In My Father’s Words



In My Father’s Words


03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018




An Austrian blighted my life, as least as far as toys were concerned.  I never met the man, thank God, as he was around fifty when I was born and he died before my seventh birthday.  Again, thank God.  I didn’t even appreciate what he had done until many years later.

Many of my German friends mumble darkly into their beers as they complain of the Austrian con trick of persuading the gullible world that many of the great German composers were Austrian, while Hitler was German.  He was not, but Austrian or German, he spoiled my life.

Like many people, I was born into a world which has now disappeared.  It is a world that many of us may look back on with nostalgia and affection, especially if we hadn’t actually lived in it.  I’m sure that bits of it were good, and equally convinced that much was bad.

I was born in July 1938, and it must have been a Sunday, as Wisden informs me that there was no first class cricket being played.  On the previous Tuesday, England had just drawn the second Test with Australia at Lords’, with Wally Hammond scoring 240 and the peerless Bradman getting a hundred.  Before the Don returned to this famous cricket ground, the world would have been ripped apart, and a ten-year-old Belfast schoolboy would be fascinated by the great man, and by the prince of games.  Only later would I discover the exquisite hell of girls.

Fourteen months after my birth, the War started, although I don’t think it was my fault. To those of my generation, there was only one war, the War.  I do not remember having many toys, then or later.  Metal was at a premium, and I recall the iron railings in our garden, and everyone else’s garden, being taken away to ‘make Spitfires’.  Well that was all right, then. 

I remember a tatty old cardboard box of Brittan’s metal toy soldiers, in Guards uniform, and glory be, their arms moved, pivoting at the shoulder.    When a limb became detached, through old age, or rough treatment, it was reconnected using a matchstick, as the limbs were hollow, and the proud Guardsman returned to duty, somewhat stiff legged or armed.  If I had other toys, they left no impression, apart from a few Dinky cars and cigarette cards.  Certainly, no Meccano or chemistry sets graced the Matier bedroom.  On reflection, in respect of the latter, this was a very good thing.

The war seemed remote and even when the city was blitzed, as it often was, I was too young or stupid to feel any danger.  My parents would sometimes take me to see the effects of Hitler’s attempts to unite Europe, and on occasion, there were small metal pieces of shrapnel to collect to become substitute toys.  We viewed, open-mouthed, the odd downed Luftwaffe aircraft on display, and in the absence of toys, we replayed the Battle of Britain, Spitfires chasing Messerschmitts all over the trafficless street, our arms outspread, our mouths making noises fondly imagined to be like Merlins, in between the rat a tatting.  The problem with this game was that no one wanted to be German. 

I don’t know what the adults thought, but it never entered my mind that we would lose.  Even the entry of the Americans into Belfast meant only free chewing gum, and wonder of wonders, bubble gum.  Those of the female persuasion became very excited about something called  ‘Nylons’. Again, and it is a childish impression, people did seem to be patriotic.  My Mother used to tell me how angry I became when my sister got ‘German Measles’ as it was then called.  In true Churchillian fashion I demanded, at the age of four,  “Why can’t she have British measles?”  But, I guess, that’s women for you.

My Dad was clever with his hands, and with the contents of his toolbox, and in no time at all, we were equipped with wooden swords and guns.  Bows and arrows enjoyed a period of popularity until some unfortunate nearly lost an eye.  Exit the long bow, stage left.

 My sister had a doll, and a doll’s pram, both pre war and second hand, and these contented her until May 1944 when a real baby arrived in the shape of my second sister.  I truly do not remember any other toys in that period, though there must have been.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my Mother and Father had their time cut out housing, clothing and feeding their brood. 

We played in the streets until it was dark, and then wandered home.  There must then, like now, have been paedophiles, but no one seemed to worry.  I was in the street for D-Day, VE Day, and VJ Day, the last named at seven years and one month.

The street remained the playground after the war, although bicycles had arrived to amuse us.  I am ashamed to say that I hated my first bike, as it wasn’t new, didn’t have drop handlebars, and the other boys had new bikes, with drop handlebars and three speed Sturmey Archer gears.  My first new machine, a Raleigh Robin Hood came when I was fourteen, and cost, from memory, about sixteen pounds, a small fortune..  

Cricket and football were important, and as we became richer, a comparative term, after 1945, there even appeared a new football, which required inflating by mouth, It was immensely tricky to tuck the bladder tube inside the leather and then tie the lace.  A birthday present when I was fourteen was a Denis Compton, three star cricket bat, which was lovingly rubbed down with linseed oil, probably far more often that was necessary.  I think the ball slipped off the bat rather than being struck.

My father always liked a bit of a flutter, and did the football pools.  In fact, he was an agent for one of the companies, one of his many little side jobs.  About 1950, he won £685 on the pools, an immense sum of money in those days when he was probably earning six or seven pounds a week.

Sometime in Coronation year, I met Anne, and then Millie and then Sandra, leaving each of them as virginal as I imagined they had been when we met.  My toys subsequently became ‘big boys toys’, and included hobbies and the requisite accessories.  The ultimate big boy’s toy happened in 1997, when I bought my first Jaguar.  I had had cars for many years, mostly with my job, and starting with an RAF Land Rover, but this was different.  Cars are primarily a means of transport, but that is not all they are.  They are objects of beauty and desire, like the girls and like cricket, frequently aggravating but in my heart, the best toys of all.  Well, maybe second best.

Written by my Father B.M

6 thoughts on “In My Father’s Words

    1. Well in fact Sadje always remember the Story itself at the bottom is my Father’s words.

      Although, l have been told that many a time l can write in a detached manner also, so perhaps that is another trait my Father and l shared, and something that is not uncommon with Asperger’s.

      1. Did you like getting to know your own father via his diaries? It seems a surreal to me. Your blog is a great way to introduce your father to the world.

        1. I knew my Father anyway, to a certain degree – what l had hoped and am still hoping is to see something that l didn’t know about him, something that may resemble something human about him.

          I know that sound harsh, Sadje. Afterall, my Father has only been dead now for around five weeks.

          Did he want me to discover him through his paperwork, his stories and his diaries?

          I don’t know.

          Furthermore, did he want me to actually have his diaries? He didn’t award them to me, nor gift them to me. I just have them, because as a writer, with a curious interest about my Father – the one that perhaps l didn’t know, l wanted them.

          My Sister, not an avid reader, doesn’t even know they exist and even if she did, l do not believe she would have cared. She made claim to 200 photo alnums, a’pact’ she apparently made with my dying father.

          He maintained that my long range memory would serve me well, and as such l wouldn’t even be granted a look see into those albums?

          A picture is worth a thousand words – yes, if you have the imagination to look between the pixels even more so. But the written word, for me is not dead, holds more secrets than a mere photo. All a photo does is serve you for a captiured moment in time, But the hidden and secret words of my Father are written by the man in his own time.

          My Father was a devout liar, he was, as too is my Mother to a certain degree and my Sister too, cut from the same cloth as my Father – she inherited that trait from him.

          I hope that somewhere in these hundreds of thousands of words, that l find something that shows my Father to be the man l didn’t know.

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