Autobiography Early Years

Husband and Father

Husband and Father drawing by Catherine PainDespite the discords in my parents’ marriage they both benefited in their own way from each other. Mother was one of those women who love her children most when they are babies. My sister was born when I was nearly three and my brother when I was four. Mother had what she wanted in a home of her own. She didn’t have to worry about getting a job any more. She loved being at home with small children. When we got older and were all at school she missed our company. When I was at grammar school in my early ‘teens Mother would gladly write a note to say I was ill and must stay at home. She tempted Mary and me by offering us a visit to the local cinema in the afternoon. She told us not to tell Father. It didn’t work often because I enjoyed most of my lessons and didn’t t want to miss them. I knew that if I could get to university with a scholarship I could escape from my family and lead a very much better life of my own. By that time everything changed. In many ways I was a child no longer. I knew I had a good mind and I wanted to make full use of it. My teenage years were without doubt the unhappiest days of my life. No-one’s fault, we were just the people we were. What kept me going was my love of reading, learning and classical music.

As soon as I could walk properly, Father took me out on buses to see the sights of London. I vividly remember Buckingham Palace, Hampstead Heath, The Monument and the Zoo. Those visits and the plane trees clinched for me forever a love for London. These jaunts went on until I was seven and we moved to the country for the sake of my brother’s health.

Father didn’t talk to me much but I knew he liked my company. I never complained when my little legs got tired. When I am enjoying myself I can put up with tiredness. In my long life I have maintained that attitude, probably because I have had very few friends: my choice. I like doing things by myself. Father never asked me questions. I believe he liked listening to my enthusiastic reactions to all the new things I saw. He had a family to come home to. He was glad to be free of ‘digs’ . Mother was a good cook and he liked being looked after.

He was not demonstrative, as Mother was. I cannot remember him showing me affection. Probably, with his family history he did not know how to do it. He never criticised his wife in front of us children. Mother often complained to us about him, but never when he was present.

He is the one who bought me books. The first one was “Alice in Wonderland”. It quite overwhelmed me. I loved every bit of it. What a marvelous first book to read. It is perfect for a child who is trying to understand the world through Lewis Carroll’s fantasy and humour. Later he read most of Dickens to us. I have always loved this author and understood him from a wider perspective at different stages as I grew older.

He then purchased an encyclopaedia, The Wonderland of Knowledge, twelve books embossed in dark blue. Much later when I ran my own bookshop I saw many sets of this book, most of them had never been opened. He bought them very cheaply from his newspaper. Mary and I gathered far more from them than what we learned at school, especially ancient history and myths and legends. I also learned to knit from it and began a hobby that lasted for several decades.

Civil servants were not supposed to have strong ideas, especially in politics. He was told not to talk about such matters if he wanted to keep his job. He wisely agreed. This was in the ‘thirties when many people were out of work. He retained his left-wing beliefs but only talked about them to me at home when I was in my last class at junior school. Every Sunday dinner-time he and I would have an emotional argument about politics. This was in 1939 when we were on the brink of war.

By that time my relationship with Dad was not happy. The more I learned to think for myself the more I challenged his beliefs. “Don’t contradict me!” he said. “I am your father!”. I told him that didn’t mean he was always right. He would get red in the face with rage, but I wasn’t frightened of him. It was clear to me that he was very prejudiced. I think he knew it too. When he talked about his hard times in the trenches he never told us one single interesting story. He expaciated on how lucky we were to have all the good things he never had. One day I said to him “All the best soldiers died”. He was silent. But what could an adult expect from a ten-year-old child? It is up to parents to make allowances for children. Not the other way round.