My First Day At Grammar School

Presentation1I wasn’t at all nervous about my first day at Grammar school, as I had two older brothers already attending. John was in the upper sixth and a school prefect. Tom was in the fifth form. I knew that no-one would mess with me even though I would be a little sprog. I had heard from my brothers how the sprogs would be bullied and teased, especially in the opening weeks of the Autumn term.

As we entered the school main gate, walked up the long driveway, which led into the main front playground, I had never seen so many children in one place. Most were in small groups, probably sharing experiences of their summer holidays. Some of the boys were playing football and others playing a rough looking game, which I later found out to be called ‘sag’.  In future years I was to pick up many bruises from this crazy game.

John went off immediately to join the prefects and arrange the first assembly. Tom stayed with me until he spotted some friends. I stood there alone until I recognised Sue McCarthy. She had been at my junior school.  All together nine of us had passed our eleven plus and chosen Manor Park as our 1st choice grammar school.

“Hi Sue. I am glad to see you. You are the first person that I have seen that I know since I arrived. I hope the others turn up soon. “

Sue looked nervous. “Hello Jim. Do you know what we are supposed to do? I don’t know where we should go.”

“I guess they just call out names or something. Don’t worry. I will stay with you until they call us.”

And so we waited what seemed ages until the bell went and an old man in a black gown stood in the middle of the playground and called all first formers to gather round. I soon spotted the rest from Hartshill Junior School and we huddled together in our group.

The names were called and we were ordered into four lines, one for each class. I was in class 1a and luckily was with three others from my old school. Sue was one of them.

A form teacher led each line off to their classroom. Ours was a middle-aged woman with a huge backside that waddled as she walked along. She spoke in a high pitched voice as people do when they talk to babies.

“Now children. My name is Mrs White. I am your form teacher for this year. Follow me. Stay in line and don’t dawdle.”

We all marched in, chose a desk and sat down. I sat next to Sue. I had a strong feeling of needing to take care of her, a feeling that was completely new to me. Maybe this was how the knights of King Arthur felt when saving the maids in danger. I was Sue’s loyal knight.

Mrs White gave each of us an exercise book and told us to write our name, school and form on the front.

I quickly wrote James Bothwell, Manor Park Grammer School, Form 1a in my best writing.

Mrs White, as I later found out, was not only our form teacher, but also the Head Of Department for English. She walked around to check that we had all finished correctly, took one look at my book and told me to stand up.

“James. Please tell the class how one spells grammar as in Manor Park Grammar School. “

I felt my face reddening. In front of so many unknown faces my shyness took over. I glanced down at Sue. Her lips were trembling in sympathy for me. I thought that she would cry. I also glanced at her note book and realised that she had spelt grammar with an ‘a’ , whereas I had spelt it with an ‘e’.

I knew instinctively that hers was right. That was the reason that I had been singled out.  A cheeky confidence suddenly came over me. “ G R A M M A R,” I said loud and clear.

Mrs White breathed a small sigh of relief. “Thank you. Maybe next time that you write it down you will use the correct spelling.”

“Yes, Miss,” I mumbled and quickly took my seat again.

We spent the complete morning in our form rooms apart from the first assembly, which took place one hour later than normal as it was our first day.

The whole school filed into the school hall every Monday morning for prayers and special announcements. The prefects sat on the stage in their striped jackets. I remember feeling proud to see my brother on the front row and decided there and then that I wanted to be a prefect also when I reached the sixth form.

Back in the classroom we each drew up our timetables. Immediately after lunch we would go to our lessons. I was pleased to see that we had two double lessons of PE each week. I had loved football and was looking forward to begin playing rugby. English would be with Mrs White and would be taken in the form room. Other lessons required the class to split up depending on what disciplines had been chosen. German, for instance, was with Miss Scarlett. I looked forward to my German lessons. I had often helped my brothers with their German homework by testing their memory with new word lists, and had picked up quite a lot. This was one subject where I knew that I could do well.

History was with Colonel Mustard. We all chuckled at the mention of Colonel Mustard and Jack Watkins raised his hand and asked if he was a real Colonel. Mrs White said that he had fought in World War Two and was injured in the Normandy Landings in 1944. She added that the staff was very proud to have such a decorated war hero teaching at our school.

Mr Green or Reverend Green would be taking us for Religious Instruction. My brother Tom had already informed me that Reverend Green was often absent due to illness. He had picked up some strange virus or something when acting as a missionary in Africa in the 1950s. He still has recurring illness where he is bedridden for days on end.

Our music teacher would be Mrs Peacock. I had no idea what we would do in a music lesson. My family were not musical and I could play no instruments. I remember thinking “Do they just play music for the whole lesson?”

Mathematics and Physics would be with Mr Plum. Although he was not a real professor, people called him Professor Plum. When I was to meet him a couple of days later it became very clear why. He looked just like an extremely old professor and taught in his university black gown. In fact many of the older teachers taught in black gowns. Mrs White also did.

We had just over an hour for lunch. It was a beautiful September day with light white clouds scudding over a deep blue sky. Our little group of nine quickly gathered together to share the events of the morning. We had only been talking and eating our sandwiches a few minutes when along came two second year  bullies.

“What have we here? A group of little sprogs waiting for someone to share their food with.  Wow, that looks tasty,” the fatter one said, as he reached out to snatch Sue’s tuna and cucumber sandwich.

“Leave her alone,” I blurted out.

They both turned on me. I thought that I was in for a thrashing.

“Go away or I will call his brother. He’s a prefect,” Sue yelled.

Fatboy looked at me and asked if that was true.

“Yes, John Bothwell , upper sixth. And my other brother is in the fifth.”

I watched as they tried not to lose face but left as quickly as they could. We all chuckled and I made my biggest mistake of the day. As they were walking away I shouted after them, “You are just cowards. All bullies are cowards.” I would pay dearly for those remarks.

After lunch we went directly to our first proper lesson. Mine was German Language in room 32d. We had been given a room map of the school and I found it quickly. It was right next to the swimming pool in the quadrangle. I remember that it was hard to concentrate on learning when children were outside swimming.

Miss Scarlett came in and my jaw dropped open. I sat on the front row, right in front of her desk. I had never seen such a beautiful woman. She was completely different to the other older teachers. She wore a knee length dress and was slim, tall and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She asked us all to introduce ourselves and tell her any German words that we might know.

Lots of the boys knew a few such as ‘achtung’ or ‘Donner und Blitzen’ that they had read in the war comics.

When it came to my turn I blurted out far too much. I wanted to impress her and show her that I had learned a lot from my brothers. It all just came pouring out in a mad, confused rush.

“Die Decker ist Gelb, ein, zwei drei, vier, funf. Guten Tag, Guten Morgen, Ich habe Hunger….”

“Ok James, that will do. Where did you learn that from?” she asked smiling.

“My brothers,” I said. “I can count up to 100 if you like.”

“Erm..that won’t be necessary today”

I spent the rest of the lesson half listening to her and half looking at her legs. When she sat down at her desk, I was right in front of her and could see right up to her knickers. I will remember those scarlet pants for my whole life. I felt some strange feeling in my groin but had no idea what it was at that time. Now that I realise, I suppose I am lucky to know exactly the time when I first began to leave childhood behind. It was my first day at Grammar School. Miss Scarlett and her scarlet…..er where was I? Ah, yes German lessons.

Next was a double lesson of history with Colonel Mustard.

He did a similar this to Miss Scarlett, by asking each of us to introduce ourselves and give him one date from history that we knew. I gave 1066 the Battle of Hastings. I knew this because my brother, John, who was a really keen stamp collector, had told me that next month a new set of commemorative stamps comes out for 900 years since the Battle Of Hastings. He had ordered a first day cover.

Colonel Mustard was a frightening man. He was enormous and always wore his black gown. His face was lop-sided as he was shot in the cheek during the war and some of the nerves had been damaged. When he smiled, which was extremely seldom, it looked more like a vicious sneer.  We were all afraid of him.

During the very first lesson he introduced us to dictation. He would read some text, which we were to copy down in our notebooks, new ones in which, this time,  I had spelt ‘grammar’ correctly.

He began,” Early imports from the New England Colonies were dried meat, fish, lumber, furs and Heinz baked beans.”

He stopped talking and looked at us all, one by one. We were all silent. A pin drop could be heard in the room. “Who has written Heinz Baked Beans?” he thundered at us. Every child put their hands up.  “And who believes that the early colonies of America actually exported Heinz Baked Beans to England?” No-one raised a hand.

“Aha,” he said, “So you all have written something that you believe to be false. Let this be a lesson to all of you. Dictation is not only for writing, it is also for listening. If you hear something that you find unbelievable or wrong, you raise a hand and ask. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir,” we all replied. It was a lesson that I will never forget. Never believe everything that you read or hear.

The last lesson with Reverend Green was gentle and fitting to end the first day. He told us the story of the Good Samaritan and we then discussed it. Afterwards he told us about his time in Africa. He had travelled a lot and I remember thinking how much I was looking forward to his future lessons. Beforehand I had been dreading the subject of RI as I had imagined a repeat of my years attending Sunday school.

When the bell went at 3.30pm I walked out to the small rear gate. Tom had arranged to meet me there after school so that we could walk home together. It was nearly two miles and much better that we go together.

When I arrived at the gate Fatboy and his friend were waiting for me. They had obviously decided that they weren’t so afraid of my big brothers after all, and that they could get me on my own.

First they knocked off my cap into the mud. While I was picking it up one of them kicked me in the backside. I nearly fell over and felt the first wetness of tears welling up into my eyes. They were tears of anger though rather than fear. As I picked up my school cap I gathered also a pile of mud into it and threw it as hard as I could at the fat one. It splattered all over his white shirt and tie. He took one look at the mess I had made and then came at me. I knew that I was in for it.

