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By Michael Seed, Noel Botham
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2007 Michael Seed and Noel Botham
All rights reserved.
I can't remember a time when Mammy and Daddy didn't shout at each other and when he didn't hurt us. The arguments and the pain were a part of our family life and I thought they were normal. Shouting and snarling and lashing out, Daddy would always win. Sometimes Mammy would shout back, but most of the time she just stood there, as though in a trance, and did not even answer him.
There were always slaps. On the legs and bottom and arms – and occasionally across my face. And slaps for Mammy too. But sometimes he would punch her in the face and her lip would split or her eye blacken, and she would scream louder than usual. Then we would cling to each other, huddled on the floor behind the settee, while she sobbed and I gritted my teeth, determined not to cry like a baby, and we would wait until Daddy had gone out or gone to bed.
Then Mammy would crawl on to the settee and go to sleep. The settee was where I was supposed to sleep, but on those nights I would collect the old blue-and-white baby blanket my nanny had crocheted for me and a pillow, and make my bed on the floor in the corner. Sometimes Mammy had already taken my blanket and I would curl up in one of the easy chairs to try to keep warm. But they were covered in shiny, cold, black plastic and provided little comfort.
We had no central heating and the fire, which was wide and deep and had cast-iron ovens on either side that were never used for cooking, was always allowed to die down at night – even in the middle of winter – so sometimes it would be freezing cold. To me, it seemed I often spent the whole night shivering, and in the morning the inside of the window would be covered in frost, which would gradually melt as the fire warmed the living room. That is, if Mammy had remembered to fetch coal and actually restarted the fire. On those days, I would wait until she had gone downstairs, then rescue my blanket and stay huddled up in a chair to keep warm.
At the time, I thought very little about the cause of all this violence and misery – I was far more concerned with the very real and painful effect it was having on me – but later I was able to piece together my parents' story.
My mother's name was Lillian and, as a young teenager, she was acknowledged to be the prettiest girl on the council estate where she lived in Bolton. Her parents were in the Salvation Army and she was being groomed to become an officer in the movement. My grandmother, Mary Ramsden, who was known to everyone as Polly, told me that Mammy was then in love with a young Salvation Army officer, Harold, who would later become one of the movement's top officials. She would have loved Harold to become her son-in-law and always hoped they would marry.
But, during the war, Mammy met Joe, an RAF navigator, and fell in love with him. Joe, who was to become my father, was a Roman Catholic whose parents were a well-to-do couple from Liverpool.
This, Nanny Ramsden later told me, was the start of their problems. For Joe's parents believed he was marrying beneath him and, even though Mammy converted to Catholicism, they remained bitterly opposed to the marriage. Daddy's mother, Florence, even threatened to kill herself if the marriage went ahead.
But it did, and she, I would very much regret later, didn't. The wedding took place in Bolton in 1942. According to family gossip, the Ramsdens and the Seeds did not exchange a single word on that day – or afterwards.
Twenty years later, in our house in Manchester, all the poison and the forecasts of disaster which had shrouded their marriage had festered and grown and were now tearing our family apart.
Even had I understood the cause of their conflict – and I was never really certain what it was – I had no way of preventing what was happening. I was only four and unable to defend or retaliate. Half the time Mammy didn't seem to know I was there and to Daddy I was just 'a good for nothing', 'a bad boy', 'a useless brat', 'a waste of space'. I was, he frequently told me, 'nobody's child'. And I believed him. I grew up accepting that I was bad and stupid, but also that our family was no different from any other. This, I thought, was the way all little children and their mammies were treated.
Ours was a small two-storey terraced house, number 447, the corner one of a long row of identical properties with smoke-blackened bricks and dark slate roofs. The front doors all opened directly on to a wide pavement and were faced, across the busy Ashton Old Road, by a row of identical houses.
I didn't know then that we were right in the centre of the square mile or so of the most deprived part of Manchester. The houses had yards at the back and little lanes separating them from more identical houses behind them. Car-repair shops and other light-engineering businesses were run out of lock-up garages in the yards along these lanes.
There were already gaps between some of the houses where buildings had been wiped out by German bombs during the war. The council had put up advertising hoardings, promoting products like Oxo and Persil, to fill the spaces where once there were homes. There had been no attempt to rebuild because the whole dump was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment.
Compared with our neighbourhood, Coronation Street looked like Millionaires' Row. There were always lots of people and noise, and most families seemed to have three or four or more children. I think I was the only lone child in our street.
Where the downstairs rooms were in the other houses, ours had been converted into a shop, run by my mother, that sold sweets, cigarettes, fizzy drinks and sandwiches. Most of the local women would pop in to buy stuff and to gossip.
My mother was very beautiful and everyone liked her. The only person I ever knew who didn't like her, apart from Daddy's mother, who hated her, was my father himself, and I was always puzzled as to why they had chosen each other when they so obviously couldn't get along.
