Me. I was born in the nineteen sixties in a Northern town. I washed in a tin bath in front of the fire while watching Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell play Doctor Who on a black and white telly.
George. George was my grandfather and I’m named after him. He liked to walk on his elbows at family parties and lost a good half of his money on the horses and threw the rest of it away on wild, crazy living. I’m nothing like him.
The Bren. This was the factory where my father worked making guns for the soldiers in World War Two. It was named after the Bren gun, which was in turn named after a town in the country where the Bren gun’s designer lived. Dad put the triggers on hundreds of guns but never fired a single one of them himself, which doesn’t mean he wasn’t an extremely brave man, because he was as brave as they come and a lot stronger than he seemed. Next to the factory there was a brown river they called the Gut, where the polluted exhaust from all of the factories in the valley ran down to the sea; the waters of this river were so foul that they had to be covered up by a steel grille that ran from one bank to the other and children were warned by their parents to stay away because to fall in was the same as dying. One touch of those foul waters and your body would erupt and vaporize away.
The Fortune Teller and the Vat of Glue. In the great depression my Great Aunt Flo and her husband went to find work in the United States. He got a job as a security man at a glue factory, and fell in a huge vat of the stuff and died. They say the fumes overcame him, but I think he was probably drunk. After that Flo became a fortune-teller and she was apparently very good at it. For some reason back then lots of folk believed in spirits and so it wasn’t as unusual a career choice as it may seem to us now.
A gypsy with a flashing ring. My Great Aunt Elizabeth was Aunt Flo’s sister. She was eight years old when her father re-married and the new wife didn’t like children, so Lizzie was sent to live with the gypsies. In later years she became very wealthy and I would go to see see her once a month in her big old house. I used to sit in Lizzie’s front room, while she sat up stiffly in a straight-backed chair looking like Death (only more frightening).