As he came towards me I turned to run but a hand came out of nowhere and slapped him across the face. “If I catch you after my little brother again I’ll bloody kill you,” Tom growled. He would have scared even me.

We laughed about it on the way home. In hindsight I have never had a close relationship with Tom, but this was one of those rare moments where we were true brothers.

This was my first day at Grammar School. I survived further bullying, had some epic scraps in the playground and was sent to the headmaster on numerous occasions for the cane. I also had a fantastic time learning, playing rugby, and making some lifelong friends.  I dearly wish that some of these elements of schooling, both the good and the bad, were still present in today’s schools. There were hardships, but overall they prepared young people for a world in which one needs to survive.

Diamond Dogs

Diamond Dogs

Keep cool – Diamond Dogs rule, OK
Beware of the Diamond Dogs
(David Bowie 1974)

Jack Walsh sat quietly sipping at his gin and tonic as the golden sun dipped below the hills to the West. He studied Cecil’s expression, searching for some sign of dishonesty or insincerity, some trick to the wonderful offer he was being made. All he could see was an innocent seventeen year old sickly boy, full of enthusiasm and no trace of deceit.
Cecil Rhodes had just made him an offer of a lifetime. He wanted him to join his venture when he finalised his purchase of a claim to the De Beers mine. Head foreman was the offer and a princely sum of just under a guinea a week.
“Is there any more tonic? The blasted malaria. I’m told it works well against it.”
Cecil reached over with a jug of lukewarm tonic and re-filled his glass. Their eyes met as he sat back in the rickety wooden rocker, on the front porch. “I need a man I can trust and one who knows this damned business. You’ve been around diamonds ever since you saw Erasmus pull that one out of the Orange River five years ago. It’s in your blood Jack. ….and I trust you more than any man here.”
Jack took a long hard swig, nodding as he swallowed it down. “OK. You’re on. Let’s do it.”
So began the relationship between Jack Walsh, hardened diamond miner and Cecil Rhodes, young ambitious entrepreneur.

*****

Jack’s main job was to maximise production and stop theft. The mine workers would come up with all sorts of amazing inventions to smuggle diamonds out of the mine. Over the years Jack had extracted diamonds from just about every possible hiding place. They were sewn into clothes, placed into their own bodies, sometimes at the cost of excruciating pain and even death. Some had tried swallowing them in order to smuggle out their dream of a rich future, only to find that the diamond had cut into their intestine or bowel, leaving them with an awful and slow death.
Yes, Jack knew all of the tricks. Even so, he often wondered how many successes there were. How many thousands of pounds worth of diamonds had been removed without a trace?
Cecil was far more relaxed about the theft. Culprits would be promptly executed. Profits were booming. “Why worry too much about a few stolen diamonds, when we are expanding at such a rate,” he would say. “Just do the best you can Jack.”
For Jack, however, it was personal. It was his job. He took it as a personal attack against his authority and was obsessive in catching thieves. He even introduced a company law that forbade any worker to leave the mining complex within three days of working the mine. The latrines were searched at the end of each working day. This task was handed out as a punishment for slackness or other minor crimes.
One evening just before dinner Jack was taking his usual evening drink out on the porch, chatting with an old friend, Robert Parsons. Robert was a travelling salesman, dealing mainly in mining tools but also someone known in those parts for his uncanny capability to acquire almost anything for a price. He had even recently managed to come up with a white marble grand piano for Cecil’s new house at a cost of one thousand two hundred guineas.
“You’re pulling my leg Bob, surely? A breed of dog that can smell a diamond? Diamonds don’t have scent. If only it were true.”
“Well, I admit that I am no expert but apparently it really is true. I have heard that they don’t smell the diamonds directly, but can pick up on the scent caused by the potential smuggler. I guess he gives of an adrenalin or nervous scent, which the dog can be trained to pick up on,” replied Bob thoughtfully.
“Do you know where I could get one of these dogs?” Jack inquired, quite excited by the idea of finally being able to stop all theft.
“It’s very easy. The best breed available for this type of work is your common-and-garden Beagle. It is a well-known hound for hunters. There are plenty around. I tell you what, next time I come by in three weeks’ time, I will bring one with me. How’s that?”
Jack became quiet, thinking about how much easier his job would be fighting the smugglers if he had such a hound. The next three weeks dragged for him.

*****

Three weeks later as Robert Parsons walked towards him with young, but full grown Beagle on the lead, he called out “Hey Jack. Only eighteen months old but fully trained. What do you think?”
Jack waved away the two miners that he had been scalding for laziness and sent them back to their work. With a beaming smile he greeted first the dog, then his friend. “What do I call him? Does he have a name?”
“She,” he replied, grinning, “has been named Ruby. All you need to do is have the miners file past after each shift and the dog will do the rest. Trust me; I have seen her in action.”
At the end of the afternoon shift Jack stood with Ruby as, one by one, all one hundred and sixty miners slowly shuffled past. Ruby looked totally disinterested. With nose mostly to the ground she sniffed around, barely noticing that people were walking by. Jack was sorely disappointed and began to lose heart.
“Look, all it means is that nobody was trying to smuggle anything today. You should be pleased, rather than upset. Give it time. You will see.” Robert re-filled his glass with plenty of tonic water and was clearly enjoying the fun; after all, Jack had paid a good sum for the dog. “Do you believe this is good against malaria?”
“I dunno. That’s what I have heard,” Jack replied quite morosely.

The following day and the one after that was the same reaction from his young Beagle. She just didn’t seem interested. Jack was almost ready to call it a day and send the dog away. Even the miners were chuckling to themselves as they paced by after each shift. One of them even stopped to hand the dog some titbits of meat, which earned him a sharp crack on the shoulder from Jack’s stick.
It was the last evening shift on the third day that Ruby finally showed some attention. A large built Mandingo, skin oiled by sweat after a hard day’s work, casually strolled by. Ruby pricked her ears, made a gruff rumbling sound which escalated in volume until she was barking loudly and looking frantic from Jack to the miner and back again.
Jack called to the miner, “Stop. You there. Come here.”
The worker looked nervously towards Jack. He stood still for a few seconds before breaking into a full run towards the compound exit gate. Jack called him to stop or he would shoot. The Mandingo carried on. Jack raised his single shot breech-action Martini-Henry rifle slowly to his shoulder, took aim, held his breath and gently squeezed the trigger. The shot took the left knee clean off the runaway thief.
His two helpers dragged the screaming Mandingo across the dusty floor, in front of the staring line of workers. “No-one moves,” shouted Jack.
A search revealed nothing. Jack was unsure what to do next. “Why did you run?” he shouted at his sobbing victim.
“No reason Master. No reason. I just got scared. Please Master, please, I got four kids to feed Master.”
Then Jack noticed a small trickle of blood coming from behind the miner’s left ear. He walked over, took his ear in his hand and there it was, a small cut with a hard lump buried beneath. He squealed as Jack pressed with thumb and forefinger forcing a diamond as big as his finger nail out of the small opening. “Take him away,” he commanded as he turned towards Ruby. He walked over to her. She had resumed her inactive disinterest in the whole affair. “Well done girl. You have earned a steak tonight,” he whispered as he ruffled her floppy ears.
And so it went on for many months. Jack acquired three more Beagles and occasionally caught would-be smugglers. However the miners soon became wise to Jack’s Diamond Dogs and knew that it was pointless to try to steal any more. Their smuggling game was over.

*****

By 1873 Cecil Rhodes, with his partner Charles Rudd had amassed a significant number of mines in southern Africa.
The introduction of Jack’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ had become so successful that Rhodes had noticed a marked increase in profits. In view of this he invited Jack to his home for dinner, with a proposal for further expansion of the use of his Beagles. Rudd was also present.
Rhodes offered Jack a new position, to relinquish his post of Head Foreman at the Kimberley mine and take over the role of security for the complete company. Rhodes wanted to see Jack’s dogs used across all of his mines in Africa.
Rudd, however didn’t like Jack’s crude ways. He considered him to be far too low class to be sitting at the same dining table with the likes of him and Rhodes. He was quite negative about the security proposal and made it abundantly clear that he had no time for Jack.
“Cecil, this is a complete waste of company funds. We have no evidence that the rise in profit has anything to do with these overfed stupid dogs. I say we kill the whole idea.”
Cecil Rhodes had known Jack for a long time, longer than Rudd. He was clearly irritated by Rudd’s animosity and replied,” I haven’t told you yet. My other announcement tonight is that I will be leaving for England next month to complete my studies at Oxford. I would like you to take care of everything while I am away, probably three years.”
Rhodes was far too cunning for Rudd. He knew that Rudd would be easy to convince faced with the prospect of three years and a free hand with the company. Agreeing to allow him to follow through with the ‘Diamond Dogs’ plan would be a small price for him to pay.
Rudd leaned back in his chair and smiled easily. “Ok Cecil, have it your way. Walsh can have the job with his dogs and I will look after things while you play student at Oxford. Let’s drink to it.”
Jack raised his glass and took the toast, but couldn’t shake off the feeling of uneasiness over the new changes. He felt very vulnerable with Cecil Rhodes, his friend gone and replaced by this sly fox. He would have to watch his step, he thought, as he downed his final drink before leaving.

