The first of the essays

After a bit of techno-scrambling I finally received finished copies of my auto-bio:  SO WHAT? Here's the first of my book's 84 blogs / essays ...


1. Early days
My birth certificate tells us I was born to Marie and Edwin Islip in Chigwell, North London, on the 23rd of October 1934. My father tells me I was born dead and was granted an existence only by the good doctor who persisted in swinging me about by my baby ankles. Welcome, Bryan Henry Islip, to this Vale of Tears.
My only pre-world war two memory is of a family picnic / fishing day out in Epping Forest, just to the northeast of London. Quite recently I wrote a long narrative poem about my early love of the piscatorial arts. It included these lines …I would have been aged about four …

But I remember the finger-feel
of warm black earth, uprooted turf
that we hand-dug in search of bait
from the soft bank, wriggly worms,
for whom I felt that sadness:
and still I feel the sleepy weight
of summer through sun-shaft foliage
overhead; green, golden, shifting,
and still the moving water glistens;
I hear the ruckle of its slow running,
swirling, cold to my bare feet,
and the insect drone of tiny wings
amidst the waxy drowse of that forest.

I have to assume that mother, father, two years old sister Shirley and now baby Bryan were living in some kind of modest suburban affluence, for shortly after the outbreak of the second world war I have a fractured memory of getting used to our ‘just-for-practice’ nights in the Anderson bomb shelter at the bottom of our garden. At any rate, unless memory plays me false I am sure my five years old self was, with the rest of the nation, crowded around our radio as Mr Nevelle Chamberlain spoke so very sonorously that we were now in a state of war with Germany. As the echoes of world war one must still have been sounding and most of my little boy toys were military I do remember that this didn’t seem to me to be at all bad news.
Father’s position as a quantity surveyor with The Ministry ensured that he was needed more for the construction of war-time airfields than the wearing of any uniform other than that, eventually, of the Home Guard. His work on the giant USAF airbase at Burtonwood in Lancashire led to the whole family, now increased to myself and Shirley plus Tina and Maureen, migrating north, away from London’s bombing.
I understand that soon after we left Chigwell an enemy bomb landed foursquare on our Anderson shelter, leading to the local newspaper’s obituary account of the complete demise of the entire Islips! 
One of my earliest clear memories is of the long car ride from Essex to Lancashire in father’s Morgan sports car. Traversing a bridge over the river Ribble my daddy stopped the car. I watched him as he scrambled down to the waterside and came back up after a while carrying a mighty salmon that by his account had stranded itself in a bankside pool. Fish and fishing would become a fixation, one that would last all of my life. This is another little extract from my poem ‘Fisherboy’ …

…but this is fishing, nineteen forty two.
Lancashire pond, shiveringly deep
rush fringed, overhanging willows,
dark skies, menace, mirror calm,
whatever monster lurks down there?
My father is handing me his rod,
shiny soft feel of its cork handle
tiny bobble float red and white,
with quill upright out in the middle.
‘Watch it, now, pay attention’,
he instructed, (as if I needed it),
and yet I miss the strike when, dis-
believing, I no more see a float,
just plop within those circle ripples,
gone. ‘Too late, Bryan’, father says,
and I feel his disappointment
in me in spite of all my good intent,
and in myself , all passion spent.

I think I must have been something of a risk taker even then, for to this day I bear a scar central on my forehead from an injury sustained in falling off some wall on to an iron railing. Much blood, much panicked mummy! I detested infant school in my new home village of Walton-le-Dale. In fact I’m not sure if I was or wasn’t in the act of absenting myself when falling off that wall.  But I so well remember sitting with mummy and daddy in the headmaster’s office; the latter, stern of face, asking me whether I really wished to let down my family so much? I understood that by my family he meant my maternal grandfather Albert Osborne, then the world-wide General of the Salvation Army. I remember him well, grandfather Osborne; a very big man in all senses.

