Whittle 6: Killer Parents

My guess is that my parents tried to kill me at least three times.
The thing is, I didn’t know it at the time. Okay, I was very small and could well be mis-remembering past events. But as these recollections have been retold and confirmed by my parents and others who were older than me at the time…. I’m certain they are true. Of course, Mum and Dad may not have been motivated to do things deliberately. It just kind of happened.

So this is not a tale of neglect or harsh treatment. It is more a story of my parents ‘taking their eye off the ball’….. three times!!
Yes, that many times (it does make you wonder).

It was in the bath at the age of about nine months that the first incident took place. No, they didn’t try to drown me. Too obvious!
And no – I didn’t disappear down the plug hole (bizarre idea) which would be quite impossible as I’d been a bonny lad…. birth weight 8 lbs and 10oz.
I would have floated too well.

It was always bath time on Fridays in our house. A way to relax at the end of a working week. Water was heated in a large gas-heated ‘copper’ which was filled from our kitchen tap. When the contents were hot enough, the tap at the bottom was opened to allow hot water to flow out and fill the small baby bath on the floor underneath. We all bathed on the kitchen floor. Mum & Dad’s bath was a larger tin affair which hung outside on the wall beside the kitchen window. I remember it used to scrape and thump the wall on especially windy days.

So, there I was, sitting up in the warm water playing with the flannel and floating ducks. It seems that whilst my parents’ backs were turned, I managed to scoop up the bar of soft soap and somehow swallowed it. Not my most clever action, but then I was still quite young.

I wasn’t quite blowing bubbles, but my mother had become hysterical when she saw my lips were turning blue and no amount of Dad’s back-slapping was helping. The doctor soon appeared and he grabbed me by the ankles, gave a firm smack and just shook me. Apparently the bar of soap just kind of slipped out.
Good job it did or I wouldn’t have been out in my pram for attempt number two.

It was a lovely sunny day and I was being taken for a routine promenade…. being pushed in a huge old pram around Mote Park. We lived in Maidstone and the park was very close to home.

I was a loved child and although I had no siblings, I know that I was wanted and was shown much attention and affection. We didn’t have a great deal of money, but I remember being played-with and hearing voices and laughter around me. We lived in my grandmother’s cottage, rented from a landlady who apparently brought me a small bag of sweets every time she came to collect the rent. This was exceptionally generous as sugar-rationing was still in force back then.

My cousin Jennifer is eight years older than me. That day, she was babysitting and had been given the task of taking me for this outing in the park. Good fresh air was the thing that every baby needed and although it was Autumn, I would have been wrapped up well.

The thing about this park is the lake. It is quite large and has been witness to many important moments in history. Originally serving as a fresh water source for a Roman villa, it has been home to landed gentry, seen the erection of a couple of grand country mansions and welcomed Sir Winston Churchill in the late 1940s. As a park it has hosted county cricket matches, county fairs, circuses – and still has a boating area, miniature railway and cafe in the midst of huge, wild grassy areas, lawns and woodland. One of England’s finest, located in the very heart of the town.

It’s role in WW II was at one time as a training ground for allied troops prior to D-Day. My late father (himself a veteran of the North Africa campaign) together with my mother and grandmother (both blitz survivors) had told me stories of those same soldiers. I heard tales that during the war, whilst on a practice manoeuvre, the soldiers had constructed a temporary ‘floating’ bridge over the water. I believe they were experimenting with a Mulberry Harbour designed structure but it over-turned and threw the men into the lake together with their trucks as they attempted an experimental crossing. I’d heard that many were lost, but military records and period newspapers seem quite vague about that incident, although there are certainly many records of troops being stationed in the park from 1941. Of course the ‘Mulberries’ had been developed in top secret, to finally serve us well during the Normandy landings.

So, the lake had a reputation for its waters being dark, murky and ‘bottomless’. Which cannot really explain my cousin’s lapse. Apparently she was pushing me in my pram along one of the many paths beside the water, when she met up with a school friend in the park. Happy times; they were both about eight or nine years old and had plenty to talk about. A little too much perhaps because they hadn’t noticed my absence until a man shouted, grabbing my floating pram from the lake and luckily dragged it back up the bank to my cousin.
Saved! ….on this occasion.

