Hilary Sue Crippin became a viable reality in that maternity hospital in the north west of England. As others admired the gold tips of my dark locks, Mum was lying back and thinking to herself, "never again!" - but being as endearing as human beings tend to be at that age, and not too much trouble yet, she was happy to bring me home.
Home was a fresh new bungalow on a fresh new estate at the edge of a small town in south Lancashire. In earlier years Tyldesley was a coal mining and cotton milling town- a few of my ancestors had the doubtful privilege of slaving in those bastions of the industrial revolution. When I lived there both the mill and the mine had permanently closed down, and the town was a relatively quiet, out of the way place to be. Some outlying neighbourhoods were quite pleasant to the eye, but most of the old town was dark and ugly brick, and falling steadily towards decay.
Nothing has haunted my dreams as much as our old family home on Heathfield drive. Twelve years of childhood have hard-wired this simple semi-detached bungalow and its surrounds into my conscious, so near the surface that I have no need to close my eyes and sink into deep reverie to envision the place. The house appears with vivid clarity on the slightest summons, like an after-image on the retina. Perhaps I have something to rectify in those memories, I don't know. There must be some reason why I am haunted so, in so many dreams, beyond the simple impressionability of childhood.
We lived in a semi detached residence- our half was on the right as you look
at the photo. On the left side lived the McDougalls- their children Katy,
Ian and Andrew. Though Katy was a few years younger than myself, I enjoyed
her company, and we played paper dolls, seesaw, paddling pools etc together.
Ian They moved away and the Mackelindons from Rhodesia moved in to no. 50.
They had two daughters, Janet and Colleen. They returned to South Africa and
were replaced by the McKintyres, a very pleasant, newly wed couple. We
moved to Eccles shortly after they arrived. Our other neighbours, the
Farringtons, lived at #46 to the right. They had two sons, David and
Geoffrey. David was a little younger than myself and a frequent playmate.
Geoffrey, a little older, was a good friend of Gary Partington's and an
I shared a room with Paul, lower right, facing the street. Later I had my own room above and back- facing right. Our parents' room was to the left. The other upstairs room over that was added later after we moved. The front garden has been completely remodelled but little else has changed on the outside.
No. 48 never had her own name, though she deserved one, she was my womb, my nest for twelve years and I loved her dearly. A simple brick house, set back from the drive and a few feet higher, an ornamental garden in front- well- it was clearly just for show, mum was obviously reluctant about us playing there, but this too was a simple affair. Two stone walls bordered the rose terraces, - we still have an old black and white photo of dad digging the garden to plant the rose trees, kept as proof. The rose terraces met at a couple of steps and my mother's precious beds of pink carnations and similar flowers. The pinks were my favourite with their pastel delicate beauty and entrancing scent.
I remember one day a foul breeze blew from somewhere, perhaps an industrial fire, I had never experienced such a disturbing stench before or after. I walked around with a pink clasped in my hand and enveloped my nose in it whenever I needed an antidote to the stink.
That was just the facade of 48, and the most pretentious part of her. Later in life my mother gained an interest in antiques and naratake china, lace tablecloths and more elegant furniture, but back then my brother and I were children and the house was neat, clean, simple and to me, the warmest most loving place on earth.
The first year of my life was not an easy one. I don't remember how hard it was for me, but my parents had such a time! I could not sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time, I complained, fretted, screamed and generally tested the patience of everyone around me. It's a wonder I wasn't tossed out of a window! We have scarcely any photos from that year because it was well nigh impossible to catch me smiling. Mum took me to several doctors but all assured her that I was a bonny healthy baby and she shouldn't worry. I was certainly bonny- I was huge, and with an endless appetite for orange juice. (I still love that drink). Poor mum- I was her first child, and she had reason to doubt her suspicions and put it all down to gas. Mum did not abandon her intuition however, and took me to a Scottish female doctor, doctor Hall, who took one look at me and prescribed a thyroid exam. It turned out that my thyroid gland was seriously underactive and I needed supplements probably for the rest of my life. The problems was caught in time. I don't like to think of the brain damage that might have occurred if the condition had continued undetected. Physically I was about three years behind as a child, rather scrawny looking, but blessed with health and fitness, and since the condition was congenital but not genetic, none of my children have my problems there.