*****

Rhodes took a ship for England as promised the following month. Jack’s replacement was up and running in the Kimberley mine, which left him free to implement the use of his Beagles throughout the sixty-eight mines in the Kimberley area.
He had been gone only a week when he was visited by Charles Rudd. The meeting was very aggressive and resulted in Rudd directly accusing Jack of stealing, although without any proof. Jack was not someone to mince his words and threatened Rudd that if he didn’t rescind his accusations he would be sorry. Rudd laughed in Jack’s face and replied that he was lucky to have a job at all. His salary would be reduced from that day onwards by ten per cent.
Jack went back to his hut boiling over with anger. He knew that the Rudd’s of this world always had the upper hand. They were the true masters and Jack was no better in many ways than the poorly paid mineworkers.
That night he took his gin neat and was unconscious within a few hours, although not oblivious to his troubles.
During the night Jack dreamt. He dreamt of the people he had harmed, their blood, their pain and even worse their faces. He cried through his sleep and could be heard in the neighbouring huts screaming for help. In the end he quietened to a morbid melancholy and, while still asleep, his plan became clear. As he woke, before the sun had begun to rise, he felt much better and knew which direction his revenge on Charles Rudd would take.

*****

The Beagles were introduced throughout the diamond mines. Within a few months, just before Cecil Rhodes returned earlier than expected, after only one semester at Oxford, fifty of the mines already had Diamond Dogs checking the workers. Profits were promptly showing signs of increase.
This time, however, Jack was working to a different plan. He had realised that the dogs could easily swallow small diamonds embedded in pieces of beef. He set up trusted accomplices at each mine to ensure that the dogs were ‘fed’ diamonds, which were then passed back to him when he did his weekly rounds. They were paid handsomely. Jack felt secure in the knowledge that his collaborators would be punished just as harshly as he would if they were caught. This ensured their discretion.
Within a year Jack Walsh was a rich man. He had amassed, without knowledge of his employer, over ten thousand pounds in uncut diamonds. There remained only one small part to his plan before he would leave South Africa forever.

*****

Under the guise of a welcoming back party to Kimberley after his trip to England, Jack invited Cecil Rhodes to a festive evening at the mine. There was music and dancing. The miners were all rewarded with a few hours free time to join in the celebrations. They were allowed to bring their women and children along. Cecil was quite taken aback by the festive spirit and joined in fully, donating an extra barrel of gin to the evening. Jack had deliberately arranged the evening while Charles Rudd was away on business with the consortium of merchants.
As the evening progressed Jack began to touch on the sensitive information that he wanted to privately divulge to Rhodes.
“Mr. Rhodes, we have known each other for a very long time, and I hope, despite our different positions, that I can consider you to be a friend, a friend that I can speak to in utter confidence.”
Cecil looked at him, slightly puzzled. “Of course Jack, anything you tell me stays strictly between us. What is it?”
“I am sorry to bring this to you but I have reason to believe that your partner, Charles Rudd is guilty of diamond theft. I overheard two miners discussing how they get them to him during his occasional visits. The diamonds are collected in the tool house until there are enough for the handover. That is all I know.”
Cecil Rhodes looked incredulously at Jack. “I can’t believe this. Who are these people? I want to talk to them now.”
“I am sorry, but I couldn’t see their faces. They were talking after dark behind the latrine. My only suggestion would be for us to quietly take a look through the tool house while the party is in full swing. No-one would notice.”
Jack and Rhodes went into the tool house. It was a large dusty building, full of picks, shovels and various other mining tools.
“This is a waste of time Jack. Even if there was a stash of diamonds here, it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Cecil as he turned to walk back out.
Jack had to think quickly, too quickly. “Here, look. The soil in the floor over there is a different shade. “
He burrowed with his hands and quickly came out with a small linen bag. Opening it, he poured a small pile of diamonds into his palm.
Rhodes was aghast. “You were right Jack. I need to think about this until Rudd returns on Friday. I want no word of it to come out until I speak to Rudd. Do I have your word?”
Jack fought hard not to smile. With earnest expression he just quietly replied, “Of course Sir.”
Cecil Rhodes was a sickly fellow, young and innocent in appearance. This was one of his greatest advantages as a businessman, which enabled him to be continually underestimated by people. Jack was one of those people.
Rhodes had understood the bad relationship only too well between Rudd and Jack. It was very clear to him that Jack was trying to set up his partner as a thief. He knew that Charles Rudd was on to far too good a thing, as his partner, to risk losing it all for a few diamonds. They were to become extremely rich together during the following years.
Rhodes also knew that Jack must have gotten these diamonds from somewhere. This mystery he must solve quickly and discreetly.
One of the black miners was the grandson of a slave that had been freed by Cecil Rhodes’ great uncle back in 1823, a full ten years before the abolition. Rhodes knew that he felt a debt of gratitude and could trust him. He secretly arranged for him to spy on Jack Walsh. Over the following weeks Rhodes received the intelligence reports that Jack Walsh was smuggling out diamonds through the use of his Beagles.
A full search was promptly organised, involving the use of mounted infantrymen, as this was well before the formation of the British South African Police. Jack Walsh was found to be in possession of a large number of uncut diamonds and proven guilty of embezzlement. He was sentenced to death and executed on the evening of the 10th June 1874 as the golden sun dipped below the hills to the West.

Forward To The Past

Forward To The Past 

Bearded Lady1There are four main characteristics that define me. Firstly, I am a woman, not your normal run-of the mill housewife but a rather special case. I have a full beard. This is the second characteristic in my list of four. Thirdly, by a peculiar quirk of male sexual behaviour, I am, or at least was, a whore. And finally, to complete my list of defining points, I have an IQ of 145.

*****

I suppose the best place to begin my story is with my short childhood. I was the seventh of eleven children, all boys except me. My parents were rarely present, at least not in a state of sobriety which would have made their presence a positive experience. We children mostly brought ourselves up. There was little to eat at home and we nourished ourselves from wild fruits or scrumping at neighbouring farms. How we all managed to survive and remain free of rickets was, years later, still a puzzle to me, and could only possibly be explained by our mongrel mix of breeding. My parents originated from different villages, which was quite unusual at the end of the nineteenth century in such a remote part of Scotland.

The boys daily used their only sister for their pleasure. They had me cleaning, cooking and minding the little ones from as long as I can remember. During the later years of my childhood a further service to my brothers was included, but I would prefer not to go into this at the moment, especially as two of them are still living today.

My real adventure began shortly after puberty. I remember well my first period. I ran screaming from the barn with blood all over my hands and between my legs. My father, fulfilling one of his seldom parental duties, called my mother for help. “Mable, get your arse out here and sort Gabby out. Her tomato soup is on the boil.”

Mum came stumbling out, slapped me hard across the face and told me to get cleaned up sharpish. Dinner would be late. As a later afterthought of parental compassion she added, “Didn’t you know that all girls bleed once a month? Now if I catch you with any of them boys from the village you’ll wish you was never born.”

Shortly after that I began to notice light hair on my face. Josh, my eldest brother was first to notice.

“Hey Gabby, what’s going on? You’ve got more damned bum fluff than Bob here.” He slapped Bob on the back in jest. All of the boys were laughing as they went off about their business for the day. I waited until it was quiet and slipped into the boy’s bedroom, took Josh’s razor and removed all of the hair. I did this every few days for the next two or three months until one day Josh came back as he had forgotten his sheath knife. He caught me leaving the room with his razor in my hand. All hell broke loose. The conclusion of this was that I was beaten and threatened that if I used a razor again it would be used to cut off my toes.

My beard grew dark and thick. Within a month I was the laughing stock of the village. I rarely left the house and threw myself into working at the domestic duties, which kept me out of trouble. One good side effect from the beard was that my brothers all lost interest in me. Not one of them wanted to be caught with a bearded lover. My hair growth protected me from their leering eyes and physical needs.

In time I became quite content to live in this way. I worked hard which gave my parents more freedom to drink away their lives and my brothers were all well fed and watered. I began to accept this as my lot in life until one day a strange looking, plump little man in a striped black and grey suit and bowler hat knocked at the door. As usual I answered the door ready to explain that my parents were not available and would be away until the next day. The little man said in an unusually loud voice,” Well that’s a pity young man. I have an offer for them which could be very lucrative.”

In no time at all my father appeared, still holding onto a bottle of single malt and blurted,” What is that? Lucrative? Please step inside and tell me more. Would you like a drink?”

“Dear Sir, your ahem.. daughter is the talk of the county. People say that you have a daughter who sports a full and very masculine beard. I would like to meet her.”

My father almost fell over with laughter. “Haha, you already have. She is here.”

The man looked at me with an expression of such astonishment that he couldn’t speak. Finally he just managed to murmur, “Good grief. Really?”

My father didn’t hesitate for a second. He could smell money a mile off and promptly ripped open my blouse to reveal my petite breasts. “Here, see for yourself.”

I am not sure who was most embarrassed by the situation, but our visitor took some moments to pull himself together while I fumbled with my torn blouse to recover some form of dignity.

“My name is Joseph Pimplebottom, from Pimplebottom’s Circus. I am here to offer your daughter a contract of employment working as a bearded lady on show daily from 5pm to 9pm. As I said, it would be quite lucrative. In France a similar freak ..er..unusual  bearded lady brought in huge crowds. Tell my young lady, how would you feel about appearing in my circus as an unusual turn of nature?”

My father jumped in very quickly. “Never mind how she feels. How do I feel? I am her father and will decide if and when she appears in your freak show or not. And she will do what I bloody well tell her to. Now, how much are you prepared to offer for her?”

Pimplebottom was ready for the question. A slight twitch of a smile appeared in the corners of his mouth. “Two guineas a month and ten percent of the takings, which could add another two pounds that sum if my expectations turn out to be correct.”

The eyes met, nods and handshakes were completed and I was on my way to Pimplebottom’s circus the following day.

