Since we’d moved to Crayford, my dad had been working at silk-screen printers David Evans, just down the road. He left early in the morning and came back early in the evening, then de-camped to the garage or his allotment. It was about this time his world started falling apart.
His sister, a kindly generous woman, had died at the age of 42 in the early 70s. She had a brain tumour which was operated on. She died from the operation. My dad wouldn’t accept her death, blaming the surgeon. A man who had said his prayers religiously before going to bed now lost his faith and became vociferously atheist. He now asked if there is a God, why did he allow his sister to die at such a young age? She’d never done anything to deserve that.
My own road to atheism was not so fraught. I’d never believed, never been brainwashed by my family or school. In fact at primary school I couldn’t believe that any of us believed. We used to take the piss something rotten out of the school’s vicar. The Grumbleweeds were a crap childishly-humorous pop band at the time and one of the band was introduced with the call ‘Watchya, Baldy!’ Our vicar was almost bald so he got the same treatment from our class when he came to spout his Christian bollocks.
Not long after my dad's sister's death, his mum went, too. My grandad was in hospital with lung cancer and my dad went to check up on his mum as usual and found her slumped in her chair, dead from a heart attack. Or the heartbreak of losing a daughter.
My grandad came out of hospital and came to stay with us, in my little box bedroom. My sister moved into my parents’ bedroom as I had hers. I kept myself to myself, carried on with my studies and my tennis and my music and my reading.
After a while my grandad was taken to hospital to die and my dad was left with no mum and dad and no sister. He withdrew into himself and would spend more and more time by himself over the next few years, making things in the garage and growing things in the allotment. Brewing his own beer, drinking his home-brewed beer. Christmas was the time we noticed him getting drunk but in reality he was getting drunk all the time. He was becoming a secret alcoholic.
But those Christmases were the worst. My dad was bitter that he’d lost his family and my mum’s were all intact. Especially as his family were so much friendlier and down to earth, salt of the earth. He didn’t get on with his mother-in-law who he thought sucked the life out of life with her expectations of her daughters to come running at a moment’s notice and her philosophy of life as ‘hell on earth’.
So because Christmases were seen as big family occasions, my dad resented having to spend every Christmas from now on in the company of my mum’s family. The three sisters took it in turns to cook and we’d all get together, pussyfooting around my grandmother as she sat in the corner of the room, a few feet from the television set, the television turned up loud when anything came on which she wanted to watch. My grandmother had fucked her hearing earlier in her life by cleaning the wax out of her ears using knitting needles which presumably, like the opening medicine, would never do her any harm.
Of course the Queen’s Christmas Message was the highlight of the day for my grandmother who couldn’t get enough of what the Queen was wearing, how she was looking so good for her age, how she was speaking directly to each and every one of us although if you’d asked my nan after the event what the Queen had actually said I’m sure she wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Some bollocks about the Commonwealth I’m sure with pictures of black children far away, far away enough not to worry about being swamped in this country by non-whites. My dad, being a staunch anti-Royalist from birth, seethed as the Queen blared out at maximum volume. Meanwhile I was sitting there in my uncomfortable Christmas clothes of itchy polo-neck jumper, itchy tight-crotched trousers and too-tight oxblood shoes.
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