But there was yet another trip into Mote Park where my life was again put at risk.
I was five years old.
The park was zig-zagged by many paths and I was sitting on one of them with the couple of toys I’d been allowed to bring along. Mum and Dad had booked a session with golf clubs and ball, hired for the pitch & putt course.

Being an ‘only child’ I was happy to play and I entertained myself in the sunshine and open grassy area of the course. As Mum and Dad completed a hole, we all moved along a bit. Them teeing-off for the next green and my cars chasing each other along a new section of the path. Now and again my parents looked across to see me, sometimes waved and all went well like this for about 20 minutes. That is, until mum miss-hit a shot. The ball disappeared and mum went off in search. Dad looked up to check on me, only to find that I’d vanished too!

It seems that mum had sliced the ball beautifully and it had hit the only vertical object close by…. me! Dad found me poleaxed. I was flat out on the path. By the time mum arrived, I was slowly coming around from the knock-out. It would seem that the sliced ball had smacked me in the head and knocked me clean unconscious. No harm done and I lived the retell the tale. Almost being….. well…. a baby hole in one!

It’s a wonder I ever made it to adulthood.
I wouldn’t say my parents were neglectful and I certainly didn’t lack love or attention. But to come so close to death on so many occasions – well I certainly would have to question their parenting skills.

November – catching up!

It has been some months since I launched this site back at Easter 2019.
I have to admit that I haven’t posted as much as I’d intended, nor yet started posting the actual voice recordings of my many stories. It will happen!

Back in the summer I’d begun writing again as I stared past a little table I had moved to the patio which held my iPad and keyboard. I found myself just gaping open-mouthed at the inspirational vista spread out in front of me. We had been there on the island for just ten hours and the sea, even after the overnight storm, was again a range of blues and greens to match any artist’s palette. And was forever-changing. Magnificent.

The room had a view across the bay from the beach in front of me, seen through the balcony rails, past the cliffs either side and out beyond the rocky peninsula to the distant horizon. The hues equally gradate; from the palest of sandy-green, to a beautiful light turquoise into lime then crossed with pale blues which slowly darkened as my eyes stared beyond the rocks into an almost black-blue deeper distant Mediterranean.

It was Gozo, still early September and very quiet that month as most schools had re-opened. For me an idyll I could never have imagined. A writer’s paradise, with the added bonus of easy access nearby to good espresso and red wine. A writer’s staple diet! At the most this amounted to about fifteen smallish bars and restaurants built in recent years around this natural harbour and a sheltered, picturesque bay. Not for me the writer’s reclusive herdsman’s shack on a hill in Tibet.
Hemingway eat your heart out – this will do nicely!

Returning to another reality, I had recently been presented with a date for my open-heart surgery…. September 16th and thereafter a week in hospital with 2-3 months recovery. After a series of tests through May-July, I was deemed an ideal candidate for this wee operation…. involving one or two heart valve replacements…. and probably a by-pass. “…whilst we have you on the table, we may as well do everything that we can…..!”
Of course you must. Seemed like a ‘Three-4-One’ offer I couldn’t turn down.
As you may imagine, this and a few other things had been weighing a little heavily – and somewhat dampened my writing spirit this summer.

However, all was not lost.
I am pleased to post on here today my new Whittles: ‘Cats’ and ‘Killer Parents’ which have also made their way into a new book, published as the third in our series of compilations. Plus, I’ve almost finished what has become more of a short story than a more succinct Whittle, but still remains honestly within my mission. It is still wholly real and true – about my train journey from the Atlantic Ocean of eastern USA to the Pacific Ocean of Western Canada…. with a few little incidents along the way.

