So, here I was, a couple of years old…in a shabby mobile home, plagued by strange men in large black shoes, and a grandmother who blew so much smoke into my face that I thought it was always foggy in Devon! Plus, I was having the aforementioned nightmares that haunted not only my sleep, but many of my waking hours too.
But there was one glorious moment at that time, that I’ve never forgotten. Just outside of the kitchen window, was a tree, all bare as I remember…and sitting in the branches that stretched out toward the kitchen window, a Robin, red-breasted and all. And it was singing! My grandmother, who was looking after me, put down her cigarettes and lifted me on to the counter next to the sink. She took some bread from the bread bin and carefully opened the window. She whispered to me to hold out my hand, and in it, she placed some crumbs. As I leaned forward, she held my waist, stopping me from falling from the window.
Having retreated a couple of branches back, the Robin came closer again, and again, started singing. As I dropped my hand slightly, the Robin simply hopped off the branch onto my hand, and slowly began eating the bread. I was fascinated by this, seeing another form of life, and up so close. Of course, my joy was tempered with fear too! But, with my grandmother’s reassurance, I kept very still as the Robin ate. This was something we did a few times.
Around this time, in England, was a guy called “Captain Birdseye” who sang songs about fish fingers in television commercials. The ads were happy affairs with children singing and the Captain making those noises that sounded like “shiver me timbers, yo-ho-ho…and yarrrr”!!
So, typical of the limited menu we have as children…there were baked beans in a saucepan, and a frying pan full of fish fingers on the stove. My mother juggled the pans as I sat behind her on the worktop.
Now, I’m not sure what I did, what I said…or what led to the drama that was about to unfold. As a child, I rarely said or did anything…nothing that you’d expect of a small child anyway! I was quiet, very quiet…strangely quiet as it goes! So, it was unlikely that I’d been leading the Robin in a rousing chorus of “She ain’t heavy….she’s my mother…” or been singing an annoying ad about fish fingers! Whatever it was, it must have been serious.
Now, how do I best explain this? You see, there was a noise, and not just any noise. It was a kind of primal scream…like some mythical creature had just spilled his last pint of lager. I can best compare it to the noise that wrestlers make…just at the point that they attempt to shift 300lbs from there chins to above their heads…realising that it’s just too heavy to do so! You can get a similar noise out of a guy who’s been caught chatting up your girlfriend, simply by asserting huge pressure to his genitals….with your right boot!
So, there’s this scream, my mother turns, the Robin flies away, Captain Birdseye drops his grog, my grandmother lights 12 more cigarettes and my grandfather drops his Oui-ja board! And I, ever so slightly terrified, look up to see my mother’s eyes…like balls of fire…the sound still exiting her mouth…which rounded off with what I’m sure was the word “you”! So transfixed am I by the eyes, and trying to comprehend this new language…that I fail to see as she brings down the hot frying pan, straight on to my right leg, pressing all too firmly.
Thus, it was now my turn to scream…which I did….but it was more of a gurgle, given the spontaneous outpouring of tears and snot, which as a child, I excelled at! My hands immediately made for the spot, burnt skin sticking to my fingers. My mother screamed again, slapping my arms away (which also hurt), before hurling me under the kitchen tap.
Quite why she didn’t just go for the salt and vinegar, and really make it painful…was another little mystery, and so, I can only assume that she was saving those for the fish fingers…!