30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

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Rayge
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30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Rayge » 30 Jun 2017, 18:14

First off, I apologize for the length of this. Although I know the tl:dr crowd will be itching, it would be nice if they just moved along a bit. And second, I am genuinely sorry for the proliferation of first-person pronouns. It isn't only Bobby Vee's Night that has a Thousand Is.

I’ve probably mentioned before how I spent a week in a Thomas Hardy novel back at the end of my first year at university, a week that ripped me out of an extended, secure and rather humdrum childhood and thrust me into adulthood far before I was ready, and without a guide: a week that began on a Saturday with me having sex for the first, hapless time (and fathering my only child), continued with me having my first-ever, cataclysmic taste of a mind-altering chemical (beer!), and ended the following Friday with my returning home to be met at the station by my father, who collapsed and died in the street just five minutes later, and then telling my mother the terrible news, and seeing the light go out in her eyes, never to return, save for the odd flicker. Well, all of that was 50 years ago this week, to the day, as well as the date.

And although there have been 49 other anniversaries up to now, some of them marked by significant events (the break-up of my relationship with Margaret B, my first wedding, the birth of my second grandson), none (that I can remember) has affected me in quite the way this one has. I know that 50 years only has significance because humans happen to have five digits on each of two hands, but that golden jubilee notion is hardwired. So, this year more than any previous, I’ve been thinking about that week, or at least given in to its insistence to be heard, giving it room and time to surface, trying to remember details of what happened then, what came before, and finding some inconsequentialities returning to me: this all occurred before I had a camera, or kept a diary, so there is nothing to aid me in remembering things from my teens.

Besides, the shock of Dad's death blasted my memory of some things, to the extent that I had no access to them even a year later. This troubled me then, but I accept it now, now that I've learned that my memory is not truly to be trusted. Not because I'm losing it, or indeed 'losing it', but because I now understand its as a narrative, the imposition of a pattern and coherence on essentially chaotic events. As such, it is as susceptible to revision, editing, elision, poetic license and confabulation as any other story.

The feeling that memory and a sense of identity are virtually indistinguishable has been with me for decades, although my reaction to it was different than. Indeed, I had a feeling in the years immediately after dad died that, by fiercely remembering as much as I could of him, I was somehow keeping him alive, while letting go and forgetting was the equivalent of killing him all over again: that by reconstructing moments of communion – of outings together, of playing cribbage and other games, of our Saturday lunches when Mum was working at the shop, of the things he made for me in his workshop – I could preserve the joy I found in his company, re-experience it without mitigating sorrow at my loss of it (half a century later, I still can't do this, although the pain no longer pierces).

Nowadays, though, as a born-again autotheist, I recognize these memories – of him, of everything – as a creation, my creation. I am their author, neither their servant nor their victim: the horrors (guilt, shame, despair, regret, embarrassment, echoing loss) still swirl around my head from time to time, but I can swat them away. But one thing I've never done with this story, even though I've told and retold it so many times that any sense of spontaneity and originality has been drained from it (even though this lack can easily be covered by artifice).

So, anyway, from October1966 to June 1967 I had been staying in lodgings near Sturry, outside Canterbury. I’d been billeted with a guy from Abercanaid (one village up from Aberfan: the school disaster happened a week or two into the first term) called Roger, and another large double room was taken up by two second-years, Maurice, a farmer’s son from East Anglia, and John, a farmer’s son from Devon, who went into the Prison Service and eventually ended up as the governor of Dartmoor – when I was dealing, it whimsically crossed my mind that we might meet again professionally one day. For most of that academic year, I hardly spent any time there. Three others had gone up to Kent from my class at Tottenham – Al, a Jewish guy whom I didn't know very well, but better mention because he might turn up later in the story; Malcolm, a gay Monday Club Tory who would take over the Conservative association at the Uni within months of his arrival and run it for more than two years; and Keith, who was already a good mate and would become a better one – and they all had college rooms, so I spent most of my time hanging out with them in Canterbury, coming back on the late bus. I don't know why this changed at the end of the summer term, but apparently it did.

