As a child growing up, the late fifties and sixties were amazing. All around our little world was changing, from buildings being demolished to make way for high-rise flats, to the fashion and even the food. Our parents had followed in their parent’s footsteps, but that was definitely not the case for this generation. They were young and going places that their parents could have only dreamt of. I remember the day that my oldest brother came home and announced that he was going to France on a camping holiday.
“Be very careful son, my dad went to France and he said that it was an extremely dangerous place,” father warned.
“Dad, your dad went to France to fight in the war. I’m going on holiday; and if you hadn’t noticed, the war is over!”
It turned out that father was right after all. My brother and his friends weren’t in France more than a day when their push bikes, tents, camping equipment and clothing were stolen. Luckily they could club together to make ends meet, sleeping on the beach didn’t seem to faze them.
Mother couldn’t get father to holiday abroad for love nor money.
“Please Walter, everyone is going on package holidays these days. All our pals from the Labour club are going.”
“More bloody fool them, you’ll not get me there eating all of that foreign muck!”
We holidayed in South Devon; we went three times a year by train, and always stayed in the same digs. (Bed and Breakfast)
Because father worked as a driver for British Rail, we were all given free passes to travel up to sixteen times a year. We could even go on the rail ferries for free, and did one year. We went over to Jersey, but that’s a story for another time.
Those train journeys were notoriously stressful, even for me as a small child that shouldn’t know the meaning of the word ‘stress’. Father would get so worked up, ‘Keep hold of her hand Vera, mind that she doesn’t go too close to the edge of the platform Vera, lift her onto the train Vera, don’t let her go near the train doors Vera,’ and on and on it went.
“I’ve seen people loose their heads leaning out of train windows,” he said every train journey we went on. He never had, but some of his friends had, and they relayed the gory details back to him.
On one of those notorious holidays, mother had cooked us a beautiful packed lunch. If it had been up to her, we would have all dined in the Pullman restaurant. Father wouldn’t allow it though.
“Not bloody likely, have you seen the prices they charge?” he would say if she asked.
So a packed lunch it was for us. Mother had cooked a chicken and lavishly buttered thick crusty bread to go with it.
“Carve the bird Walter,” mother said passing him the beautifully cooked chicken.
As he did we all looked on with anticipation, drooling at the delicious smells coming from the roast bird. Chicken was still seen as a luxury food item, even though they had just started to introduce battery farming.
Then all of a sudden father stopped carving, and in a stern voice asked, “What the hell is this?”
We all leaned forward as father extracted the plastic bag full of giblets from up the chicken’s bum. He was furious; shouting at mother he jumped up, opened the compartment window and flung the bird out of it. He then slammed the window shut so that the smoke and bits of hot ash from the engine didn’t come into the carriage. Looking back, I wonder what the other travellers must have thought when they saw a fully cooked chicken flying past their train window.
“Well, we will have to go to the restaurant car now, won’t we?” mother said.
“You go with the kids, I’m not going!” father snapped. “I’ll eat the bread and butter.”
“Please yourself,” mother replied, already halfway out of the carriage.
The reality of it was that father didn’t want his work mates to think that he was lording it up, thinking that he was behaving above his station. Class was a very different thing in those days; mother and father were from a working class background, and they were firmly entrenched there. Just because mother had made a lot of money, and fine dining wouldn’t be a financial problem, they didn’t want to loose their roots. Although mother was a little easier on such matters than father.
Now don’t get me wrong, my father was a wonderful loving father and a devoted husband. Mother and I could have him eating out of the palm of our hands, but he was a rather large bag of hot air at times. Mother took no notice of him when he went off on one of his rants, I on the other hand took it far more seriously and often would burst into floods of tears. The mere thought of confrontation would send me into the screaming hebe-geebies, and still does to this day. Although I rather think that I take after father when it comes to being a bag of wind. ‘All mouth and trousers’, mother would call people like us, and to this day I haven’t the faintest idea what that means. (Answers on a postcard please.)
That wasn’t my first unpleasant experience with my father and a chicken. I’d been bragging that I was a good reader and that my school teachers were very, very, VERY, pleased with me. So when I brought a reading book home from school, father said that he would help me to read it. Not the most patient of men and never attempting to teach me anything in the past, it didn’t look good.
He sat me on his knee, looked at the book in my hand and read the title page.
‘The Tale Of Henrietta The Hen’ he read. “Page one.”
I started well until it came to the hen, ‘Henritta’ I read.
“No dear, Henrietta, that word is Henrietta, not Henritta.”
“Henrietta,” I repeated.
And away we went again, reading the story with a modicum of accuracy, daddy seemed suitably impressed, until once again it came to the hen’s name.
And “Henritta,” I read.
“No, not Henritta, Henrietta,” father said with a hint of sharpness to his voice. “Now carry on, and remember it’s HENRIETTA!”
Trembling, I carried on with the story of the pesky hen and her scabby friends. By now I hated that hen with a passion.
As I read, I could see the hen’s name in the next sentence. “Daddy, I don’t want to read any more, I’m tired,” I said, trying to climb down from his knee.
“We only have one more page to read after this, come on, let’s finish the book. You’re doing so well.”
That was all I needed to finish the book; a little bit of reassurance and a kind word. So off I went, and “Henritta.”
The name had only just left my lips when daddy snatched the book from me, flung it to the floor, shouting Henrietta, Henrietta, Henri-bloody-etta!”
After about 30 seconds of me balling my eyes out, daddy took me round to the corner shop and bought me the largest box of Dairy Milk chocolates.
That was the end of my father trying to educate me. A few years later when I nattered and got some chickens, guess what I named the first of them – Henrietta of course; or was it Henritta??
We did laugh about it, but I have to say that I could never read another thing out loud, and when it came to my turn to read at school, I would always make some excuse to get out of it. I struggled for years and always used to ask if D.H would read my stories out loud. But recently I took it before God and asked Him to help me with it. Let’s just say that I’m on another journey.
Those harsh words have stayed with me all of my life, and they didn’t just stay with me I owned them, called them my own. It’s strange how I’d listen to the negative and believe it, yet I’ve had lots of compliments over the years and I’ve doubted every one of them. God has taken those negative words that I and others have spoken over my life and turned them into positive thoughts and actions.
The word of God says:
I can do all things in Christ Jesus.
I am a righteous child of God.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I am the daughter of the most high God.
I am blessed beyond the curse.
If you’d like to talk or pray about any of the above, drop me a line. I’m no expert, but maybe we can help each other.