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Donna’s Men

by Michael E. Lloyd

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Book III: At Home With Robert

Chapter 1: Ups and Downs and In-Betweens

part 2 of 2

So with the pressure on her becoming more and more intense with every week that passed, Amy finally decided to take the plunge. She went out with Rose to a big local dance one Friday evening, almost five years after Jack’s death, and she met a skilled mechanic who was down there on a six-month war repairs contract in the aircraft factory. She quickly decided he would do as well as any other, and I know he reckoned it could be a good scheme to move up into what seemed like a fairly well-off “country” family.

So Walter Kerr married Amy Lewis (Amy Norman, actually) in August 1946, just before his work contract ended, and took her back to his parents’ home in Wood Green.

And poor Rose had to move back in with her mother, while Stanley, Richard and their wives got their children’s nursery at last.

But after generating all that friction, Richard and his family moved out to a new house just one year later, and Rose finally got a room to herself, at the age of twenty-five! That situation didn’t last long, though. She’d been seeing a travelling salesman of her own, by the name of Bill Finch, for over a year. They got married that autumn, and he moved in with her.

And two years later, Stanley and his family bought a house for themselves at last. The old place must have seemed really quiet and empty then, with only Grandma, Rose and Bill left behind! But young Steven was born soon after that, and Nancy a year later in 1950. Still plenty of bedrooms for the five of them! And that’s how it then stayed for a very long time.

So the other side of my family was full of all sorts of characters too. Over the years I got to meet most of those who’d survived, including their children and grandchildren and more. And once again, while it wasn’t always a completely happy family, it was certainly a big one!

‘Robert, may I say another quick word at this point?’

‘Of course, Donna.’

‘It’s quite personal, actually. I’m just feeling a bit weepy, right now, after hearing even more about your huge extended family. Because, as it happens, my “own” family was exactly the opposite. No aunts and uncles or cousins or grandparents — not even a father for very long! So I really just wanted to say how much I envy you and your life among all those lovely people ...’

‘Ah. Well, it wasn’t quite as rich and fulfilling as you’re imagining, Donna. Most of the time my own little part of the family was very isolated, for all sorts of reasons, and the occasional hours or days spent with our relatives were actually few and far between. But I do understand exactly what you’re feeling, and why ...’

So, back to my father, Walter. Yes, he’d been apprenticed in 1934 as a fitter/mechanic, and like many others he’d then worked in an armaments factory during the war.

When it was over, and he’d finished that contract down in Bristol and got married to Amy, he was able to pick up a good job in an agricultural machinery factory in North London. He stayed with them for many years, and steadily moved through several increasingly skilled and senior roles in Final Assembly, Test and Repair.

Even during the war he’d been conscientiously saving for the deposit to buy a house one fine day, and he had secretly hoped that marrying Amy might speed things up a lot. But he soon realised there was no likelihood of any financial support from her family, after all. However, despite those old Wood Green house rules, he and his new wife were permitted to stay on with his parents for another three years, while he continued to save. There were enough rooms for that now, with only Charlie still left behind — he’d been working with his father as electrician’s mate for ten years — and the extra household income they provided was obviously very welcome.

And Amy herself carried on working for over eighteen months, until the summer before I was born. So, early the year after that, they were able to put down a substantial deposit on a modest new terraced house in Northgate Hill, and they moved in at the end of 1949, just after my first birthday.

But now they had significant mortgage and insurance payments to make without fail each month, as well as an extra mouth to feed, and probably another one in the future. So Dad started advertising himself locally as “Mr Repair Man” and he soon found there was a big demand for his services. He could fix anything mechanical in his garden shed — lawn mowers, bicycles, motorbikes, washing machines (the old simple ones!), tools, furniture, radios, toys, you name it. And in that post-war period, many people had to make do with repairs rather than buying replacement goods. Dad was reliable, quick and cheap, and he was always in demand.

