A change for today as I didn’t do a diary entry so this is an excerpt from my life story which I started but never finished. All comments are welcome.
Memories of my childhood and teenage years are as distant and hard to remember as the hills beyond Haworth Moor and Top Withens are to access and climb in partsd. I’m surrounded by them like my memories, yet I can only access by certain paths much like the memories in my mind. Some things I can access and remember, others are gone forever or a vague, hazy recollection that doesn’t make sense and torments me by waking me up in the middle of the night as I try to piece my life together so I can understand myself better.
I was born in 1967 on Buttershaw council estate in Bradford. I never knew my biological father as he left my mother when he found out she was pregnant with me. I have some photographs of Buttershaw, but my only memory is in black and white, playing in the street with some children I never meet again.
We moved from here to a council house in Wyke another part of Bradford. It’s nice and large and I remember going to someone’s birthday party here, but I also remember the nightmares I had here and our gorgeous cat Mitzi getting shot by the local thug over the road. My mum was with the man I knew as my father at this point and he was living with us at Wyke.
We weren’t at Wyke long before we moved again this time to Leicester Street just off Wakefield Road. This was the other side of Bradford. I don’t know why we moved just that we did, from a large three bedroom semi to a small one down, two up back to back with a shared outside toilet. I had to share a bed with my older sister. We never got on. She used to bully me at Wyke and hated having to share a bed with me. I don’t remember much of my dad here. Maybe he and my mum split up and that’s why we had to move?
My other memory from here is of being bullied for the first time. I was about 5 years old, in the school playground and my mum left me on my own for the first time. I didn’t know anyone. I was all alone, on my own in a sea of children running around me playing and laughing. Some kids surrounded me, I assume they were the school bullies. I was knocked to the floor and they started calling me names, mummies boy, softie, that sort of thing. I remember looking up at the clear blue sky waiting for someone, anyone to come and help me. No-one came. They carried on kicking me until the bell went for the start of lessons and they left me alone in the playground, on my back looking up at the sky. I got told off for being late back to lessons.
We weren’t long at Leicester Street before we were on the move again. Not far this time. To Holmewood a council estate a couple of miles away. It was a nice house a three bedroom semi again backing onto fields. I had somewhere to play at last! I had some great times here playing in the fields and woods with friends who made me feel wanted, made me feel accepted as a part of their group for the first time in my life. I began to understand what it was to feel human. I made many friends here, Paul who moved to Cornwall being my earliest memory, then some others led by Chris who I played down the valley with and Colin, Peter and Paul who I played football with on the green. I lost touch with all of them for some reason when I went to a different school to them and started playing with different friends, the three Marks. We grew up together on Holmewood and I’m still in contact with them.
As with anything there are good times and bad times too. I was still having nightmares at Holmewood and I noticed my dad drinking heavily for the first time. He lost a really good job because of his drinking and would go missing on weekends fighting and seeing other women leaving my mum and me on our own, my mum working all the hours she could to keep a roof over our heads, my dad selling my Christmas presents for beer money. We kept the house but it didn’t stop us having our gas and electric cut off numerous times because my dad would spend all the money on beer. I can still remember my mum cooking meals on the coal fire in the front room and listening to the radio by candle light. I never told anyone about this because of the shame of living in poverty and one step away from living on the street.
We lived on Holmewood at 22 Kilnsea Mount for around seven relatively happy and stable years before we were on the move again, this time because my mum and dad had got a job as caretakers at a funeral directors on Great Horton Road the other side of Bradford. It was 1981 and I was uprooted just as I begun my final two years of school and went back to school once in those two years. I left everything I knew behind, friends, school and fields and woods. I didn’t know how to cope with this massive change so I did the only thing I could and spent my days in bed listening to the radio.
I eventually came out from under the duvet and made new friends but I wasted the best part of my teenage years playing truant from school, spending my days in the Italia café playing on the video games or in Franco’s basement playing table tennis or at Paul’s house playing records. Education had gone out of the window. Life was now about living for the day and getting through it.
My dad was still drinking heavily but somehow my mum held everything together and we got through what life threw at us. I left school in 1984 and began work at Arnold Lavers as a trainee mechanic on a Youth Training Scheme, the government scheme of the time aimed at getting teenagers like me who had no idea what to do an apprenticeship in a trade. I lasted a year before I left and never worked as a mechanic again. It just wasn’t me. I was too slow to pick things up and I couldn’t hear the difference in a good engine and a bad one so off I went into the wide world again.
I worked at a motor parts warehouse on the Euroway Trading Estate near the M606 for a short while before I worked at a place that would become a large part of my life for the next fifteen years, Grattan Catalogue Ltd. I applied for a job in the warehouse on the Monday, had an interview on the Friday and started work on the following Monday. That’s how it was in those days. You applied, got the job and if you were good enough you stayed there, sometimes for life. I loved it at Grattan. I started in the warehouse, moved to the post room then the banking room onto finance before ending up in the catalogue shop. I met so many good people, some of them became friends for life, and had some great times while I was there. Life was good now, really good. I had some stability in my life, a good job and a roof over my head. I could afford to go out every weekend down Bradford drinking and having fun. I was enjoying life. I had no worries.
And then in early 1988 my life was turned upside down. It was a Monday and I had been doing what was called the banking run taking the cheques from the day to the clearing banks. I was driving a Ford Fiesta and on my way back to Grattan with my mate when I felt a pain in my groin and I had to pull over. My mate couldn’t drive so despite the pain I had to drive back to Grattan and walk home back to the funeral directors from there. It was a short walk but that day it seemed to go on forever. I got home and one of the blokes who worked at the funeral directors drove me up to the Bradford Royal Infirmary hospital. I was admitted that night and the next day I was told I needed an operation to remove my right testicle which had grown to the size of a tennis ball. The next day, Tuesday I had the operation, rested on the Wednesday and out on the Thursday because they needed the bed!
I waited six maybe seven weeks for the results and it was confirmed, I had testicular cancer and it had spread to my lungs and brain. I was in a bad way. I lost weight and over the next nine months I had nineteen doses of intensive and high dose chemotherapy including four lumber punctures which involves a needle going into your spine to inject the chemotherapy for your brain. A very painful and unpleasant experience. I was in and out of hospital, sometimes for a week, sometimes longer depending on my white blood cell count.
When I went in I was told I had a 95% chance of surviving and dying never crossed my mind. When I received the all clear I was told I only had a 5% chance of surviving when I went in. My HGC count was 163,500 when I went in, the highest most doctors had ever seen. They never told you the truth when you went in case you gave up. I never gave up and still had all my friends around me to help me through. Some of them still tell me of how they visited me and I was asleep and that thought that was it and they would never see me alive again but here I am telling my story.
I went back to Grattan in 1990 and stayed there until August 2001 when I left. In the early 90s I met a girl and moved in with her but it didn’t work out and we split after a year and a half. I had some other relationships, but everything seemed to go wrong so in the end I decided it was easier being on my own and gave up ever meeting anyone. I went to work, came home and got drunk on a weekend. That was my life in the 80s and 90s.
I look up at the hills in the distance, still as far away as my memories are. Time to move on and remember but not forget. I’ve still got a life to live.