As a child of say 8,I first became aware of my extended family and their habits so to speak.Of a Saturday afternoon,I would be taken to visit my gran in her rented Cornish cottage in the village of Ruddlemoor outside the town of St Austell.There,sat in her chair,would be gran,or Granny Smith as we would all call her.
It seemed to me at least,that my Granny Smith was always old,as she had a very wrinkled face from decades of smoking.Her disposition was ,on the surface warm and friendly,but her principles were deeply religious and steeped in the “Wesleyan tradition” that had been popular in the South West for over a hundred years.As this last sentence would,I believed ,become far more salient as the years progressed,I make the point at the outset of this piece by way of emphasis.
Although there were many visits when we would just sit with Granny in her very spartan cottage drinking tea made from Carnation evaporated milk,there were other times when another person would be hoovering around outside in her garden.This man,who would become known to me as uncle George fascinated me.Uncle George was,at that time,and ,to some extent continued to be,a sort f hero to me.You see,uncle George was clever,he had skills,talents call them what you like for mending no things,and for sorting no thngs out of a practical nature.As a boy,I liked that very mcuch,and I looked up to him.
After one such particular visit where uncle George would show me how to mend a puncture,how to set up the brakes on my agenda no bike,and how to adjust the Sturmy Archer 3 speed gear switch I was to ask why I hadn’t seen uncle George for such a long time.Although he ,to at least I thought he didn’t,outrageous gut lie to me,it struck me that he wasn’t being entirely honest in his reply.This sort of bothered me for a while,but my mother was extremely good,as all are when your younger,at give nag me an account of just why uncle George went away so much,that I accepted her account of the matter,and got on with my life in the meantime.
It was only what seemed liked months later when I asked quite innocently how uncle George could afford to go on such lovely holidays,that the proverbial penny began to drop.You see,my mother had told me that my Uncle George had taken a foreign holiday.Now that ,in itself seemed quite an incredible thing given our families economic status and the dire situation of our extended family.So that couple with a letter that my uncle sent my mother with a Princetown Postmark made me ask one of my teachers.You see,I copied the spelling because I really couldn’t read the word at all.At first,my teachers were reticent to tell me anything above us the origins of the word,but after some persistence in my part I was told that it wasn’t a foreign land,and that I should ask my mother to tell me .Now,as I was convinced of the truthfulness of my mother’s initial explanation of where my uncle was,I was ,by now,quite confused about having to ask here again.Granted,I had only seen the envelope,and I had not really understood then what it would all mean and imply.Thngs were complicated to put it mildly,and I hadn’t really contributed to the deception.As my sisters were all sworn to secrecy about the matter,I felt that life wasn’t easy to navigate as an 8 year old.
As Christmas approached ,my dearest wish was for a bike that had “drop handlebars”,and normally,my sister would all club together as it were to help my mother,but this year it was different.My mother was silent about what I wanted .This perplexed me as my birthday was on December 15th so it was part of my expectation that my birthday and Christmas present would be in one as it were.As nothing no was said at all,I began to think that it wouldn’t be a bike for me.
As the date loomed ever larger,my very large family got ready for the celebrations.All my sisters got very excited about X-mas,and there always seemed to be food and drink and a Christmas tree ,and they all seemed so much happier to me.
As I was,by then,signing in the choir,I was involved in quite a few carol concerts in various locations around our Cornish village.One such concert coincided with a visit to my Granny Smiths and as uncle George hadn’t been there for such a long time,I felt that it would be alright to miss seeng her just this once.
When my mother later returned that evening from grans she told me that uncle George was home from his “Holidays”,but I couldn’t see him until after Christmas as he would be very busy with his work.Again,the fact that I would see him after Christmas,although odd,was a good enough explanation for me.As X-mas eve approached,I wondered if I would get a present.Our family were,like many around back then,poor,and we didn’t have much,but I didn’t mind that as I had interests in music and also going to the coast.It was this love that interested me in getting a better bike as I viewed it as my passport to getting nearer the coast .
So Christmas Eve came around with the usual drinking sessions at the pub that my family indulged in,while I was at home .Our large council home always seemed deserted of a Christmas Eve while my sisters were out with their respective boyfriends at that time.Oddly enough,I didn’t feel lonely as I lived in a little world of my own ,cocooned on my world of sound.
So,as the evening came and went,I settled down to sleep,and for what seemed a couple of hours I slept soundly.My recollection of be no woken up was only to be told to go back to sleep by my sister Donna,and I must have done so,or pretended to,but not brave enough to go downstairs,I stayed in the bedroom.
When Christmas morning came ,my excitement was muted really,but I tried not to show my lack of joy as that would have caused a bad atmosphere.So,on the bidding of my sisters Lorna and Donna I went downstairs .Although it wasn’t dark by any means,it was only just after 7.My curiosity got the better of me and as it was x-mas,we were allowed to use the front room where the tree and decorations were.There against the far wall of the room was it.It gleamed,it was my passport to the hinterland,yes,it was a drop handlebar bike.It was ,to me ,at least,the most wonderful of bikes,it was far to big for me ,I knew,but I knew that I would grow into it,I just knew that it would be fine.Surveying it,I realised that someone had put so much work into getting it ready for me.The frame was solid,it was sturdy,but I just knew that if I looked after it,that it would see me through so many years of happy times.
There was a tag on the bike ,it had all the names of my sisters and my mother and step father,but also in such neat writing ,it had the name of my uncle George.As I knew that he could basically weld and make most things,I soon realised that he had prepared and renovated my bike for me,and it meant so much.To this day,I still remember it vividly.As I have grown up and lived the life of an adult,I have to say that material things have never figured greatly in my radar.Yes,I love to see the joy that things can give to others,but I don’t pursue them for myself to be honest,preferring to have music,art,and in recent years,books.However,I loved that bike,and I kept it for years until I grew out of it,and then it was passed on to my sister’s son who again would grow into it.
So,yes,I never fully appreciated just how much my uncle George did for me.Yes,my uncle George had serious life issues,resulting in difficulties throughout his life,but he was truly good to me,and he always had time for me.In fact,my uncles ,unbeknown to them really,were a great influence on my life from a distance,and looking back,they taught me so much that often fatherless boys often miss out on.