And now, as I finally add this to my StoryPage, I need to say that my surgery was moved to mid-October. So, my thinking was that two things might occur.
Either I’ll be ‘up and running’ in no time and using all my convalescence time to write (beware, output overload!) or, I’ll be so beaten-up by the trauma of my ‘life & death’ surgery that I won’t feel like adding anything new and you may not hear from me again until Christmas!
At least that is how I was thinking.
A slippage of time and a certain pre-occupation with my own well-being and I find it is now already November and I’m four weeks out of the operating theatre – it being three weeks since the ambulance brought me home.
Methinks this last month should constitute a further ‘Whittle’ once the dust has settled and I have life back in reasonable perspective. Until then…………….

Whittle 5 ‘Guns’

I had first become aware of guns when in France during the summer of 1962. I’d been on a school trip to Annecy and for the return journey, we had been given a 3-day, 2-night stop-over in Paris. We stayed at a private school in the Clamart area of the city. On our second day (which must have been August 22nd) myself and two friends had excused ourselves from an organised trip and decided to walk (wander off!) around the immediate area. Becoming lost, we were strolling along some unknown side-street when two vehicles suddenly screeched around the corner with men then jumping out carrying rifles. They scattered amidst unintelligible, excitable shouting as one man lifted a manhole cover and squatted half-way down pointing his gun back to the corner. More men poured from the other, larger van and ran down to the main road with more guns. Someone saw us and screamed for us to run. We did! As fast as our little legs could manage. We were laughing in that weird way you do when frightened. It was too exciting and we might have slowed down but seconds later we heard gunfire and we knew not to look back.

It was some time later, back home in the UK that we learned of the Assassination attempt. To this day, I have no idea if it was the security forces or the assassins themselves who had chased us away. All I do know is that day in Paris 1962, France’s President de Gaulle and his wife were very lucky to survive the machine gun and rifle attack on their Citroen car. And we were so lucky to not really understand what was happening, but had run like hell anyway!

It was in the 1980s that once again, much more personally and in extreme close-up, I became aware of guns. We were still some twenty years away from them being commonplace on the streets of British cities. But this was Malta and I had an appointment to see the Head of Broadcasting.

Being in North Africa, Libya was all too close across the water and it made Malta cautious if not fearful; just as all smaller nations were, knowing the power of the media and its ability to control the masses. A national television station; just like radio studios, newspaper centres and satellite transmission stations, would be obvious and vulnerable targets in any struggle for control. It had to be protected. So quite naturally I was greeted by riflemen on the steps of the island’s main television station and head office. I was checked and challenged at the entrance to the building, my ID was scrutinised and my briefcase searched.

I was excited, intrigued and a little frightened. In a flickering moment, I could be shot. No reason for that to happen of course, but there was the realisation that these men have one objective: protection. Which makes any notion of negotiation a far-distant process. If you were seen to be any kind of threat, you would be dealt with. And who knows what innocent actions, words or possessions might be misconstrued as such a threat? Friendly they might be, but I was a foreigner and, in those early days of package holidays, a long way from home. In 2019 we are all quite used to the security searches and intimate rummaging through belongings at museum entrances, events and airports. Forty years ago, not so!

The men wore the uniforms of the island’s army, so wasn’t it to be expected that they would be armed? Well maybe, but not by me and not when merely attending a business meeting. Inside the grand old building I was greeted by a beautiful dark-haired, dark-skinned receptionist (aren’t they all in Malta?) who spoke perfect English. Being in such an exotic and historical setting, it was indeed beginning to feel very like a Bond movie. I was led through a gallery of corridors, past small offices and large marbled spaces to where a suited ‘executive’ welcomed me and opened the door for me to enter the main room. It was as he reached towards the door handle and turned it that I noticed the hand-gun tucked into a shoulder-holster under his jacket. Suddenly this had become serious.

I had thought I’d left England to finalise some deals very similar to what had been successful with tourist boards and companies back home. Everyone told me that the Maltese were a friendly nation, the island full of lovely people who are helpful, who speak good English (they are actually tri-lingual) and conduct their affairs according to English law and working-practices. Nobody mentioned guns!