*****

The little man had been right of course. The hordes turned up as promised. The fascination with my beard was the main attraction, but of course the other attraction of my bare bosom completed the show. I was told that it was necessary to bare myself to the customers in order to demonstrate the genuine nature of the claim that I really was a bearded phenomenon.

For two years I appeared in a side stall of Pimplebottom’s circus, with my flowing black beard and by still developing breasts. Any sense of personal dignity soon left me. I stared down at the sickening faces of those crowds, ogling me for all they were worth, laughing, pointing and joking between themselves. I became immune to the comments and the ridicule and began to derive some pleasure from creating a jealousy amongst the female visitors. I would look a gentleman in the eye, slip my tongue between my lips in erotic implication and smile knowingly. The wives of these gentlemen would sometimes become uncomfortable, as if they knew what their husbands would be thinking. This gave me such satisfaction, a feeling of sweet revenge.

In time my arrogant eroticism began to backfire. Some of the wealthier gentry wanted more from me. I was required to entertain some of them in the tent after the evening show was over. Initially I was only required to allow them to touch me. “To check for themselves that I was a real woman, and not some artificial imitation,“ as I was told.

The evolution from ‘touching’ to ‘caressing’ and then finally to the full performance was rapid. These men were wealthy and wanted something different to fulfil their dull lives. I was a freak but a beautiful one: And a beard to boot. They loved me.

I spent the next couple of years as a bearded lady during the daytime and a whore during the night. The circus became my prison and my life.

One of the advantages of being around rich men is that they are cocky and careless. A cuff link here, a guinea there and a few treats from the grateful ones and I was slowly able to put a comfortable sum together.  One night I slipped out of the circus with a purse of twenty eight pounds, a change of clothes and a brand new razor.

*****

The following morning was August 1st 1914. Germany declared war on Russia and Britain was sure to follow. I needed a safe haven and where better than the British Red Cross?

Many men and women were being inspired to train to help sick and wounded. I joined the huge band of women who were urgently trained in basic nursing and hygiene. Few questions were asked about my background. As long as I was willing and in a reasonable health I was swept up on a wind of desperate need to care for the sick and wounded.

It was during the next four years that I learned about my high intelligence. The training came very easy to me. I picked up the medical terms very quickly and found that I would often begin to question in my mind the treatments that the doctors were administering. To question a doctor was unthinkable. Nurses were to be seen and not heard. We were the lowest of the low, which until this point had been the story of my life.

By the time the war ended I was a highly trained nurse but with a medical knowledge well above that of the average doctor. I was frustrated with my nursing role. I wanted to do more.

In 1919, after my discharge from the Red Cross I decided to study to be a doctor. After  many attempts under my real name of Gabriele Bowerman and repeated rejections for various reasons, which all boiled down to the fact that I was a woman, I decided to let my beard grow again and for an ambitious young man, Gabriel Bowerman to arrive on the scene. For three months I spent my time practicing male mannerisms while allowing my beard to grow to a mature state.

Due to the shortage of trained doctors I gained entry into medical school at my first attempt. I sailed through the courses and examinations. With so much experience in wartime injuries I decided to specialise in accident and amputation surgery. I qualified with a first grade PhD in Medicine with specialism in amputation. A position in Harley Street came very soon after.

*****

For twelve years, from 1926 until 1938 all went well. I enjoyed the responsibility of my position and felt comfortable with my role as a man in this male dominated field. I was truly following my vocation in life. I was able to anonymously provide financial assistance to my surviving brothers. My parents had both died during the war from liver disease. The old farm was still surviving especially with the help of the unknown benefactor. I was as happy during this time as I had ever been.

One day I was attending a patient at the hospital. He had been in a motorcycle accident and I had removed both of his legs a week earlier. The fellow was chirpy and positive about his future life despite his terrible injuries. His father was present when I arrived. I didn’t recognise him until he spoke my name.

“Nurse Bowermann? Is it really you? But..but..your beard.”

I was slow to respond, too slow. “Who is nurse Bowermann?” I half-heartedly responded as I saw him looking at my name badge on my lapel. Dr. Gabriel Bowermann.

I tried to cover it up. To make a stupid excuse that I had a twin sister named Gabrielle. It was all in vane. My patient’s father was Professor James McMillan, senior consultant at Great Ormond Street and the only doctor that I had given a piece of my mind to in 1917. My outburst had almost cost me my job and I could see by the look in McMillan’s face that he had not forgotten.

Two days later I was attending the hospital administration investigation into the real identity of Dr, Gabriel Bowermann. I had been accused of being an imposter and upon threat of a personal search to determine my true sex I broke down. I would not allow myself to be put through the humiliating examination only to be found guilty. I resigned immediately and was told that I would be struck off from the medical profession. Any further attempts at posing as nurse or doctor would bring a prosecution and probable prison sentence.

*****

It is now 1963. Mr Pimplebottom has long since died. His son, another short plump man in striped suit and bowler, has taken over the running of the circus. He still remembered me from his childhood when I re-applied for a job as an old bearded lady. One can easily see that I am female these days. It is no longer necessary to reveal my assets in order to appear genuine. My name goes before me as husbands, wives and children come to see the old lady with the beard who tried to cheat the system by posing as a male doctor. This was a great scandal all those years ago. Today it would not even cause a ripple. So is the change of the times.

The reader may be drawn into a sense of being sympathetic towards me. Please don’t be. I am content about my life. For twelve years I was able to fulfil my dreams to become a doctor of the highest regard and have experienced many wonderful moments when I was able to bring people with terrible injuries back to a state of health and hope for the future.

Because of this, I have had a good life.

Roll up, Roll up, see the Great Gabby: Our very own bearded lady. Roll up, Roll up.

Media Hype

Media Hype

anorexic

“Good morning Mr and Mrs er…Wilson,” said Doctor Richard Richardson, glancing down at his appointment list as he spoke.

John Wilson was a slim middle-aged Mr Average. He had an average mundane job working in the local car factory. He owned an average two bedroomed semi in the outskirts of Hinckley, dressed averagely and went to the pub with his mates on a Friday evening for a break and a game of darts, just like his friends. John Wilson would not stand out in a crowd, in fact not even be noticed and he knew it. The only attribute of his that could be considered apart from the average man was that he loved his wife more than his own life, an excessive fondness bordering on uxoriousness. He doted on her and couldn’t imagine a life without her.

This is why he had finally managed to persuade her to join him for an appointment with Doctor Richardson, the Marriage Guidance Councillor.

He muttered a “good morning” in reply while preoccupied with the ludicrous name of Doctor Richard Richardson. What kind of parents would burden their son with such a name?

He glanced over at Janice. She looked nervous. He could see her fingertips trembling as she fiddled with the zip on her handbag. Doctor Richardson noticed also.

“This morning, we will just go through a few preliminaries in order for me to understand the main issues. Everything we discuss will be in the strictest confidence of course. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.”

For the following ninety minutes John and Janice Wilson answered initially basic questions regarding their home life, work, children of which there were none, hobbies etc. The questions then slowly became more pointed, more difficult to clearly answer, such as sexual habits, their affection for each other and even their fantasies. Throughout the session Doctor Richardson remained calm and reassuring, finally standing up with a business-like, “well thank you for your openness. We will see each other at the same time next week, where I will explore the options with you.”

As they left and walked down the corridor the Doctor could hear Janice Wilson complaining in frustration, “I told you that it would all be a waste of time. It was just loads of questions at very high cost. It was no different than with the psychologist that you persuaded me to see last summer.

*****

It all began after Janice became pregnant and the subsequent miscarriage five months later. The trauma and following inability to become pregnant again left her feeling inadequate and a failure to her husband. John tried everything he could to help her and convince her that she was the important part of his life. They could still be happy together even if childless.

As the months drifted into years and it became clear that they would never have children, something changed in Janice’s attitude towards life. John initially assumed it to be a mid-life crisis. She slowly became obsessed with being attractive, jogging every day, reading women’s health magazines and dieting to extreme.

John gradually became concerned that Janice was losing too much weight. He tried to talk over the situation with her on many occasions, but it was hopeless. She seemed to be living a life in akrasia, a state of mind which went against all her better judgement due to her weakened vulnerable situation.

“Don’t be so silly John. Everyone wants to be slim and beautiful. Don’t you think I am beautiful?” she would always end the conversation.

In order not to upset her he would just say insouciantly, “Of course you are.”

That was until she fainted on three consecutive days.  The doctor advised her to see a psychologist to discuss her slimming obsession and loss of weight. She refused to go, causing a great row between them.

“John, just a few more pounds and I will have reached my ideal weight. What does the doctor know anyway? His wife is as fat as butter. Of course I would appear thin to him.”

“Darling, just listen to yourself. You are fainting regularly due to lack of energy. You are so thin that your ribs are clearly visible. You need help. This bloody slimming hype in those magazines is disgusting. They should be prosecuted or something.”

“There is nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive.” Janice always seemed to have the last word.

“Now stop being so damned hard on me. I don’t want to be excoriated all the time.”

John was at his wit’s end. He made an appointment with the recommended psychologist and insisted that Janice attends. He promised her everything in order to persuade her to agree. Most importantly that if she wasn’t happy after the first appointment she could cease to continue.

As they entered the practice the receptionist showed them through into the surgery. There sat a twenty stone psychiatrist lady. Janice at least had the decency to keep her thoughts to herself until the session was over, but John could see clearly that she was not going to take instructions or guidance from a fat person. That was the one and only appointment.

After that their relationship began to suffer badly. John had no idea how to help. Rows were regular and he began to look forward increasingly to his Friday evening with his mates at the pub.

He decided that only a final shock treatment could help his ever weakening wife.

“Janice, we need to talk.” He said one evening after dinner.

