The Fall of Innocence: A Month of Memories

Autumn has always been a very special time for me. I remember London in October: The city full of burnt wood and magic; the cold creeping in off pink skies; the warm evening traffic crawling slowly into nowhere. There is something so sedated and calming in this time. I breathe it in. And with each intake of burnt air a memory drifts into my head.

As a young boy I remember walks along the mansions near the river. It would be just as the light fell, as the parks and public spaces were chained and locked, and mellow winds chased the scents of the freshly dead summer around. Overhead the last flocks of migrating birds would twist and dive by. The final distant calls of nature would sound out and then fade with no reply. So many such evenings I would wander mesmerised down shadowy west London avenues, staring in amazement at the illuminated stained glass doors, the homely hallways behind them, and through large Victorian windows, family get togethers in the living room. I would watch young girls play piano, or peer through huge open plan rooms as families sat and ate supper in the distance. I loved those little walks. The tranquility as the light gave way, as the street lamps rescued the city from darkness, and as life and nature and all things living and dying settled down for the night. For a few brief moments I felt as though I was a part of it all, that I was watching a lost film roll of my own family life. It was with a longing sadness that I dragged myself home, my young footsteps echoing a loneliness that only I could understand.

Later on in autumn, as the evenings darkened ever earlier and cool winds cut chill and whistled through stairwells and lift shafts, I remember being sent on errands to the Fish & Chip Shop. In fear of strange shadows and pursuing footsteps, I would run back home, holding the bag of hot food against my stomach. But in my house a  fish & chip supper did not signal a weekly treat whereby the day's food budget had been abandoned in favour of succulent golden battered cod, spiced Jamaican patties, pickled eggs and chips soaked in onion vinegar. No, they were sad events: suppers which signified that my stepfather was absent and my mother, due to the intake of several litres of cheap vodka, was incapable of cooking. Often my mother would use my short absence as an opportunity to gather up all the tranquilizers and sharp knives in the house. I would return home to find her sitting on the side of her bed, wearing a sagged and evil clown face, and either chewing on mouthfuls of pink and green capsules or running a sharp potato knife menacingly up and down her wrist. More often than not the fish would end up splattered against the wall and the chips tramped into the carpet or vomited up into the toilet. On very special nights I’d be hit in the head with the hot bag of food, and then sent off to call for an ambulance on another false suicide attempt. In the early hours of the morning my stepfather would return twelve pints of beer heavier, and finding the house empty, he’d stagger back out knocking up the neighbours until he found the one who had taken us in and saved us from police cells, or worse, the Social Services. I’d hear his deep dangerous voice asking of details and then he’d lead us home, a small rabble of sleepy heads, blankets and teddy bears. But that’s not a autumn memory, not really... that’s just a memory, a timeless reminiscence of days long gone.

Autumn is also the build up to winter, to crystal brittle skies and a silver sun whose distance fails to penetrate the cold. It’s a mid-time, a halfway house between two extremes, a time of beauty and romance and reflection. So I reflect. I send myself to sleep with past images and memories. As the leaves start to bruise and prepare to fall, and as goalposts replace cricket boundaries, so once again I get lost in memory and return to lands that no longer exist. This post was brought out by the season. It is born from changing times and lost and forgotten loves. On the winds of this new autumn, under fading October light, I deliver another piece of myself: The first 31 predominant memories of my life.

