When The Boxes Open.

Black-boxes

He’s seven and his young brain soaks up everything like a heavy duty kitchen cloth.
He sees things. Things he doesn’t understand. Things that go into little boxes and are tucked away in dark places inside his head.
Like his hero, his dad, getting ready to go out on a Saturday night dressed in his new made to measure suit and large black Crombie overcoat that he wears with pride. Yet Mum always gets her clothes from the local charity shop.
Like his hero’s temper that flares up when Mum asks what time he’ll be back so that she can have his supper ready. And the quickness of his hand when she says it once too often.
Like the way his hero buys him a packet of crisps and tells him to sit in the corner and be quiet while he attends to business.
Like the money his hero slips into the hand of a skinny man with tattooed arms who winks and gives him small plastic bags in return.
Like the way his hero punches a man in the face and kicks him when he’s on the floor for saying the words “ I don’t have the money tonight.”
Like his hero kissing a drunken woman outside the pub at the end of the night while Mum stays indoors with the two girls. Girls his hero calls “the bitches offspring.”
He’s now twenty four, married with a young son and the boxes have come out of the darkness and are slowly beginning to open.

The Old Couple From The Banjo.

Exhibition2-Banjo-on-the-Becontree-Estate-c.-1932-BD353

Ted and Florence Carter lived down the Banjo. Yep, that’s where they lived. Down the Banjo. Now some of you won’t know what a banjo is. Let me explain.

When this particular council estate was being built back in the twenties, the architects decided to be a bit clever. Street designs included cul-de-sacs that were built in a particular shape. A long open walkway with a grass verge on either side suddenly opened up into a large circle of houses. They called it a Banjo.

Ted and Florrie considered themselves lucky. They’d moved from a one bedroom flat in Bermondsey, South London to a three bedroom council house in the leafy suburbs of Dagenham. Here they survived the war, raised their five children, danced their way through the fifties, saw all of their children married in the sixties, cried with grief when they buried one of their sons, but cried with joy as they saw eleven grandchildren born in the seventies. It was now 1984.

They’d both been retired for a number of years and had settled into a daily routine. Everyone knew them as “that nice old couple who live down the banjo.”

Ted’s day was always the same. He was an early riser. At six thirty he was up, washed and shaved and taking Florrie up a nice cup of tea. Then he would walk the short distance to the paper shop where he would buy the Daily Mirror and the Sporting Life. Back indoors Florrie would serve up his breakfast of eggs and bacon at seven thirty which was washed down with two big mugs of tea. Florrie made the best tea in Dagenham. After which he would start to pick out his horses. One pound a day was his maximum bet. Yet he would pick out as many as eight horses and do them in doubles and trebles all for a few pence each. Then he’d tackle the crossword. He set himself a target of finishing it before ten o’clock. He rarely did. At ten thirty he changed into a suit with shirt and tie. He liked to look smart. He left the house and made his way to the betting shop to put on his bets. By midday he was walking through the doors of his local, The Fanshawe Tavern to have his “constitution.” His “constitution” was to stay there for two hours and have five or six pints of bitter. He met his pals here, played crib or dominoes and generally had a laugh. He was always indoors by three at the very latest. Time for a quick nap till four thirty and ready for Florrie’s delicious dinner at half past five. The old Victorian piano in the front room had also survived the decades just as they had and usually took a bashing from Ted at around seven for an hour. They’d both sit down to watch a bit of television for a while in the evening and then off to bed at ten.

Florrie’s day was slightly different.

