Towards Better Democracy

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Absence


On the 6th of April 1965 the incoming British Labour government canceled the British Aircraft Corporation (now BAE Systems) TSR2 Mach 2 reconnaissance aircraft, then being developed at its Military Aircraft Division at Wharton in Lancashire, England. The Labour Government premised this decision on the Duncan Sandys Defence White Paper of 1957 which had predicted the demise of manned military aircraft for defence purposes.

In an effort to protect its trainees from the resultant drastic cuts in its work force, BAC farmed out its graduate and undergraduate apprentices, on a temporary basis, to its various other divisions, principally the Commercial Aviation Division in Bristol, in the west of England, and its Defence Avionics Division at Stevenage in Hertforshire, located about 30 miles outside London.

During my final year at Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh, I had applied to, and had been accepted by, British Aircraft Corporation at its Military Aircraft Division for a Undergraduate Apprenticeship training programme. This allowed me to study for a degree under the auspice of BAC while at the same time to support myself from the small stipend paid to its undergraduate apprentices. I therefore joined BAC at the end of the summer of 1964.

Late in 1954, my mother had rescued my two brothers and myself from a children’s shelter where we had been placed by the city council after complaints from the neighbours that my father had been leaving us out in the streets until he returned home late at night.

In 1956, after eighteen months in her care, my mother decided to return us to the custody of our father, since she intended to leave the city to go to live in London.

Residence at 13 Rothsey Terrace, Edinburgh, had been contingent upon it being maintained as a family home. My father, therefore, was ejected from it and went to stay at his mother’s house in Merchiston Avenue, where he had grown up. Along with the separation from his wife, the loss of custody of his children, the loss of his home, my father now lost his job with the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Rothsey Terrace, Edinburgh, as my mother might have painted it

So, the man that my mother deposited us with in 1954 was unemployed and staying with his mother.

My father was born in 1904 in Newcastle Upon Tyne and met and married my mother just as he was being demobbed from the British Army at the end of World War 2 in Liverpool in England. It was at my mother’s mother’s home in Rockferry, Cheshire, that I was born in 1945.

With jobs and housing scarce in the immediate post war years, the family ended up in Abedour, Fife in Scotland where a second son was born in 1947. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Edinburgh where a third son was born in 1949. The family was now complete …at least until 1954.

My parents had agreed that my mother would leave us at the street door of the four-story set of flats in Merchiston and we that would go up the stairs to my father. This we duly did and knocked on the door of the flat. My father had always carried a beard. A large, full beard, in the style of learned Victorian gentlemen, reaching to his chest. The man that opened the door of that flat in Edinburgh on that day in 1956 was beardless and gaunt looking. The look my father gave me, without a word from either of us, had me dash back downstairs to my mother who was waiting for a signal from upstairs on a successful reunion.

“I want to come with you,” I said.

“I’ll come back and get you.” my mother replied, “Now, go back upstairs.”

My mother’s absence was punctuated by occasional tourist postcards from London and various places in Europe. More occasionally still, a display selection of fruit, complete with ribbon,rotten after is journey from London to Edinburgh through the care of the Royal Mail, would arrive.

From time to time, my father would say, “When the opportunity comes, you will go back to your mother.”

“No, no, I won’t,” I would reply, in an effort to display a loyalty I did not feel.

In Stevenage, I had with me one of my mother’s postcards from years earlier. On it was my mother’s London address. Several weeks into my stay in Stevenage, I traveled by train into London. Ladbroke Grove is a fine set of white faced Georgian buildings curved in a lovely crescent on the west side of London. At that time they were roughly divided into flats, two or more to each floor. I climbed up the steps to the front door and studied the list of occupants against the rows of white pushbuttons. Against one of them was my mother’s name. I pushed the bell button and waited.

A large woman of medium height with dark, shoulder-length hair appeared in the doorway. My mother looked like an older version of the woman who had left us with our father nine years previously.

“Hello, mother,” I said.

A small, pained, wistful smile winced its way across my mother’s face as she said,

“You’re my son?”

Filed under: Memoir,

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