My naivety had been swept away as I came to a more full awakening: that there were many other layers and complications attached to international business. At that point I realised that we (or at least, I) lived a much cosseted and over-protected life in the UK. Here, it was all still a world of very pleasant, historic surroundings, but away from my UK shores, each day was opening up a greater area of ‘the unknown’ that was much more raw.

As it happens, my partnership with Xandir Malta (their national television company) was quite innocent and I was not seen as any threat. I had been invited to make a government-sponsored film about their International Dockyard (strategically placed as it was in the central Mediterranean shipping lanes) and I had been afforded unusual access to the Yard and all its facilities. In fact I’d been given access to facilities across most of this amazing island.
I was quite privileged.

For a major programme sequence involving one of Ghadafi’s prize Libyan drilling rigs which was in for repair, I’d thought that some aerial footage might be quite nice. Yes, for Malta, even dangerous neighbours can be lucrative business customers!

So, I simply requested a helicopter and to my surprise and joy, the army arrived – complete with two ‘Top Gun’ extras wearing their starched khaki shirts, beaming smiles and extremely dark Raybans! They were great guys, so proud of their wingless bird and very patrotic about the protection they offered the island. We undertook some serious filming of one of the world’s largest oil-rig platforms being towed through Grand Harbour, covering it from every vantage-point imaginable. This two hours of flying was followed just for my benefit, by a further sight-seeing jaunt across every inch of the Maltese islands from angles that tourists could never see.

At the end of filming, it was back to Xandir Malta to view the day’s ‘rushes’ (I had unlimited access to all resources) and then back to the Hilton in time for a swim before dinner. It was an amazing four weeks filming and one of my life’s best adventures, despite working every day for 14 hours. Humbly and rather deflated (maybe relieved?) I realised that I was clearly seen as no threat to anyone at all (but the guns still made me nervous!)

Whittle 4 ‘Laundry’


Killing Sir Ludwig Guttmann was not my finest hour.
This was a man beloved by all. A national hero. A pioneer, with a worldwide reputation.
Born in 1899, in a town within what has now become part of Poland, Sir Ludwig had been a highly successful neurosurgeon and had become director of a hospital in Germany. As a Jewish doctor, practising medicine had become more difficult for him in Nazi Germany and early in 1939 he had come to England with his wife and two children.

This same great man in 1943 was given the task of establishing a new Spinal Injuries Centre in Buckinghamshire; with much subsequent research and successful treatment of war victims, especially those with back and spinal injuries. Believing that sport was an important method of therapy for injured military personnel, he saw it as helping to build up physical strength as well as self-respect. This in turn led to him becoming the hospital’s director and founder of the original International Paraplegic Games…. now known as the Paralympics.

I can’t say that I deliberately tried to kill him.
Maybe my role in this should be explained.

I had been asked not to return to Oxford and so not complete my BSc in ‘Business Management. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out to become a ‘dynamic business executive’. I may have passed Law with flying colours, but at the same time had also managed to dismally fail Economics, Accountancy, Statistics and Business Admin. Apparently they were all equally important. So a job had to be found. I needed to reflect and consider an actual career. Perhaps another application for a more suitable course at a different university? (ultimately I ended up at Nottingham, but that’s another story…. or maybe ‘whittle’ in my case).

During the summer break (whilst I awaited those inglorious results) the mother of a friend suggested she could get me a job at the hospital where she worked. By now I was back home with my parents in Aylesbury for the holidays, so had heard of and already been to Stoke Mandeville (we had three hospitals in the town in those days – Mandeville, Tindal and the Royal Bucks).

Originally taken on at the porter’s office for a couple of months, when I asked to stay on working past the vacation weeks, I became a sort of ‘student assistant’ (invented title) because I was quick to learn, seemed quite amenable, was hard-working and could ‘fit in’ almost anywhere. And indeed I did. During my ten months at the hospital I was sent to work in the Pathology Lab., in Stores, at the swimming pool & gym, as the internal postman, in X-ray and as a general helper escorting paraplegics around the town of Aylesbury.