But throughout the years that followed, we still never seemed to have any spare money for other than the simplest of treats or trips ... and we never owned a car. I think the main feature of his fantastic service must have been the “cheap” one, and he probably never realised how lucky all his customers were.

Anyway, Mum and Dad both lived long, demanding lives. Mum died in 2004 — but we’ll get to that later. Amazingly, though, Dad is still with us — he lives in a Nursing Home back in Wood Green, and he was one hundred years old last July! In the old days he would have received a telegram from the Queen ... or the King. Not any more, of course.

‘He’s a centenarian, Robert? Oh, that’s wonderful!’

‘Yes, he certainly thinks so. And he’s still in reasonable health, all things considered! Of course, living to that age is often not very wonderful at all. He’s well aware of how lucky he is.’

So, there we were, the three of us, and I suppose the future seemed quite bright to my parents. Certainly Mum must have felt she was in a far better position than she’d been in back at the Bristol house, with Stanley and Richard giving her that ultimatum. And Dad was clearly earning enough to provide for us, and probably slightly more than enough, because in 1950 they decided — and he has told me it was a very conscious decision — to try for another baby.

What they certainly didn’t bargain for was two more — and both at once! On the 24th of June 1951, my sister Jane and my brother Peter were born.


‘Yes, Donna. And I suspect Dad had been requesting and doing even more overtime at work ever since he’d heard the good news ...’

‘Of course. Poor man! But even so, the birth of those children must have made your mother’s new life even happier ...’

‘I’m sure it did. For a while, anyway. And as for me and the new babies — you know, I’ve often thought that, considering Mum’s first husband was killed in the war, and she met her second one when he was busy clearing up the mess afterwards, we all owed our very existence, in no small measure, to a certain Mr Hitler. Funny old world, isn’t it, Donna?’

‘Oh, Robert ...’

I don’t remember a lot about the twins’ first year with us, and of course they didn’t do very much at all, as far as I was concerned! What I do remember is that I lost most of Mum’s attention, even before they were born. Dad later told me that she used to take me out to the park every day when I was small, but that stopped completely at the beginning of 1951. And of course having twins then gave her twice the usual workload of a new mother, so I must have faded more and more into the background.

But I can clearly recall their first birthday party in the summer of 1952. I was nearly four by then, and she let me help her with the preparations, and then help each of them to eat their special jelly and soft cake at the tea table.

And it’s funny ... I have no idea why, but from that day onwards I felt a lot closer to Jane than to Peter. Very strange. I found myself sitting and just chatting away to her for quite a long time every day, and she would always give me a lovely smile and say a few baby words in reply. But I really don’t remember doing anything like that with Peter. Even though they were so “equal” in everyone’s eyes, including mine. Really strange.

Or perhaps it wasn’t actually like that at all. Perhaps I’ve always brought those moments I spent with Jane into special focus. Because that happy time did not go on for long.

On Christmas Eve, that year, Jane left us for ever.

‘Oh my god! Oh no, Robert!’

‘It’s true.’

‘Oh, whatever happened??’

‘Well ... I think, rather than telling you myself, I’ll let Peter do that ...’

‘Peter is here too?’

‘Oh, no. But he started a little diary, a few years later, and he describes it all very well there. I’ve never quite understood how he gained so much insight into what happened that day, but I guess Mum or Dad must eventually have given him some of the facts, and he added them in later. Because I think his actual explanation of how he knew about it all is way beyond belief.

‘But I’ll let you judge that for yourself, Donna. Here — these are the first two parts of his diary, through to the end of 1955. I’ve no idea where his original notebooks are, but he typed the entire thing up in 1963, when he was twelve, although I only discovered it in 2004. Why don’t you take these pages home with you tonight, and read them once you’ve transcribed today’s recording? Then we can pick it up from there, next time you come in ...’

‘All right, Robert. Yes, of course I’ll do that. But oh, you poor, poor things. I am so very sorry ...’

Proceed to Chapter 2 ...

Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd

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