Ted brought her up a cup of tea at six thirty. She would have preferred another hour’s sleep but when Ted was up everyone else had to be awake as well. She was also convinced that the tea was to make sure she was awake and ready to start cooking his fry up. He insisted on having his breakfast on the table at seven thirty, so she started cooking his bacon and eggs at seven fifteen. The look on his face was pure evil if god- forbid she put the plate in front of him at seven thirty five! She watched as he gambled away seven pounds a week. Money that could be better spent on house-keeping. Ted was in charge of their combined pensions and gave her what he thought she could manage the household bills with. The rest he spent on himself. Either gambling or alcohol. Besides, he never won. If he did he kept it quiet, she never saw any of his winnings. Her favourite time was when he left the house at eleven and didn’t return until three. She would sit and have tea and biscuits and watch a bit of daytime television. But not for long. There was a bed to make, suits to press, shirts to iron, washing up to do, hoover and duster to put round and of course she had to start cooking the evening meal. Ted liked the house to be spotless. Even though he’d never picked up a duster in his life. According to him that was her job. He also liked a proper cooked meal every night. Meat, potatoes, veg, gravy and a nice pudding to follow. So most afternoons were spent baking meat pies, meat puddings, jam sponges or ginger cakes. When Ted came home at three, usually a bit worse for wear, he would sit down in the armchair and fall asleep. He would then snore for the next two hours. After that the piano would feel the full force of his massive fingers as he bashed away at various notes to try to get a tune out of the old Joanna. He would sit at the dining room table at five twenty five, knife and fork in hand waiting impatiently to be fed. She would put the dinner in front of him and he would start to eat. He never said thank you. He turned on the television after dinner and HE would choose what they watched until they went to bed. She was never allowed to stay up after ten o’clock.

It was Wednesday and it was after four. Ted was late home from the pub. She was in the middle of making bread pudding in the kitchen and worrying just how drunk Ted might be when he eventually got home. What mood would he be in? Would he raise his hands or simply fall asleep in the chair? She heard a key unlock the front door.

She left the kitchen and went into the hallway. Standing there were all her grown up children. Kay, the eldest spoke quietly.

“Mum, come and sit down, we’ve got something to tell you.”

Kay took her mums hand and led her into the front room. She sat her down in Ted’s armchair. They all took their places on the sofa. Kay knelt down beside the armchair.

“Mum, it’s about dad. He felt a bit unwell in the pub today and they called for an ambulance. One of the other regulars called me at home. He had a heart attack mum. He’s gone. Dad’s gone.”

Kay squeezed her mums hand and started to cry. Florrie put her head in her hands and started to rock back and forth.

“It’s okay mum, we’re all here for you. It’s going to be okay.”

Florrie took her hands away from her face. She was smiling. She started to laugh. Uncontrollably.

Kay looked at the others who were all bemused by their mum’s reaction.

“It’s okay, someone go and put the kettle on. It’s shock. Mum’s just in shock!”

Ginny. ( Part 5)

green eyes

I’m one of three kids. I have two sisters. One older and one younger. Barbara is the eldest and now lives in Australia with her husband Ray. She’d always hated Living in London and couldn’t wait to get away. Lesley is the youngest and lives in Nottingham with her partner Steve. They moved there from Walthamstow eight ago when Steve’s company relocated. No way was I going to tell them about Bobby Nolan. Barbara was like me and I was confident she wouldn’t be too fazed about Dad’s affair, but Lesley was a hot head. She’d go ballistic. I didn’t want it to taint their memory of dad.

I sat on the bed staring at the address on the piece of paper. 32a Belmont Road, Chelmsford. Underneath, Jack had written “above the betting shop”. Below that was the name of Bobby’s supervisor. Stephen Wilkes.

It suddenly occurred to me that I’d forgotten to ask Ginny one very important question. I took my mobile off the bedroom table and scrolled down to find Ginny’s home number. I dialled. She answered.

“2474.”

I smiled. Just like Dad she answered her phone by repeating the last four digits of her own number.

“Hi Ginny, it’s Tommy. You okay?”

I could hear the excitement in her voice.

“I’m fine thank you Tommy. Are you calling about Bobby? Is there any news?”

“Not yet Ginny. It’ll take a few days before I get anything. But there was something I forgot to ask you yesterday. Did Bobby know that my dad had another family?”

She didn’t pause or take time to think she answered quickly.