The house I remember as large and rambling, with a big kitchen where the family lived, extensive gardens I never went into, a small downstairs room where the lodgers had breakfast and a large entrance hall with a wide central staircase. It was owned by a middle-aged couple who lived there with their only child, H, a schoolgirl. I split up with my first and only high school girlfriend, Marion, between Xmas and New Year in 1966. H had a boyfriend, a dark and hairy guy with specs (I think) whose name has gone, but they split up that Spring. I don't know exactly when H and I got together, but the first time we kissed we were watching Top of the Pops at the house of her friend Linda (?) - so many details gone and Traffic's Hole in My Shoe was playing, in the week commencing 18 June, so someone could probably work it out to the minute.

Anyway, the evening of Saturday 24th, I remember us canoodling in the back of a van (going out to the coast, Whitstable or Herne Bay, I guess, but that's more missing detail), being driven, I presume, by a boyfriend of possibly Linda, when one of those in the front seats chucked a condom in the back as a 'get a room' gesture, and H chucked it back again. Not that I had any idea what it was or what I could have done with it. I cannot over-emphasize my sexual ignorance: I was a virgin, and H was not, but since she was two and a half years younger than, I had lied about it, pretended to know what I was doing, and carry feelings of shame about that to this day. And that's basically how and when my son was conceived, back in H's bedroom at around midnight. There was easy communication between her room and mine via the servant's staircase at the back of the house.

Now here’s a thing; in my well-honed narrative, it was the very next day that my three doughty housemates, finding out somehow that, although I had been of legal age for the last eight months, I had never been to a pub nor had an alcoholic drink, sought immediately to rectify that omission, taking me off down the road to the local, where I got truly, horribly drunk. The myth is that I drank eight pints of beer, but I have no memory of that, although I do recall, or have invented, slanted evening light pouring in to the bar, bringing forth the golden nature of the first drink in front of me, and later a quite spectacular fall into, and indeed through, someone’s front-garden hedge while I was staggering home in the deep twilight: not to mention a spectacular fountain of mid-brown vomit with which I blocked and filled the bathroom sink and significantly spattered the bath and toilet once I had been helped back to the house. The following day I remember the misery of the bus journey into Canterbury, and of walking up Whitstable Road pursued by a cloud of sulphurous farts, an experience so miserable that I did not touch another drink until I was 20. And I never even saw an illicit drug until, as a post-graduate, I took a room in a houseful of reprobates at the beginning of Spring, 1970.

This memory, though, is false in at least one particular, because I also remember watching the broadcast in which the Beatles debuted All You Need is Love, while sitting with a group of pals and making ribald remarks, but have recently discovered that this happened around 10 pm that Sunday night, meaning that the only possible ‘pals’ were the guys in the house, and possibly H (although as this was a school night, she might not have been there). So this whole appalling episode (which might well be the source of my chemical sensitivity to alcohol) must have happened on the Monday, or even the Tuesday. Whichever it was, the rest of the week remains a blank, a total blank, until Friday, when I was on my way back to my family home in Hertfordshire on a crowded commuter train, surrounded by masses of luggage, trying to stay awake in the hot and crowded carriage, desultorily reading an economics text, a Pelican with a picture of bees on the cover. What I did in those few days is just wiped: I don't even have a cover story, can't remember if I ever spoke to H again, whether I said my goodbyes (I know that H and her parents went away that week on holiday to Italy), what I did, whether I traveled back to London with Keith or anyone else - really, nothing, just elided and deleted.

And then, that Friday evening, around 6 or 7 (another missing detail) I arrive at Ware, and greet my Dad as I stand outside the station surrounded by luggage, including a huge blue backpack stacked with albums, several bags, a suitcase, and my record player – not the tinny ‘Dansette’ of legend but a lovely modern valve-amp job with a full, rich sound. Dad, who had worked for a loudspeaker manufacturer, dabbled with electronics (he liked to make radios, among other things) and knew whereof he spoke, had bought it for me a year or so before. It was so good that I didn't get a stereo until the early ’80s, and it has semi-legendary status among many of the large cohort that shared houses and flats with me in my young adulthood. I've still got it, as it happens, tucked away on the upstairs landing. I recovered it from the attic of the house in Ware (where it had been left, along with much of my young manhood, when I moved out of my mansion flat in 1988) after my mother was lost to dementia. I keep it more as an object of veneration, a totem, than in any hope it will sound again. So it goes.