I remember one particular day as a child sitting alone on the carpet in the livingroom. There was no sound but the birds outside. The old black and white television, the record player that taught me nursery rhymes and Tchaikovsky's symphonies and Mary Poppins, both were silent. Sunlight streamed through the window and warmed the pile of the carpet, and I touched my fingers and cheek to the sundrenched fibres and reflected how happy I was, and how I wanted so much to be always good.
My childhood seemed to be constant tshuva. I was not born with the most mild and easy going disposition, yet I wanted so much to do the right thing. Though I had been strongly conditioned by parents and school to be ethically aware and considerate of others, it seemed that much of my conscience welled from my own heart, from my own inner yearnings. But my nature was high strung, touchy, sensitive, perhaps partly as a direct result of my self consciousness and self examination and partly because of a fragile emotional balance. Hurt, burned, I would withdraw into my shell. It didn't take too long for something beautiful, interesting or humorous to prompt an emergence.
So on the whole, I was a happy child. I never doubted my parents' love for me, and felt I had physically all I desired. Popularity, clothes and the opinions of others were of little or no interest. Solitude was just fine. I was not lacking in a natural need for affection or friends, but many girls would unconsciously bruise me and so discourage closeness. It was hard to find someone on my wavelength.
Darlington Street Church of England Primary school was my second home from the tender age of four- a coed school in the centre of town. The education was so strongly Christian that some parents jokingly referred to the place as "the Mission" and for years I believed that was really its name.
To my child's eyes it was an imposing edifice, though old and cracking, poised to subside into the mineworkings beneath it. During breaks the boys played football and the girls skipped in large and jolly groups. I was naturally reluctant to show them just how slow and awkwardly I might learn a skill that the downtown girls had long acquired, so I opted for wandering up and down the herbaceous border watching the birds. The boys used to call me the "walnut" because I preferred the edges of the schoolyard. There were times I felt so left out of things that I would just stand in the cold dark callous corner and cry.
There were, however, redeeming features of those years. The chiefest was my immersion in nature. I was fascinated by any living thing, and thirsted for knowledge- to understand, to know any details, names, facts as intimately as I knew the route to school- more so. I made scrap books of the habits of birds, collected plants to press, watched the magpies in the neglected land behind our house. I knew the female from the male sparrow before I knew how to read properly, and knew the songs of the starling and the blackbird better than I knew the voices of my own classmates. My knowledge was gleaned from the field and from my illustrated bird books, for my parents had no interest in such things. By the time I left Heathfield drive my knowledge of the natural world was larger than my parents imagined that whole world itself could be.
Then I discovered that I could tell stories, and this started to win a few admirers. My stories were epic, meandering adventures, journeys, quests, of which I have no memory now, or they were humorous. I used to love to make my classmates laugh, but only on a one to one level. Speaking to a large group crowd was always an ordeal. I would characteristically freeze after a few moments of the self consciousness that brought me. But I remember many a time wide eyed girls latching onto me, enjoying my strings of nonsense and childish wit. Humour flowed through our family like a mountain spring. It was almost a tradition in our house for dad to regale us with his latest jokes at the close of the evening meal. The dining table in our kitchen was always so crowded with all our plates, and with tea, of course, a beverage I detested from an early age. Dad always had a sense of humour, and wrote reams of it before he was married, and after he retired. I always enjoyed wit and repartee, and could never resist delivering an apt line if I thought of it - that laughter in my mind simply had to be shared.
Birds especially were my love, fascination and solace for a bruised ego. Dad had a friend ten minutes walk away who bred canaries in his back yard. He gave me a beautiful male roller we called Sandy. He was my little sweetheart till he passed away some years later in Eccles. One day, after I cleaned his cage I nudged him out of the seed jar- probably his version of heaven. Sandy lost his temper and literally flew at my face in fury. I retreated from the room with beating heart, disgust and a resolve to deal with birds no more. Sandy forgot the matter immediately and the resolve vanished.
