I will never forget drawing in to Bristol Temple Meads on the first day of the first holidays (or should that be I have never forgotten? I guess what is remembered at 59 has effectively been remembered for life already). I remember the excitement of approaching the station through the still bomb damaged wastelands that surrounded Brunel’s magnificent edifice. Remember? I can feel it now as I write. Coming home. Never felt it about anywhere in adult life. Not like that.
There is the screech of iron on iron and the explosive hiss of escaping steam sending up its curling billows to lie trapped in the high vaults of the distant station roof dome. The banging as numerous doors fly open and my mum is there to greet me. After three months apart did we hug with the kind of intensity I must have felt the occasion demanded? Probably not. As a child I loved my mum and I certainly missed her but we didn’t do the touchy-feely stuff. Compte rendu of the repressed nature of that generation even – born in the starch of Edwardian England and the shadow of two monstrous global conflicts – she was still in a class of her own in terms of sublimating emotion and pain.
“Stiff upper lip”, “Minding you own business”, “Not washing your dirty linen in public” and “getting on with it” were the watchwords, the sacred tenets by which life must be lived. The “Queen of People’s Hearts” and Charlatan Blair’s “People’s Princess” were an unbridgeable distance away. Some Grumpy Old Man part of me says Thank God, although I am glad we are all more at ease with the language of affection.
Enough. Home. Christmas. It all passed in a splendid whirl of warm familiarity and relaxed routine: playing out, lounging in, oppressing younger brother, irritating older sister. What larks! The Damoclean Sword of a new term was reduced to the smallest discordant note in the furthermost reaches of consciousness. But the passing of Christmas was a watershed and with the urgency of a fault building in a dam, the daily dissonance quickly became impossible to ignore and then the unthinkable thought began to dominate each passing day. The Return.
I grew to recognise this syndrome every holiday. Initially a perfect peace and then an ever growing shadow that blighted the last few days of the holiday and led to a last day spent mentally saying goodbye to everything: last time I will watch TV, feed the cat, see my friend, eat home breakfast, lunch etc..
Then to bed but not to sleep until I drop off in the wee small hours to be awakened by my mother telling me I must get up now or I would miss the train. She must have dreaded waking me. My reluctance could hardly have been a secret, although I do not remember ever talking about it.
This morning, however, I wasn’t having it. I pulled the bedclothes over me and refused to surface. My mother’s pleas, imprecations and finally threats to get Uncle Fred around failed to move me. Then her masterstroke: “What if I come with you? We’ll take the train together and I will come back to school with you.” Bedclothes twitch. Calculation. “All the way? Right to school?”
Her voice betrays her relief. “Yes, of course. All the way.”
The price is agreed and I have discovered I am a lousy negotiator. With me leading for management the Chapels of Fleet Street would still be full of hot lead and typesetters, winding machinery would clank across a thousand pitheads and we would all be driving Austin Allegros.
My attempt at defiance was over.