Much humility and a great deal of learning, tolerance and understanding entered my young life. It was a truly ‘eye-opening’ time and one I shall always value. This was probably one of my most favourite times in a career of favourite times.

I’ll never forget the day that I helped unload a stretcher from a helicopter, with a soldier injured in Aden. His back was broken. Taking him up to the ward, I remember him being laid on the bed and pin-pricked from his bare feet upwards. An effective and remarkably simple clinical method. He didn’t say “ouch” until the pin reached his shoulder. Many, many months later I saw the same man, with callipers strapped to his legs, on the hospital’s main drive, independently walking unaided to the bus stop with a crutch on each arm. It was a hospital of miracles.

It was whilst I was on duty attached to the hospital laundry (yes, I was there too!) that I had the task of wheeling (or was it ‘driving’?) the electric trolley up to the wards. I was delivering clean washing and collecting dirty. Clean items were neatly stacked on the flat ‘belly’ of the trolley, and dirty linen placed in huge sacks hanging around the outside frame of this eight-foot beast. These same sacks offered just minimal vision, but along straight narrow corridors, what could go wrong?

Of course electric also usually means quiet.
Well, after all, it was a hospital.

As I ‘crept’ up the main corridor, I came to the spinal wards 1x and 2x, but before I could pass the entrance and stop between the two, a flurry of doctor’s coat, stethoscope and spectacles flew out of the side ward and smacked into the trolly. I felt something (vision obscured) and there was an audible gasp and the white flurry clearly crumpled downwards.

Oh my god! What had I done?
I rushed around the trolly to see a body.
I’d killed our hero.
I’d crushed the best neurological brain in Europe.
I’d ended the wheelchair Olympics before they’d even begun…. all in one flash of time.

By now, surrounded by doctors and nurses, resuscitation began; panic and worried faces stared from all directions. A scowling ward sister was about to nail me to the nearest wall with total disregard for my anatomy. All I could think was how small he looked. How small and still and…. dead…. when suddenly there was an intake of breath and a moustachioed face looked up. Looked up and then sat up. Sir Ludwig stood up, brushed himself off and declared that he was only winded. Then he declared it was all his fault, he’d rushed out into the corridor without looking; at which point he did exactly the same, narrowly missed a speeding wheelchair patient and walked briskly off to his next appointment.

He lived for another 13 years and I believe came to no more harm. One of the world’s greatest men, saved by dirty laundry.

Whittle 3 ‘Feeling Bad’

When I visited the old lady in hospital, her daughter was there. We had never met, but chatted politely and she gratefully accepted the flowers and chocolates I’d brought for her mother. Well, when all’s said and done, it was really my fault.

Going back some six days, it began after teaching a full day at my very first school. 
In Marlow, where I now lived and worked, we had arranged a later rehearsal of a little something new to offer at the forthcoming parents’ evening.
Just some of the better English, Drama and Music pupils (aged 11/12 years) who would be speaking/acting/playing a few pieces. I was driving a lad home to a nearby village (no buses back then!) when it happened. It is all still quite vivid. Which, after all these years, may indicate a deeper significance. 

Whilst coming through Marlow town centre, as usual quite busy at 5pm, I began to slow for the zebra-crossing ahead. I saw a lady who had crossed to the middle of the road with her bicycle as she stood (with two other pedestrians) and was waiting for the traffic to pass. My focus adjusted from them back to the crossing further on and as someone stepped out to cross the road, I kept an eye on them whilst I slowed my car so as to be at a halt when I arrived at the zebra.

What my peripheral sight showed me was a flash of someone stepping across in front of my car. Yes, from the centre of the road the old lady had launched herself out in an insane hope of getting to safety before I arrived. I instinctively turned my wheel to the left, heard the crunching of a bicycle, came to a halt at the kerb and feared the worst.

