INTO THE ROARING NINETIES:
A New Years Eve, howling gale continued through the first hours of the nineties. The colliding flying debris the scraping, screeching rasp as dislodged slate slides down roof with anticipated veranda glass crash - the displaced, metallic dustbin lid rolling clatter amongst an edgy miscellany of unease made a restless evening and a broken nights sleep. I worried about my two greenhouses, their precious contents and two heaters on low pilot light ready to burst into full heat at the first hint of frost.
Cats are not bothered about high winds; choosing the wild outside on occasion, to a cosy interior which they prefer, finding aphrodisiac quality in the inclemency, their randy squawks denoting excruciating agony, whether of protest or delight we know not. The Darwinian process has fashioned a spiky end to toms penis, making coupling painful, discouraging a cat from a too early, second experience. The alpha males sperm arrives at the egg with plenty of time before that of secondary males, assuring the ubiquitous planetary success of the cat family. The Radio 4 Today programme interviewed the spokesperson of the evolutionary research teams conclusions but did not allow questioning on the relevance to other successful species. The creative design theory proponents were not available for comment but one could hazard a guess that it would not shake their literal interpretation of Genesis.
First to wake up; much later than usual and with an uncanny, relieved feeling, considerably enhanced when, gazing out of the landing window saw my greenhouse intact. Then I rubbed my eyes and could not believe it my shout of astonished delight woke Maureen up and must have been heard through the uncanny stillness outdoors. The Stanton scaffolding tower had disappeared. With the minimum of clothing, extraordinary for a winter morning, I crept into the sunlit January morning to explore. There was scarcely any air movement and thinking I was alone, made no attempt to suppress the sound of my approach to the hedge and stepped on some brittle debris. Pushing aside some vegetation, the tallish, ginger haired figure of the Stanton grandson, delicately picking his way through the tower wreckage, came into view. It was stupid, and sad that I did not know his name even though he had walked from his parents home at the top of the croft to school, past our home for six or seven years, always avoiding eye contact without any cheery greeting others gave me. The bricks and mortar of our residence backed by weird, tall conifers blocked his direct line of sight to his grandparents house. Tantalisingly he might have shortened his walk to school had he been living in our house. His father, Paul Terry Stanton had wanted the property but was slower than I to pay a deposit to the Bournville Village Trust and snap up the purchase, when the brand new house was first put on the market, twenty years ago. Would the grandparents have grown their grotesque Leylandii to shut their son and grandchildren out of view? Would ginger lad be brought up in a hate culture despising our small but select detached abode, referred to in the Stanton family mythology as the house? Also, of course he was brought up to loathe its occupants - meaning Maureen and me but definitely me who they stigmatised as enemy intruders into the neighbourhood. However, on that by now placid New Years morning 1990, my exalting presence, scarcely suppressing shouts of joy- had been most annoyingly, detected. It would have been sneaky not to give verbal acknowledgement. Repressing excitement I quietly called out-
Please do not answer me or you will be involved again in the stupid quarrel - please convey my thanks for the removal of that bloody tower. He did not answer as I continued my short monologue and tongue in cheek, bestowed credit and thanks for a deliberate act of Stanton conciliation and bonhomie and wished them all a happy New Year.
Both Stanton and Jones families would be in agreement that this conspicuous storm wreckage solved a problem, not deliberately but in insurance terminology by an Act of God. It was inexplicable that the tower was behind the hedge and in the lee of the gale. Being happy and relieved there was a fleeting thought that, if the older Stantons reciprocated my thanks given to their youngster, it would have been a substantial step to healing deep wounds. But doubt intervened: surely there would be no attempt to re-erect the tower? That would be both devastatingly hostile and provocative.
It was the New Year bank holiday but next day I phoned the legal secretary at Bournville Village Trust to relieve him and his office of any further guilt for not removing the monstrosity that had so blatantly infringed covenants. I did so because I wanted to move on and his co-operation was absolutely vital.
I had paid for a very expensive Counsels Opinion - a document by a land law specialist stating I would not win an action to force BVT to have the tower removed or to enter the land and remove it. I delivered a copy to the Trust Office as a reminder of the old mans vicious assault on me with his iron pole. It was over now but here was a legal opinion surprise, surprise, it was illegal to poke iron poles into the neighbours groinbut as I didnt get the medical evidence of injury the police could not prosecute. There was also confirmation that a letter from Terry Stanton to Maureen, blaming me for his mothers death was libellous. Again the learned barrister earned his fee such words were defamatory (although the barrister admitted he was not a libel lawyer) but as Maureen was the only one who read it and she didnt believe it and libel actions were for the wealthy it was best to ignore it. BVT Trustees held back from taking any measures to assist me, anticipating a change of ownership of the Stanton house, prompted by the death of their matriarch. I knew that because the secretary told me -but then they yielded to my neighbours whingeing, procrastinating letters pleading for delay of any threatened legal action to remove the offending tower.
