PAPERBACK BOOKS
RESURRECTION

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Resurrection traces the author’s life from humble beginnings in a Durham (U.K.) mining village during the Second World War to his retirement years and ‘Seventh Age’ in Queensland, Australia.

In the course of this journey, the author experiences the ups and downs of adolescence, education, teacher training, Army National Service in Malaya during the Emergency (‘The Forgotten War’), teaching, lecturing and finally the momentous decision to immigrate with his wife, Sylvia, to Australia.

 

 

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ISBN:   978-1-922229-10-6
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 174
Genre: Prose/Poetry
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Author: Ray Wilson
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English

  

1 (sample)

 EARLY YEARS

Epiphany 

At 9.55 am on 17 February, 1933, weighing six pounds ten ounces, a fourth baby boy, the first of twins, was born to Hilda and William Wilson; a home birth at Ferryhill, Co. Durham in the north of England. And so I arrived on the world scene. Within a few months my home would have moved just a few miles to Chilton – or to be precise, if less than poetic, Chilton Buildings.

Sharing its worked-out coal mine with the adjacent village, Windlestone, Chilton was bisected by a railway line that crossed the main road – the Great North Road or A1 – so that, in a strange metaphysical as well as physical sense, there were two divides: the railway and the road.

 

 

THE IN-BETWEENS

 

Above the railway line stood Chilton Buildings,

below it nestled Windlestone

and linking both the ugly pit heaps proved

the schoolboys’ ideal battleground

 

where cavalry charged Red Indians

and bloody nose and broken head

caused many a gallant, wounded hero

to go supperless to bed.

 

  

My brother and I lived by the railway crossing

in a kind of limbo no-man’s land.

Just odd kids out – we were the in-betweens –

so we deliberately planned

 

to join both gangs as undercover spies

and play a clever, canny game

as two top-secret special double agents

enjoying a dangerous doubtful fame.

 

But I maintain it certainly was better

than simply joining just one side

or, even worse, just sitting on the fence

and watching all the trains go by.

 

I was from a large family with two much older brothers, Ken and Alan, who were also twins; another brother, Arnold, nearly two years older; a younger sister, Enid; and a younger brother, Bill. (My twin brother, Cecil, died tragically in infancy of diphtheria contracted in hospital when he was undergoing treatment for a mastoid.) Arnold and I grew up together, almost twin-like in fact. And this relationship still endures even though we are now thousands of miles apart.

As one-time mining villages, Chilton and Windlestone left us young adventurous boys a much-appreciated legacy – a range of undulating, black yet wild-flower-adorned pit heaps and a disused, brick-lined, shallow reservoir. These constituted our playground paradise.

THE PIT HEAPS

 

Boyhood memories of a Durham village

couched in the shadow of a worked-out mine,

ringed by pit heaps like giant mole hills,

playground paradise – wet weather or fine.

 

 

Black hills alive with defiant grasses,

rose-purple willow herb and blackberry

swarming with bumble bees, spiders, red admirals;

exciting game for my brother and me.

 

Jam jar – swinging intrepid hunters

fearless of scratches, bites or stings,

eager to catch those prized ‘red arsies’;

shouts of triumph – sport of kings.

 

Some days we raced to the pit ‘reservoy’,

slippery steep, broken-brick lined,

graveyard of junk – prams, bedsteads and bikes,

coal sacks with puppies and kittens still blind.

 

But the ‘reservoy’ newts were what we were after,

especially the gloriously crested males

with gleaming orange-and-black-spotted bellies

darting away with a flash of their tails.

 

With home-made nets we caught then raced them,

playing high stakes; proud possessions changed hands –

battle-scarred marbles, chewing gum, black bullets,

palm-smooth catapults with thick rubber bands.

 

Those halcyon summers seemed unending

as if the sun shone all the day

upon those everlasting pit heaps

that, magnet-like, drew us to play.

 

In freezing or in scorching weather, those pit heaps had a hypnotic effect. In the winter snow and ice – and Durham had more than its fair share of both – the pit heaps proved ideal for sledging. One hill in particular offered a steep drop to a shallow and often frozen pond. This exhilarating run must have covered at least a hundred yards and was certainly worth the trudge back to the crest where we lined up impatiently for the next descent.

The influence of these hypnotic pit heaps was equalled, if not surpassed, by the villages’ Methodist Chapel. Perched at the top of Rushyford bank, adjacent to the Great North Road, and physically as well as spiritually linking the two villages, the Windlestone Wesley Methodist Chapel played a crucial, if not at times questionable, part in my life.

Looking back over the years from a position where I no longer attend church (except on special occasions), I feel, as the ensuing pages will show, that this influence had both positive and negative effects. There are times now when I look back and am tempted to describe myself as having been pressurised if not brainwashed.

My parents expected all of us children to attend both morning Sunday School and the evening service; no questions asked, no excuses allowed. Later we all joined the chapel choir and in due course became Sunday School teachers.

As a small village chapel, we saw a minister maybe once a quarter. The rest of the time we had to put up with local preachers – and I use the term advisedly. The uncharted depths of boredom cannot be fully appreciated until you have sat through and endured the so-called sermons of many of these local preachers. One that I shall never forget became a standing joke, not only with the youngsters but with many of the older members of the congregation. Why? He preached the same sermon every time he came and it did not improve with repetition. As soon as he announced his text as Matthew 26 verse 7, we knew we were in for another ‘alabaster box of ointment’ sermon. ‘It’s that ala-blasted box again’ we would mutter to each other.

Another preacher always announced with a flourish, his steely eyes fixed on the congregation, that he was going to preach for thirty minutes. Then he ostentatiously placed a pocket watch on the pulpit as we glanced helplessly at our wrist watches.

