The Very Beginning

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Much to my disdain, I was born at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup when Sidcup was part of Kent.  I was always a bit envious of my peers born at Farnborough Hospital, which, to my mind, was a better start in life.  It sounded nicer than Sidcup, which, whenever we drove through, seemed to be between places; it wasn’t a destination; it was a place one went through and therefore was not a place for starting anything, let alone a life, my life.

What could be done? Nothing. It was as it was.

My father had just launched his new enterprise, an import/export venture looking to get office furniture and kitchens into the UK from Italy. An opportunity he had stumbled upon when he had been doing his last employed job with Gestetna, the duplicator company.

He had a party, and my mother enjoyed herself despite her condition by consuming copious amounts of prawn cocktails, oysters and champagne; most probably, it was not champagne but whatever sparkling wine was available back in the mid-1970s.

The following Saturday, my Dad rose early, announcing that he was sailing in Whitstable with his friend Phil. My mother did not want to go with him since they had also discussed and agreed to build a garden shed. She determined to do that in his absence if only to reinforce how neglectful he was being.

She shuffled into the garden, already six months pregnant with me, her second child; by all accounts, she was enormous! She struggled a bit with the flat pack kit before approaching Mr Harris, a neighbour who worked as a train driver. Luckily Mr Harris, who also did carpentry as a hobby, was home and was able to help. They put up the shed. But the excursion took its toll, and it was not long before I was on my way!

Queen Mary’s Hospital was closer to her the house lived in (a few miles down the road) by my maternal grandparents, and so it comes as no surprise that as she was driven to the hospital by my Grandfather, he would have taken her to the hospital he considered nearest.

By all predictions, I should have been born on or about 12th June, but this was late March! On Mothering Sunday, 1976, at 4:20 in the morning, I made my debut.

My mother would often remind me that I weighed the same as a small bag of sugar at my birth, about a kilo, and I was immediately whisked into an incubator. My Aunty Vicki has often told me how revolting I looked.

As it happened, my mother had been doing menial work at The Hollies, a residential care home. Poor sanitation and a lack of essential PPE meant she had contracted Hepatitis B, most probably from faeces.

The effects of the virus, combined with the business launch and the shed-related excursion, all compounded by a pregnancy, meant that my mother turned jaundiced during the delivery. Following my birth and incubation, my mother was left only with a polaroid photograph of me for the first four days before she was allowed to hold me for the first time.

A few days later, I was popped into a Moses basket and taken home.

I was Christened at the brick-built parish church of St Francis of Assisi in Petts Wood. The church was just around the corner from our house in the middle of Petts Wood Road, a three-bedroomed semi-detached house on the main road by the bus stop in the 1930s Garden Suburb, which became my home for the first 23 years.