We lived on the first floor, which had a big living room at the front, a bedroom at the back and a tiny kitchen and toilet in the middle. There was no bathroom. We took our baths in a galvanised tin tub in front of the fire once a week. Except Daddy, who said he showered at work.
The place smelled permanently of damp and was always dirty. In the living room there were stained and grimy floorboards on which lay three small, cheap and badly soiled machine-made rugs. The wallpaper, plain white and unpainted and covered in damp marks and stains, was peeling away from the walls in places.
On the floor of the small kitchen was brown linoleum, cracked and worn through in front of the sink. Nothing was ever polished and the windows were only ever cleaned by the rain. I rarely saw Mammy use a brush around the place, but she was fastidiously clean when it came to her personal hygiene, strip-washing in front of the sink every day.
Ours was a slum dwelling in a slum area and we lived in appalling conditions, but I didn't realise then that we were very poor. There was very little furniture. In the living room, there was only the settee and two easy chairs covered in shiny black plastic, which was torn in places and crudely fastened together with sticky tape, a small table and three kitchen chairs and a radio. When I was nearly five, Daddy bought a second-hand, black-and-white TV with a tiny 12-inch screen.
There were no family meals in our house. I would sometimes eat at the table in the living room, but I can't remember the three of us ever sitting down together to eat. My mother never actually prepared a meal for me. Sometimes there would be a packet of cereal in the kitchen and I would have to go downstairs to the shop to fetch milk. Unless there had already been a delivery that morning, it was often warm and not very nice.
One day, when I was four, I went down and grabbed a bottle of milk that turned out to be completely sour and curdled. It made me very sick and I have never drunk milk on its own since then; occasionally in tea or coffee, but never alone. But already I had learned that complaining made no difference. It was not, I think, because Mammy didn't care. She just didn't seem to know I was there. Most days, it was just as though I was invisible. Her eyes would be open but she didn't seem to see me or hear me.
From overhearing neighbours' gossip, I knew that Mammy suffered from something called 'depression' and that she was taking lots of very strong tablets called 'anti-depressants' and 'tranquillisers'. These had a very odd effect and she would go for long periods as though she wasn't really there.
When this happened, I would tell myself that Mammy was switched off. She wasn't working properly. And I knew not to pester her with questions, because I knew also that I would either get no reply at all, or mixed-up answers that most of the time didn't make any sense at all.
Often it was just like having a beautiful, big, walking doll in the house. She moved around but you couldn't speak to her.
I stopped telling Mammy that there was nothing to eat when I was about four, because usually all she would do, if she acknowledged me at all, was point vaguely down in the direction of the shop.
Occasionally, a new box of cereal would appear in the kitchen and I assumed she had been shopping. But there was no pattern to this and sometimes for weeks on end there would be nothing upstairs for me to eat. More often than not a banana or an apple would be my breakfast – and dinner too.
Mammy never prepared an evening meal for Daddy either – and that was the cause of many of their rows. I learned much later on that, in the early years of their marriage, when romance was still alive, she used to cook meals for him like any other wife. But 15 years of a brutal marriage and the eventual onset of serious clinical depression had dramatically altered that. By the time I became aware of what was going on, she had stopped cooking for Daddy entirely.
At lunchtime, there was a set routine. I would go down to the shop and be given a sandwich. Mammy made sandwiches, using the cheapest sliced bread, behind the counter for the local workmen, and, as a small boy before I started school, I survived mainly on a daily diet of cheese and pickle or ham and tomato sandwiches and odds and ends of fruit.
I came to hate the taste of cheese and ham but I would force myself to swallow them down rather than go to bed hungry. By then, I knew that there was very little chance of getting anything substantial to eat before I went to bed. And I was only too aware of the hunger pains that accompanied a rumbling, empty tummy while waiting for sleep to come.
Luckily for me, we were surrounded by good neighbours, and I'm sure most of them must have been aware of my mother's haphazard catering arrangements for her family. I don't think any of them were better off than us – most of their homes were just as sparsely and shabbily furnished as ours, and they had more hungry mouths to feed – but the local mums nearly always offered me some titbit or other when I went round to play with their children. I could usually count on being given a currant bun or a slice of home-baked cake or some other treat to supplement my meagre home diet, and told, 'Come on then, love, tuck in now.' Usually this was accompanied by a pat on the head and a comment like 'poor little mite' or 'poor bairn'.
At the time, I couldn't understand why I was such a poor creature but I welcomed the food and all the impromptu hugs the other mums gave me. Hugs were something to cherish. I never got them at home. Mammy never cuddled me or kissed me. I think she only ever held me for her own comfort when she was frightened or hurt. And the only times then that Daddy ever touched me was when he lashed out in anger.