Anyway, he's looking very tanned – the week before, he and Mum had gone on holiday with her sisters Cissie and Hilda, and Hilda's husband, Edwin, to a holiday camp near St Austell where Marion (remember her?) and I had gone the year before. He hadn't had a particularly good time, though, he tells me (or maybe someone else told me later) because a pain in his leg had made walking difficult at times, although it isn't troubling him now. Much later (decades) it would occur to me that the pain was probably a deep vein thrombosis that was no longer painful because it was now bumbling through his venous system towards the right atrium, but back then, and soon after, what was important was that it was the only memory, reliable or otherwise, I have of anything he said to me, although we chat away as always as we load up and walk off west down Station Road, the sun in our eyes, and turn right into Amwell End. As usual, I automatically drop my pace to accommodate Dad, who was lame from birth, but I'm slightly in the lead as we reach the main London to Cambridge road, which winds through the town and crosses the River Lea here just in front of us.

Dad says something (gone) then makes a noise or does something to alert me because as we approach the curb I turn my head and see him stumble. He pitches forward on to the pavement. I don't know what's happening, but something flows through my hormone system and I'm in this heightened, dissociated state I've glimpsed before and will become very familiar with in the future, and something tells me he is having a fit, even though there is no history of epilepsy. He's on his back now, he's rigid, eyes closed, back arching, fists clenched by his sides, face reddening. I'm scared he's going to swallow his tongue, and try to force his mouth open, but his jaws are clenched really tight.

And then he relaxes with a shuddering sigh, his mouth gapes and his head lolls to one side. I take the false teeth from his mouth and (?absent-mindedly) put them in my pocket. In a few days time I will smuggle them to the funeral director as he leaves the house, a moment of high weirdness that I cannot really emotionally encompass to this day. Of course, I realize later that that was when he died, right there on the pavement, but at the time I'm thinking, hoping, the crisis has passed.

I look up: a crowd of curious onlookers ranged along the bridge railings on the other side of the street, silhouetted against the golden sky. And then out of that goldness, from the West and the lands of the dead, three swans come flying up the river and over the bridge, and in my heightened state I feel them in my gut as a portent, although of what, I do not know. Soon though I see them as representing the three of us in our small family, leaving our lives behind one way and another, They are an abiding vision: I can see them clearly now, but can no longer be sure if I that is what I actually saw or whether I have enhanced the image, conflated it with some other memory for convenience and effect: I certainly have a penchant for taking pictures against the evening light, golden frozen moments.

A police car stops. I give them my mother's address: they call an ambulance on the radio and go to pick her up.

The ambulance arrives. Time has fractured by now. I know there's a crisis but I'm drifting above it. I don't see it yet, but they know immediately he is gone. Despite that, they load him, me and my fucking luggage into the back and race to the hospital in Hertford, while one of them tries to revive him. And I'm still above it all, taking note of how different, how insistent the siren sounds when you are inside an ambulance, with no Doppler effect to alter it, and even though there is a voice in my head praying to whatever's listening 'don't let him die, don't let him die, don't let him die' in syncopation to the siren it's still a horrible rude shock when, a minute or so after they wheel him in to A&E, leaving me standing outside in the ambulance park, a doctor – or at least, some offhand young shit with a white coat and clipboard – comes out and says, 'He's dead, of course,' in the sort of tone you'd expect from someone called away from doing something Very Important to deal with an importunate peasant. That locks in some fury. The ambulance guys are apologetic, and I thank them.

I'm still standing there shocked to the core when the police car arrives with my mother on board, and she comes towards me, her eyes searching mine, 'How's your dad? Is he all right?'

'He's dead, Mum.' The worst thing I've ever said, or done, to anyone. It destroyed her. I saw it in her eyes, her face, the crumpling, the extinguishing of hope.

And then I have to formally ID him. Or maybe I don't have to, or I volunteer, but I do it anyway. When I go into the room, he's lying there naked on a gurney – I'd never seen my father naked before – and they cover him up quickly with a sheet, but not so quickly that I'm not horribly struck by the contrast between his tanned areas, now a dirty brown, and his death pallor. My dad's piebald. I'm appalled.