When the U.S.A. entered the war on our side huge convoys of American vehicles would crawl up Chorley Road past our house. This is an extract from another of my long, autobiographical poems, the one I call Early Stirrings …

There’s this eight year old in war-
time Lancashire when the door
to England opens wide as his eyes,
and they’re singing or humming
all about The Yanks Are Coming,
mother says they'll help us win
whilst father mutters better late …
And me? I’m bedazzled, silent,
standing outside our garden gate
at the village roadside, puzzled,
when that great convoy passes.
Puzzled by Yankee imprecations
in language strangely accented
whilst they throw out small tins
of proper coffee and Wrigley’s
much sought after chewing gum
for us to scramble over: but why
would they want to meet the girls
of Walton-le-Dale? I wonder,
for girls are so boring, at least,
as are my sisters three to me
and girls can’t even fight the
German Hun or Eyeties, anyone.
But still there are more interesting
things than where the fighting's been
or what goes on unseen behind
the sightscreen on the green:
like exploring the summer fields,
and fishing (if father was home)
or watching him shoot bottles
off our fence, or birds alive
with his Home Guard forty five
(he let me hold it, unloaded),
and learning from a local boy
to tell an ordinary rabbit hole
from a breeding burrow, pull
out a baby with a bramble, so
at school I tried to please but
it was not there I felt at ease,
and my classes dragged along,
and learning  right from wrong,
and how the price of wrong is pain
and ‘Bryan, don’t do that again’,
yes, my world is full of fears
as dreams turn often into tears,
'til came the time in that farmer’s
barn with its piled high bales
of straw, where up on top I hide,
watch that Yankee soldier ride
a breathless, laughing village girl
with all that grunting, groaning
ending in strange female crying,
and I feel unreasoned anger
although lustful wings are whirring
and thus there is that early stirring.

No doubt totally the wrong kind of sex education, but I had begun to notice the biological differences between myself and my sisters three.

I learned to fear my father - or rather his inexplicably foul moods when the rest of us so wanted him - and us and everything - to be happy. One Christmas we had all been sitting with mother ahead of father’s return from his work in London for what seemed like ages making paper chains with which to decorate the house When daddy arrived he took no notice of our decorations. Soon enough the shouting began;  that is, father shouting, mother saying nothing, which simply resulted in the upping of his volume. He raged around, tearing down our careful work, yelling inexplicably about how there could be no Christmas in this house!

It’s the little things that years later are still there in the forefront of one’s mind. It must have been for my seventh birthday that my parents presented me with what automatically became my prized possession: a pearl handled penknife.  A few days later I was by myself in the nearby woods, cutting my initials on to a tree when along came three much bigger boys. One of them said he’d teach me to throw my knife from a distance so that it would stick in the tree trunk. Needless to say that was the last I would see of my precious possession. I ran home in tears. Daddy asked me what was wrong. When I told him he ordered me to go back to the wood, find those boys and retrieve the knife. I roved around in the trees until dark, of course without finding them - in fact dreading to find them for what was I to do if I did? As punish-ment for that I was made to bend over for a good hiding with a carpet slipper, my mummy crying in the background. I was lucky. The more extreme punishment came via daddy’s leather leather belt.

I think I must have been quite a shy little boy. The time came when, instead of being escorted to the barber shop by mother, father gave me the money and told me to go by myself. I was racked with embarassment. On returning home father flew into a rage, declaring that the barber had ‘hardly touched’ a part of my hair. I was to go back by myself and demand a ‘proper haircut’, he said. For ages I walked up and down outside the shop. I think the barber must have seen me and understood this strange little eight year old’s problem, for when I did finally pluck up courage to go back in he made no fuss about it; made no extra charge, either.

In spite of all I really loved my father; idolised him in fact especially when he donned his officer’s Home Guard uniform and practiced firing his sten gun, shooting, or trying to shoot tin cans off our back garden fence. But it was mother who I loved the most. I recollect the sheer beauty of the woman and I truly relished the comforting warmth of her love for me. But strangely disturbing things were to happen. Mother put Shirley, aged twelve and myself aged ten on a London bound train at Preston. I could not understand it when I realised that she was not coming with us. I see her still; she is waving as our train pulls away, tears sparkling on her face. I would neither see nor hear from my mother again for the following forty two years.

So what next? I've no idea; looking for / waiting for marketing inspiration. All ideas welcome. But if you would like to read on try asking for ISBN 978-0-9555193-7-6 in the bookshops or on Amazon after April 1st or calling me for a signed copy on e-m I'll send you the book. Then you'll send me the £8.99. OK?

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