And thirty minutes it was – to the second!

As my father was the Chapel Society Steward and among other duties read out the announcements during the service, it was expected that his offspring would ‘religiously’ toe the line. Not that he was a disciplinarian or authoritarian. In fact, he was a mild-mannered man and rarely spoke a harsh word, let alone administered any form of corporal punishment. That was mother’s province. I felt both the heat of her temper and the sting of her hand more than once, and certainly more than the others, as I was known for my own quick temper. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ might have been my mother’s motto.

There was one particular occasion that, for a number of reasons, is still very much alive and kicking in my mind. I must have been about eight years old and it was during school holidays. A blissful period of seemingly endless days stretched out before us; precious days that my brother, Arnold, and I would spend roaming the pit heaps or daydreaming in our den – the barrow.

At the bottom of our garden was a large, oval-shaped mound overgrown with grass and weeds. It looked something like a picture I had seen in an encyclopaedia, a picture of an ancient burial mound called a tumulus or barrow. Tumulus was a strange word, awkward to remember; I preferred the simpler ‘barrow’. It was, in fact, an Anderson air raid shelter and an all-too-painful reminder of the Second World War that was then in its early years.

The front part of the barrow was filled with garden tools but at the far end, approached by several descending stone steps, was our special place – our den. Apart from the occasional chink of light, it was pitch black so we kept a torch just inside the rusty corrugated iron door. The only furniture was an old kitchen table on which were a candle and box of matches, a rickety chair and a wooden crate. There were some cracked paving stones on the earth floor and from time to time we would lay some discarded pieces of lino or carpet. Even though these soon rotted away, we didn’t mind; they could easily be replaced, and in any case, we quite liked the musty smell. This combination of smell, dampness and darkness created a special atmosphere that often drew us – and me in particular – to the barrow. I loved to sit by the flickering candlelight watching the darting shadows and enjoying my own thoughts. It seemed strange to me that often when I was not in the barrow but outside in the daylight, I could not always see things so clearly. Paradoxically, the darkness seemed to shed light on my thoughts. So I needed to be below where I could concentrate hard on what I was actually thinking. And at times this was difficult and frustrating.

I was alone one morning – Arnold was doing something or other indoors – and standing by the garden gate, looking down towards the barrow, when my attention was caught by a bird perched on a fence post just a short distance away. It was a common hedge sparrow and it was chirping merrily as if it hadn’t a care in the world. I stared at it for a moment, then looked down at my feet. I soon saw what I was looking for. Unthinkingly but very carefully, I picked up the stone and hurled it at the unsuspecting bird. Nine times out of ten – ninety-nine times out of a hundred – I would not have hit my target. But this one time I did. There was a flutter of feathers and the sparrow dropped to the ground. I raced down the garden, seized the lifeless bird and ran into the house shouting triumphantly, ‘I’ve killed the bird! I’ve killed the bird!’

My mother did not share my joy. My backside stung from her quick but heavy hand; I smarted from her cutting words. She called me wicked and cruel and threatened to take me to Number 5. Now at Number 5, just two doors away, lived Police Constable Fuller, the village policeman. PC Fuller was a giant of a man who, in uniform, looked terrifying; he was all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing: a God-like figure. And now my mother was threatening to take me there.

Still clutching the bird, I ran out of the house, into the garden and down the steps into the barrow. It took several seconds before my trembling hands could strike a match and light the candle. Then I sat down and gazed at the dead bird. I examined it closely: it really was very small, very light and, somewhat unnervingly, still warm. Surprisingly, it looked unharmed, unmarked, except for a little red drop at the tip of its beak. This single drop of blood fascinated me. I brought the candle closer and stared at the tiny red bead. Then I felt sick – I had to get outside, out of the barrow. I cupped the pathetic creature in my hands and slowly ascended the stone steps. I took a deep breath of fresh air; the nausea ebbed to be replaced by an even stronger feeling of guilt. The innocent bird, albatross-like, now weighed heavily on my conscience. Why had I picked up that stone? Why had I killed that bird? I did not know. My eyes began to blur. ‘I’m sorry, bird; I’m sorry, bird,’ I murmured.

In a bottom corner of the garden I knelt down and, with bare hands, scooped out the soft earth. Very gently I placed the bird in its shallow grave, then carefully covered it with the soil until it formed a small mound. ‘You have your own barrow now,’ I whispered and gave the mound a final pat. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ I intoned, rocking on my knees. ‘I didn’t mean to do it; I didn’t mean …’ I stopped. Was that really true? Why did I do it then if I didn’t mean to? I would have to think about that. I would have to go down to the barrow and think hard about that.

As I slowly descended the steps, something prompted me to look up at Number 5. My heart missed a beat; I could have sworn the curtains moved.

 

The Anderson shelter was, of course, a permanent reminder of the Second World War that was going on – a war that at times seemed so far away and at other times so close.

I remember lying in bed at night, unable to sleep because of the searchlights probing the night sky and at times flooding the bedroom with light. Blackness was all around. ARP wardens, including my father, did their nightly rounds to make sure blackout regulations were being observed. Not that there was much danger of an air raid where we lived; the nearest target was Newcastle over twenty miles away. It was from this city that our village took a number of evacuees. Not in our home, not surprisingly – six children were quite sufficient.

Apart from the blackout blinds and shutters as a reminder of the war, I recall gas masks being issued and having to carry them with us to school. Thankfully, we never needed them. There was one occasion – the only one that I remember – when a bomb was dropped close to the village, probably by a German plane on its way home and ditching its last bomb. As you might imagine, this was quite an event.

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