I suppose the police took us back to Ware, me and my stuff. There are no tears, no meaningful words. Not that I remember. Just that sense of empty serenity and the nagging notion that my bubble was surrounded by horror. Actually, some words of great importance and resonance were exchanged that could only have been at this time. Soon after we got in, in the kitchen, my mother said I would have to leave the university and get a job. I refused, point blank. In that instance, I knew that most important thing for me was not to fall into the trap of being an only son looking after his widowed mother. The family dynamic was that my father always wanted me to educate myself to the maximum, to go as far as I could with my gifts: these same gifts scared my mother. All she wanted was for me to be settled down, and secure, but as far as I was concerned, security was all about peaked caps, and settling down was all right for silt.

The doctor was called for my mother, while I got on the phone to let our many relatives know, or at least to start a chain of communication. My mother came from a family of nine, most of whom lived within reasonable drop-everything range, and I started with my Aunt Cissie, who immediately began organize things: she was the oldest of the Edwards girls, well into her teens when Mum and Hilda were born, and acted as an assistant mother to the tinies, a role she continued to hold, and extended to me. Dad had been due to visit his mother and sister in Tottenham the following morning. I had to phone there, so that my aunt Min could break the news gently to her mother (whose husband, my grandfather, had died in March that year); but it was Nan who answered the phone (which she never did, usually), and so I had to pretend and dissemble, while she chatted on about seeing her George tomorrow, and I tried to get her to put Min on before I broke down.

Which I did, later that evening, dog knows when – it was still light – I just lay on my bed and howled until it hurt, and howled some more. I was totally wretched, a fountain of snot, my eyes were sore and my head ached and still it came pouring out. I've lost the rest of that day, any clear idea of what happened that weekend, who came, what was decided. I'd entered what my pal Clive, who'd lost his own father when he was 11, called the Tunnel, a hollow place where you are oblivious to what's going on around you.

The one thing I do remember is that I turned up in Tottenham as planned on the Saturday to meet up with Clive and Keith and one other, possibly the Al who appeared 3,000 words ago, to play tennis. I phoned Clive this morning, as it happened, and he remembers it well, although he couldn't remember the fourth player, either. It was an odd feeling, doing that. It was as the previous day had all been a bad dream that I hadn't quite woken from. A cliche I know, but a cliche rooted in truth. You can fool yourself into thinking something has not happened if you retreat into routine (me spending weekends in Tottenham was pretty routine at that time).

Anyway, all that writing, and all that high-faluting stuff about narrative early on, and this one has fizzled out rather, hasn't it?
I really ought to go over it a few more times, polish it, stitch it, give it more points and weave in more symbolic legerdemain than it already boasts. But that would take time, quite a bit, and then it would be 50 years and a couple of days ago, and where's the point of that?
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Modesty Forbids » 30 Jun 2017, 18:19

Well, I suppose that's me back in my box for a bit?
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Rayge » 30 Jun 2017, 18:20

Oh no, just hang around and gladhand the rubes
In timeless moments we live forever

You can't play a tune on an absolute

Negative Capability...when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Modesty Forbids » 30 Jun 2017, 18:20

Okies.

Oh, and btw: tl:dr
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Dr. Baron » 30 Jun 2017, 18:37

I don't know quite what to say, except that I'm glad you wrote it!

I just ate lunch and was going to read a work email, but had a look at the phone and thought, ah, Ray's finally done this thing, so I went and sat on the couch in my office and closed the door and read it all and was happy to have BCB in my life. What a world.
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Minnie the Minx » 30 Jun 2017, 18:40

I don't know what to say really. I love reading things like this, even though it feels quite ghoulish, but the leftover sensations and memories that we have of events like this are such a central core of what we are that I always think they need to be shared. I am obsessed with the very small and personal details of such overwhelming experiences that people (and myself) have, and I find myself thinking of them very often - too often, actually. Sometimes it gives me a creative surge. At other times it makes me horribly anxious.
Thank you for sharing your story. Did you ever find out what was the cause of death?
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Minnie the Minx » 30 Jun 2017, 18:41

Ha ha ha. I totally didn't know my husband was writing that.
You come at the Queen, you best not miss.

Dr Markus wrote:
Someone in your line of work usually as their own man cave aka the shed we're they can potter around fixing stuff or something don't they?


Flower wrote:I just did a google search.

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Minnie the Minx » 30 Jun 2017, 18:44

A follow up note re: the small details of things:
The poem 'Falling' by James Dickey, based on the true story of an air stewardess who was sucked out of a plane. A great example of the level of florid yet structured detail that I find I can't resist.
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Dr Markus wrote:
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Flower wrote:I just did a google search.

