitor’s office to talk about a formal separation. I stayed outside looking after Mabs in her pram. She was gone a long time and when she came out she was very upset. She showed me the letter and said that Dad no longer had a job so there’d be no money. What upset her most was the statement in the letter that he no longer loved her. I imagine that was a legal necessity but she took it emotionally. Of course I was very much on her side and against Dad but coming home from school one day I bumped into him and we talked. I realised then that I still loved him and that made things harder. Soon after that he left Nottingham and went to Liverpool. Eventually Les went up there and mediated a reconciliation. He’d got a job selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door.

When he came back he got a similar job with Hoover. The salesmen used to meet at the office first thing for a pep talk and to sing motivational songs. These were pop numbers with special words. “It’s a grand day for selling” etc. Dad was able to play the piano for these sessions. Later he got a job with a hosiery firm selling a French machine for repairing ladders in silk stockings. He practised at home for hours until he could do the picking up of the dropped thread. The hole at the top needed Swiss mending and that needed specialist treatment. He got commission for sales but didn’t sell many.

What he did do was build up a successful business for the firm doing repairs for dry cleaners etc. He was peeved that he didn’t get commission for that and that may have been the reason he quit the job in 1939 just before the war. He did have another job possibility liked up. Whether that would have materialised I don’t know but he couldn’t take it because he was on the reserve of officers and liable to go at any time. In fact he didn’t go until April 1940. I don’t know what they used for money in that time.

One other point about the separation period. During the ghastly week we spent each term doing woodwork the nutty teacher wanted to show me up for the idiot that I was. With about 20 boys present he asked me what my father did. I had to admit that he didn’t have a job. The others thought that hilarious. Of course I bear him no grudge after all these years but I hope he’s roasting in hell.

Because of his sales job all over the country Dad was away from Monday to Friday and I thought that was ideal because it kept the two of them apart except for the weekend. next