Chapter One

The Formative Years

My first memory was of my pregnant mum wielding a paintbrush decorating the living room.  I was 3 and we had just moved into the house that was to be my home, on and off for the next 27 years.

My brother Robert was born a couple of months later and we were a happy little family.  My Mum and Dad were really sociable, they had lots of friends and held dinner parties on a regular basis.  I remember sneaking out of bed to sit on the stairs and watch the people laughing and chatting, until I got spotted and was told to get back in bed!

We had about 4 blissful years that I can remember until the shit hit the fan.  My first bad memory is my Mum throwing herself around the bathroom crying and threatening to kill herself, my dad trying to calm her down and my Nan and Grandad, Dad’s parents sitting downstairs looking as stern as hell.  All in all, a pretty horrific experience for a 7-year-old that was used to a blissful life.

It turned out that my Mum had been having an affair with a man called Syd, she had met him before she met my dad.  When my mum and Syd met, my Mum had just come out of an abusive short marriage.  My mum and Syd both worked at the UK Atomic Energy Authority in Warrington, where they met.  They dated for about a year until my Mum found out that he had a wife and 3 small boys.  Upon discovering his secret, my mum ended the relationship and went on to meet my dad. 

Unfortunately, my Mum and Syd bumped into each other a number of years after my brother and I were born.  They both realised that the feelings they had for each other all that time ago were still there.  My Mum promised to leave my Dad and Syd promised to leave his wife so they could both be together.

My Mum told my Dad that she no longer loved him and she had met someone else.  My Dad begged her to have the fling, get it out of her system and he would wait for her, God he was a lovely man.  This situation is what led to the stern grandparents obviously trying to talk some sense into my Mum, however, she had made up her mind and trying to convince her otherwise prompted the emotional meltdown I mentioned earlier.  Despite loving my Mum enormously and appreciating all her positive traits, she could be incredibly selfish!  I see some of that in myself, but, I am aware of it so I try hard to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Anyway, that was that, I remember clinging to my Dad’s legs as he left our home, as a resident for the last time and move into a shitty 2-bedroom flat about a 15-minute drive away.  We stayed with Dad every other weekend and he tried so hard to make our time together as nice as possible.  We baked, we went shopping, we went to the local museum, we visited our grandparents and cousins but we were all sad.  Dad especially, his heart and soul had been ripped out of him and although he was never professionally diagnosed, to my knowledge anyway, I believe from hearing other people’s stories of that time, he had a nervous breakdown.  He was never the same again.

I found some letters recently that Dad had written to Mum a month before they got married.  Dad had to go away for work on the 29th August 1968, according to the first letter this was 30 days before the wedding and 20 days before he would be home again.  He wrote again on the 31st Aug, 2nd Sept, 5th Sept, 10th Sept and finally on the 13th of September before travelling home on the 17th of September.  It broke my heart reading those letters and maybe I shouldn’t have read them but it really did make me realise that the man I knew growing up was a hollow shell of the man my Mum married.  It was clear from the letters not only how much my Dad adored her but also he thought that when they got married it was going to be forever!  I truly believe that he was so badly damaged by the break-up that his self-preservation mechanism kicked in and he could not risk loving anyone like that ever again.  I knew my Dad loved me and my Bro, but I also realised that it was an arms-length love.  He just did what he needed to do to survive and keep those around him as happy as he could without giving too much emotionally.

The excuse of a man Syd that my Mum left my wonderful, amazing Dad for never did leave his wife, however, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

My Dad had been taking me for horse riding lessons from about the age of 6, a girl I was friendly with at school had a pony so I was obsessed too.  When my parents divorced my Mum got me a pony, she had arranged for him to be kept at my friend’s house where they had a few stables and fields.  In hindsight, it was clearly a way of distracting me from the situation, and it worked to some extent.  I spent every waking hour I wasn’t at school at the stables and I loved it.  It must have been a real struggle for my mum financially but at the time I didn’t realise it.  She was so hard up some months that she couldn’t heat the house, we used to huddle around a single portable gas fire in the living room after waking up to ice on the insides of the windows, but I was able to keep my pony until I outgrew him at about age 13.

My dad met a woman called Joyce at a singles night in a local village very soon after the breakup and ended up re-marrying very quickly.  We met Joyce on several occasions before they married and she was nice to us.  Once they were married though things changed very quickly and I found out years later that my Dad realised he had made a mistake within days of marrying Joyce, being the man he was, he had made his bed so had to lie in it!  He deserved so much better.

My brother and I were not invited to the wedding, in fact, we didn’t even know they were getting married.  My dad just came to collect us for our usual weekend and told us he was married.  I think I actually asked him who he married.  We had only met Joyce a few times and barely knew her.  I was shocked!

We only ever stayed overnight at their house once, this was the first Christmas they were married.  We were never invited to stay again.  We never went on holiday with them and our weekends turned into a Saturday daytime and an hour on a Thursday evening.   

This is how it continued for years.