The motives for my long telephone call were even more succinct and I engaged the patient, always prepared to listen, Secretary Thompson. The Trust will always listen, always talk and always write letters but unlikely to act when precedence might be created and a can of worms opened up. Little did I know then (he told me six years later - he hated and loathed the Stantons and was seething with indignation about my plight, treatment and deprived amenity - he was however but a servant carrying out his duty to put his employers interest first.
But now the tower had gone its re-construction was entirely another matter and I wanted action under the covenants - I emphasised the hedge was still unreasonably high - I had removed only a miserly five feet off the top, it was a continuing eyesore, deeply offensive, quite unnecessary except to exert power by inflicting nuisance. I told the Secretary that after a years recovery time from the trees physiological shock of last summers drastic trim next September after eight months of growing weather, another four feet would be cut off the top. Nine feet off in one single year that might kill the trees, was the last thing I wanted. I could not afford the risk because dead trees would either destroy my case or more alarmingly leave dead stalks and leaves, an appalling eyesore the old man would retain deliberately, as a self inflicted annoyance. My decision was absolutely vindicated.
Whilst celebrating this lovely, mild, bright New Year day - do not forget that my previous summers vigorous lopping had given us our first winter sunlight for years, although my works last summer had its terrible price of death, violence, libel, waste of police time, expense, stress and nastiness. The sight of a strip of sky from our living room, had relieved the gloom, particularly appreciated in these short, dark days of mid winter. However, stark, bare trunks, now scarcely visible under the scant foliage and the ugly brown stalks with the ugly, unnaturally sharp incisions made by my saw at the very top. Neither Mr Thomson nor I were to know that the photographed close ups taken from the top of that now demolished tower would be devastating evidence to get an action before the courts and keep it there for five years.
We had also gained a six feet strip of land next to the hedge by my cutting back tons of branches in the three previous years that gave us space denied to us on our own land. The ominous shadow of the remaining eighteen feet high hedge still remained to deprive us of light and moisture for the plants I wanted to grow properly in my garden. My line of expensive cordon apple trees just kept alive, needing continuous mildew and canker treatment and never produced fruit. They would have been OK on the Stanton, south side but not on my north side of the conifers.
I firmly insisted,
Mr Thompson, now the tower has gone will the Trust reduce the height of these equally repugnant trees or force the Stantons to do so. Your guidelines state that boundary hedges should be six feet six with good reason.
A Beech hedge was part of your planning application with the rational assumption that both neighbours would maintain it at guideline height. I added excitedly,
The Stanton/Jones boundary hedge is sixty feet long and the southern 30 feet is the original Beech, conforming to the planning permission and your guidelines because we have been trimming it at that proper height for three years, despite the rage, violence and hatred of the old man, who insists he has the right to grow it into forest Beech trees. He denies me any maintenance rights or interference, even cutting it on my own side.
Tell me why the northern half 30 feet length of our light blocking Leylandii opposite our home cannot be kept at six feet six? Secretary Thomson mildly suggested that that Stanton would leave and new neighbours could not possibly be less considerate.
I answered irritably,
Whoever lives there in September, if nothing has been done, I shall cut another four feet off the top removing that nasty, savaged top to improve appearances and then I shall continue to cut and maintain it at that height annually after that.
Arrangements for my Easter Saturday Peace Festival on 14th April1990 were going strongly. Being in sole charge it easy for me to decide the title - Defence of Our Planet, which pleased the expanding, diverse number of constituent groups and no one objected to it. The Green Party had achieved 15% in the European Elections but in the first past the post system failed to gain a single seat in the European Parliament. Significantly in the local council elections, the Green candidate pipped the liberals, gaining third place in Selly Oak Ward in the Citywide Council Elections. Margaret Thatcher had gone green and all parties put green issues at the top of their policy agenda. Focus groups indicated this as a necessity for electoral success and children and young people were at that time taking their environmental future very seriously.
Each of our eighty, constituent peace, justice and environmental groups supporting our Peace Council was asked to submit a 30-word summary of their aims together with their contact phone number and address and these went out to the whole local electorate on our leaflet carrying our current years logo. This was very good free publicity needing efficient, free delivery. The media liked this resource leaflet of readily available spokes-people on a range of subjects.
As the local elections were coming up, the four City Council Candidates were asked for 50 words specifically on the subject of Peace and these personal declarations were circulated for display in Selly Oak Ward colleges, churches, libraries and any public building that would pin them up on their notice boards. None refused. Candidates submitted their candidates piece on Peace in the knowledge that a blank space on the paper indicating that an invitation had been declined would look bad as though they were evading the issue. This was the Tories response initially so I wrote in their allocated space (one quarter of the A4 poster) The Conservative Candidate declined the invitation. I could have written their message for them in a way Margaret Thatcher and Conservative Central Office would have completely approved and any of their speechwriters, drawing on party policy, could have written. That the local party was so completely hung up on the matter is rather complex. Peace like sex, as a subject could be rather embarrassing. It maybe that merely getting involved in a discussion about Peace would convey suspicious Soviet sympathies, unpatriotic or perhaps be associated with Conscientious Objectors in spite of Maggie having said Mikhail Gorbechev was a man with whom she could do business. She had also approved UN initiatives in the universal teaching of Peace Studies in schools sneered at by the tabloid press.