“Your dad told him when he was twenty three. He sat him down and told him everything. “

I was taken aback.

“Everything?”

Once again she didn’t take any time to think it through.

“Yes, all about your mum and you and the two girls. Everything.”

Now I was really intrigued.

“And…how did he take it?”

I could hear her voice begin to tremble.

“Badly Tommy. He was never the same after that day. He changed. He was always angry. Started hanging around with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble. He moved out a few months later.”

“Where did he go?”

“He moved in with one of his friends.  Only came back to see me about once a month. If your dad was here he wouldn’t stay long. Broke your dads heart it did. I can’t remember the amount of times he said he was sorry but Bobby wouldn’t listen. Three years later Bobby went to prison and your dad had his heart attack.”

I had dates and times flashing through my mind. Dad would have told Bobby the truth in 2003 that was the same year that he turned seventy. That was also the year that he started taking antidepressants. Mum confided in me one day, she said that he seemed “down” all the time. She made him go to the doctors and they gave him some pills. I always thought it was because of his age. Three score and ten was always thought to be the families allotted time, anything more was a bonus. Now I realised it was because of Bobby Nolan. I had a few more questions that needed answers.

“Ginny, help me with something. How did dad keep it a secret from Bobby for so long? How on earth did he explain the fact that he was never there?”

I heard her sigh.

“We told Bobby that your dad was away a lot because of his long distance driving. Which was true. We saw him twice a week usually, sometimes more if he could get away. But…he would phone Bobby every night to say goodnight before he went to bed. He never missed a day.”

I started to imagine just how much stress dad must have been under. No wonder his heart gave out.  I heard Sandra call my name. It was time to end the conversation with Ginny.

“Thanks Ginny. It’s a shame it couldn’t have ended better. I’ll give you another call when I get more information. Take care.”

We said our goodbyes and I put the phone down. I opened the windows in the spare bedroom and breathed in some fresh crisp air. I was beginning to change my opinion of Bobby Nolan. Here was a kid who’d suddenly discovered his whole life was a lie. His parents weren’t the people he thought they were and his dad was most definitely someone else. No wonder he was angry. I thought about how I might have reacted in the same circumstances. Confused? Angry? Violent? Probably all three.

One thing was for sure. I had to meet up with Bobby Nolan and have a conversation.

 

Ginny. ( Part 4)

green eyes

It was after seven and the Scotch was still coming fast and furious. I’d been up on stage twice, once for “That’s Life” and once for “Summer Wind”. The only two songs from my repertoire that I knew word for word and confident I wouldn’t embarass myself half way through by fluffing my lines. I was deep in conversation with an old lady who had once been a “Tiller Girl” at the London Palladium when I noticed Uncle Ted calling me over. I made my excuses to the old girl and pushed through the crowded bar to where Ted was standing with Jack Simpson.

“Good news Tommy. Jack’s got what you wanted.”

Slasher handed me the piece of paper that I’d given him earlier that day.

“I’ve written his address on the back. He was released on licence in 2013. Served seven out of ten. Normal conditions apply. He has to be a good boy and not get into any trouble. He can’t leave the country. He has to look for work but it has to be approved by his supervisor. I’ve written down the name of his supervisor as well in case you need anything from him.”

I didn’t look at the paper, just put it in my pocket.

“Thanks Jack. I really appreciate this. What do I owe you?”

I said the words but already knew the answer. He just looked at me.

“Don’t be a cunt.”

Thankfully he smiled as he said it. But then the smile disappeared and he tilted his head to one side.

“Just one thing Tommy. This kid Nolan did armed robbery. Amateur stuff, Building Society in Walthamstow. No way were they going to get more than a couple of grand between the four of them. But here’s the thing. The old bill take a dim view of armed robbery, so does the legal system. Usual sentence is fifteen to twenty. Three of them got fifteen, but your man only got ten. I wonder why that was?”

I thought I knew the answer.

“Replica guns? No one got hurt?”

Jack shook his head.

