Thursday, 6 July 2017

Upheaval - new beginnings.

We moved as a family, for the first time when I was four years old,  from a small family house in Blackpool to a great rambling public house in St Helens. At that age I didn't really have friends just family. Two older brothers, an older sister, Mum and Dad and Nana, my mother's mother who lived with us. Dad loved Blackpool but with my unexpected arrival, he went in search of a better life and a bigger income. It was an easy move for me but more difficult for the others.  For him it was a new challenge and as you can see from the photo - he was a great gardening enthusiast.

My eldest brother was settled into Blackpool Grammar School and swam for county and my sister was a budding ballerina. She had to leave her beloved ballet mistress, Elsie Bradley, foregoing her summer appearances at the Tower Children's Ballet and the annual pantomime. For them it must have been a tremendous upheaval. I remember that she started at a new ballet school but she just didn't settle. I wouldn't go along because she didn't like it and it would be another three years before I started dancing. Miss Bradley had told Mum that she wanted me as soon as I started infant school.  I loved to sing and dance. Mum said to me earlier today that I should have had a singing career. Next time around perhaps?

Move upheaval would follow: Two more moves, one to Liverpool and then back to a village near Blackpool, before I reached eleven. For the others, the last move would mean leaving home and working in different cities. For me, it was fine - I would be starting my first year of at senior school in Blackpool  and living in beautiful countryside.  I was the most fortunate because the moves didn't have any detrimental effect. With each one life just got better. I have been writing a series of short stories for a book about those formative years and today, instead of  a poem, I am going to share one of them with you. The book is called, Three Dog Tails and Other Stories.

It is often said by psychologists and others in the know that our earliest memories are not our own. Many, we are led to believe, are simply recollections of stories related to us later by family, when we are older and can understand.  I believe that some of my own vivid memories were assimilated in this way.  I recall seeing black and white photographs and sitting with my older sister and brothers, or Mum and Dad while they exchanged tales about, ‘the day that was taken’ or ‘what that person did’ and ‘why was he wearing that outfit’ in that particular image. These stories, although not my own memories, became embedded as mine.  Most of my own early recollections seem to be strong impressions of feelings or colours, as if the reasons for those have gone but the strong sense of their importance existed even before I was old enough to put them into words.

I remember being in a darkened room, wearing white cotton gloves, while people came in and out and often told me "not to scratch".  I don’t remember the days leading up to German measles but my lasting impression of being really poorly for the first time in my young life remains deeply imprinted.  In the same way, a snapshot of my family on the bows of a river cruiser in Shrewsbury, taken when I was three, is in black and white, yet I clearly remember that the striped sun suit I am wearing was turquoise and white with a bright yellow, lemon-shaped pocket on one side and a vivid orange-shaped one on the other.  Feelings stand out too.  There was a lift in the hotel with a latticed metal grill that had to be closed once you were inside.  This was dangerous and exciting.  I was aware of this because my ten year old brother Lindsay told me so and of course his sole purpose in life was to protect me by the use of fear:  a role bestowed on him by my parents to make him more responsible and one he embraced with the enthusiasm of a developing Attilla the Hun.
The best memory I have of what was probably only a two or three day break for my parents, was of a delightful boxer dog, belonging to their great friends Charles and Keeta who owned the hotel.  So many years have passed that I can’t even remember the dog’s name and I certainly have no recollection of whether it was a girl or boy dog.   What seems to have stuck is that the dog was big and brown and soft and loved to play.  It seems that the meeting with the boxer had an effect on all of us simultaneously and soon after our return to the Carr Mill Hotel in St Helen’s, a new edition was introduced to our already sizeable throng.  She was a German Shepherd–cross pup, who soon became my eldest brother Howard’s shadow.  He named her Tara.  Howard needed her more than the rest of us.

My family had recently made a life-changing move from a small house in Blackpool, to a huge rambling pub thirty miles inland.  It stood like an enormous stately home on one of the busiest main roads in the St Helen's area, ‘The East Lancs’.  I remember sitting in the back of Dad’s new, green, Mini-van on the day of the move.  I suppose it didn’t matter to me. Home was going with me, along with Nana’s blue, chatter-box,  budgerigar,  Billy who sat on her lap with his cage covered by a cloth for the whole journey.  Of course the move would affect the budgie.  He knew his name and address and would never be able to change his repertoire. For the others, there were mixed feelings of sad endings and exciting new adventures.  New town, new schools, new home and for the first time ever, no lifelong friends.
Howard and his loyal shadow explored everywhere together and for a fourteen year old boy who loved sport and the great outdoors, she was the perfect companion.  A blur of energy indoors, tearing about, bounding over furniture , racing and skidding on the polished floors,  (funny I can still smell that deep red linoleum floor polish), her exuberance often got the best of Tara and her back legs would race, overtaking the ones at the front. She would skid with her tail sweeping like a duster under the chairs and tables in the empty bar.  This daily event soon became known as her ‘mad half hour’.  Every day, she greeted him from school, tail wagging with delight, ready for the run along-side his racing bike as he delivered evening newspapers for pocket money.