Peace, according to the concentric view of the concept, is a very wide and inclusive term. Burglary had sharply increased and local communities were in fear the need for some Peace. Definitely, candidates and agents constructing their Peace message did not find it easy and at their busiest time in the election campaign it was a niggling, time-consuming task they could easily do without. On a number of occasions the 50 words would be submitted and then candidates would withdraw it and re-submit with subtle changes. For instance it would not do for any political party aspiring for government to convey softness on defence. Neil Kinnock had done that in the 1987 election in his notorious Dads Army interview and the tabloids destroyed him.
Two days before this 1990 local election poll I organised my weekday evening Peace Council election forum for the candidates in person, in a room supplied free of charge at Woodbrooke College. Again for years, the Tories did not send their candidate, i.e. for years in this safe Tory seat, synonymous with their local Councillor seeking re-election. Campaign wise, from a politicians view, and we had to respect they did not wish to submit their eminence to help gain publicity for their opponents. Little did they know how unwise this decision was to prove for their three councillors lost their seats, year after year, never to regain them or even secure second place because they became completely out of touch and unable to engage with thinking chunks of voters. The forum was excellently chaired in earlier years by John Ferguson and then by his widow Elnora who was also chairman of the National Peace Council. Only about 25 people ever attended but although the standard of discussion was high it would make no difference to the turnout of 40% - always higher than the City average but destined to slump in subsequent years. The Labour, Green and Lib candidates were all highly academically qualified and extremely bright. The Tory Councillors were good practical, helpful public servants but were unable to keep pace with these knowledgeable academics. Their strong view was that Peace was nothing to do with the local council. However, we had just passed some of our most fragile times in history and any fool knew that the Soviets would not intervene in their crumbling puppet regimes of East Europe now their own leadership was in disarray. It was my fault that Peace became focussed in the local parties minds and became an issue in an otherwise drab, boring local election. So the local politic organisers cursed me because there were no votes in it but a lot of campaigning time was used up and there was always a possibility of making a gaff for the others to exploit.
The Annual Easter Saturday Peace Festival at George Cadbury Hall was a far bigger affair, rising above local politics- people of all religions, and those with none, agnostics and those with varying degrees of doubts; it was for members of all political parties and although the Tories, suspicious of participating in a pinko plot did not come along this time, the invite made it easier for them to accept the following year
A number of leading local Catholics, a priest, our local Vicar and other ministers came along and mixed in healthy ecumenism. Such rapport was possible in Selly Oak even if it wasnt in Northern Ireland. Methodists, Quakers and other religious groups attended, as did Humanists and Marxists/ Leninists. The local Transport and General Workers Union brought their banner and their usual generous donation. A couple of hundred people attended but eighty or ninety groups enjoyed the free stall, the company of others and free publication and distribution of their 50 words in the programme widely distributed. Our efficient delivery system enabled leaflets to be distributed house-to-house and local papers and radio were only too willing to publicise the event. The target of £500 from our regular contributors was easily met but with no surplus as no profit was necessary.
The world was changing with breathtaking speed and my annual Easter Festivals we were just coming up to this eighth, penultimate one - reflected this. On 2nd February the South African Government announced the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela within 10 days. He was shortly to assume power in a bloodless revolution. The Berlin Wall was down, Germany united and the European satellites had gone forever. For every or the last seven festivals, everyone had signed petitions for the release of Nelson Mandela and now he had been released for two months since 11th February, an event colouring and encouraging all the groups. This was the last time the Anti- Apartheid Group, the German Democratic Republic Group and the Soviet Friendship Society would be present and as would the four-member strong Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Albanian Party.
I attended Annual Meetings of some groups and when appropriate, demonstrations or public meetings of the groups. All were small or local fractions of National organisations but it always amazed me how their members dedicated and committed themselves to a single-issue cause. The changed world ended their raison detre for some groups but if any of their members were in psychological need of a cause to support, they could find another in Selly Oak. It was always thus that some groups continued and on and new ones emerged. My exhaustible time and energy limited my contribution to advising on speakers, printing, drafting, room booking and access to finance or just adding a sixty-two year olds experience of life-long campaigning for some cause or another. Sometimes it was possible to keep a group going when they quarrelled amongst themselves. There will always be power battles and rivalries but if existence continued for a year or two longer ending in eventual dissolution it was worthwhile. People burn out, want to do something else, fall in love or spend more time with their family and why not?
