For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory. I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here.
Tighe? Did he mean tight? Is this another alcohol fuelled post? No, it’s about tight budgets if anything. During the 1960s, and especially after dad was made redundant in 1961/2 – not that we boys knew it – my parents needed to find another source of income. To being with we hosted French students – Francoise and I think Elise – both jolly yet, latterly my mother confessed they didn’t do as much as she had expected for the relatively cheap rent they paid. So it was that my parents took in a lodger. This would have been about 1965 I think. John Tighe – pronounced Tie – who stayed with us for I guess two or three years. He couldn’t have been much more that late 20s – I knew he was younger than my parents but an adult – who was largely indifferent to me and the Archaeologist and, for that, of course, he seemed glamorous and attractive.
Things must have been hard then – redundancy pay wasn’t much of anything and the benefit system nothing like today for all the complaints – so they put up with having a single young man enjoying what the 1960s had to offer. I assume there were some kind of rules, no doubt thoughtfully enforced by mum because dad wouldn’t have enjoyed any sort of confrontation. Indeed dad introduced John to his friends at the rugby club, peopled by a range of ages and including a group similarly young working and single as John. One was called ‘The Vicar’. I asked mum why he was called that to be told because he wasn’t which made no sense to an 8 year old – at least not then. I would surmise they ‘played’ pretty hard and keeping some of the ‘aftermaths’ of such a lifestyle would have tested my mother’s ingenuity and our ability to stay quiet on those mornings after.
So our family and John rubbed along ok. He occupied a small room on the ground floor next to the lounge – where my gran stayed when she visited. I don’t know how they got round that but they did somehow because gran always came at least twice a year.
Several times when the phone rang – it was by the front door (I even remember the number because we answered it we always did with the number – it was customary back then: Caterham 44839 – and mum always answered in her special voice) – I would knock on John’s door so he could come and take it from me. Often it was a woman. Often John would be wearing nothing but a small tight Y fronts – not the sort of underwear I’d ever seen before and not the sort of behaviour in my somewhat prudish family. He was, um, fascinating, beautiful I suppose to me not used to fit young men close up and I stared. I know he knew and he laughed at me, not nastily. I’ve no idea what he thought and I don’t think he mentioned it to my parents but I recall being embarrassed. Go figure…
For work, he dressed in smart grey suits with a blue shirt – in those days white was still expected so this too stood out. And he always had a car. Well it seemed so because for a time he was a rep who visited businesses and then he acted as a car chauffeur delivering cars. Once he had an American car with these huge fins. All the kids in the street crowded round that and I felt quite proud to be associated with something that caused such a stir.
The best memory, though, is when he worked at Gatwick airport. Gatwick was new back then, the second London airport opened by the Queen in 1958. I don’t know what John did but he had access to the runways and planes because one sunny evening after dad finished work, mum, dad the Archaeologist and I drove the few miles to the airport where John met us and let us in. It seems inconceivable now but we were given access to all the most sensitive areas. We walked out alongside taxiing planes – I’m not sure they took off and landed but they were certainly moving around, these big beasts. Remember my first ever flight was in 1981, many years away. This was so exciting.
He left the best until last; we walked into a hanger where a plane – a VC10 – was being serviced and we climbed up the stairs and wandered around the inside, sat like a passenger, visited the flight deck and saw all these dials and wondered how such things could fly and marvelled at the skills of the pilots to understand all the equipment and information they were receiving.
If I close my eyes I can see John now – rond face, floppy fringe like a Beatle, in sharply creased grey trousers, blue shirt and bright tie, held by a silver tiepin, smiling up at us from the floor of the hanger. He may be holding a cigarette. Behind him the summer sun is slowly setting – it was probably about 8pm, and he is in a shadow but his expression is clear. And I’m so grateful for this treat, this otherworldly experience. I was living a fantasy I didn’t even know I had.
Today, Gatwick is a passenger factory, sucking us in like raw materials and churning us through the mincer. They sanitise the experience as best they can, wrapping us in retail and rewarding compliance over complaint. But even now, as I queue to be x-rayed I stare at the ceiling and a little piece of me is back looking at John and being exhilarated… and then the alarm goes, some orangutan slaps on a latex glove and reality bites… to end here’s a poem on my thoughts about Gatwick
It’s a melee,
Lost in Transition.
We’re like ancient man
Scouring our limited horizon
For a sign.
Hoping to be guided
By some benign deity
To our goal.
We want to pass
The pain of incomprehension
Is a psychological torture,
For the uninitiated.
Artificial teethy smiles
Check flimsy permits
Shown in hope
Returned in relief.
We’re all check point charlies,
Queuing 50 paces,
Taking off that,
Handing over innocent contraband
In case it jabs or explodes.
We watch, volunteer spies,
For sinister plotters
Anxious to root them out.
The man with the overlarge hand luggage
The woman with the bedraped buggy
The student with dreadlocks and a hippy bag.
Each as deluded as the next.
Patient in the asylum;
Each as suspicious as any
Inmate in a labour camp.
Our spirits are entrapped in this way,
Courtesy of BAA:
What a way to start a holiday.