“No, not again. Not about the same old gripe. I am fine,” she countered.

“No, you are not fine. You are ill and I seem to be unable to help you. This monomania regarding weight loss is driving me crazy, therefore I am moving out. I am leaving. I can’t do this anymore. Kill yourself if you want to, but I am not going to sit by while you do.”

Janice argued, “This is ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with me.”

John took a deep breath and came with his well-rehearsed question. “Ok, let us assume just for a moment that I am wrong and you are in good health, not in need of any help. Let’s assume that I am the one needing help, because as sure as anything I can’t go on like this. Do you then accept that we, as a couple have a problem? “

Janice looked a little puzzled and squinted her eyes as though she was giving the question some thought. “Yes, I suppose we do, but it’s not so bad is it?”

“Janice, I don’t sleep. We haven’t had sex for over three months. We don’t kiss or cuddle any more. Even normal conversation has all but ended. Yes, it is so bad. I really can’t do this anymore”

“But you can’t just leave. We have been together eighteen years.” She burst into tears.

John seized the moment. “Then we must go and see a marriage guidance councillor. We must get help now, or it’s over”

Janice looked through tearful eyes, mascara running down her swollen cheeks and nodded. “Ok,” was all she said.

*****

The second appointment was sombre. Doctor Richardson went through the content of the previous session to convince himself that he had all the correct information.

“The main problem that I can see here is lack of communication. John believes that Janice has a problem of anorexia.” This was the first time that the word had been used. John saw his wife wince at its mention.

“And Janice is convinced that John is overreacting to your weight loss and slimming regime.”

Janice was shifting nervously in her seat. Her skirt rolled up revealing very slender bony thighs. Doctor Richardson tried to take his eyes away from the red sores on her arm and legs. He knew that he would need to move quickly otherwise Mrs Wilson would become critically ill, may even die.

“John, would you mind leaving me alone with your wife for a while. I would like to ask some questions, which she may prefer to answer when you are not here.” He glanced at Janice. “Do you mind, please?”

Once John had left the room, Doctor Richardson stood up, went over to his wooden cabinet and opened a drawer. His hands were trembling. Janice noticed and also became quite nervous.

He took out a framed picture, stroked the glass gently with his thumb and placed the picture upright on his mahogany desk, before continuing.

“What a beautiful picture Doctor Richardson. Is she your daughter or relative?”

“She was someone I once knew,” he said, trying to act as though it was nothing special.

“She really is very beautiful. What is her name?”

“Janine,” he replied, almost too quietly to hear. “Her name was Janine.”

 

“Ah! Almost the same name as mine, just one letter changed.”

“Yes, quite. Tell me, Mrs Wilson, do you think that she is overweight or underweight, or just right.”

At this question Janice’s defences came rocketing up. “Now look here. I don’t know what you think that you are up to, but there is nothing wrong with me.”

“Please, Mrs Wilson. Please bear with me. Can you answer the question?”

Janice looked carefully at the picture of a slender, well bosomed woman in a sparking green tight-fitting dress. She was almost perfect. She was exactly how Janice dreamed of becoming. ‘Just a few more pounds’.

Still very reluctant to answer Janice replied “who is she?”

“My wife,” came a very solemn reply.

The fact that they were discussing the Doctor’s wife brought more respect into Janice’s voice.

“She is so beautiful. You must be very proud. She is perfect.”

“May I ask how tall you are,” requested the doctor.

“Five feet eight inches. Why?”

“Just one inch taller than my wife,” he responded.

Wearily Doctor Richardson stood again and returned to the drawer. He took out another picture. By now he was visibly shaking.

Before he placed the picture on his desk he said,” Now I will show you a different picture which may shock you. Please trust me.”

As he turned the photograph towards Mrs Wilson she was lost in a strange fascination of what was coming. Her first thought was a picture from a concentration camp during the Second World War, but then quickly realised that it was in colour. A woman was lying on a hospital bed. Her eyes were sunken and bloodshot. The nightgown was loose enough that her ribs could be clearly seen. Her high cheekbones seemed to be trying to burst through the tight skin.

Still staring at the picture, Janice gradually realised that she was looking at the same woman as before. In this picture the smile had been replaced by a tight-lipped grimace. The beautiful dark eyes with those long lashes had been replaced by empty glaring sockets. The tight-fitting green dress had been replaced by a blood stained baggy hospital gown.

Doctor Richardson, took a deep sigh and long inhalation before trying to speak.

“Mrs Wilson, you currently weigh six stones eight pounds. My wife, in the first photograph, weighed a little over eight stones. In the second photograph she only weighed five stones. That was a few days before her death. She was suffering from anorexia nervosa. Even being a doctor myself, I was not able to help her. She was in denial until the very end.”

“Mrs Wilson, I am so sorry to confront you in this way, but I cannot sit by and see this happen again. Your husband loves you so much. He will help you all you need but you must first accept that you have a big problem and a huge mountain to climb in order to recover. Anorexia is a killer, often blamed on the hype of the media, especially for people in a vulnerable situation, as you were after the miscarriage of your baby. Please listen to me and your husband.”

John Wilson knocked on the door. Doctor Richardson had discreetly pressed the buzzer for the receptionist. As he opened the door Janice came to her feet and ran into his arms.

“I am so sorry John. I am so very sorry. I need help. Please help me.”

John took his wife in his arms. She was frail and weak, but alive. He nodded in understanding to Doctor Richardson as they turned to leave.

No more was said on the way out.

The End

The Dark Side

The Dark Side

A dull thud resonated through thin wooden walls; Then another, louder, closer. Emily squeezed her moist tired eyes tightly shut and concentrated hard to imagine a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm drifted closer, gaining in volume, until wham! Instantaneous with a flash of bright lightning her world was jolted by the awesome power of nature.

But this was no thunderstorm. The rumbling was different; and there were no lightning flashes, only darkness, utter frightening darkness in this sepulchral tomb-like box.

Adam huddled up closer to his older sister. He whispered, barely audibly, “Can we talk yet Emmy?”

“Sssshhhh, no of course we can’t. We’ve only been here an hour and we were told no noise and no talking before six o’clock or Mummy and Daddy will be really upset. Here, have another biscuit.”

Emily felt very strange. She was just eight years old, with her only experiences of life having always been protected by loving parents. Suddenly overnight she had been thrust into the role of carer. Her instincts told her that she must be the grownup for a while and take care of her younger brother. Emily placed her arm around Adam’s trembling shoulders. She could feel the rising fear in his small body. She kissed him on the forehead and gave a little reassuring shake with her arm. “Don’t be frightened,” she murmured. “It’ll soon be over and we will be home safe. For now we must be quiet, just as the man told us.”

The rumbling noises slowly receded and it became very quiet. Emily propped herself against a large threadbare cushion, of which there were two in the confined space. Adam’s head rested gently on her lap as they both began to drift off into another world. It was a world of simple pleasures. A world where children laughed and played games such as hide-and-seek or dares. Emily saw her mother washing her long hair and combing it before helping her into her pyjamas, sitting with her while she drank her bedtime mug of hot chocolate, finally tucking her in and kissing her goodnight. She slept and purred with Adam also fast asleep on her lap. They were momentarily in a soft cosy world of safety and love.

Emily could only dimly remember Adam being born and how she had giggled as she felt his movement inside her Mummy’s tummy. Now he was four years old and they both had to be extremely brave for their parent’s sake, otherwise the man said they would never see them again.

After some hours the warm silent slumber was abruptly destroyed by loud thunder again. This time it was much scarier. It was the sound of large machines, which shook the wooden surroundings as the volume grew. Before they were properly awake their temporary home was moving and gently rocking from side to side.

Emily looked at her watch. It was six o’clock.

*****

It seemed that their lounge was packed with strange faces. John Roberts and his wife Gill sat in numbed silence. Their two children had been missing for nearly twenty-four hours. Only one day. One day, which seemed to encompass their complete lives. Any events which had happened previously from their children being collected from school yesterday afternoon had been temporarily obliterated from their minds. The headmistress was distraught.

A letter explaining that the two children would be collected half an hour early, a letter which was given to the teacher personally by Emily, had seemed completely genuine. It had stated that Emily’s mother had been taken ill due to severe problems with her baby. The teacher knew very well that Mrs Roberts was in the later stages of pregnancy with her third child, therefore suspected nothing. Her husband, John, was naturally at her side in the hospital and had arranged for Uncle Raymond to collect them. The children went happily with him at the allotted time, even using his name as he arrived to collect them.

Now they were gone.

Sandra Wells, the teacher, was also present, sitting on one of the armchairs, looking anxious and persistently tapping her shoe against the coffee table. Inspector Dolmarsh curled his top lip in concentration as he perused his scruffy notes for the umpteenth time. “Please, I know it is difficult, but can we go through this one more time? Maybe there is a point that we have missed.”

Ms Wells began again. “As I said, Emily came in after the lunch break with a small envelope. She said that the note was from her mother and Uncle Raymond would be collecting them tonight.”

She shifted awkwardly on the wooden chair, glancing from John to Gill Roberts as she spoke.

“The letter was… Oh I am so sorry. I just thought…..,” she managed to blurt out those few words before breaking down into an uncontrollable fit of crying.

Dolmarsh handed her his handkerchief and looked across at John Roberts. “Tell me again exactly what they were wearing as they left for the afternoon at school.”

“Well, they were in school uniform. Just like hundreds of other kids. For Christ’s sake man; shouldn’t you be out there looking, rather than keep asking such bloody stupid questions? Our children, wherever they are, are frightened out of their minds. They have never been away, not even for one night.”

He hesitated and continued more calmly. “Please? I’m sorry; I know you need to go over it again. I have seen enough films.”