For many years Maureen had been one of the statutory lay members of Birmingham Health Authority and chaired the Birmingham Family Practitioner Committee the public procedural body dealing with complaints against General Practitioners. Her ability, skill and conscientiousness were always admired and so many people have been awarded a gong, an OBE or MBE for far, far less. I have little doubt she would have refused it but I would like to think an offer had been made. It maybe that a little subtle campaigning would have achieved that but knowing her opinion of gongs it was not appropriate for me to make approaches. Medical knowledge is not required for this position, as the highly qualified experts who are present provide this and are required to act independently. The complainant can also have expert representation but although the committee has legal status, any conclusions it may come to have not. The object is to secure understanding and conciliation. That is nearly always achieved but, if that is not possible, the complaint may move to a more serious legal phase, a court of law or disciplinary committee. In a prima facie case of seriousness it would by-pass the lay adjudicators and go there first.
Over a ten or a dozen year period, whilst Maureen was dealing with her meritorious voluntary work from mid-day, onwards, twice a week, it became my habit to visit the local pub for a couple of pints and stay for an hour of chat. It kept my feet on the ground to talk and learn from ordinary people about ordinary commonplace things. None knew anything about my peace campaign groups. The mid-day pub atmosphere was always relaxed and friendly but children were rigorously excluded. I heard myself being referred to, unjustifiably, as the schoolmaster or sometimes the professor. Comments were made about my jeans, short sleeved, tie less shirt, with or without an anorak; the educated, so they told me dressed down the rest dressed up and this hurt my self image of belonging to the common man my excuse perhaps for always being a scruff and having little self perception. I always used correct grammar and my slight Birmingham accent naturally and never went in for posing although could always turn on a rich Black Country accent rarely heard here- when required. Sometimes a stranger would breeze into the lounge bar and offer a video recorder or TV for sale, cheap. Mostly he was ignored but sometimes someone would give a wish to be supplied with a specific item when available but there was never any protest, indignation or comment that there were stolen goods on offer no proof at all of course. What provoked intense anger were reports of cemetery vandalism or theft of flowers from graves. Bad language and foul abuse would be hurled at the absent, anonymous perpetrators. Sometimes fellow customers would quietly and confidentially bring up personal problems, perhaps they had come in to cry over their beer; in the case of distressing emotional ones, if appropriate and it rarely was, I asked them whether the priest over the road would help. I would offer sympathy; understanding and what remained of my counselling skills, never becoming too involved in the short time I allowed myself in the pub. On general matters use would be made of advice bureau experience and where to go next and who to ring or write to. Web sites did not exist for the masses. I would like to describe some very interesting characters and events, posterity demands that someone should at sometime but I will confine my account to some old friends who made a significant impact on the local community.
Denis and Maria Arnett-Job were prominent, devout Catholics; both local councillors, ward election agents, proficient in listening at their weekly advice bureau and following it up with practical action via council officers. Maria became Birmingham Lord Mayor after Denis died. He would have become Lord Mayor in his own right at some time. Our boys had been pals with their boys. Denis was a loyal old friend from my days as chairman of the Northfield Constituency Labour Party. Our meetings recalled good times and also the nasty, unpleasant local party power battle before moving house, twenty years before. Factional strife was endemic then before it developed into its electoral lethal qualities in the Labour Party and particularly in Birmingham. I learnt that it was best to get the hell out of it rather than fight because the causes were never the political ones they were deemed to be. Power struggles always ended in bitterness so I was glad to move house and live in the next ward. However, it was always nice to meet old pals like Denis and sometimes with Maria. He was a true loyal friend who never participated in plotting or factionalism. He took my part automatically when I found myself as party chairman in the middle of two powerful, left / right personality battles. On those occasional days when we met we would reminisce till the two pm, when serving time drinks, until we were the last to be chucked out at the mid day opening time. I still think what a wonderful family the Arnott-Jobs were and hope that the well-deserved enrichment of family life was not too diminished by their devotion to serving others as it was by the tragic early death of Denis. The teaching of their church on abortion and some elements of the left wing factions of the party were irreconcilable and which I have covered in an earlier chapter.
Well into my sixties my midday, twice-weekly local pub days came to an end, as couple of pints did not suit me in the middle of the day as I got older. Most people think that is the best time to enjoy it. The rest of the day was pleasant enough because I went to sleep first, but when life became very demanding it was not possible to spare both drinking and sleeping time with all the things I had to do. True, it was only twice a week, but time was valuable. There is a different perception of retirement now people are living longer. Also I began to loathe the stench of the cigarette smoke always lingering in the clothes for days - I could never tolerate that again.
Maureen was committed to her humanist group but gave up her Birmingham Singers choir. We both attended the Christmas and spring concerts for years afterwards. She had been secretary for many years, assuming the unpleasant task of telling unenviable women after an arranged audition that their voices were no longer suitable. She was not about to submit anyone else to the embarrassment of having to tell her to go.
