18/07/2013 12:52




The terrace in Southampton Road is long demolished and buried beneath a by-pass that made shopping in the town very much safer. That bypass still takes a huge volume of traffic headed for Bournemouth and the seaside.

Born, at home not in the Fordingbridge Cottage-Hospital- my mother being in her mid forties with a history of problematic births including the death of one, I survived a strangle moment in the birth canal and lived there until I reached fourteen.

They said, unkindly I think, of ‘late’ pregnancies like mine that they split fifty-fifty between producing idiots or geniuses.

Working class families did not want either because both sorts would be burdensome. They needed a hard-working, income bringing offspring to reward all the necessary nourishing.

A new mouth meant sacrifices.

When I went to grammar school, aged eleven, I was the child with the second oldest father; old parents who never visited the place. The oldest father there was in his eighties: his son was a short lad, a sprightly wicket-keeper at cricket, a friend of mine on schooldays only.


Behind the simple terrace was a dirt and cinders yard and a range of brick buildings- the shed come coal-shed and the outside lavatory. There was no inside lavatory, no bathroom. A large galvanised bath, hung against the red brick of the shed wall, was the focus of the families cleansing rituals.

Behind the brick outbuildings lay the longest imaginable allotment garden, south-west facing and terminating at a line of conifers that made a boundary fence for a small farm.

I loved it.

As a toddler I would sit in the long biscuit grass of summer with my back to the evergreen trees. It would give me a view with a massive perspective- home, seemingly small and faraway, creating an horizon; between it and me the orderly stretch of chicken huts and wire runs, rows of all the staple vegetables and there, where it all butted against the privy, a width of  bright colour where ma grew flowers.

Here, in the tall grass, there was silence for me, safety and secrecy; unimaginable now.


In our yard, outside the lean-to kitchen was another smaller flower border. Ma always grew morning-glories, heaven’s trumpet vine, up the rainwater down pipes there. And that space was otherwise filled with scented flowers- wall-flowers, night-scented stock and white mignonette and there were scented leaved pelargoniums in terracotta pots.

It was nothing posh, just a method of filtering sweet freshness through the dark interior of home.


My back bedroom window opened up to capture these keynotes of spring and summer. It was a window with a very deep window-ledge where I could sit, the curtains drawn behind me, effectively disappeared, breathing in the perfume of the night-scented stock, after lights out, as I wondered about the stars and the universe, how far life spread. Easy to see then- the pollution negligible; London very distant in the grip of post war growth, a second wave of industrial revolution and smog; grounded clouds grabbing handfuls of smoke with sticky mits acting as magnets for the burned coal particles, the fumes of combustion engines, cigarettes and very stressed drains. I’d read it was deadly.


No-one had diagnosed my asthma then and there was no allergy testing. Rheumatic Fever had plagued me and robbed my lungs of juvenile perfection.

Unknown to anyone I was at high risk from all that grass and the not uncommon sensation of drowning in air.

Today the family of grasses are among my favourite plants, along with ivies and buddleias; all the wonders of these enemies to my well-being I have always kept close.

How alien to earth can it really get- allergic to the whole planet? Not much.

Ginger, pale and freckled skin- I do enjoy the sun but it has never been a friend to me, a life-giver yes but not a friend.

My brother has survived skin cancer.

Warm dry climates suit me fine- in them I can wear hats without looking weird.


Ever since I was sixteen I’ve been medicated for asthma and allergies. No great details here but in ‘Intensive Carelessness’, the companion volume to this.

A cough was just a cough then, even if it was virtually constant. My childhood was a litany of foul-smelling and tasting spoons full of what they called medicine, expectorants, that’s the word. That a Calamine lotion for sunburn.

Mine was a Vics chest-rub infancy. Menthol. Mint. Clothes smelling of mothballs, a peculiar sour lavender, were laundered and tidied away along with bleached white bedding alive with ozone.


Dust. Mankind manufactures it. Skin cells and other detritus. Boot soles full of mud and seeds- reproduction and all the conditions necessary for it, nature’s top priority. A buddleia needs little more than hoover dust and a crack in the cement at the top of a shop-front.