Behind the delapidated fence at the end of our backyard was a row of elder, sycamore and hawthorn and behind that was Mr. Finney's land. I think the fence was delapidated because I was always climbing over it. Old mean Mr Finney caught me trespassing many a time just for a glimpse of bronze and green tail feathers of the handsome magpies which really owned the area. Mum was very lenient about this- I think she felt he was being ridiculously mean with his land, as he only used a fraction of it as some kind of lorry depot. To me the land was a small paradise. I had a small magic mutant patch of clover where I could rely on finding four leaf clovers, occasional five leaf and once, incredibly, a seven leaf. Of course, no one believed me. There were large pipes to climb in, and the "backtree"- a bare skeleton of a tree excellent for climbing.
My other favourite patch of land was much grander in scale. There were some fields behind Sherriff's Drive, stretching to fire scarred slag heap hills by the Thornley farm and on the other side of the railway line- at night I used to hear the far away sounds of trains and fancy it was really the noise made by a raft of elves passing by. I conjured the image so vividly in my child's eye I can still see the vision of it in my inner gallery today. The elves were bright, diaphanous, lovely but totally cold, disdainful of human kind. Those fields were like a vast prairie to my young mind, and there I wandered solitary, occasionally startling lapwings from their grassy cover. They would take to the air on broad, soft wings, calling shrilly "peewit peewit!" wheeling around my head urgently, insistently. I'd move away, scared to upset the nest. Sometimes I would go with our neighbour's younger son, David Farrington, and we would crawl on our bellies to get a really good view of the iridescent green back feathers and quill crest.
The farm was a venue for gymkhanas in the summer- occasionally I would go down there with a couple of girls up the street who were very enamoured of the horses. The lower slopes of the lapwing field would be filled with trailers and the field by the farm would be set up for jumping. My enthusiasm for horses wasn't very strong in those days, though. My brief riding career began in my teens in Cardiff. I was fascinated by the farm but the unfriendly attitude of the young men down there dissuaded me from visiting often. I did enjoy trips to the tracks with Gary P. - neighbour and schoolmate, and Geoffrey, David's big brother when they were in their train number collecting phase. I personally thought that the number hunt was mindlessly boring, but putting coins on the track and waiting for the train wheels to flatten them was really cool.
We found a blackbird's nest in a shed there and Gaz and Faz, as they called themselves, convinced themselves and me that the eggs were deserted and could be taken. Gary ruined a couple of them in his attempts to blow out the contents and mum was very disappointed in me. The slag heaps were a fun climb, but I refrained when someone told me that occasionally they would spontaenously ignite or create a landslide- or both.
For one of my birthdays- perhaps my eighth or ninth, my special present was a rabbit. How I loved that rabbit! To take care of a live thing?! It was an exquisite privilege. I was so excited that I came down with something and had to be kept in bed- which was quite a drastic measure- my mother was never the type to pamper. I clearly remember my father coming into the bedroom, after obtaining mum's permission, with his large fishing basket in which, huddled fearfully in the corner, was a sweet, soft baby black and white English marked rabbit. I called it Bambi, and for hours it lived in my arms, exhibited lovingly to neighbours and friends, watched, adored. Dad had done something drastic for Bambi. He had actually built a hutch. This was the first and last time I ever remember him ever doing any carpentry. Dad's talents have always been primarily cerebral- he was an administrator, and but for Bambi I would never have dreamed that the latent carpenter in him even existed.
Bambi did not survive the winter. Many times I would find him inexplicably inside a bucket rather than inside his cage. I could not understand how he could so easily squeeze through the mesh, though I suspected my brother had something to do with it. He was perhaps three or four years old at the time and capable of it. His secretive smiles aroused my suspicions but he never revealed anything. He seemed quite happy to sit in a bucket of hay, Bambi, I mean, not my brother, and I don't know if this contributed to his demise. Mum thought he was taken from his mother at too young an age, I theorized that the hutch was just too big and Bambi's body heat was too easily lost, though I really liked the idea of a big hutch- I didn't like to crowd and confine. Still, perhaps if his bedroom were smaller.... One day I found him there, curled up and his back to me, and cold, stiff. I as woefully upset for some time. I did not keep a rabbit again till I was well in my twenties and in Israel.