Our grandsons were eight and nine and our sheer delight. They were happy and no longer tense and worried after the tower went down. As they lived on the opposite side of the road to the Stantons any unusual bang caused them anxiety and they would ring up to see if we were all right. Since they started nursery school, Maureen or I took them to school, picked them up, sometimes walking, sometimes by car. Maureen went into the school twice a week to hear small groups of pupils read she kept busy.
We enjoyed two package holidays to the Rhine Valley and Majorca. These had to be in October and November precisely because of the sowing, raising and the planting out the floriferous produce of two greenhouses that needed water, nourishment and tender loving care in the spring and summer.
The 1989/ 90-football season was exceptional in that we were back to buying our West Bromwich Albion season tickets and regular football. Martin our younger son sadly sold his season ticket for the 1988 winter and we missed him badly as did the stewards and fellow fans that asked about him. In the summer of 1988, in a nasty phase the club moved us from our old seats in the Halfords Lane Stand and out of complete weather cover. We did not intend to get wet nor pay for an offer of alternative expensive seats shielded from the elements. The rough way we were treated hurt, angered and irritated us and was part of an attitude in the club treating loyalty that affected play on the field, rubbishy entertainment and possibility of dropping a league further as the total gate dropped. We missed our twice- monthly home, pre-match visit to our Sikh friends in the Star and Commercial. I was relieved to gain this extra time otherwise devoted to football because life was too busy for me in 1989 to give up two Saturdays per month. Our neighbour and dear friend Jim Cowling suffered the luxury of keeping his Aston Villa ticket, going to home matches with Irene, his wife. But Jim enjoyed his beer and football with us on alternate home games. However, we did go on spec for a couple of home Albion matches in the 89/90 season. A new enterprising commercial manager offered free places on a rota basis to children from local primary schools in the otherwise empty Rainbow stand where they cheered their hearts out. The gesture attracted no immediate cash for the club but it must have re-paid a hundred fold twelve years after when those children reached adulthood. Writing as of now we get treble the attendance in brand new stands and are back in the premiership. We went on spec and enjoyed a hearty welcome back at the Star and Commercial then on to the match; win or lose, we returned home in a glow. The boys were green with envy and resentful at their neglect and deprivation, so I bought them tickets for the 1990/91 season, taking advantage of attractive family packages on offer if booked and paid for early in the almost unused Rainbow Stand. I was sixty-two and did not qualify for a concession as did women of my age. But, Jim was sixty-five and qualified for reduced rates both at the Albion and the Villa. We rang up and were invited to the ground, were met and escorted round the sacred turf and allowed to choose our seats, next to a gangway for obvious reasons, two in the front row for the boys and three behind in the second row. The outing to the first match was an ecstatic occasion for the boys and the pub was something out of their experience. Licensing laws were strictly enforced in Birmingham and the clientele did not tolerate young children who were kept outside and could be found clinging to the outer doors with bags of crisps. However, just over the border in Smethwick the public, Sikh management and magisterial enforcement attitudes even with a rare, obligatory police check was tolerant. The pre-match atmosphere and conversation was entirely different to my own local and we enjoyed the company of opposition fans and walked on to the ground together. The football violence of the late seventies and early eighties had completely disappeared. I only drank a pint and drove everyone home after the match. It was amazing how much coke and crisps our boys consumed and how competent at the pool table they were. Then at the ground they proudly presented themselves, season ticket books in hand at the turnstiles, much to the amusement of elderly gents handing over single match tickets, purchased at the kiosk. During the first fifteen minutes of play in the very first match the ball was kicked over to us and the boys touched it. Fourteen years after that event, as I write, this has never happened again, close to us perhaps, just once or twice but a glory moment such as this - no. I thought Andrew; just coming up to his eighth birthday might be bored; not a bit of it, his concentration lasted the whole ninety minutes.
On 2nd August 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. We listened to the news flash on the BBC World Service sometimes troubled by insomnia we had the radio on all night. You never get bored that way but this was a real sleep stopper the cold war was over and now here were prospects for a bitter, bloody conflagration, quite obvious within seconds of the bulletin of breaking news. From now on we would hear that Iraq had the largest standing army in the world and thousands of tanks admittedly not up to the modern technical standards. The US gave vibes that it was unconcerned, the worst possible reaction. The UN Security Council unanimously ordered a cease-fire and withdrawal.
At the end of August I started to ring local tree surgeons. Two or three came to visit me, give me quotes and listen to my specific conditions and instructions but they rejected me, sensing something fishy. Then two men came together and I pointed at the hedge then said firmly and distinctly,
This is a one off special, and I will pay more than usual - my requirements of you are as follows - you must have four men, ladders and chain saws. I will give you a couple of days notice of the day and the time and you must arrive promptly and cut the trees at that point I pointed there to a line approximately four feet from the top, where stark brown trunks on my side gave way to greenery. You must have adequate transport to cart the debris away and must do so immediately and disappear. If you get protests from the other side, you must ignore these and under no circumstances must you swear. This is an exceptional job and you will only get above the odds if you comply exactly with my orders. They nodded and wanted £80 and I offered a £100 with what was meant to be a knowing wink and added,
I do hope you understand. They didnt.