At that moment a young energetic man, with a remarkable rakish appearance came charging into the room and whispered something urgently into Dolmarsh’s ear.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I will be right back.”

*****

Adam began to whimper. After three days cooped up in the confined space he was slowly drifting into a catatonic state, with just the occasional, ever weakening pleas for his parents. Emily began her ordeal with a strong heart and will, managing to keep Adam occupied by using word games or recalling memories of party events such as birthdays or Christmas. They had almost used up the food and water, which had been left them by the man in a blue hat. Emily was gradually beginning to realise that Uncle Raymond was not such a good uncle. He had put them in this place without enough to eat and drink. Worst of all was the smell. The putrid reek of excrement emanating from the corner of their confined space caused them to gag and wretch during moments of lucidity. It became a blessing when such moments became less frequent as they slept most of the day.

Emily played the recent events over in her mind. She thought about the times that she had met Uncle Raymond. It was only a week or so ago that he first appeared during a P.E. lesson at school. The children were running round the track and he was on the far side. He offered Emily a drink, saying that he was glad to see her again after so much time, as she was only a baby when he last saw her.

He appeared again in the supermarket while her mother was at the fish counter. He spoke quietly and gave her a lollipop. He appeared two or three more times at different places until her confidence had grown and she believed that he really was her Uncle Raymond. She wanted to talk to her mother about him, but he had told her it should be their secret. She remembered the pleasure at having her very own secret, just like in one of her story books.

But now she began to doubt. She realised that Uncle Raymond was never present with either of her parents. What kind of Uncle does that? It began to dawn on her, sitting in the dank, smelly wooden box that Uncle Raymond was no Uncle at all. He was probably a wizard who was trying to make them disappear.

She held tightly to Adam and cried herself back to sleep.

*****

Inspector Dolmarsh stormed back into the Roberts’ lounge. He had a stern, flinty glare on his weather-beaten countenance. His manner was abrupt and he exuded the air of a man who had no time to waste.

“Mr and Mrs Roberts, I have been given some information by my deputy. A man has been picked up for questioning in relation to missing children. Apparently he was overheard talking in a pub about children and exportation. The landlord was made aware of it by the barmaid and he thankfully decided to contact the local police station. It is a thin lead at this stage, but I need Ms Wells down at the station for an identity parade.”

“God Almighty! Exportation? John, what’s going on? Please tell me someone. Where are my children?”

All John Roberts could do was to try console his wife. But he had no idea how.

*****

“Ms Wells, I would like you to concentrate. I want you to look at the six people in the line. Please do not speak to any of them. If you are sure that one of them is the person who called himself Uncle Raymond just touch him on the left shoulder and move on. We will be right behind you.”

Sandra Wells was sweating profusely as she began the long path in front of the six people. At that moment the few yards seemed to her as a long endless road. She had spotted the man instantly and needed great self-control in order to move slowly along the line. As she came face to face with the scarred unshaven face of ‘Uncle Raymond’ , wearing the same taupe overcoat as that day in the school, she held back a scream, which was bubbling inside and touched him softly but surely on the shoulder. She then held her breath until she was back out and into the interviewing room, before letting out a torrid mixture of sobs and expiration of air.

“Well done madam,” said Inspector Dolmarsh.

The interrogation lasted well into the following day. Dolmarsh became quite despondent after realising that ‘Uncle Raymond’, whose real name was Jeffery Hutchins, had little information which could help them find the children. The organisation for the abduction of children was extremely well established. Links in the chain were only fed the minimum of information, in order to protect the ring leaders.

The only information of any help in the investigation was that the children were passed onto a middle-aged heavily built man wearing white t-shirt, jeans and a blue baseball cap. Hutchins had been easily convinced to be as helpful as possible. Facing a prison term for child abduction and possibly other more serious crimes if anything tragic happened to the children, he was ready to do anything which might ease his sentence. A breakthrough came when he was shown facial pictures of known criminals. He recognised the face of a man named Jack Barnaby, recently released from prison after serving eight years for extortion.

Jack Barnaby’s home was raided two hours later. He was found drunk and in possession of a significant wad of banknotes. In his drunken state he was of no direct help except for the fact that he was found with a mobile phone. Tracking the position of the mobile over the previous 72 hours revealed that he was in Southampton docks three days before. A rapid check of ships leaving Southampton on that day turned up only three possibilities, one passenger liner and two cargo ships, one of which gave Dolmarsh a well-known nauseous feeling in his gut. So many years as a policeman had given him an instinct which was to be trusted.

*****

Emily tried to hold Adam’s head up enough to get him to drink some of the remaining water. He spluttered as he tried to keep his lips shut and shook his head wildly. Emily persisted, Adam must drink something.

“Are we dying Emmy?” Adam asked suddenly wide awake.

Emily hesitated. “Of course not. Don’t be so silly,” she responded, although she had been thinking along similar lines.

They were into their fourth day in the dark room. The loud noise of the big diesel engines was throbbing continually through the ship.  Both children had been violently sick and were weakening rapidly.

They both closed their eyes for the last time, huddled as closely together as they could. They lay there, oblivious to their predicament, for many more hours until unfamiliar noises entered their world.

Emily was suddenly startled by a loud banging on the roof, wrenching of wooden panels and the cracking sound of breaking timbers.  This was quickly followed by a blinding light. After so long in the darkened place she was unable to open her eyes due to the bright light. She heard someone say “Here are two more. One looks to be alive.”

She was being lifted by strong hands. She instinctively tried to hold on to Adam, afraid that if she let him go she would never see him again.

A reassuring voice said gently, “It’s all right now. You are safe. We will have you with your parents in no time. Here, take this. Your Mummy asked me to give it to you.”

Inspector Dolmarsh handed Emily a scruffy old teddy bear with one eye. She took him by one ear and nestled it under her chin, taking comfort from the knowledge that she would be safe. Adam was trying to wake up but his exhaustion was far too advanced for him to respond. He slumped into the arms of a policewoman, unaware of being carried out to the waiting helicopter.

*****

Dolmarsh breathed heavily but with a tremendous feeling of relief as he called John Roberts and his wife to let them know that their children were safe. They would be taken to the hospital in New York, as this was now the closest route. The ship had crossed more than halfway over the Atlantic Ocean, before being searched after a joint FBI and Scotland Yard collaborative effort. Arrangements were being made to fly the parents out to be with their children.

The policewoman carrying Adam turned to Inspector Dolmarsh before she walked away. “Emily and Adam were just two of the lucky ones. There are so many who never get to see their family again.”

Dolmarsh nodded in thoughtful agreement. Tomorrow would be another day.

*****

In the US, poverty, deprivation and exploitation draw thousands of its own children down into a dark underworld that offers few ways out. It is a world few Americans are aware of. But tens of thousands of American children are thought to be sexually exploited every year.

It’s believed that every night hundreds are sold for sex.

The FBI says child sex abuse is almost at an epidemic level, despite the agency rescuing 600 children last year.

“Trafficking” often conjures images of people from other countries being smuggled over land and across the sea and then forced to work against their will in foreign lands. People are trafficked into America from Mexico, Central and South America. But the vast majority of children bought and sold for sex every night in the United States are American kids.

Source. BBC website – 30th July 2015

Just Like Clockwork

truckGeorge tensed in deep concentration as he tried to turn the key of his clockwork truck. His fingers were barely strong enough to make one full turn. He gritted his teeth and pressed until his little fingers were turning white but still could not wind it up fully. He took hold of a pair of nutcrackers, which he used to get the extra leverage. Smiling confidently, he turned the key until the truck was fully wound. “Just one more turn,” he said to himself when suddenly there was a loud click, which he instinctively knew had broken something inside.  He let go of the nutcrackers and placed the truck down on the carpet, but there was no movement. It was dead, stuck. A tear ran down his cheek. Dad would be furious.

He had been given the truck only now that he had reached his sixth birthday. His father had owned it since his own childhood shortly after the Great War. His father, George’s grandfather had returned home from “The Kaiserschlacht” , after being shot through the shoulder. He had lain many months on the Somme and other makeshift hospitals, before finally being returned to England after the war ended.

He had returned a broken man, never able to work again or live meaningfully during the rest of his short life. George’s father, Edward, had only one memory of the war veteran. That was the sparkling new clockwork truck which he had managed to bring back with him on his final homecoming. Shortly afterwards Edward’s father had taken his own life with a German Luger, in a disused barn outside of their village of Tootle.

“I knew I should have waited until you were older,” shouted Edward at his son, cuffing him lightly around the ear as he spoke. “You need to treat such things more carefully in future.”

Edward promised to have a look at the clockwork truck at the weekend, however events took over and he never did get around to fixing his favourite childhood toy. It was left in the back of the toy cupboard with a number of other old broken bits and bobs, never to see the light of day again during his lifetime.

*****

George was an only child. During childhood he was known to be sulky, bad-tempered and quite timid. He would often overhear other adults, such as his Aunt Dolly, say that he was a difficult or problematic child, which probably didn’t help to improve either his sulkiness or his timidity.

As he grew up, things didn’t change for the better. He lost his mother to cancer during his teens, and spent a large part of his working life on North Sea oil rigs. He was a loner and the life suited him. He would spend his working hours engrossed in the maintenance of drills, pumps and other heavy machinery, and his free time gambling on various share investments. He had no time for social life or people in general.  His sulkiness evolved into surliness in adulthood, and his colleagues generally stayed clear of him.