Family holidays were a very important part of the year and so an important part in my memories. The population of south east Lancashire was naturally attracted to the scenic beauty of north Wales- miles of glorious coastline and lovely countryside still relatively unspoilt in the early sixties and an abundance of cheap hotels and resorts. Later a holiday abroad in the Balaeric islands became popular, but back then August in Llandudno was a favourite option. Blackpool and Southport were good for a day trips if you had luck with the weather.
We would go to boardinghouses- carefully selected for pleasant service and reasonable price, and, of course, satisfying food. One year our parents took off with a couple of other families, destiny uncertain. I think they rented a farmhouse and roughed it. They were all young, singing and joyful. I charmed everyone with my baby gorgeousness and drove everyone up the wall with my bawling.
Later, when we were active kids, we went to holiday resorts such as Butlins at Pwlelli- a place I absolutely loved. It was fun living in those rows of little chalets and going out every day to the swimming pool or some other amusement. There were rides, shows and plenty activities to keep me occupied, and I could usually find some other relatively shy girl about my own age to go around with.
When was the happiest time of my life? Boruch Hashem, I cannot complain about my childhood- but I feel happier now than then. That is only because I am simply better at being happy now than I was then. Now I can deal with, or live with pains and disappointments that would have ruined my days when I was a child. On the whole my happiness quotient has been increasing steadily since babyhood, despite my hangups and anxieties and pained yearnings. I think it all focuses on value, on quality, on appreciation of blessings. Beyond that, happiness depends on doing, creating, accomplishing- using one's G-d given talents to achieve something worthwhile.
One morning has stayed with me. After Bambi died, Steven, a son of my parent's friends, the Davises, and probably an even more ardent wildlife enthusiast than I was, prevailed against his parents to acquire a rabbit. We than had the arduous task of moving the hutch from our garage to theirs- just five minutes round the corner normally, but a long way for a heavy hutch. The work was made much easier by a heavy snowfall, and the packed snow on the drive had become mostly ice. So, on that memorable crisp morning- I can't remember if it was overcast or sunny but the air felt so clean and still- with a small team of neighbourhood boys and good humour, we pushed, pulled, shoved and hauled that stubborn huge hutch all the way to the Davises. The last stretch, the top of Sherriff's drive, was slightly easier as it was steeply downhill- I don't know how we didn't overshoot, and send the precious hutch careening to the bottom of the hill.
My parents had found a large bicycle for me- probably someone was throwing it out, but I didn't much care. After a long and excessively stubborn training period- my physical coordination just not being as good as most of my peers- I was ready to graduate from my monstrous tricycle to my monstrous two wheeler. It really wasn't a good size as I had to point my toe to reach the pedal at its lowest point, and the neighbous watched me wavering along with nervous doubtful faces. I however, felt happy and confident with my new accomplishment, a sense of power, drunk with my new mobility. And then, one day, David, persuaded me to bike down the hill of Sherriff's drive. My fear competed with my love of thrills and the latter won, so off we pedalled with no small trepidation on my part. Just a third of the way into the glorious descent, I had hardly had chance to gather much momentum, a small boy stepped in front of me, intent on another game. The next thing I knew, an underwater creature was screaming at me in an underwater suburban landscape about her son's precious knee. I kept trying to rub tears from my eyes, but there were none. I had lost my focus- very nicely concussed. David led me home and my exasperated patients spirited me away to Leigh infirmary for X rays and observation. The local vicar came to visit me and give me a blessing, but I'd recently learned about holy unction in school (death bed rites) and I was rather alarmed. "That's it", I thought, and started composing my mind for my final hours.
The only other time (in those years) I thought for sure I was going to die was after my visit to the Little Hulton stream. Little Hulton was a small village up Morton road, a pleasant stroll from Heathfield drive. The stream wound enticingly down through the field by the road, and without discussion, David and I were soon paddling in that stream and really enjoying ourselves. Later a big girl told us that rats lived in that stream and they had poisonous saliva and the water was utterly contaminated. I was in terror for days. I questioned my mum, with trepidation, on the nature of poisons, but was too afraid to reveal that I had been exposed to the deadly rat stream. As time passed, however, and I felt no ill effects I came to the conclusion that I must be blessed with a strong constitution and was immune to rat venom.