My reason for this course of action was dictated to me. In previous years I had been sawing and pruning my side of this vast blob of Leylandii, reducing it bit by bit, morning and afternoon, day by day, week by week but had provoked nothing but rage from the old man who lived on the other side of his hedge waiting for me to clip. Family and friends cautioned me that this could be construed as teasing. It wasnt. I was dismantling forest trees and incorporated the task into my daily gardening chores.
I yielded, against my inner convictions to get this quantum next four feet cut off the top in one go, not over months as last summer. This involved encroachment over neighbouring air space - technical trespass -and why the Stantons had been legally advised into sending the police round last summer, when I had done just that. The old man could not contemplate a permanent long-term agreement - despite urging by the police and estate managers.
No compromise with that man he told them.
The hedge was in my five-year planned process of being brought under control with the strict intention of annually maintaining it at its eventual height as a regular gardening chore. We should have been strong minded enough to do that fourteen years before whilst it was growing above shoulder height, long before it had got out of hand. We would not have admitted it at that time but Maureen and I, at the top of our profession at that time were terrified of the Stantons and absolutely scared of asserting ourselves. It was difficult for me objecting to his smoky garden fires when he had his neighbours total sympathy and support. His local cronies wanted to be free to light their own fires when and, as often as was convenient but they sensed antipathy and a visit from the environmental health officer, something they could not tolerate. They loved Stanton for punishing the Joneses and disregarding the consequences to himself his fumes polluted the enemy who occupied their sacred land.
The more you or any member of your family are hurt, the better we are pleased whinnied one of his neighbours at a crony conference and all nodded in solemn agreement. They could not accept my views on health and law matters, as they considered themselves educated on both and I ignorant of everything. They sought the policy of the City and approached the Environmental Health Director personally arrogantly assuming he, as befitting his education and position, would back them. He supported me and after explaining the position in words they could not accept from me, they never transgressed the law again but they gleefully accepted the stubborn Stanton, ever willing to stand-alone against me.
So in those contentious times it was a good idea to fight and win the bonfire battle before starting a hedge war.
It was coming up to grandson Andrews birthday on the tenth of September, a very happy time. But look back to this time last year. This anniversary date and celebration had an ominous ring to it; try as we might it was impossible to forget Freda Stantons death certainly it was uppermost in Paul Terrys mind.
Then would you believe it, a figure from my past, a personality, now a croft neighbour, Connie Bourne suddenly died in her eighties? The openly cynical wife, then widow of Bill, an ex-policeman, had been a magistrate, local trade union official, awarded a gong for something or other and forty years before a Local Labour Party political rival and near neighbour of my Mother in Handsworth - in the late forties and early fifties. By co-incidence, Bill and Connie came to live in the Tillyard Croft bungalows, opposite us, in the mid seventies. You had to have political pull or influence in the appropriate circles to get this select, subsidised housing. Bill Bourne was friendly, happy and relaxed with always a good tale to tell, a bit know-all-ish and a touch macho, which might have provoked his wife into running him down behind his back with hints of his past unfaithfulness. Eight years ago, after my retirement I had been taking Connie to the local, Selly Oak Labour Party Branch meetings. The Bournes never had children of their own and we related well and agreed on all political points, voting together on all issues, sometimes the only two in the room against the loony left who were determined to destroy the credibility of their own party and keep it out of power nationally and in the city. The factionalists, preferring opposition politics, were completely happy with their theoretical, academic socialist purism. Connie and I would agree with them because only a socialist society could equitably distribute the full fruits of the workers industry. Connie supported my thesis that Labour first had to gain and hold power for a considerable time before starting to build the New Jerusalem. My mother had died six or seven years previously and Connie and Bill having no children of their own assigned me a role of post-middle aged son with a policeman grandson. She was always a little aloof from my mother and transferred that detachment to Maureen When I gave up the local party, it stopped Connie from attending, as she was becoming too old and feeble to travel to Branch meetings on her own. It was sad for her as her evenings out stopped. Left and right-wingers alike suffered years of Tory Government it made me laugh cynically, because throughout my working life I was branded a rabid left-winger or communist, now I was told I was right wing. Contemporaneously Margaret Thatchers reign and Connies life ended. Connie had latterly become very friendly with the Stantons although what the link was, we will never know. It could not be vegetarianism but could have been humanism, although neither the Bournes nor Stantons were members of the Humanist Group, and thus did not attend meetings. They were the same age and must have talked funerals, neighbours and the Jones mythology, educated politics, despising the Tory Government or what have you. They did not talk about garden fires because Connie and Bill had rows with their neighbour, always taking our side against the Stantons in the bonfire row. Then the old man started to attend humanist meetings after a Birmingham Humanist Official conducted his wife funeral service. Maureen regularly attended meetings, in fact one or two were held at our house, to which obviously Stanton did not come. Now she had to avoid eye contact with Bernard at the other venues and found it all most embarrassing.