A short way along the East Lancs Road, on the opposite side of the four lane dual carriageway stood Carr Mill Dam. It was a large fresh water pool in an expanse of grass, surrounded by tall trees.  There was a bright red and white striped helter-skelter and on warmer weekends, it became a place of pilgrimage for families with young children.  To boy and dog, it was a playground too.  He would walk her there on the lead, settle down with his rod and line and eat a sandwich lunch washed down with a bottle of cream soda or dandelion and burdock.   She would trot about, meeting people and often have a swim, especially if Howard had brought along his trunks. 
A natural entertainer and people magnet, Tara introduced my brother to interesting people.  He soon had pals to talk to, boys from school who recognised him.  In no time, he was part of a group of lads enjoying the long, balmy, summer days that our parents always tell us are the best days of our lives. Like a guardian angel, Tara protected Howard and gave him the confidence to get through.  My father’s plan, if it had been a plan, worked seamlessly.
There is a gap in my memory here, mainly due to the German measles.  You see, apart from telling me not to scratch and keeping the room dark, it seems my family took great pains to keep me in the dark too. When I was better and allowed out of my sick room for the first time, there were customers in the bar, so Dad was busy and Mum was up to her eyes preparing food in the kitchen.  Howard, Lesley and ‘The Hun’ were all at school.  I know that I was looking for Tara around the back garden for a while but she wasn’t there. The chickens were there.  I accounted for Milly, Molly, Tilly, Dolly and Lily.  Josephine, the big, noisy, white goose was there honking and hissing at me as usual and with no Tara to back me up, I couldn’t collect the big, warm, brown eggs from underneath the soft, warm, brown chickens, so I wandered back to the kitchen.

I don’t remember who told me what had happened.  I think that when you are so little, your mind finds a way to forget very sad things.  Even now, I know that Howard would have tears in his eyes if he were to tell you himself.  He loved her so very much.  I expect it was Dad who explained to me.  I know that he and Mum told the story many times to many people.  You see although my brother loved Tara and he trained her very well, dogs, just like people, get excited and sometimes they are careless.
So it was that on an ordinary day, the two companions were walking home from the dam, when Tara became too boisterous and slipped her lead. Howard tried frantically to grab her by the scruff but she was too fast, darting playfully in front of him, barking and bounding about. Before he could stop her, Tara ran into the path of a car on the dual carriageway.  He stood helpless as the screeching brakes were followed by a dull thud and a desperate yelp from his beloved dog.  The driver got out to help and seeing the blood soaked black and tan fur, went back to the car.  He produced an old sweater from the boot and brought it to my brother who wrapped her up to stem the flow.
What happened next is the stuff of Robinson family legend and will be passed down earnestly to my own and all my sibling’s children until the end of time or the end of the world, whichever is timespan is longer. Howard had to decide:  Go back to get Dad to drive them to the vet, or walk.  Tara was a pretty big dog by now and heavy but home was on the opposite side and in the wrong direction.  He weighed he odds, (maths was his best subject), then lifted her slumped, unconscious body into his arms and set off. 
It was nearly three miles to St Helen’s town centre but he walked every step alone, never stopping to rest.  Somewhere along the way, unnoticed, Tara died quietly in her master’s arms. The vet telephoned my father when they arrived and he hurried to the surgery. He told Dad how overwhelmed he felt seeing my brother walk through the door, covered in blood and asking for his help to save his dog, exhausted eyes pleading as tears burned dusty tracks down his cheeks.
From his war time days in India, my father nurtured a love for the tales of Rudyard Kipling and would often quote from his poetry to minister wisdom to his brood.   Whenever I heard him retell the story of Howard’s gallant walk, to customers or friends, the pride would swell his chest and love mist his eyes.  Now as a mother myself, I understand, that on that saddest of days, the last line of the poem ‘If’ became a statement of Dad’s love for his first born son. That day, for my father, my brother became a man.     
Thanks for reading - hope to see you all at Lancashire Dead Good Poets' open mic on Thursday.  Adele


Steve Rowland said...

Execellent, Adele. Truly moving. Thank you for sharing.