Wednesday, 7 August 2013

How did I get to Swinderby Road?

I was born in a Torquay nursing home in 1944. Until recently, I always thought I was born in Teignmouth. At least the Devon part was right. The most this ever meant to me as a child was that I could not play cricket for Middlesex. In the 1940s and 50s, they were very strict about these things.

My mother was unmarried and my father's name does not appear on my birth certificate. My mother never spoke to me about my father and I never asked. I did wonder from time to time, but I never found the courage to confront her and I'm not sure she would have told me the truth anyway.

I was taken back to 36 Swinderby Road, Wembley, where I lived until 1966, except for six-seven months in the mid-fifties, when I lived in Swindon with my mother and step-father. From my point of view, living in Swindon didn't work, so I took off one day and cycled back to Wembley. My Nanna and Pop let me stay and for the next few years I slept on a folding sofa bed in the ground-floor front room.

I don't know how many of the illegitimate children born during the Second World War were adopted, taken into care, lived with their mothers or some other family member. I must find out. In my case it was the latter. My Nanna and Grandfather, who I called 'Pop', took me in and cared for me.

The family must have been talking about me from the moment they knew my mother was pregnant. What was to be done about this unborn baby. Was my mother to be shown the door and told not to come back? She could have been told to give me away. Somehow, a few weeks old, I ended up living at 36 Swinderby Road.

I don't think it was all amicable and the clue to this 'fact' is in my name. On my birth certificate I am 'Kevin Peter', yet as a child the only name I knew was 'Bobby'. I tell myself and others that Nanna gave me this name as a condition of me being allowed into the house. This is my story — I have no way of knowing for sure. Somewhere along the line Bobby became 'Bob' and 'Robert'.

I do know that within weeks of being born my mother had left me and returned to her job working for a Mrs Cooper, helping her to care for her son, Stanley. My mother stayed in touch with the Coopers until they died, then with Stanley, who was at my mother's funeral in 2006. During any visit to my mother, their names would come up in the conversations, so it came as surprise, when, finally introduced to him, at her funeral, he said 'Who?'.

He knew my step-father and my half-sisters, but in all the meetings they had, any reference to me was assiduously avoided and, as far as Stanley was concerned, his parents never know about me either.

My mother liked to believe that she was a good mother. She tried in her way and I do have affectionate memories of her, but these are laced with less than happy ones. When she died, the family rallied round and I gave the eulogy. She was within days of her eighty-sixth birthday and, in the few years before, she had divided up the family photographs between me and my half-sisters, with the result that I suddenly had a tangible childhood, one I could see and touch.

For the first time, I had a few photographs of me as a child to keep.

Swinderby Road was home. I do not believe my childhood was extraordinary, but it was different and, nearing seventy, I find myself wondering about all those conservations about me I was not party to. Who made the decision about me going to Swinderby Road? Certainly not my mother, was it Nanna and Pop together, or just one of them?.

For them this was the second time they had to confront such a decision. My Uncles Dave and Frank* were abandoned by their mother after their father, my Uncle Sid*, was hospitalised in an asylum after The Great War. It's a complicated story, but here they were, my Nanna and Pop, in 1944, having to make a similar decision again. I like to think that this time they were determined not to make the same mistake.

I think I have my uncles to thank for how I ended up going to Swinderby Road.

*Uncle Sid was Pop's brother and appears in the photograph in my first posting dated 25 January 2013, showing me at the back of Swinderby Road, with Pop and my mother, when I was about eighteen months old. You can find more family photographs online in the London Borough of Brent Archives.

After all these years, I not sure it should matter, but watching 'Call the Midwife' on TV last Christmas I was reduced to tears before the end, prompted by a discussion between a mother and father about the fate of their fifteen year old daughter's baby. The camera pulled back and you were confronted with the image of a crib and standing a few feet back, the girl and behind her, her parents. I turned to my wife, already crying and said 'That could have been me', then I cried for a good few minutes. 

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