A Map to Remember Me. Part 6: Normandy

A Map to Remember Me. Part 6: Normandy

Normandy This is where I began; after my father died. It’s a beautiful part of France and the beaches that stretch along the coastline as you pass through the towns of Ouistreham, Luc-sur-Mer, Lyon-sur-Mer, Arromanches, Colleville, Veirville and Le Madeleine are clean and inviting. I rode a motorcycle, got wet and hot in equal measure. Took my time. The beach at Arromanche and the remains of the Mulberry’ harbour in the bay I swam at some of the beaches especially Sword beach, venue of the British attacks at a place called Lyon-sur-Mer and listened to the Garry Owen playing on my heaphones. My dad was a cavalryman and it seemed an appropriately memorable and comic piece of music to play at his funeral as the coffin descended. I felt that he would have approved somehow. So I stood in the sea looking towards the town of Lyon-sur-Mer which is in the area designated as Sword Beach and I thought about what it was like, advancing up the beach. I imagined the whistle of shells followed by explosions. The tranquillity was now only disturbed by early morning joggers, walkers, cyclists, gulls and me, the solitary swimmer. My father was due to land with the 11th Hussars on D-Day + 9 but on 6th June, as the Allies were landing in France he was helping to pull the pontoons of a floating bridge out of the ground when one came loose a bit quicker than expected and broke his leg. He spent the next few weeks recovering which is when he met my mother so but for that stroke of fate, I may...
A Map to Remember Me. Part 5: Meat Wagons & Memorials

A Map to Remember Me. Part 5: Meat Wagons & Memorials

  Meat Wagons & Memorials   Because we were involved in covert soldiering in Northern Ireland we were transported from Aldergrove Airport, Belfast to the Special Forces Training centre, Ballykinla, a journey of several hours, in an articulated lorry normally used for transporting frozen meat. This place does not show up on maps and you will not get any hits by googling it either but it exists on a particularly windswept and gorse-clad part of the coastline. The vehicle was empty when we got in still wearing civilian clothes, jeans, t-shirts, a few people had coats. Even though, of course, the freezer plant in the meat-wagon was not on, it was still very, very cold. We were sealed up inside the lorry in a darkness so complete that it was impossible to see a hand in front of your face. To avoid being thrown all over the place we sat and lay on the filthy floor of the container and after the jokes and banter wore off we began to pray for the journey to end. I remember thinking about my sisters, trying to give myself courage to not complain about the dark and cold. I repeated their names to myself in a kind of mantra. It was so cold that we held each other on the floor of that truck with no embarrassment or hesitation. After a couple of hours someone began crying. No-one told him to shut up. I never found out who it was and no-one ever asked. It could have been any of us.  A voice with a Lancashire accent said, ‘I’ve got to piss’....
A Map to Remember Me. Part Four: Cadiz

A Map to Remember Me. Part Four: Cadiz

Cadiz   Auntie Elsie married Uncle Charlie; they had a son Arthur and a daughter Monica. Arthur was about my age. Charlie was a lovely man and a solicitor so they were “posh” and lived in Wandsworth by Wimbledon common. He had been a prisoner of war during the 1914/18 War and was very poorly for a long time after he returned. Father, a ship! A child lies on floor looking out from a window. His father says: ‘Yes Charlie, my son, a ship. Look Charlie, she’s tacking. One day Charlie you may go to sea and have great adventures in the service of the king. The boy leaps up and runs around pretending to be an aeroplane, finally falling and lying still by his father. A foreign voice calls and is lost in a whisper. Father says, ‘Charlie, now you must put away childish things and become a man’ The boy says, ‘I need more time; it’s too hard, father, dad, daddy’.   A mother’s voice from downstairs sings to the boy, Charlie Bourne, Charlie Bourne Wondered just why he was born Eat his tea in the sea . . . A foreign voice calls and is lost . . . like the voice of a ghost. In Cadiz! The city lights shine up through the opaque, green ocean. Cadiz; a drowned world! The voice calls and is lost again. On that lonely swim In that cold place, we let it all slide While we swam with the fish, The world turned, we became, cold The daily victories mocked our silent prayer Oh, admit it! We drowned out...
A Map to Remember Me. Part Three: Munich

A Map to Remember Me. Part Three: Munich

  Munich   There were dances almost every night in village halls, church halls, the Palais. Another pal was a bit like your Uncle Ken; quiet and nervous. He was keen on building himself up and was doing a Charles Atlas Body Building course. The rest used to tease him but it definitely made a difference. He was in the T.A. and went for summer camp in 1939 and never came back. Most of those chaps in the T.A. went for what was supposed to be a two-week long camp but they were sent to Narvick in Norway and were killed or taken prisoner. I cannot remember his name. Ebe also went to night school with me. He was mad on electricity and Morse code. He used to listen to the late night wireless. His ambition was to be an operator for Reuters. I did hear some years after that he had become a telegraph operator. I suppose he finished up in the forces. I never heard of him again. A crowd of us, about 8 chaps and 8 girls used to go out as a gang. Girls always got taken right home in those days. They were great times. No heavy situations at all. We used to drink around Queen’s Park ‘The Falcon’ on Kilburn High Road, the ‘Rifle Volunteer’ the ‘Black Bear’, and a lot of others I cannot remember, there must have been 20 public houses along that mile stretch, also at Willesden Lane area ‘The William IV’, Big and Little Lamb, the ‘Grey Horse’ was a favourite. They were good friends whom I lost sight...
A Map to Remember Me. Part Two: London

A Map to Remember Me. Part Two: London

      London   I went into a public-house to get a pint o’ beer, The publican ‘e up an’ says, “We serve no red-coats here.” The girls behind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die, I out’s into the street again an’ to myself says I: O its Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”; But its “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play, The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play, O its “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play. My dad and I liked Kipling and even when he was quite old I saw him read Kim again, probably for the third or fourth time. He also wrote a journal: We moved from Queen’s Park just before I was 8 years old. My Dad, your Granddad got a job in a school with a caretaker’s cottage, Lower Place School; a right rough area by the Grand Union Canal. Only housing there was us and a gypsy encampment. Harlesden was the nearest station. There were a lot of minor villains there, blokes always in and out of borstal or prison. Families on benefit, kids with no shoes or trousers, the teachers had a box of old clothes and shoes in the cupboard. Eddie Stevens was my friend, a nice lad, locally born, his father had died. Like me he also passed the 11+ but could not go on to a grammar school as they were too poor. He was a quiet lad and a very good artist; he later joined the RAF...
A Map to Remember Me  Part One, Home

A Map to Remember Me Part One, Home

      Home   I was saying goodbye to my Father. He was standing on the doorstep as I was leaving, going home after a visit. My sisters and stepmother were watching through the lounge window like a tragic chorus. The pressure was immense. He was about to have surgery to remove a cancer. The operation could kill him. If he survived that the cancer was going to kill him anyway, everyone knew that. He was 86. He and I, we both knew that this moment could be it for us, until the next world. Suddenly on that very ordinary porch I was drowning in the memories that swam up and swallowed me whole and I wanted to tell him that I forgave him for making me cry when he was carrying me past the shops and I leaned out towards the window and he was rough and angry and that I forgave him for calling me a ‘big girl’s blouse’ in front of my friends. I wanted to tell him how much I would miss his belief in me and I remembered how he always sat with me on every childhood hospital visit. There were many. After one of those visits we sat in a café and he drank his squash (never juice or tea or coffee, always orange squash) so fast that I repeated something he had said to me many times, ‘I bet that never touched the sides did it?’ Something passed between us. I remember that innocuous moment because he smiled at me when I said it and it was my first memory of...