On the morning of Connies funeral, Maureen had an important appointment for the whole morning that was ideal excuse for her, as she did not have to undergo the ordeal of going to the Crem. It was inappropriate for me to go to the funeral, as Doug Lawson, a leading Humanist, and an old Labour acquaintance of mine, would conduct committal arrangements. Doug called at our home to tell us he was officiating as well as discussing his own garden fire and hedge problems with his neighbours. However the ideal opportunity had fallen like manna from heaven, for me, as Bernard Stanton would be at the crematorium and not at home.
So I rang the tree contractors who agreed to postpone another job and to start cutting the hedge at the precise time of my order and be ready with ladders and saws in position at 10am. Only three men instead of the agreed four came and they were late. Then they had to go back for a more suitable ladder and hand saw because chain saws were not suitable in spite of having supposedly assessed the situation when they initially inspected the site. Moisture droplets hung in the air and I was tense it might turn to rain. They had no waterproofs and I had to supply them with what I could, Immediately they put up the ladder and started to saw away, old man Stanton was there damn, damn, damn - he had not gone to the funeral. That peeved me a little as he should have done - I had planned on the assumption that he would be doing the decent thing - paying respect to his friend and wifes friend. But perhaps he wasnt that friendly at all with Connie? He hysterically shouted amongst other things
Stop, stop those are my trees - Ive called the police thats vandalism, criminal damage. I half whispered and gesticulated at the men,
Carry on, ignore him, thats what I told you thats what we agreed .
The old man went away convincing me he had accepted a fait accompli. There was a quiet period of about forty-five minutes in which four foot chunks of timber and smaller branches were chucked to the ground - but I was upset by the total disruption of my timetable and that by now we should have finished. As the wood came off the tops, more light streamed into the garden. One man carried the debris to the end of the garage, but as he was not keeping pace with the cutting, I helped and began to worry if the van would big enough to carry away all the material in one go, another condition I particularly stipulated. Then there was a hell of an amount of screaming, shouting and threats indicating Terry Stanton and others had joined the fray. I quietly counselled the men to continue work even when one of them sobbed,
They are getting on my nerves I cant hold my tongue much longer. Then water from a hose started coming over and I desperately found more waterproofs although some were too good to be used in these conditions. Then stones, larger stones and a piece of brick and a tin just missed me and I afterwards found pieces of broken bottle. Suddenly the men stopped working and one insisted,
We are willing to work for you but we will not die for you, they have a firearm. The three of them set to work tidying up and carrying the debris into the garage. I shouted over the hedge -
They have stopped and you can stop behaving like hooligans, the trees are a reasonable height now, I can live with that, we can live in peace, lets talk about it. The woman screamed,
Your wife has left you, you dont do this when your wifes there, you are afraid of her. What the origin of this thought was or the object of saying it would be silly to surmise. Annoyingly I conjectured without wanting to, and my readers probable guess is correct. The tiny grain of truth in that last piece of scream was that I hadnt told Maureen and I was looking forward to surprising her with more light and riddance of the ugly tops. However, it was not the only the piece of mischievous extrapolation on crazy supposition to be made in the years ahead. The three men were busy between hedge and garage. I followed them through the back door and as they were returning they stood aside to let me through and I spotted Terry Stanton picking his way over tools and debris. My right hand crept behind my back followed very briskly by my left hand to grip and hold the other hand firmly in position. Thirty-five years experience dealing with thwarted teenagers had conditioned me into dealing with an unhinged personality likely to resort to violence. But attending all male school followed by all male college had conditioned me, twice over. If you dont want to be physically hurt and the opposition is too big or too many, then if you are fleet of foot and have a clear escape route, you run like hell. When that is not possible you know any sign of aggression leads to physical confrontation and you make sure that nothing you do can be misinterpreted, even adopting a pose of abject humility as in the animal kingdom. Smiling can make your opposition go berserk, keep a stern expression, but not too stern as that is interpreted as hostile. I had developed a sixth sense about not showing hands, fists or hold any implement for it would be regarded as a weapon. All my life I had been dealing intellectually not only with the power of non-violence but the sheer common sense of it. As the approaching figure advanced towards me all senses prompted the feeling that Stanton wanted to fight. There was intense relief that he was not displaying the firearm - that resonating, strange term just used, instead of gun, evoking in my imagination that after their medieval tower, they now had a cannon, such was the variety of missiles they were hurling into our garden. Terry Stanton, with flared nostrils, was a man in a rage - his overcharged testosterone / adrenalin levels and odour of induced sweat impacted on my olfactory sensors triggering the primeval warning centres in my brain, alerting me that what was going to happen was not nice, possibly serious. Stanton looked like a bull in a rage, snorted like a bull in a rage, and was a bull in a rage. The beast reared and acquired fists, the nasal snort moved to the vocal chords into a high-pitched screech that cracked, moved into yet a higher frequency conveying a Doppler effect. His face was too horrible to contemplate so my eyes closed as he accelerated towards me at great rate. His feet stopped but the shoulders came on, driving out air from his lungs so as he wheezed,
