Despite having an alcoholic Father and a neurotic Mother (the second probably consequent on the first), I think of my childhood as pretty idyllic. Perhaps this should tell me something. Whatever we are dealt, as children, we cope with somehow, and often don't see what others might see as terrible. I can remember that we (Sister and I) never felt able to invite friends round to our house because we never knew what might be happening. Our Father might be roaring drunk, our Mother might be having an attack of the vapours (and those attacks were pretty spectacular I can tell you), they might be in the middle of a fight, or they might simply not be there. It sounds rather odd, to say the least, but we obviously thought of it as normal. Sister and I were expected to clean the house and get our own food from a fairly tender age, and to complain was unheard of. Nor would we ever have dared to contradict or argue with our parents. Yet we had wonderful family holidays, as I recall, travelling to the Isle of Wight every year in Dad's little Morris 8 (all packed in with Paddy the cocker spaniel) to spend two weeks in a caravan which wasn't much bigger than the car. I remember card games in the evenings, with the rain drumming on the caravan roof, making us feel safe and secure. On hot sunny days we all decamped to the beach with huge picnics, meeting up with other families (and dogs), and spending hours swimming and boating. Brown's Golf Pitch and Putt in Sandown was a great favourite where we had hours of fun and always finished up with coffee and wonderful doughnuts. (I think Brown's is still there.) And at the end of two weeks we would pack up, say goodbye to the other regular families, shed a few tears and promise to meet up again the following year. We were all brown, happy and relaxed, as I remember it, and the weather was nearly always glorious for that last week in August and the first in September. But it probably took a huge effort for my parents to get along during the holidays - for the sake of the "children" - and they certainly didn't take the truce home with them. They were never violent to us, though they often fought very real and physical battles between themselves. And though they were kind, after a fashion, I can't remember my Mother ever saying she loved me. Sister can't either. Our (sad) conclusion is that she was envious of our young, independent lives, and of our relative freedom. She had to leave school at 14 and go into service. We were both lucky enough to get into the Grammar School, and then high-tailed it up to London to work in "glamorous" jobs, earning what she considered a fortune, and having a lot of fun. Poor Mum, she never had that freedom or any real independence. As a result, she couldn't wait for us to leave home and get on with our lives. So it's strange that when I look back I can see golden days in our garden, recall lots of laughter at old family jokes and remember the many "Aunties" and "Uncles" who were real friends and who created a loving and lively social structure. We felt totally secure and loved, even though no-one actually said it. It's that thing about Love being a "Doing Word" - it's not what you say, it's what you do that counts. I have no doubt that our parents loved us in their own way, which was not demonstrative. And they were always concerned not to "spoil" us. Not that there was much spoiling or indulgence in Post War Britain.
We bathed once a week in the upstairs bathroom, with an oil stove lit for warmth. All the other days we had a "wash down" at the sink. On washing days in Winter I helped my Mother put the freezing sheets through the mangle before hanging them on the line. There was no heating in our house, apart from the fire downstairs, and we always woke up to frosty patterns inside the windows in Winter. We ate whatever we were given (simply because there wasn't a choice) and no-one ever left any of their food. Summers were one long sunny day in my mind - and Winters were spent cosily round the fire listening to the radio. In the school holidays Sister and I would disappear for the day with a bottle of Lemonade and a couple of sandwiches. We climbed trees, forded streams, made camps and scrumped apples and pears if we were lucky enough to find them. We scraped our knees, learned how to make bows and arrows, and never felt either unsafe or worried for a moment. It was, in many ways, a charmed childhood. Dear God, it sounds like something from a history book already, and I'm not that old. Or maybe I am.
I don't know what brought that on, but I'm scuttling back to the future. I have a new Foreign Student who arrived last Sunday, from Spain. He is a very polite young man, called Jaime. He explained to me that his name is pronounced "Hymie" - and there was a sudden revelation! All those old American flms always had someone in them called Hymie, and I always imagined it was an American shortening of something like "Herman" or "Hoiman" - actually, it's Spanish, and obviously reflects the numbers of Spanish speaking immigrants who moved from South America to North America. Well, whaddyaknow? I learn something new every day.