My first real memory is my brother’s birth in May 1959. I was 26 months old. While mum was at Rochford hospital, my gran came down to Hadleigh from London to look after me. As I was playing in my sand-pit in the back garden, one of the structure’s brick walls fell and trapped me. Nanny came out, and freed me, after I had shouted for an eternity. The garden was my kingdom. I can recall meticulously constructing my own aircraft from bits of old wood, and the disappointment when it failed to take off.
Next door lived a girl called Beverley, a year older than me. I would poke my head over the fence trying to talk to her. She enjoyed arousing my interest and then walking away. Two doors away, I watched from the pavement as a man killed a snake with a spade. An adder, most likely out of its normal orbit in the long grass of the nearby rectory. He chopped its head off. This was the post WW2 era, when comics and films highlighted killing as an exciting alpha male pursuit.
Apparently I would follow my dad around at every opportunity. Eric usually played football on Saturdays in the winter, and would take me over to Hadleigh Recreation ground to potter around while he played. I have vague memories of starting to climb trees there.
Recollections of indoors are limited. Black and white TV programmes in the winter. Several tummyaches in the night, which were sometimes enough to get me into my parents bed for a fix of warm flesh. I was fascinated by my mum’s underwear. One morning, I went into the spare bedroom where she would hang things to dry, and slipped into her bra and corset. Which probably looked seven sizes too big, and may not have matched, such was my inattention to aesthetics. The experience gave the first erection I can recall. Then I heard mum looking for me, footsteps approaching the room, so I squeezed behind the door, breath held and penis rigidly poking out of the outsize lingerie. Heart beating crazily with guilt at what must surely be naughtiness. I have often wondered if she saw me and had the mercy to ignore it. As soon as she disappeared upstairs, I discarded my temporary fix of femininity, and redressed at maximum speed.
The pleasure of transgressing rules dizzied me. Mum took me to Woolworths in Hadleigh High Street. I had seen other kids poking their tongues out, and deeply wanted some of the action. As Phyllis inspected packets of biscuits, I walked up to another lady and gave her a huge frown, as foreplay, before the tongue shot out towards her, to its full length. The woman brazenly told me off. Ditto my mother.
Academia began at Hadleigh nursery school, where I spent every minute that I could fighting with Paul Seligson, my first real buddy. We couldn’t get enough of this entirely natural male activity. As soon as the helpers split us up we’d be at it on the floor within minutes. I’m sure there were other activities, but we liked fighting best. Paul and I moved onto infant school. Mum would take me to the door, where I howled with anguish at the separation every day for a week or so. Memories of this establishment are meagre: dark winter classrooms, struggling with papier mache, and a cold playground, with a water fountain by the wall.
Transgression urges continued to pull at me like irresistible sirens. One day walking home from school I decided to call one of the mums a “silly old bag”. No reason other than the craving being too strong to resist, after hearing this phrase. Each delicious word thrilled me to the marrow as it tripped off my tongue. The woman’s son was a year older than me. His gang informed me they would take their revenge on the way home from school. The scary exposure came at lunchtime, when I walked home, alone, for dinner. Not sure they ever laid a hand on me in the end, but the fear factor loomed large with every step home and back. Dad’s advice was to “hit ‘em harder than they hit you, son”. But they were three-strong, and older. They would have mashed me, and I knew I was in the wrong.
Before too long we moved to Bowers Gifford, a little village on the outskirts of Basildon, so that Eric had a garage from which to base his scrap metal business.