Then there was the time that I stepped onto a pond, so allured by the expanse and depth of the dark waters that my belief in the firmness of the pondweed was conscious wishful thinking. Whoosh! Dad was very quick and fished me out, drenched as a rat myself and twice as wise as before.
My parents had never taken me for a particularly bright child. At the tender age of seven the headmaster, Mr Pearson- a man who always intimidated me, announced that I came top of my class I nearly fell off my chair in astonishment. True, I had no problems in school grasping concepts, "cottoning on", as my favourite teacher, Mr. Fearick, used to say, and I had a tremendous love of learning, but, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I believed inside that everyone else had the same kind of mind. Now a new-found confidence, together with my father's tremendous and joyful pride in me, buoyed my academic accomplishment. Mr. Fearick taught us for two years and from his first eloquent address I knew I could learn a lot from this person. He made me captain of the blue team, and we were always so ridiculously ahead of all the other teams that Mr. Fearick had to keep transferring the smarter kids out of my team and put them into other teams to even the chances.
When I was just five years old my brother was born. That was THE most exciting event I could have imagined- far better than getting a rabbit. Within days the whole school knew that a baby brother had arrived, and though, incomprehensibly to me, my enthusiasm wasn't universally shared, I was absolutely elated. Mum was totally conked out by the birth, the master bedroom was darkened and she was talking to no-one. Dad did give me permission to peep at the baby, together with many dire admonitions. I entered with fear and trembling, peeked into the cot, saw nothing but darkness and hurried out again at my father's nervous beckoning, totally unsatisfied.
No matter, I would see plenty of him in days to come. He was a very cute little boy with a tiny snub nose and all the innate charm of the younger kid- an enviable position in the family. That meant that he was excused all those things for which I was probably criticized at the same age, and this caused a certain amount of righteous indignation. He also grew up a great deal more even tempered, less moody than I always was, but actually more of a perfectionist, and quite introverted. That must be in the genes I suppose. Compared to me, he was a very easy going kid- and I did love him, though there were times it wasn't so obvious to either of us.
My favourite memory of Paul was a memory of almost fatal mischief. Mum had gone off to the shops, I was supposed to be babysitting. Paul, it seemed, was playing quietly in the bedroom, occupying himself nicely while I was reading comics in the livingroom. I suddenly had an instinct to check on him- it was altogether too quiet, so I sighed, and rose to check. Whisps of grey smoke were curling around the bedroom door. I advanced in alarm. There was Paul, sitting, cross legged on the floor watching my bed burn. The burning wasn't far advanced- there was a nice arc of small flames eating its way through the layers on the side. I could understand Paul's fascination, but it was time for action. I don't honestly remember if I pulled Paul out or not- I wasn't sure how to handle this matter by myself so I ran for the nearest big boy to help. He came with painful slowness because of his polyo, but he was an excellent youth and soon had the situation under control. I remember being very concerned that my favourite sandals should be rescued from the blaze- after Paul was safe of course. Then I ran to get mum. I didn't have chance to explain the whole situation before she took off home like a horse in distress with me crying in her wake. When she got home the house was filled with a number of kind neighbours keeping Paul company and offering their spare bedding to replace the burnt sheets and blankets. Paul looked at mum with his endearing little face and said "did you bring any sweets?" . "Did you hear what he SAID!" I exclaimed, more than a little outraged, but mum was in a state of post shock and relief she didn't pay me any mind.
My other favourite disaster was the Great Flood. I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of gushing water and, on rising, soon perceived I was on the last little island of dry carpet. I waded through the cold water, totally ignorant of the possibility of electric shocks, and woke mum and dad. Mum had her wits about her as always and made straight for the major electric switch. We discovered that one of the hoses leading to the washing machine had slipped off and the water, under pressure, was free to deluge the house. Shoes were floating down the hall, and the water was quite delicious on the toes. Mum called the electric company to check the wiring, and poor mum and dad had to deal with the damage to carpets and floorboards.