One day he received a telegram to say that his father was taken ill and had been brought into hospital. It was 1979 and together with the bad weather conditions and transport strikes during the Winter of Discontent, it took him nearly two days to finally arrive at his father’s bedside. Edward had a severe heart attack while working in his garden. A neighbour had called the emergency number and met George on his arrival. The diagnosis was not good. Edward would need a triple heart bypass operation, a new procedure with significant risks to survival.

Edward died the next day on the operating table.

George had no real interest to sort out his father’s home and personal effects and couldn’t be bothered with organising estate agents to sell the house.  So, as quickly as he could after the funeral was over, he gave a local solicitor Power Of Attorney which empowered her to clear the house and sell off the estate. George wanted to have no more to do with it except pass the proceeds to his bank account, which was already quite considerable after years working on the oil rig and no vices to drain his funds. He also arranged for the solicitor to put any personal effects into storage.

And so, he went back to his mundane life on the oil rigs. He continued until 1999 when he reached normal retirement age, without wife, children or anyone he could call his friend. He remained a miserable, lonely old soul throughout his life. Behind the grim outward appearance though, was a very insecure and rather gentle person. He often pondered over the reason for living. He was well aware that he had never asked anyone for help but equally he realised more and more, that he had never done anything for anyone either. “What a poor specimen of the human race,” he would sometimes mutter to himself.

Upon retirement, when he had more time to think, he remembered the personal effects of his father’s which were in storage. He arranged for them to be delivered to his home in the next village. Three large cartons arrived. One was full of pictures and paperwork. Most of the photographs meant nothing to him. From the first carton, only a small handful of photographs remained after sorting. The rest went into the incinerator.

The second carton was full of books, some handed down from his grandfather. Many of these found a home in his bookcase. The last carton was full of toys. He remembered hardly any of them and quickly repacked the carton and hoisted it up into his loft. Some of the toys were from the Victorian era and he couldn’t bring himself to simply throw them out, but equally had no motivation to sell them.

“What a poor specimen of the human race”, he often heard himself saying and vowed to do something useful with his life before it was over. Time, however, was running out.

*****

On 28th January 2006 George Partridge died of a heart attack. He was 72 years old. He left no known family or friends; therefore a public welfare funeral was arranged by the local council. It was a lonely miserable funeral, reflecting George’s lonely miserable life.

The house was sold at auction. His estate became the property of the state as there was no last will and testament to be found. Despite his high earning career and inheritance of his own father’s estate some years before, there was hardly anything left after his death, apart from the house.

*****

Jim Rigby was a young twenty-something failed architecture student. He was almost the exact opposite personality to George. He was outgoing, always good natured and lived life with a permanent optimistic smile on his countenance. He was well liked and never short of friends, of both sexes.

His only real fault was his gullible generosity. He had been taken in more than once by a sob story. Once, while at university, he lent half of his university grant to a friend in trouble, only to find that he had disappeared the following day. He spent the rest of that semester working nights in a bar to make ends meet.

Now, finally at the age of twenty-eight, after dropping out of university and spending a couple of years odd-jobbing, he had landed a semi-skilled machinists job for a company making small components for aerospace. The pay was modest, but he could begin to think about a family and settling down.

He saw an advertisement for a small house which was to be sold by auction in the village of Tootle. He almost passed it by as he believed that such sales only went to organised developers, but something made him re-read that notice. He sat dreaming what it would be like to own his own house and raise a family. He thought about a simple and quiet life with two lovely children and beautiful loving wife.

After a long thoughtful sigh he decided to go to the auction, just to see if such a dream could be possible to come true. The house was in a terrible state. The plaster was hanging off many of the walls, a large crack showed some potential structural damage. The wiring needed replacing, as did much of the plumbing. The only good thing that could be said about the house was the price. It was inside Jim’s range. He made notes, estimating the work necessary to make the house liveable, and the cost and time involved. He decided that he could and should have a go. Such an opportunity may never repeat itself. He bid and got the house for a snip at forty-two thousand pounds.

 

*****

The next three years of Jim’s life consisted of work, work and more work. He lived with a motivation that he had not known before. This was his home, and a chance to fulfil his life’s dream.

He also met Jody, a beautiful ballet dancer. They were an instant match and were married at the same time that Jim finished the main work on his small house. There followed the traditional family events. After two years Jody became pregnant. She gave birth to two beautiful identical twin girls. They could not have had a happier time of their lives. By the time the girls were on their feet, Jody was again giving birth to a blue-eyed son.

Jim sat out in his small garden, sipping a glass of Rioja, marvelling at his luck and the fact that his life’s dream was finally coming true. “If only time could stand still for a while so that he could soak it up more,” he muttered to himself.

Jody began teaching ballet at their local dance school as soon as the children started school. Financially, life was hard, but that never detracted from their contentment and happiness.

That was until the crisis hit the country. As money became scarce, air travel declined and some of the major airlines began to cancel orders for new aircraft, the airframe suppliers found it hard to keep going. Jim’s company were soon laying off staff on a three-day week. Soon, redundancies were made. Jim survived the first round, but was less lucky in the second. He soon found himself out of work with three small children and very little to live on.

Jody didn’t fare any better. As hard times hit, families began to cut back on non-essentials, of which children’s dancing lessons were first in line. Jody was let go soon after Jim’s redundancy.

In between looking for a new job and queuing at the local job centre, Jim decided to work on his home to occupy his time, and also because he found it quite therapeutic as an abstraction to his money worries. He planned to replace the rain guttering at the rear of the house, as it was rusted through.

Working at a height of over six metres and using two ladders to step between, the inevitable happened. Jim landed on the concrete terrace with a thump. His back gave out a large CRACK and his legs buckled under him.

*****

Six months after the accident Jim could walk albeit only with the help of crutches. Mortgage payments had run into arrears and Jody knew that the inevitable must happen. They would need to sell the house.

Jim’s depression only made things worse. His dreams were being shattered, but in the hardest way possible. What had he done to deserve such a run of bad luck, he would often ask himself. Jody tried hard to console him and give him her strength but she was fighting a losing battle.

She had heard Jim mention an old carton of rubbish that was still in the attic, leftover from the previous owner. A quick perusal when they had bought the house showed just a load of old toys. Jody thought that there may be something for the children to occupy themselves during the long hot summer holidays, especially as they could not afford any other treats.

With great difficulty she managed to manoeuvre the carton down into the hallway and then through into the back garden. “Here children”, she said. “Have a look if you can find anything interesting in here to play with, but be very careful as some of them look a little rusty.”

Luke was first to the box, wrenched open the lid and drew out an old steam engine. Emma found a golliwog and asked her mother what it was. “Oh it is just a ..er….doll darling.”

Louise’s eyes lit up when she saw a dusty old truck that looked as though it was even older than Granma.

“Look Mummy. Look what I have found. It is a lorry.”

Luke wasn’t to be outdone and made a quick grab for it. “I opened the box therefore I get first choice Louise. Give it to me.”

Louise and Luke tugged and pulled, each straining with all of their might to get the better of the other, until Jody saw them. “STOP THAT AT ONCE,” she yelled.

They were each so shocked by their mother’s sudden and unusual outburst that they both let go at the same time.

The little clockwork truck fell to the floor with a thud. The jolt must have released something inside its clockwork engine, because it immediately began to roll along the floor towards the far wall.

All three children were so excited to see the hundred year old clockwork truck trundling along proudly. Eventually it stopped when it came head on with the wall. Jody had no idea about vintage toys but was shrewd enough to think that it may be worth a bob or two, something of which they were sorely in need at that moment.

She walked over and picked up the truck. It was still in excellent condition and she could vouch that it still worked perfectly. She inspected toy and found that the driver’s door opened on little pinned hinges. She pulled open the door and saw a tiny folded piece of paper inside.

Jody sat on the floor in front of her three completely engrossed children and slowly unfolded the paper. There was a message written in a very shaky handwriting as if written by a very old person.

Dear finder of this letter,

My name is George Partridge. I was born in 1934 and given this little truck by my father when I was six years old. I have lived a miserable life of meanness and selfishness, but wish to die knowing that I did something good, something that I can be proud of when going to my grave. I pray that you, the finder of this letter, are worthy of what you are about to receive. Please use it to help your family and others around you, to make their lives better and rich in generosity to their fellow man. I entrust you with my legacy to make this happen, where I failed.

In the front room at the north corner you will find a small black ‘X’ burned into the floor. There you will find everything.

George Partridge

*****

Jim and Jody sat in the corner on the front room. The children were all eyes and ears.

Jim slowly levered the carpet away from the corner of the floor. The ‘X’, less that the size of a penny, revealed itself immediately. There was no sign of a loose board or screws to indicate an opening. Jim sat for a second or two, thinking hard.

Jody suddenly noticed something. “Jim, look,” she blurted out. “Right in the centre of the ‘X’ is a tiny little hole.” It is barely visible.”

Jim took a small pointed screwdriver and pushed it into the hole. A coiled spring began whirring and cracking. They all jumped up in alarm. The floorboard began to shake and then move downwards before sliding across and in under its neighbour, leaving a gaping hole in the floor.

Jody raced for a torch, which she handed to Jim. They all peered down into the hole to see piles upon piles of bank notes. George Pritchard had placed his whole life’s savings and that of his father under the floor.

Jim gasped, took one glance at his radiant wife and said, “Jody, you know what this means?”

Jody smiled and thought for a few seconds before replying,” Yes Jim. It means that we are going to fulfil the dying wishes of a stranger called George Partridge.

My Dad

My Dad

Given what many would consider an unfortunate Christian name of Basil on 15th April 1925, my father was born into a large, poor family only 50 yards from the cliff tops in Lowestoft.  He was one of seven children, a family smitten by tragedy during his childhood.