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Belle Lettre » 30 Jun 2017, 18:44

Your thousandth post could not have been better made, Rayge x
Last edited by Belle Lettre on 30 Jun 2017, 20:27, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby sloopjohnc » 30 Jun 2017, 18:47

It will be another fifty years by the time I read that first post.
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Rayge » 30 Jun 2017, 19:13

sloopjohnc wrote:It will be another fifty years by the time I read that first post.


One word at a time, John. You can do it.
In timeless moments we live forever

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Rayge » 30 Jun 2017, 19:16

Grey Error wrote:Did you ever find out what was the cause of death?


Myocardial infarct caused by a thrombosis.
I blamed myself a bit for years for all that stuff he was carrying, but it seems as if the clot was already sloshing about in there. And even if he had collapsed in the hospital, I doubt they could have saved him. It was just a few minutes.
In timeless moments we live forever

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Minnie the Minx » 30 Jun 2017, 19:19

Indeed.x
You come at the Queen, you best not miss.

Dr Markus wrote:
Someone in your line of work usually as their own man cave aka the shed we're they can potter around fixing stuff or something don't they?


Flower wrote:I just did a google search.

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Rayge » 30 Jun 2017, 19:46

K wrote:Sad, fascinating and powerful. I have a morbid curiosity about the moment of death and being distanced from the situation that's the section I read more than once. It's hard for me to imagine what it was like for you but, jeez, your writing almost makes it possible.

Well done, Sir.

Thank you


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He is my creature.
A distant relative whose loyalty can be bought with bananas and a pat on the head.
And maybe Fay Wray
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Negative Capability...when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Darkness_Fish » 30 Jun 2017, 21:05

Too long; did read anyway. It's a vivid portrait of an awful event, it feels like I was there, even though as a detached observer I obviously can't comprehend the actual emotional pain and enormity of that moment in your life. You might think you should've polished the narrative more, but I can't even fill a few lines with something actually profound or even vaguely sensible to say.

I tilt my titfer in your direction anyway, and I shall raise a glass to the old man in roughly 18 minutes or so.
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby sloopjohnc » 30 Jun 2017, 21:12

Rayge wrote:
sloopjohnc wrote:It will be another fifty years by the time I read that first post.


One word at a time, John. You can do it.


I'll give it a shot. I hear it's worth it.
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby sloopjohnc » 30 Jun 2017, 21:13

That was good and worth the time. Thanks.

I have to go and shave again now though.
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Quaco » 30 Jun 2017, 21:53

Rayge wrote:First off, I apologize for the length of this. Although I know the tl:dr crowd will be itching, it would be nice if they just moved along a bit. And second, I am genuinely sorry for the proliferation of first-person pronouns. It isn't only Bobby Vee's Night that has a Thousand Is.

:) You're already drawing me in.

Rayge wrote:I’ve probably mentioned before how I spent a week in a Thomas Hardy novel back at the end of my first year at university, a week that ripped me out of an extended, secure and rather humdrum childhood and thrust me into adulthood far before I was ready, and without a guide: a week that began on a Saturday with me having sex for the first, hapless time (and fathering my only child), continued with me having my first-ever, cataclysmic taste of a mind-altering chemical (beer!), and ended the following Friday with my returning home to be met at the station by my father, who collapsed and died in the street just five minutes later, and then telling my mother the terrible news, and seeing the light go out in her eyes, never to return, save for the odd flicker. Well, all of that was 50 years ago this week, to the day, as well as the date.

This really sounds like the beginning of a book. I'm actually riveted, I just wanted to tell you this before I continued.
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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Dayodead » 30 Jun 2017, 22:07

You are a truly interesting cat, Mr. Ray...Thanks for sharing this mental snapshot, no matter how blurry some of the details may have become....The Swans imagery is powerful, no matter if it was "enhanced" or not...

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Re: 30:06:67 - It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Postby Jimbly » 30 Jun 2017, 22:52

Fantastic Ray. Brought back some memories of when my Dad died 41 years ago this July. One minute he's working in the car and the next he's had a heart attack and has died. You caught very well the unreal situation just after the death of your Dad, I remember a lot of similar stuff. Hope you're doing ok.
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