Home life and money

I guess I was never very good at that old 'money in versus money out' equation when it came to our family finances. I suppose I had the feeling of a true born optimist that my earnings would simply continue to grow as they had in the past. And besides, the bank always seemed anxious to lend me whatever I needed. (I still possess their gold credit card with its £10,000 limit, and unbelievably it is still fully active!) . So what the hell, no worries? Well, just a few. Having invested in Robert's hugely loss-making oyster dredger, MFV Kerry Jane. (Funny that- Kerry Jane does rhyme with money drain.) there was always the danger factor that comes with a commercial fishing enterprise. And of course there was the need to pay for Joan's around the clock care whenever I was required to be abroad on business and her day care when I was at work. But as to the latter it is at the same time fair and unfair to say that Stuart, our youngest and the last one left full time at home, took on board overmuch of the burden, never knowing quite what would await him when coming home from school. On one occasion, sadly it was his mother's blood.

There were quite a few capital costs at that time, for whatever Robert wanted Robert had to have according to Joan - and agreed to by myself in the false hope of a 'cure' as well as in the interests of the quiet life. We financed him not just to that fishing boat, its moorings and equipment, but to a motorcycle and then a car, both written off in very short order, and even a caravan when our eldest son decided to leave home and live with his rather lovely girlfriend. He promptly parked that caravan by the empty swimming pool at the bottom of our garden. We turned our usual blind eye to the intrusion and the happy couple's ongoing need for  provisions. Nevertheless that adventure ended when Joan told me with considerable relief and some pride that Robert and his lassie were now into self-sufficiency, for had they not started to grow tomatoes in our empty swimming pool? Yes, you've probably guessed it. For tomato plants please read 'weed'!

I do not think that my wife Joan loved Robert any more than she loved our other three. She loved, even if to a so-often restrained extreme Karen and Julie and Stuart as well. But a mother will always incline to devote an unfair portion of her time and attention to the weakest of her brood. Looking back with dispassion - and no pride at all - I realise, whether we knew it or not then, that we were in a way trying to 'buy off' Robert's incipient mental illness. In spite of his obvious intelligence his needs seemed always to be greater than those of the others, just as his mind was in regions where neither we, his parents nor they, his siblings could ever go. And the others always seemed better able than Bob to cope with things. At any rate by the mid-eighties Kairen and Julie were both married ladies with homes and children of their own. Even Stuart, who by then was often getting himself into scrapes, always seemed quite capable of getting himself out of them.

However, in spite of all, I can say in truth that family life in 45 Raynes Road, Lee-on-Solent was not by any means all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite. For instance by the mid seventies the swimming pool was in good order. I can see the children and their friends disporting themselves with much splashing and screaming down there at the bottom of the garden, Stuart climbing on to the next door neighbours' garage roof in order to dive bomb the others. I can see the henhouse I built out of old pallets and the half dozen chickens at home it it; the morning gathering of fresh eggs was a joy for all of us. And I can see Julie's pet buck rabbit, a surprisingly active creature that I had to secretly dispatch early one morning before anyone else had got up. Why? Because he was not content with playing out his sexual fantasies on the legs of anyone coming into range, but also he had fallen deeply in love with one of our chickens. That poor bird had consequently lost all of her back feathers, a great worry for the girls, even more so when I had to announce that their furry friend had escaped and had probably gone to live happily with his bunny cousins over on the Browndown wild land.

Then there was that Christmastide when Joan's parents came down from York to stay with us and I myself volunteered to cook the Christmas Day lunch. Before the usual main course of turkey and as a really special treat I started the meal with Robert's Kerry Jane-caught oysters, 'angels-on-horseback' style. By the time The Queen put in her customary TV appearance there seemed to be something pretty noxious in the air. By early evening everyone seemed unduly tired, clutching tummies, needing to retire early. And then all that long, long Christmas night one could hear the flushing of the toilets and inadequately choked back moans and groans. Never again will most if not all (except me) eat an oyster, and never again would I fail to cleanse these or any other shellfish for days at a time in buckets of water thickened with oat flakes.

If my father and/or my stepmother Julia ever ventured out of Hastings along the south coast to see us at Lee-on-Solent I cannot remember it but Joan's mother, Triphena, and her father, Ted, came south to stay on holiday with us a few times. Ted was a real character. Nobody in the family knew quite where he had come from or how or why but to judge by his accent it had to be somewhere in East Anglia. He had met Triphena when, in her early twenties, she was 'in service' at a grand house within deepest Yorkshire. The feeling was that he had been something to do with horses and the countryside. He was always studying the racing form and visiting the local bookie's and whenever we took him out on a country drive there seemed little he didn't know about the wildife, especially the parts of it that you can eat. Perhaps he had run away from a gypsy encampment having offended Romany law? we asked each other. But his wife Triphena was a genuinely strong and silent Yorkshire classic who, like her daughter, my wife, was not without an often macabre sense of humour. It was never easy for that lady bringing up four children in a three bedroom council house, virtually single handed, children who all developed into upstanding property-owning citizens. In order so to do the lady used to be out of the house at or before 06.00 cleaning the local school for miniscule pay. As I recall, at home she hardly ever seemed to sit down - but what a brilliant cook was she!

And then there was the boat(s) and fishing the salty waters of The Solent. Of course the girls had no interest in those things but myself and the boys sometimes, weather obviously permitting, took Joan out with us, launching off the Lee on Solent slipway close by Raynes Road and lifting Joan and her wheelchair aboard. But even that form of recreation faded and died as my wife's condition deteriorated, as the boys took themselves off and as I was 'encouraged' by the dear old HSBC to reduce my accumulated borrowings. Looking back on them, those times remind me of a game of musical chairs. At some point the music has to stop and in 1985 so it did.

Dee, my friend and lover since the early 70's and her boys, Max and Rudi, now in their late teens, were more of a solution for me than a problem. A kind of haven of normality. And now, in 1985, they became the solution. Read on, if you will  ...

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