We used to need the barest minimum- shelter and a source of water.

Back then, 1950’s, you went shopping and brought things home wrapped in paper.

Silk stockings were the thing but nylons were creeping in and bad plastic goods- dripping with modernity and post-war design.

Not so long ago I purchased an art-deco radio in an antiques fair- petroleum oil made malleable. Desirable plastic.


The smell of shit was way across the yard, always mingling with the reek of white distemper and Izal loo-rolls; or, when the hard Izal disinfected loo roll had run out, the distinct scent of damp newsprint. The Daily Mirror. And if you left the privy door ajar aromas of coal, paraffin, cans of paint, wood and wood oil would infiltrate along with the general dark of the cavernous shed where chickens were frequently beheaded and hung up to bleed out.

The porcelain pan was white, cold, bleached with a wooden seat. As a child it was too big for my bum and my feet could not touch the floor.

Dad would smoke in there, Woodbines or roll-ups. You never forget the odour of that mix- fag-ash and alpha-male piss.


He scared me- that was the done thing then and, frightened as I often was, I could not resist testing my boundaries and his temper. It was a great game- usually ending with my running away as he chased me, me screaming ‘Help. There’s a madman after me.’ He believed the devil was in me and that I did magic or satanic things. He’d wave a rake or garden fork at me and look like something mythical and monstrous.

Ma would always rescue me from him.

I remember thinking was this just a game- was it, or was it something deeper, something deep enough to be above mentioning? They’d keep me guessing about that- always keeping me guessing about how much of an irritant I actually was, whether or not I really fitted in.


Their first born child was a grown woman who never left me in any doubt that I was an irritant, a leech, and that I didn’t fit in. She was a greedy, paranoid and poisonous, occasional visitor that always brought grief with her; grief for my ma, grief for me and, by contrast, a deliberate and cruel adoration of my father. For that he allowed her to be manipulative and dividing. She was given free rein to exercise her true nature by her ‘hero’.

It always made my ma chew on a wasp and spit lemon juice.


Once in awhile their undisguised rancour for each other would boil over into physical rage. Fisticuffs. It was no way for grown women to behave in front of a small boy- brawling with each other, tearing each other’s hair out. They would audibly wish each other dead. Then my sister would leave- her vicious haughty head held high, always. Always. Always the victor, triumphant in her own mind, always right, incapable of swallowing any notion of wrongdoing, a bigot on the rise; a racist and a homophobic American Republican hypocrite in the making. A proper jumped up snooty bitch with a will of iron that she had bended to wilfully do her bidding in all weathers and circumstances. She calls herself a Christian and I am not the least surprised.


Then my ma would always set to spring cleaning the house in silence. I would have to not be in the way and be my own company, my own entertainment.

Not a one off experience but an oft repeated one. How can that not be formative in an unconstructive way? Today, without question, any social worker would refer to it as abuse.

We are mollycoddled now, encouraged to invent some medical diagnosis or other in order to excuse misbehaviours.


My sister had her own line in gardens around a detached bungalow- hedges that never dare be scraggy, lawns without daisies, rustic wood supports for precious roses. There had to be roses. Always.

I call that fascist gardening- lace-trimmed rubber gloves and poisonous pest spray. You just can’t keep a control freak down.
Her husband attempted to cultivate mushrooms and failed miserably. Growing mushrooms for financial gain was such a pretentious challenge.

My mother uttered ‘Oh dear.’

Ma had legendary green thumbs- her cuttings always rooted. She was good with dianthus pippings.


My sister’s plot of soil was a place where weeds never dare grow; deadheading as she worked her way through her Doris Day repertoire, uprooting whatever irritated her model life. Lipstick horticulture.

What a notable stinging nettle I must have been to her.


It happens that I still am as a matter of fact, still the mad hornet in her head, the permed head that daily wishes me dead. It is a breathtaking insanity. Untreated, hidden, never diagnosed.

