I thought long and hard about writing this particular post. I’ve always been the kind of person to keep things very much to myself and to try not to do things which upset other people. What I am going to say may upset some people that I care about very dearly – my parents – but it is also one of the things that I see as having been significant in my life and development. And yes, it might seem that I am getting a twenty year grievance off my chest in public, but I hope you will also see that if this is the thing that I am most aggrieved about over my forty-something years on this planet then I am actually a very lucky person indeed.
(Incidentally, there is no significance to the timing of this, other than that it ties in nicely with Friday’s post)
I mentioned previously that I was once caught mopping the kitchen floor without being asked to. At the time I wasn’t sure of the year, but having had some time to think about it I am pretty sure it was 1988. I know this because the incident surrounded my mother having major surgery, and I now remember my father telling me about it on his fortieth birthday, which was in 1988.
Sadly, this is also the thing that has upset me most and for the longest time during the course of my life.
Mum’s operation was scheduled for the end of May. I was away at university, coming to the end of my second year. Fortunately, May was pretty much the end of the academic year at Keele in those days, and there were no exams in the second year. I had, therefore, planned on taking a week to ten days off and going back home to lend a hand, especially as I knew that Dad would have to go to work at some point whilst Mum was convalescing.
As I remember it, I went home on the day after the operation, although it may have been the day after that. By that time I had passed my driving test, but was still a good decade away from owning a car. As was my wont, I took a train around lunchtime from Stoke-on-Trent and arrived in Coventry in early afternoon.
The usual routine for my returns home was for me to arrive at Coventry and then telephone to say that I was there – no mobile phones in those days, remember – and this is what I did. At the time we lived in the village which we came to know as Buggerall – Bubbenhall – and public transport to there was almost non-existent.
I was therefore somewhat surprised when Dad answered the phone and refused to come and pick me up, expecting me to either get a bus or a taxi. He only relented when I pointed out that I had no idea where to even catch a bus from, never mind how many hours it might be to the next one, and couldn’t really afford a taxi.
In hindsight, I should have walked home. It was only a little over six miles. Because that one telephone call and car ride led to a level of abuse and criticism which has stayed with me ever since.
First of all, Dad began laying into me for having the temerity to want a lift home when he had my three siblings to take care of – even though, to my recollection, all of them were teenagers. Then we went to the hospital to see Mum, and she and my grandmother (who was also there) began berating me for the same thing. In fact Gran went on for so long that Mum later admitted to having begun to feel sorry for me.
I am still not sure what I was supposed to have done wrong. I had arranged to take time off from university – admittedly I wasn’t missing a lot, but I was still supposed to be there – and I was doing what I thought was helpful to everyone by coming home for an extended visit so that I could help out around the house in the knowledge that even when she came home Mum wasn’t going to be able to do much.
Instead, all I got was complaint after complaint about the manner of my arrival. I’m not suggesting that I was doing anything that any other child would not have done in the circumstances, and I accept that the people concerned might have been more than a little stressed by events generally, but the unfairness of it all has haunted me ever since.
And the next time I came home I damn well made sure that I walked from the station.