Disasters added novelty to life back then. The inconvenience of electric cuts were fun- I recall candle lit rooms and listening, spellbound, to my favourite babysitter, Mary Lyon, as she educated me about dinosaurs. Ice on the driveway was a nuisance to dad but a scarey challenge to children. A thunderstorm that totally darkened the midday sky held us hostage next door at the McDougalls for a while and we experienced the novelty of hot dogs in tomato soup- something mum never served. Mum's cooking is the best, but the neighbour's cooking can surpass it in the right circumstances.
One disaster was not so much fun. One day, when I was about four years old I ran to play with my pal John across the road. For some reason he couldn't play so I ran back, very upset and disappointed and not paying attention. Suddenly I was reeling, and my forehead landed on the metal gate stump. I screamed, saw Mrs Dougall run out soon after, saw blood in my eyes and felt the reassuring presence of John's mum by my side and then I must have fainted. Dad was called back from work, in horror as he told me later as one of the neighbours had told him that I'd split my head wide open. Well, the scar is still there, and I'm still here, and as far as I know, my brain is all there too...
I had no difficulty keeping myself occupied- inside or out. My own home amusements consisted of the fantasy world of my bedroom kingdom. The first King was a pyjama cord from one of Dad's pyjamas. Favoured citizens would receive white cords from the belt, and condemned citizens would get a red cord. After some time the king was no more and a successor had to be chosen. I must have been about five. I had a castle on top of a cabinet- the home of the privileged and autocratic royal family. They lacked no comfort since I was happy to make beds with lace and bluebells and other royal nonsense. The populace were poor and generally neglected (esp. by myself) and eventually decided to have a revolution and storm the castle. My fantasies were endless, romantic, tragic, comic- sometimes featuring minute loving detail, sometimes sweeping callous disregard. Sometimes I'd bang out stories about Princess Moira on the old manual typewriter in the attic, but most I'd simply tell to myself as I played.
Dad was not a big fan of science fiction or other such imaginative entertainment. His interests were grounded in familiar human society and endeavor. He was the one who introduced me to Tom Lehrer and Alan Sherman, to Les Dawson and other working class stand up comedians. He was impressed by stories of patriotic duty and endurance. It was my mother who watched Sci fi movies with me and sat by my side when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, and though it was mildly exciting to my child's mind I could tell my mother was far more intensely impressed by those accomplishments.
When I was about eleven years old, after many years of bitter complaint over having to share a bedroom with my brother- (though I'd not shown myself to be less messy at comparable ages), my parents felt it was high time to move me into my own bedroom. Ah, how sweet was my little room, though my stay was short. Gary's father, an accomplished carpenter, built a closet with a dressing table into one wall. I had a carpet, green and white with roses, and butterfly curtains and I was thoroughly in love with my beautiful room. Sandy the canary lived up there, and also Dandy, a goldfinch acquired from the same breeder. They sang in competition and added music to my upstairs paradise. I loved most the scent of that room, though I never discovered it's cause. It could have been from the wood used to build the closet- I don't know, but it was a wonderfully sweet and rustic scent which I'd certainly recognise if I ever met it again. The view of the Farrington's roof was uninspiring, but no matter, I was quite content.
Then life changed. I passed the Bolton school entrance exams and dad decided to move closer to work and to a larger house. He was ascending the local government ladder very nicely, and we were about to change our social status, though it was not obvious back then that this was going to happen. Both my parents came from solid, respectable working class backgrounds- dad from Mosely Common, mum from Leigh. Heathfield Drive was pleasant modest middle class but Lynwood Avenue and Bolton school would effectively bring us into the upper middle class circles of Lancashire. The haunted house of Lynwood avenue and my tremendous years at Bolton will be, G-d willing, the subject of another page.
If you've actually read thus far... congratulations! (don't you have anything else to do?) Call me, and I'll buy you an Egozi bar as long as you are in Israel. I may add more pages as more memories come back to me of those years. If you wait for gossip about our neighbours or tragic romances, you wait in vain- I'm not telling!
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