Like an old Rainbow song, I was ‘The Black Sheep Of The Family’ and I guess some of you feel that way too. When I was very small I heard an argument over something that I had done between my Mam and Dad, and half way through out came the phrase “We didn’t want him anyway…you know he was a mistake!”. From being a happy little lad that phrase echoed through my childhood. Any time there was a good vibe in the house I never went with it, because I knew I was a mistake, they didn’t really want me! Up until then I had loved my parents with all my heart, but from that early moment I felt it was all fake! Throughout my young life other things happened that seemed to underline the divide between us. My sister, 12 years older, was the ‘special’ one, the sun shone from her derriere, whilst I got shouted at, and relentless punishments. The worst being the cupboard under our stairs. If I had done pretty much anything, in days before naughty steps, I would get a hiding. My Dad’s shovel like hand, or his Pirelli slipper, with a real tyre sole. Once I got him so apoplectic that he thumped me with his big heavy work belt, covered in metal studs, it seemed to go on forever. Then I was locked into the tiny cupboard under the stairs. It was pitch black, had spiders and the occasional mouse during the hours I spent in there.
When my folks took a drive out, they had no choice but to drag me along, not having money for babysitters. They went out mostly with a lovely couple, their best friends Joe and Dorrie Jobling. Joe had a car, we never ever did, so they shared driving and took us to lovely places like Pitlochry, Edinburgh, Fort William or more usually closer places like Wooller, Jedburgh, Seahouses, Bamburgh, Whitley Bay, Cullercoats , Tynemouth and Hexham. I always felt like a spare part. Two loving couples, happy with each other, happy with their friends and the ‘mistake’. I was always left alone, to wander about while they chatted, fished or even have meals. Once in Seahouses I remember the four of them sitting in a cheap and cheerful chippie having a meal, and I was told to take a bag of chips and “watch the boats coming in!”. I know they loved me, but as a child I never really felt it. That may have been my fault, but I never saw myself as trouble. I was just ‘unnecessary’, and I often wished that I had never been born so they could have had a happier life.
On another trip with the two couples I was the extra wheel on the cart, when we went up to Ford, to go fishing. The men fished, the women chatted, knitted and prepared food while I tried to wallow (alone) in the nature of fabulous Northumberland. It was on the way back that once again certain proof of me being an obstacle to their fun. It was about 8.00pm and we were driving back home when they decided that they would like to stop for a meal at a country pub. I was hungry too, it sounded great. So we drive to a place that I think was called ‘The Highlander’ at Belsay, it looked warm and inviting as it had just started to drizzle. The car stopped and parked in the pitch black car park and everyone began to get out. As I edged towards the door my Dad said “Where do you think you’re going?” then explained that a pub was no place for children. He told me to stay in the car and wait for them. After about ninety minutes he returned with a small Coke bottle and a bag of crisps, then back in for another hour. People walked by, some peering in at this little terrified child locked in a car, bored out of his mind! At every turning my place in the scheme of things became clear!
As soon as I got old enough, sick to death of being ‘the burden’ or ‘the afterthought’ I tried to convince them that I was old enough to stay at home on my own. The first year I argued for this, they took me anyway, up to Edinburgh for a week in a B& B. The entire thing was a bloody nightmare!. On arrival, around 6.30pm, the two couples wanted to go out for a pub meal, it sounded fantastic. Joe knew of this place with a pool table, that served amazing food in a basket (that was a huge 60’s and 70’s thing). I loved the sound of it, I was hungry and it was supposed to be my holiday too. Instead my Mam told me to get ready for bed (I was about 11) and said my supper was on the table. A canny packet of Tudor Ready Salted crisps, half a stiff sandwich with cheap fake beef spread and a two finger Kitkat. My holiday feast. I was so disappointed, but it got worse. They told me that the landlady, a portly beehived Scot with hair as ginger as mine, would come up and give me a bath! WHAT? That was not going to happen. I was just beginning puberty and aware of the various sprouting of hair, and slight increases in size of my body. On arrival that landlady had said, on seeing me, “Oh you’ve brought copperknob with you this time!”. Firstly, and I understand that she was right, she was not going to see any copperknob any time soon, and secondly why would anyone want to leave a stranger to undress your child? Well only if I were ‘a mistake’ and ‘not wanted’. Everything just seemed to underline that fact. That evening I put the sneck on the bedroom door, and hid in the wardrobe. I also kept my underpants on, under my jimjams. She hammered on the door a dozen times but I didn’t let her in. I only removed the sneck when the family got back at just after midnight. Laughing, joking a bit rosy cheeked, obviously having had a great time! The entire trip was like that, I hated it!
The following year they left me a few quid, plenty food in the larder in the scullery (look those up in Google) and they went away on their own, and always had an amazing time. They took photos’ on slides and would have loads of friends around to relive their trip with the projector on. I felt like the losing players on ‘Bullseye’ as my parents showed me all of the things I could have done! If they had wanted me there I would be glad to be, but not if they didn’t. The only time I would ever go with them again was when my sister came out of a convent after a dozen years as a nun. She took me to see ‘The Sound Of Music’ 28 times (Why didn’t someone call the NSPCC?) she saw it over 200. On realising she was not an asset to the Abbey, she met and married a German from a pen-pal marriage agency, they had children and danced around fountains, just like the film. So my Mam and Dad told me I had to go with them to Germany, to see my sister and her new husband. I was now about 15, long hair, beads, and very long hair in my fake cheapo leather jacket, trying hard to be grown up with an almost feathery tash! Surely as this was just a family thing, everything would be warm and loving. It was for everybody but me. We visited by brother in laws sister who was a hairdresser, and she and her whole family laughed at my long hair. She offered to cut it, the very last thing I wanted, I was growing it in. The tradition on visiting a house in those mid-German towns, is that everyone gets a shot of homemade Schnapps. Now I was just getting the odd shandy, but drink was not my thing at that time. They insisted that I had two Peach Schnapps, fully knowing that on young’uns it reacted to knock them out. I did drift into sleep. When they woke me up, when the entire visit was over, the hairdresser had not cut my hair, instead using an early version of hair straighteners she had made my hair stand up like a Coldstream guardsman. Everyone thought it hilarious, I just realised that I was brought along purely for comic effect. The black sheep was being punished for not being proper ‘family’.
My Dad worked a main job, took on loads of overtime and then did work doing freelance building or handyman work to give us a better life. He was an incredibly hard worker, giving me his work ethic. My Mam, he never wanted to work. She had worked in Vickers Armstrongs Munitions Factory whilst my Dad fought in World War Two. After the war my Dad said that it was a man’s place to be the provider, the woman the homemaker. Sexist today, yet for many of my parents generation, that is just how it was.
I loved them so very much, despite part of me truly believing that I shouldn’t. Before my Dad died he finally told me that he loved me for the very first time. I told him I loved him too and I really did. Yet he never knew me, and I never had the chance to know him. We never went to a pub for a drink together, the right of passage for most Fathers and Sons, we never interacted much at all. When we did whatever I did was never good enough. I had to look after my Mam, who I always called Audrey (part of that ‘keeping my distance’ thing) when she got ill and started suffering from dementia. Even being so close, having to clean her and dress her, feed her and keep her safe, I still never got to know her. She had all but left by then. Then eventually had to get her into a home, and see her often, but by then any sign of Audrey had morphed into another person. Yet all my life I have sought to find that everlasting love, to be wanted, needed and be loved. I take full responsibility for all of the mistakes I have made, and there have been plenty. I wonder how things would have been had I not spent my life feeling unwanted?
Fellow ‘black sheep’ will make more sense of this than most.