I do not remember being born;  not many of us do. But I do remember being fed. That is my 1st memory, being held to my mother's breast as she lay on a blanketed bed feeding  me. My 2nd memory is of being scolded for knocking over a glass full of Martini... my mother pushing me off my tricycle and onto the floor as she sponged up the wet. My 3rd is the year 1980. I had returned home after my first day at school with that nugget of knowledge: “It’s 1980. Mum, the year is 1980!” My 4th memory is watching my father open up his veins with a small meat cleaver after a violent argument with my mother. I watched from behind a long pleated skirt as my stepfather fought and wrestled him out the house. My 5th memory is a camel ride in London Zoo. Red top, Wellington boots, and beige Rupert the Bear trousers. My 6th recollection is my mother's scream, an unbearable sound that pierced my life and brought me fully into existence. My 7th is learning that my father had been murdered, dismembered, boiled, diced and flushed down a toilet. My 8th is finding my mother choking to death on the froth of an overdose, pills and broken glass littering her room. My 9th memory is of the hospital ward where she laid for a week -  bruised, unconscious and full of tubes. My 10th memory is taking a beating from my stepfather and then having my head shaved. My 11th is a dark room, nighttime radio, the glurping of neat alcohol being poured from bottle to glass, burning cigarettes, LED’s and tears. I remember the touch of pubic hair as my mother rubbed herself against my little legs. My 12th memory is realising that my brother and sister had rejected and distanced themselves from me after it was properly understood that I shared a different father. My 13th memory is my mother turning up drunk on my birthday and smashing all my new toys. My 14th is falling off my bike and losing consciousness. I remember pulling a wheelie, a pair of spinning handlebars, approaching concrete ground and then nothing. I came around grazed and bloodied on a public bench with a pair of watery grey eyes peering into mine. “You ‘ad a bit ov a fall young man... you’re Ok though!” My 15th memory is the Black House*. My 16th is my mother spraying perfume in my stepfather's eyes and then his hands, tattooed with ‘Love’ & ‘hate’, smashing into her jaw. My 17th is breaking my collarbone and laying in unbearable pain for 3 days before being taken to hospital. My 18th memory is being hit by the sperm of one of my mother's lovers. My 19th feeling the force of adult fists and kicks. My 20th is my stepfather doing the ironing in a dress. My 21st recollection is being arrested and detained in Hammersmith police station after throwing a grapefruit through Mr Brownhead's window. My 22rd & 23rd are of my mothers repeated suicide attempts. My 24th is being summoned to my mother's room and her declaring that she was dying of cancer. My 25th memory is being hit in the side of the head by a large bunch of keys. My 26th is fleeing the family home with my mother, brother & sister. A secret car ride across London and  hiding from my stepfather. My 27th is the window ledge of Hobb's Hotel in Victoria, my paralytic mother swaying on it 70ft above the ground. My 28th is Christmas 1988, my mother's lesbian lover trying to strangle my sister to death. My 29th is White City Estate. No furniture, gas or electricity. It was cigarettes, stolen cars and my mother's final, yet unsuccessful, suicide attempt. My 30th memory is throwing a world globe out off the geography room window and being permanently excluded from school. My 31st memory is starting off on my first days building work at the age of 15. I realised on that day, as i returned home absolutely exhausted after 8 hours of soul destroying work, that I was no longer a child,  that the burst-balloon-sponge-cake party was over. I also realised that hell was not an obligatory place of stay and  I was not there on her Majesty’s service. There were roads which led to hell and if I was ever to return there again it would at least be in consequence of my own footsteps. In a sense that sums it up. From the fall of my innocence rose my independence, a passionate and dangerous independence that flirts with hell without quite descending into it. But maybe that’s not really a choice? Maybe I am just a blessed and lucky sod?

Anyway, that’s my month of memories... as many reminiscences of my dead youth as there are days in October. But contrary to what it may appear, I have never thought of my young years as a broken or traumatic time. Far from it, my overriding recollections of those years are the memories that do not exist but those which litter and fill in the gaps. The childhood I remember was one of joy and escape... of exhilarating bike rides, hard schoolyard walls and dusty football marathons. I recall late evenings, staying out playing as one by one the other children were called home and finally I was left kicking my ball down dark streets alone. So, in tune with the new season, that is how I see my youth: it was a bruised but not a battered time. It was an autumn and not a winter. And as the new season imposes itself proper and mornings and afternoons sweep cold, my eyes can only blink heavy through golden tones and I can only ride high as once again the scent of burnt wood wafts through another European city. In a way, the combined beauty of 33 autumns is the answer to my unknown equation. The present can never be more wonderful or less hellish than it is right now, because after everything, and before anything else, this is all that there ever really is.

Take care Readers and thanks for sitting out the drought...

My Thoughts and Wishes as Always and Ever, Shane.x

*Read relevant blog entry