No way to occupy your eighties blessed with wealth and grandsons who would find it totally impossible to be homosexual, quite out of the question. According to their grandmother there are no gays in the whole of Michigan State.

Excuse me- pass that nugget of knowledge past me one more time.

I am still alive though, happily gay and very happily not living in Michigan, and living a life that’s way more alive than her dying breed could ever dream of.


My dad loved her, loved this dreadful creature openly, in all the ways that he could never love me, he probably loved her far more than he did my mother. After my birth I guess all further sexual congress terminated.

Something had emotionally retarded him, disabled his affections.

Wartime in the service of the country, down the coal mines of Lancashire, training conscientious objectors to armed conflict, in the skills of hewing coal- two days travel from home.

Whatever did he get up to? There was the spare time.

What did life get up to with him?

And I really tried so hard to grab some shard of attention from him.

When he was sleeping I would sometimes gently stroke his eyebrows against the grain. Yes.

How very irritating of me.


I actually wanted to run my fingers through his pubic hair. He was having none of it. He was having none of a four to five year old son targeting him with sexual intent out of desperation for some sign of love from him.

There’s an admission. The earliest sexual rejection. The challenge of some surrogate success at it fixed for the future.

It has always made me question in child sexual abuse cases why it is always assumed that the adult is the one to have made the first move.

Below the age of criminal responsibility every child is automatically given the benefit of the doubt. None of us like the concept of infantile protagonists because we never allow ourselves to give up the guilt trip we bear for our own loss of innocence, probably not a good experience, swift, dirty; even for those irresponsible mothers who dress their daughters up as crack whores.

Brain dead indignation when such a honey trap gets raped. I don’t buy it. It is shot through with delusion.

There are women capable of hiring out their kids to paedophiles. Fact. There are known hourly rates.

My upbringing and subsequent life experience, has taught me- for good or for ill, that the special status traditionally accorded to women is very transparent foolhardiness; they are no more deserving of that than the rest of us. No blanket favours. Treat every case as it comes.

We all of us bleed individually.

Do not jump to hasty or ubiquitous conclusions- I have managed to build constructive lasting relationships with highly intuitive women, so long as they can be trusted.

And there’s the rub.

What controls our mechanisms of trust- is it intuition or a lifetime’s repeat incidence of conditioning experiences and stand-offs with the gentle sex baring her she-bear teeth?


That aeons old war between the sexes? It’s a thing we should not be proud of.

Just shut the fuck up and evolve to the point where the person who you are is way more important than your gender.

Ideological genderism will be the death of us. I believe it.


Dad would dig long rows of trenches to put his seed potatoes in and I would watch him, watching how his ingrained method of doing this would slowly and habitually unfold. He would dig strictly parallel trenches using dibber sticks and miles of twine that smelled of preservative, always carefully spading the spare earth to his left side. And he would do this robotically for four long trenches. Then he would get his large stack of seed potatoes from the boxes in the dark where they’d sprouted a little. He’d leave three shoots on each spudling. Almost always he would undertake this annual process in complete silence, being almost reverential or lost in a world of his own.

At times like that I became perfectly invisible to him- a child always in his blind spot, a very bright son cloaked in curiosity.


Ma grew flowers and baked and cleaned and did the laundry. She did a good batch of potato cakes. She did good batches of most things

Ma and me used to dig up fresh potatoes together- a shiny fork, a crumbling soil from which tumbled new nuggets of gold that smelled of death as their hold onto the old nest broke. Put midday heat into the mix- it becomes a heady thing. Let the ground fruits tumble into a galvanised bucket- I loved the process.


Once I found a form of wild datura flowering on the allotment- way too exotic and out of place, an alien species. I feared its poison. We even had the local constable take a look at it- just in case.

A seed shot out in bird poo, something digested from a visit to a patio adjacent to a victorian conservatory somewhere in the forest. Most likely a big house.

Recalling reading when very young Wells’ War Of The Worlds.

Later- much later, my fascination with the Quatermass series on black and white TV.


