12. My old man

 

 

If I can trace a path back to the origins of my various fears, the alleyways would tend to constrict towards a doorstep where my father Eric Thomas stood, arms folded, anger written across his face. Physical punishment in the offing. Booming voice and a right hand that carried a sting.

I have taught myself to balance this picture. His father died of pneumonia in 1929, when Dad was still a one-year old. Harold, my grandfather, came from a huge East End family in which 12 of his 14 siblings sadly died before reaching the age of one. So Eric had no male to model himself on. He still wonders what it would have been like to have a father. Tears came to my eyes as I wrote that.

Harold was of Huguenot stock. His marriage to my grandmother, Violet Dormer, is captured in the blurred photograph.

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A rum looking bunch, from what can be seen. Until World War Two broke out in earnest, Eric lived with Violet at 54 Moss Street, Bethnal Green, very near Roman Road. He remembers that his Godier grandad operated a textile business at number 62, where silk garments were made up on the third floor, mainly for waistcoats. Eric attended Globe Road junior school in Bethnal Green. Like his firstborn, he then went to a grammar school, Palmiter’s, also local. When German bombs began to rain down on London, he was evacuated to Aylsham and North Walsham, in Norfolk, and then Leek, in Staffordshire. His cousins Alf and Terry took away some of the loneliness.

He returned to London, after Violet insisted that he was not being properly cared for. Moss Street had been bombed to rubble, and the new home was in Swinnerton Street, near Homerton High Street. Eric recalls bombing raids where he sat with his mum and a neighbour under a monster steel table, a protective device known as a Morrison Shelter. When he was old enough, he volunteered for the Royal Navy, training to be a morse code operator. Fortunately for me, Eric missed any war action. He sailed via the Suez Canal to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, on HMS Wren, a modified Black Swan class sloop. Trincomalee, then a Royal Navy dockyard, was the source of much pleasure in the sunshine, as he tells it.

Back in civvy street, he went through a number of jobs in London, eventually drifting into the business of buying and selling metals. He met my mum, Phyllis Edith Gorrell, at a holiday camp in Skegness. Dad remembers calling for Phyllis on a Friday night, while they were ‘courting’, and waiting in her parents’ kitchen in Islington while she finished off the family ironing.

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They married in 1952, and would holiday across Europe on his motorbike, often accompanied by mum’s twin sister Stella and her husband Peter. Eventually they arrived at LLoret de Mar in 1956, where he was – to reiterate the ‘Mondeo man’ blog – obviously Good With Cock.

My first vivid memory of Eric was when he helped me to fly, at our house in Rectory Close, Hadleigh. Maybe I was three? He would lay on his back in the lounge, draw his knees back to his chest, and get me to sit on his feet. Then he would propel me up into the air and across the room. On one occasion I hit the light up near the ceiling, which made me howl with delight. Dad also helped me to ride my bike without stabilisers. Even now the thrill of moving away on two wheels remains intact. As I sped away down the close, it was clear that power, riches and women were all to be mine. Any real fear of my father had yet to manifest.

Now 90, widowed for 12 years, and alone, Eric struggles to remember anything much beyond the long-gone past, while his short-term memory is increasingly non-existent. Driving his car back from an MOT out at Bishops Stortford last year, he forgot why he was on an unfamiliar road.

But he shops, washes and cooks for himself, manages his bank account competently, calls the bingo at his bowls club on Sunday lunchtimes, and watches Sky Sports avidly. Walks slowly each morning to his newsagent to get the Times and his ciggies. I adore talking with him, and love him dearly in his frailty, because all judgement has long gone, to be replaced by a mellow haze of contentment. As long as his aches and pains are under control, he wants for little, except perhaps company.

 

 

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