“Replicas? Don’t know where you got that from. These were the real thing. Proper shotguns. All sawn off.  Nolan also beat up a guy who was in the queue just waiting to be served. No, they should have ALL got the fifteen. Minimum. And Nolan maybe a bit more.”

I didn’t know what to say. Ginny was either lying or she didn’t know the truth. I wasn’t sure what to believe.  But I did know what Jack was inferring. Bobby Nolan might be a grass. Before I could say anything Uncle Ted butted in.

“Come on you two. Let’s have a drink. Whatever this Bobby Nolan is or isn’t his mum should be able to see him before she pops her clogs.”

The three of us headed for the bar just as the “Tiller Girl” started singing “Show me the way to go home.” I was amazed that someone of her age could still kick her legs above her head!

Uncle Ted poured me into a cab around nine.  I was completely wasted.  He, on the other hand seemed as sober as a judge. True to form as I went to pay the driver he told me that “The old boy” had already covered it.

Sandra wasn’t too pleased when I stumbled through the door. She took one look at me and said “You’re a mess” then headed up the stairs to bed. The spare room seemed like the best place to go in the circumstances. Once on the bed I must have passed out.

I woke up and for a few seconds didn’t know where I was. My head was pounding and my mouth and throat were so dry I thought I must have eaten a bag of sawdust during the night. I was also fully clothed. Then it started to come back. Ginny Nolan, Uncle Ted, Bobby Nolan and Slasher. It had been one hell of a day. I glanced at my watch. It was ten past eight. I needed to apologise to Sandra.

Even though I brushed my teeth twice and rinsed with strong mouth wash, I could still taste last night’s Whisky. I showered, splashed on some aftershave and got dressed. Sandra was in the kitchen when I went downstairs. She gave me one of her looks.

“I can smell toothpaste, mouthwash, soap and aftershave.”

She paused for a second and before I could say anything she continued.

“Oh yeh. And Whisky!”

But, she smiled and I instantly knew she was okay. I put on my sad face.

“Sorry babe. It was the most bizarre day. I’ve got so much to tell you.”

She pulled out a chair from under the kitchen table.

“Sit down. I’ll make coffee and then you can tell me all about it.”

I loved this lady. She was my second wife and the most understanding woman I’d ever met. We had two great kids all grown up and married now, so it was just the two of us rattling around in our big old house.

The coffee tasted good. I gulped it down and then told Sandra about my visit to the cemetery, my meeting with Ginny Nolan and then the revelation about Dads affair and then the bombshell. I had a step brother. I think she was even more shocked than me.

“Bloody hell Tommy, who is he, what’s his name, where does he live, are you going to see him?”

It was at this point that I decided to change certain details. Don’t ask me why, because I can’t explain it. I just left out the bit about Bobby Nolan going to prison and being a total scumbag.

“Ginny hasn’t seen him for a few years. They had some kind of row and he moved away. But she did have his National Insurance number and date of birth, so I went to see Uncle Ted. If anyone could track him down I knew he could.”

Sandra grinned.

“Now I know why you came home so plastered. Once you get with your Uncle Ted it all goes wrong. How is he?”

I pictured him in my mind. Immaculate in his suit, Whisky in his hand and singing “My Way” at the top of his voice.

“He was in great form. Still looks ten years younger than his age. I gave him the details and he said he’d get back to me in a few days.”

Once again for some reason I can’t explain I withheld the truth. She poured me another coffee.

“That man is a force of nature.”

I nodded. I couldn’t disagree with her analysis. Then I remembered the piece of paper that Jack had given me. I hadn’t looked at it yet to find out where Bobby Nolan was living. I drank my coffee then kissed her on the cheek.

“I’ll go and clean up the spare room. It’s a mess and to be honest I think I need to open the windows and let some fresh air in.”

We both laughed and I went back upstairs to look for my prize. I found it and looked at the address.

Bobby Nolan was living thirty miles away in Chelmsford in Essex.