Eventually dad had his finished trenches and a pile of his chitted seed potatoes waited in a wooden wheelbarrow anticipating being hugged in the dark by friable soil. Dad’s habit was to place each seed potato equi-distant for the four lengths of burial ditches. I followed him closely from behind. He would place a spud, measure the space and move on. Every spud he placed I secretly removed and put on the top of the adjacent dirt. We did this for all four trenches.

Finally dad stood up to assess his neat work and to ready himself for shovelling the earth back in the gaping hollows.

He was first confused by what was obviously wrong, head scratching, tutting.

Putting two and together he turned towards me.

I was the culprit. It was me- the innocent irritant.

I ran for my life screaming- “Help! There’s a mad man chasing me.”


I did something similar with the tulips- regimented bulbs planted by dad for cutting for the house.

Mum needing a fresh bunch was the thought that had gripped me.

I harvested them all but then had grievous second thoughts. I had cleared the whole bed of colour. It was a ghastly sight.

In a vain attempt to put things right I planted every bloom back in the soil- no roots of course, just bare stalks.

Betraying me, within ten minutes, they all began to droop.

I remember owning up to the offense then keeping quiet for hours. It was a sunday and the house was full- everyone  caught the dismal mood and went about their business in silence. Those deliberate silences always were a powerful punishment.

I’d have preferred my father to smack my arse- it would have been an unusual intimacy for me.


I was ten when my friend Janet took me into the largest of the hen-houses sited there. In the dim lit heat of that wooden shack, she showed me the secret in her green knickers and I was not at all impressed. Suffering a profound disappointment, I refused to let her see mine. That nothingness was not impressive. Her ‘noo-noo’ was not the holy grail. She was livid. She burst into tears. She was dangerous.

I got the blame for her tear-stained face. She never ever visited again. So much for friendship.

I dimly remember making my choice, my choice; there was no measure of intended rejection in it. But, of course, sweet Janet believed she had been rejected, her magic and mystery had failed to perform in the way that she’d become used to. How did that make her behave- like a very spoiled brat.

Note to self: not doing what a girl wants you to will make her feel rejected; rejected girls throw their toys out of the pram and render you invisible, effectively they murder you and never hang for it. How can they be trusted.

My grown-up sister, she was a girl and, yes, there was no trusting her.

I trusted my mother though and that confused things.

I trusted her until she took a knife to me when I was fifteen. Irritated by my need for friends outside the family and my ambition, she suddenly attacked me with a kitchen knife in plain-sight of my bland dad who never moved a muscle; he just sat at the dining table reading his Daily Mirror. Not so much as a flinch from him.

I will revisit it. It always repeat visits me.


My ma always poured boiling water on ants nests in the summer.

My da decapitated chickens on an oak-chopping block.

I once found myself incinerating ants with sunshine and a magnifying glass. Bored with that, I took a tack-hammer to them. It made me feel strangely sick.

I could never stamp on spiders.

I would never be the sort of boy to pull the wings off flies.


And that long allotment garden was the venue for many an innocent bromance. We’d dig hollows and roof them with canvass and sticks. We’d make camp; set fires; boil water and make foul tea. We’d whittle branches and make bows and arrows.

None of those boys and me ever shared the grail secret of the ants in our pants. We never dared compare things.

No mutual masturbation, not there, not then, years before the building of the town lido. But we did experience the pure joy of uncluttered friendship, something utterly constructive that avidly fed our hungry imaginations.

It was a spam time, way before the troublesome intrigue wrought by the arrival of pubic hair. Girls, a virtually alien species, hardly registered on our radar.


Forward Janet, sexually precocious, driven by something quite beyond me, had effectively entrapped me. She had been demanding, domineering. A child is more than capable of sexually abusing another child, a submissive child.

Knowing what you want, being capable of making your own choice, is not symptomatic of submission.

She hated me for that.

Some years later, any sight of her older brother would make me swoon.

I once saw him stark naked in the lido changing room.

As far as I was concerned that was us done, an item fully consummated. Well, in my wet dreams.