During the day, I used to spend hours alone in the living room watching television. Mammy never seemed to care what I did or what I watched, and in fact most of the time I don't think she even knew where I was. After a while, it became obvious to me that the families on television were all very different from mine. The mothers all seemed to be happy and smiling and spent lots of time playing and talking with their children, and cleaning their homes, and the fathers nearly always seemed pleased to see them. The dads took their children out to play ball games in the park.
I asked Mammy one day, 'Why doesn't Daddy like us?'
It happened to be one of her more communicative days and she told me, 'He loves us really. He just gets very angry and can't help himself. It's the devil in him, mixed with the drink.'
I didn't know much about the devil but I reckoned, if that was who was making Daddy beat us, he wasn't very nice.
I also knew that if Daddy came home smelling of beer – a smell I knew from when he drank bottles of the stuff in the living room – he was more likely to start shouting and hitting out than at other times. If I caught an early-warning smell of beer on his breath, I would either run out to play in the yard or sit down very quietly behind the settee.
Anything, however small, could trigger an explosion, but one of the things which often made him angry was the way Mammy dressed, and the make-up she wore. She was very pretty and people said she didn't need to wear the amount of mascara, powder and lipstick she sometimes used. She liked her skirts just above the knee and most of her blouses and dresses were low-cut at the top and showed a lot of her breasts. She also loved cheap imitation jewellery.
Mammy said that how she dressed was one of the few ways she had of brightening her life. Daddy said she tarted herself up like a slut and beat her because of it.CHAPTER 2
Daddy was a warder at the notorious Strangeways Prison in Manchester, and in uniform he always looked a bit scary, not just to me but to the other kids in the neighbourhood too. Some of those kids would be cheeky to almost anybody. But not to my father. Perhaps they had heard stories about the beatings he gave Mammy and me, but they seemed to know not to mess with him.
His black uniform jacket and trousers were like a policeman's and were complemented by a shiny, black peaked cap, white shirt and black tie. Daddy always kept his hair very short at the back and sides, which helped to make him look very fierce. At that time, he always seemed to be angry about something and I don't remember ever seeing him smile.
He carried a whistle, which he once let me blow, and a black baton, and wore a thick, black leather belt with a large buckle. He was a tall man and quite slim, though his arms were hard with muscle. Daddy often told me he was the fittest and toughest man at Strangeways, including the prisoners, and that he was a match for any of them.
I don't know if that was true because, apart from a crazy situation when I was older, I only ever saw him hit Mammy and me – and neither of us could put up much of a fight.
The first beating that was different, and I can still remember it vividly, was when he made me bleed for the first time and dragged Mammy into the bedroom to do things to her. As usually happened, she was half-asleep in an easy chair when he came in, and I was watching Dixon of Dock Green on television. I heard Daddy's footsteps coming up the stairs and I shuffled myself as far back into my chair as I could, trying to make myself less noticeable. I had long since learned that out of sight meant out of mind and that I was less likely to receive a slap if he didn't notice me.
Mammy didn't look up when he came in. Perhaps she didn't even know he was there. That often seemed to be the case with her. Her eyes could be open but she didn't appear to see what was happening around her.
Daddy marched over, still wearing his cap, and stood, legs apart, in front of her, just staring down. Then he reached down and shook her by the shoulders. 'Can't you ever be bloody normal when I come home?' he shouted. 'Well, don't think you can get out of your duties by doping yourself into stupidity, 'cos you can't. You're like a bloody zombie. Absolutely useless. It's like being married to a corpse.'
Mammy seemed to understand something and tried to push him away. 'Stop it,' she said in the sort of singsong voice she sometimes used. 'I don't want you to touch me. You hurt me.'
'I'm not hurting you,' he yelled, his face only a few inches from hers, 'but if you like I'll give you something to hurt you,' and he slapped her hard across the side of her face with his right hand.
Mammy screamed and I jumped from my chair and rushed over to him. He was still leaning over her and I grabbed hold of his sleeve and pleaded with him. 'Please, Daddy, don't hit Mammy any more. You're hurting her.'
'What the hell do you want, you stupid boy?' he snarled. 'And what are you doing here anyway? You're nobody's child. Don't you understand that, you little brat? You're nobody's child.' He glared at me, then undid his belt buckle and began to take off his belt.
'Please don't hurt us,' I said again, but it was far too late for that.
He pulled his belt free of his trousers, folded it in half lengthwise and suddenly swung it violently at my legs.
The pain was awful and I couldn't help screaming. 'Please don't, Daddy,' I yelled again.
But he was too angry to listen and he lashed at me again. This time the belt landed across my shoulders and the buckle end wrapped around my head and smashed into my face.
I screamed again and put my hand up to my face. I was in agony. I felt my face was wet and thought it must be tears, but when I took my hand away it was red with blood. The big metal buckle had split my cheek.
Daddy was already raising his arm for another blow, but when he saw the blood he paused with his arm in the air.
Excerpted from Nobody's Child by Michael Seed, Noel Botham. Copyright © 2007 Michael Seed and Noel Botham. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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