After a moment’s paralysis, I looked around…… no old lady. The pupil and I looked at each other. What had just happened? Where was she? I could see the crumpled bike still in the road. I could see people running towards my car. With my heart in my mouth, I went to get out of the car. ‘Clump’ – my door smacked the old lady in the head. She’d been sitting-up right by my door with her body and little legs under my wheel arch. Oh my god: “I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”

She said she was but her leg hurt. As many hands lifted her out, a shopkeeper arrived with blankets and someone shouted that an ambulance was on its way. The driver of the truck behind me said it wasn’t my fault. “The silly old bat just ran out, there was nothing you could do.” The other two pedestrians who had stayed waiting to cross said they didn’t know why she did it. 
I just felt awful.

I went into the cafe and got a hot tea which I took out to her. I remember her sweetly looking up at me and thanking me with:
“Very kind but maybe you’d better drink it dear. You look quite pale.”

It was all some time ago, but what I do remember at the hospital, is the daughter saying:
“Please don’t worry.
You mustn’t blame yourself…. it was her other leg before. 
She does this sort of thing all the time!!”

Whittle 2 ‘Slate’


Ours was a very small town (pop. 2,500) on a small Cornish coastal location.
Pete was a local handyman who had a small-holding on the edge of the town. He was very handy because he had a tractor. And free of charge, was willing every year to tow the float on which rode our town’s resplendent ‘Carnival Queen’ during her reign throughout Regatta Week and beyond.

He also had a slate blackboard. It hung outside, by the gate into his field.
And on this board he would write the prices and availability of his succulent seasonal produce. Passing by it each day, I’d see the variations change: tomatoes, strawberries, rhubarb, honey, jams, plums, apples, marmalade, spring onions, potatoes. His very own local garden produce, totally fresh, wholly organic (before that word became a popular label) and very tasty.

The produce would always be just inside his fence, behind the gate on a small homemade table; in boxes, in jars or laid in baskets ready to be taken with money placed in an honesty-box.

His small-holding was literally just the other side of our country lane that came up from the river. The same river that within a half-mile opened up and emptied into the sea giving us wide open sailing water, ocean access, secluded beaches and fabulous cliff scenery.

I still have fond memories of laying on my bed on a summer’s eve, windows open, hearing the chugging of his tractor struggling up and down his 1:4 field and listening to the screeching of the gulls following his freshly turned earth or in the subsequent night’s silence, hearing the clucking of his few dozen hens.

The most memorable of his blackboard signs was an early morning message one day which simply read:
“Sorry no eggs
fox got the chickens”

Introducing Whittles

I’m not really a fan of short stories
They always leave an emptiness; the two-course meal somewhat hurried, instead of the full sit-down, wine-accompanied five-courses with the right company to really turn eating into a feast of delight. I guess shorter stories serve their purpose, it’s just that it is not one I’d go seeking. Not enough depth, somewhat contrived and altogether too well constructed; which may well be their strength, but I then become more interested in technique than character or story. This inevitably leads me to read more into predicting the sting in the tail than enjoying the tale itself.

This, dear reader, may be why I choose to write these little reminiscences, rather than go charging off into romantic or fantastic stories. I present you with a few remembered anecdotes which, at least I can assure you, are all totally true.
I shall number them and re-label them as ‘whittles’.

Being at a near-perfect age, it pleases me to think back to my days in Canada when we did indeed whittle. All young boys had knives, not for causing any harm, merely for practical purposes. For such as undoing screws, taking the tops off coke bottles, digging out last year’s marbles from the garden, cutting frayed denim edges and (during idle times), chopping away at acquired sticks. A re-shaping of good pieces of wood to create something easily handled, recognised and enjoyed. Whittles are usually accepted, approved of (sometimes admired) and generally more creative and exciting than the original windfall.
So I hope it should be with my worded whittles.
(search Whittles for the first of these true stories)

Creating

I am still constructing my site. My first stories are written and so I shall be posting them throughout March and April 2019…. just needing to get my layout and design correct! After that, I expect to do monthly stories alongside a spoken version of them all – as they build into a library for everyone to enjoy.
Thank you very much for your patience.
Rolande