The eldest, Horace, was killed in 1939 soon after the beginning of World War 2. Dad’s oldest sister, Edith died also when he was 14, from tuberculosis. She was his very close and favourite sister. Her death had a dramatic effect on his behaviour during that time.

Also, at the age of fourteen, his family was moved from his much-loved sea, inland to Nuneaton, where he still lives to this day.

It was hardly surprising that with a brother killed by the Germans and a sister dying of an illness, he became desperate as soon as he was of age, without the acceptance of his father, to return to the sea and seek retribution on those who had hurt his family. He joined the Royal Navy immediately after his seventeenth birthday in 1942.

Like me, my father always wore his heart on his sleeve. When he was angry you knew it, when he was emotional he cried. When he was happy he was the best company. He had a devilish, cheeky twinkle in his eye, which still remains to this day. Only two topics were never discussed, religion and the war. I never knew what my father did during the war, what action he saw, how he felt. All I ever got from him as a boy, when I asked such things, was a moment of quiet and “it’s best not to talk about the war son. It was all too horrible.” On the religion front, he never went to church, but I do remember catching him sometimes by his bed praying. He didn’t believe in the Church. He hated the hypocrisy but did have his own private God to talk to.

He grew up hard and tough in Lowestoft. Street gangs, fights, dirty backstreets. His early life left no room for weakness. However, even at a young age his affection towards birds and animals became apparent. He would often be taking lost kittens or birds with damaged wings home to nurse. When his father found out they would quickly go into a sack, which was then forced into a bucket of water. This was the world he grew up in.

The street urchin became a Chief Petty Officer by the time the war was over. A tall, upstanding and extremely handsome man on the lookout for a young wife as soon as he was demobbed in 1947 gave my mother no chance. They were married on 26th October 1948 in a double wedding with my Aunt, Mum’s elder sister. At that time double weddings were more common due to the shortage of funds and rations for such an event. All four are still alive today.

Dad found the next few years very hard. He was angry with the world. His educational years had been stolen from him. The conchies, as he called them, had all of the key jobs. All he wanted was to have a regular job, decent wage and bring up a family in a secure world, the land fit for heroes, as he was promised.

His first serious employment was with Courtaulds in Coventry. His boss was a ‘conchie’ and, in my father’s eyes, one of the worst kind. The little man enjoyed ordering the new employees around. Before the first week was through my father was out of work again. His boss had a broken nose. This kind of thing was happening all over Britain at this time. Dad’s hot temper had really landed him in trouble at last. No-one was going to employ a ‘fighter’ or troublemaker.

He applied for numerous other jobs, being rejected as soon as they asked the reason for leaving Courtaulds.  This was probably the lowest moment of his life. At this time his youngest sister was also taken with tuberculosis and fighting for her life. Her diagnosis did not hold much hope.

One day Dad went for an interview at the Morris car factory in Coventry. He had worked on gunner maintenance in the Navy and possessed some skills in mechanical working. The interviewer was an ex infantry sergeant and didn’t mince his words. As soon as my father explained his reason for leaving his last job the sergeant laughed. He told him that he could start next Monday, but if he laid a finger on him or any of the other staff he would get the biggest hiding of his life. They got on well together and became lifelong friends.

His sister June survived her illness after more than a year in convalescence. She is still alive today at the age of 88.

So, after the marriage my parents bought a semi-detached house in Nuneaton, a house they are still living in today. The number of times I heard “I will only leave this house feet first” during my life has probably influenced me more than I am conscious of. I place little such value on bricks and mortar and more on the people around me, who can move around.

Along came three sons over the following eight years. I am the youngest and the one most similar to our Dad. Because of this there was always a ‘connection’ between us. I spent most of my childhood in the garden with him, cleaning out the chickens, rabbits, goats, and ducks. You name it and I am sure that we kept some at one time or another.  Once, when I was around eight years old, I asked Dad if I could have one of the rabbits to keep as a pet.

“Yes you can,” he said. “But if you don’t look after it properly and feed him and regularly clean out the hutch, he will go in the pot.” This was how I acquired my pet rabbit, Tumbleweed, named after a western I saw one afternoon. Some weeks later we were sitting for our Sunday lunch eating when I asked Dad which rabbit this was. I knew them all even though we had around 40 or 50.

“I did warn you boy, if you didn’t take proper care we would have him for dinner. This is your Tumbleweed you are eating.”

Now, I can imagine that a modern day boy would be horribly traumatised by such an event, however I don’t remember even taking a break from my chewing. It was our world and I was used to it.

Dad brought up his three sons with a rod of iron. He didn’t know any other way. Boys (and wives) had to be kept in hand. That was the way of his world. He had an almost obsession for schoolwork and education. I later began to realise that this obsession came from his lack of education. He was an intelligent man and easily capable of a university education, but life had handed some bitter blows which meant his time had passed. He therefore wasn’t going to let that happen to his boys.

The eldest of us took the brunt of the strict discipline. He achieved his degree and went on to study for his PhD in chemistry. Son number two was not so academically minded and left school at 16 to begin an apprenticeship as a metallurgist. I saw the stark difference between an older brother at university with no money and years of study ahead of him, and a brother with money in his pocket, a Triumph Bonneville, and regular job. I chose for the latter, although never did get that ‘Bonny’

Leaving school caused big fights between my father and me. Academically I was strong enough to go to university, but I was a little wild, just as he was 30 years before. The house soon became too small for both of us. I left at the age of 19.

*******

I will now jump forty years to the present day.

Mum and Dad are still in the little semi-detached that they bought in 1948 for one thousand two hundred pounds. It seems that Dad’s ‘feet first’ promise will be fulfilled, hopefully not for a good while yet.

His memory has all but disappeared. It began two years ago, when I first noticed that he could not find his bank, even though we were only a hundred yards away from it. I had given him a lift into town as he needed money from the bank. We went in and he could no longer remember why we were there. This is one of those strange quirks of human nature. If someone middle-aged forgets or makes a silly error we all laugh. If a person over 75 or 80 does the same, we automatically begin to think that they are losing it. Consequently, regarding this day, I just pushed it out of my mind, although I was a little concerned.

My next visit was three months later. Father needed to go to the bank to collect some money for their general housekeeping. I persuaded him to let me look in the place where he always kept his war medals, a few sovereigns etc. He wasn’t keen, as this was his private place, where even my mother didn’t go. I assured him that I just thought that he may not need to go to the bank and may have forgotten that he put some money away. Very reluctantly we went to his toolbox, which was made by him as a schoolboy. Inside was over ten thousand pounds in twenty pound notes.

I lifted it out to show him. He had the padlock in his hand and switched his glances from me to the padlock, slowly realising that he was the only person with the key and it was he who had stashed the money away. I didn’t know what to say. It was there, clearly demonstrated in front of us both, that he was severely losing his memory.

He said, “You know what lad, I put this money here didn’t I?”

I nodded. “I’m Sorry”, I replied. It was a solemn moment.

His face suddenly lit up and for a second I thought that it was some kind of April Fool joke. He burst out laughing and said, “You know what else? I am really in the shit aren’t I?” He found the whole thing quite amusing. We both laughed together like two little boys. What else is there to do in a situation like that?

An hour later he asked me if I would take him to the bank to get some money for the housekeeping. Since then I take care of their financial affairs.

This was two years ago. Dad is still at home but his memory has deteriorated much worse. It is tragic, but at the same time not so. When I visit him, he is very happy. I can visit every day for a week and each day is a new surprise as he has forgotten that I was there the day before. His strict and slightly aggressive manner has been replaced by a loving, caring gentle man, who only wants the best for everyone.

My eldest brother now is in an advanced state of Parkinson’s disease. He can no longer drive. Therefore in December I collected him to visit our mother for her 90th birthday. When my father saw the condition of his eldest son he asked what was wrong with him. My brother explained that he is very ill with this disease and can no longer do many things that he used to.

My father’s eyes filled with tears and the old Dad came out strong and clear. “Why don’t you come back home to me, where I can look after you, my boy?” He meant it too.

When I am there I try to explain to him that his memory hasn’t actually gone. I tell him that all that is gone is his ability to find it easily. The analogy I used was that each little piece of memory is in a drawer. It is all still there, but he no longer knows which drawer to open to get at it.

To demonstrate this we play a sort of game. I tell him that I will open a drawer just a little and see if he can peek inside. I must stress that it is only his memory that is failing, not his intellect. Proper conversation is still very much possible. I mention World War 2, or his late sister Edith, or his three sons. This triggers some memories and further probing helps him to remember some of the smallest details of his life. The pleasure that this provides him, to reconnect these memories, is immense.

It is at times like these that I regret living in a foreign country. I could give up this life for a few years to take care of my parents. Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t.  I have a wife who also deserves by devoted attention. This is not an easy call, and one which continually causes loss of sleep.

Why am I writing this personal account? I wish I knew. Is it some kind of personal selfish indulgence of mine? Is it morally correct to write such a piece without the knowledge of the people described? Is it conceited to do it anyway? I would like to think and sincerely hope, that it is simply to share my Dad with you all, a person that will not be here much longer and someone that I love and am extremely proud of.

When we look at old people we should never judge them. Often they appear to have out-of-date values and can sound racist or cynical. They may not trust anyone, even their close family. We must never judge them. Who are we to know what they have lived through? Who are we to have the slightest idea of what it must have been like to be torn from your roots as a child, thrust into a killing zone as a teenager, returning to a country ‘fit for heroes’, where the ex-squaddie was not really welcome.

As I look into the still-sparkling eyes of my Dad, eyes that have seen so much sadness and happiness, eyes that have laughed and cried so many times, I now see tiredness and a willingness to say goodnight and God bless to us all.

If you have a family member in a similar situation to my Dad, give them a big hug from me.