Some Real Autobiography At Last (The 'Flip-Book' series, No.12)

Back on number 006 of this flip-book, I wondered about the sequence of events in my life that had led me from small-town, small-time, smallest-bedroom obscurity to this penthouse apartment in Stockholm; how had LOSER reached CHAMP?
Now, as I move to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, it's time to revisit the theme.  Look at that astonishing view of the city skyline; how on earth did I get to see this?

The first rung of my ladder, thirteen-thousand nine-hundred and ninety one days earlier, was a modest semi-detached house in Claregate which used to be, between 1959 and 1963, a very pleasant suburb of Wolverhampton; I hope it still is.

I'm aware of three earlier ladders beneath mine, one atop another, all of them climbing quietly through the working-class England of the last century.

  • My dad's paternal grandfather was a stevedore for the coal-barges that plied the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal: outdoor work, a lot of heavy lifting in all weathers.
  • One of his sons, my grandfather, was a sheet-metal labourer: indoor work in primitive factory conditions, some heavy lifting.
  • My father trained in (and became an expert at) the processing of photography for various organs of the Midland News Association: indoor work in climate-controlled conditions, no heavy lifting at all but needing to have his hands immersed in very cold water much of the time.

Everything augured well for me then, by the time I came to be born in the spring of 1959.  It looked as if whatever career I chose to pursue would involve being indoors, pampered by central heating or air-conditioning, doing no lifting of any weight whatsoever, and maybe not even needing to wake up.  A veritable workers' paradise; but first I would need to grow through infancy, childhood and adolescence.

I started out to do that with the benefit of several advantages: infant mortality rates were on the decline in my neck of the woods, smallpox had been effectively eradicated, the polio vaccine was becoming popular, and the richness of my diet would guard against rickets.  I had the run (or crawl, or toddle) of a 1930s-vintage three-bedroomed dwelling --- really two bedrooms and a box-room, the latter being mine --- with a little front garden and a rather larger back garden containing a fruitless apple-tree; the road was neat and uncluttered by cars (people used their garages as garages back then, imagine that), and passing traffic was relatively infrequent; my parents were still in their first year of marriage, that flush of novelty, and were happily attentive to me.

But oh dearie me, there were also disadvantages, which would assume titanic proportions as I grew to teenage: my mother came from a devout* Roman Catholic family, which meant that my father (who aired no views on religion and was possibly a closet humanist) had to agree to his children being raised as foot-soldiers for the Pope.  She also had serious (but latent) mental health problems, and was far too young for the responsibility that she had assumed.

Of course, in my pre-school years I was cheerfully unaware of these details; the soft ticking sound of doom seemed no more ominous than the clock on that early mantelpiece...


* My definition of 'devout', based on observation and bitter experience, goes: "obsessively servile, fearful and furtive when discussing religion or the clergy, while being physically and verbally brutal to one's own kith and kin."

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