Things weren’t always easy for my mum when I was growing up. Leaving her husband when I was 7, she was left to be the only breadwinner in the house, which in truth merely took over from her previous role as “Main” breadwinner.
Dad was, by character, a lazy bastard. I have very few memories of the man that I last saw when I was about 9, and last had any regular kind of contact with when I was 7, which is when mum kicked him out. The few memories I do have of the man are generally ones of him being angry at something, normally me or mum (and the ringing shouts of “Son, don’t EVER get married or you might end up with someone like HER.”, said more for the benefit of a loud dig at mum more than anything, though I dare say mum would have responded in suitable fashion. The other memories all have him sitting down somewhere. Never active. There are no memories of the man who (in biological terms alone) calls himself my father actually doing something, or being active. In contrast, the memories I have of my mum at the same age are a constant whirlwind of activity. Walking me the mile or so to school, childminding other kids to bring in money, or changing bed sheets. She was always changing bedsheets. It’s strange to reflect on it now. The house I grew up in from the ages of 6 months to 9 years was in Northdown Road in Welling, and I remember the layout well, including details such as the spikes of paint that hung from the ceiling of the hallway that I used to pick off when no one was looking. I don’t know what the name of this kind of decoration would be, but I’m almost certain it was an artistic thing. I also remember a gap in the wall on the stairs, which you could put your hand into and touch the unseen side of the downstairs bathroom. For the life of me though I can’t remember where the washing machine was. It must have been on the go practically all of the time, such was regularity of bedsheet changes in the house, thanks to the constant coming and going of lodgers.
It was a brave move by mum to not only continue taking in strangers when my dad had gone, but to actively step up a gear and let all of the rooms out. We had some fantastic people stay with us. People who have shaped my life and my views. And we had some weird ones too, like the foreign girl who stayed for a night and left behind a bin full of used tampons.
When I was around 8 or 9 we had a middle aged couple come to stay. John and Sam were from Derby and had recently taken over the running of the East Wickham and Welling Social Club which was about a mile from our house. For some reason they had been appointed landlords of this drinking mans club but weren’t afforded the luxury of living above the club. I dare say that there was a good reason for this, but that escapes me now, or possibly was something I never knew being so young.
John was the man who taught me how to wire a plug. Both he and his wife seemed to take a shine to me, and I guess I can understand why. I was a shy and retiring kid whose mum and dad had not long split up. I had no influence in my life other than my mum at the time, and though she brought me up well, there were things she couldn’t teach me. I can’t remember how the plug thing came about (apart from something needing a plug, obviously), but I was never one to volunteer to try new things, so I can only imagine being cajoled into it somehow.
“You’re the man of the house now, you need to learn things like how to change a plug!” That’s how I remember being shown, at least. And learn I did. Changing a plug is easy, even when it comes to stripping down the wires and from that day on I changed all plugs that needed changing.
It was John and Sam who gave me my first job too. After asking my mum if I could get a paper round to earn more pocket money, and being told no (several times) as a paper round was dangerous as the risk of getting snatched was high (a mothers logic there), mum asked John and Sam if there was any work that I could do in the club, happy that if there was at least I’d be inside. They replied that I could come in on a Saturday and Sunday morning and do the bottling up - replacing the bottles that had been sold from the night before with bottles from out the back.
It was an easy job and used to take about an hour each morning. Every Sunday when I finished I got given £10 for my efforts - a huge amount for a 9 year old boy. I worked there every weekend until my early teens, leaving only after a change of landlord happened and the landlord said he couldn’t keep me on. Even then mum wasn’t keen for me to do a paper round and instead spoke to an old friend of hers who managed the Fanny On The Hill pub which was located about half a mile further down the road (the pub had T-Shirts made up which read “I’ve just had a quick one in the fanny” which was the funniest thing ever to a 13 year old boy).
I eventually stopped working there when I was 16 and got a full time job. I’ve never been afraid of hard work, which is something instilled in me by mum, and though I am prone to being a lazy bastard at times, when I do work I tend to work hard. Charisma is at the age now that I was when I started work. Part of me would love to see her get a job somewhere, and earn some pocket money for herself. And part of me thinks that she shouldn’t have to, or that it may be dangerous. It would definitely be a lesson in life though.