Just one step nearer and I will hit you. This presented him with the dilemma of losing face in the case of non-compliance. My entrance through the back door though ambling and slow still had un-expired momentum and though my mind had desire to comply and countermand the laws of Newtonian mechanics, my body made that agonizing, crucial, defying step forward together with a 90 degree anti-clockwise part turn induced by the twisting motion of locating my left hand behind my back to grab my right hand already there. My instinct was to accept the impact of the charge on the shoulder rather than the more painful, frontal collision. The slight rotation presented the side of my unprotected right jaw to Stanton influencing him to carry out his threat and swing his right fist in full rage followed by a microsecond of caution when his brain retracted the blow in appreciation of the dire consequences if brought into full force with my jaw. I still had the slight, twisting momentum of the turn and his fist added to it as it just touched my jaw. He sighed in despair as in that one tiny moment of madness he recognised he qualified for his subsequent criminal record. The act over, he pushed my jaw and head hard with his fist, increasing the turning motion and changing the direction of the forward motion of my body momentum. My footwork was not quick enough to maintain stability and yielding rather than resisting the inevitable I sprawled backwards into the debris. My instinctive reaction to a fall was to continue my roll, mitigating the impact, using it in paratrooper-like continuance to bring myself staggering to my feet. I feared a follow up attack and the possibility he had a gun. Three or four protruding branches had stuck into me. My denture was partly dislodged and I had bitten into part of it. My mouth had been rejecting the denture and my dentist, fearing cancer because of repeated, severe ulcers had recently referred me to a consultant and hospital tests. I felt no pain, anger nor the desire to physically retaliate because I did not hate the guy but I was trembling in a state of shock not only from this last second or two but also with the excitement of the morning. I did feel a touch of triumph in the appreciation that this time, Stanton violence had gone too far in front of witnesses. I am still in wonderment that all these complex emotions, sensory experiences and intellectual analysis could happen in less than seconds.
The workmen made some grunts of disgust and I moved towards the parked Stanton car with a woman at the driving wheel blocking the end of the drive. I was sensitive to the fact that she might have the gun and watched her apprehensively. She did not answer when I said,
Help me to get your man out of here, he is mentally deranged and you have a duty to get him immediate treatment. Thinking this might be an attempt to block the exit of the van, I added,
Please shift your car from the front of my drive and get him off my property now. Stanton had opened the door of the van and as I passed by him he was sifting through papers on the seat. Ignoring him completely I said to the workmen,
Load up, here is your money and you can be away quickly. This time they were very sensitive to my common sense. As the debris had been brought from the hedge and most stowed aboard already, the three men set to work sweeping up the finer pieces. I went into the house to look out of the front window but Stanton and his car had gone. Returning to the garage a man protested,
There must be something more than cutting the trees. I whinged back,
I told you this was a special. Another man added,
But not you did not warn us it was all that special. I insisted,
You did not listen to me properly and if you had followed my instructions you would have got the job done and been away, despite that here is your money, I shall have to take off that final spike off myself. Seconds later I closed the garage door in relief and went outside to the back. There were savage shouts from the garden and it was obvious that the police had arrived and explanations hysterically demanded as to where they had been. Suddenly there was silence and I went into the house and opened the front door, sat down on the settee and awaited the arrival of the police car. The sound, allo entered my ears and I hollered back,
Come in and two flustered policemen, upset at the enraged Stanton reception when they finally got to answering his call of a couple of hours ago, said they were late, as they had to attend a major incident. They stepped on to the patio moved towards the hedge and looked up at it and one questioned,
Please explain what has happened because we could not see this monstrosity from his house, is it because you did not let the tree men finish? He pointed up at the four feet spike of end tree showing starkly and illogically against the skyline and demonstrating clearly the four-foot depth of the trim. He continued,
How much did they want for that ? When I told him he expleted,
What a hundred quid for that, I would have taken the whole bloody lot down for that. I am in the wrong job, and why didnt you cut em right down while you were about it? They were astonished when I told them of the armed threat and the contractors being too frightened to finish. I was able to show them marks on my body when telling them of my assault but above all I was trembling, looked absolutely ghastly from when I glimpsed myself in the mirror. I referred to the Police failure to prosecute the old man for his painful assault on me, the previous year and insisted when they got back to the station that they looked at the notes of that incident.
This time I want that bastard done. One answered,
This time you must get the medical evidence --------. The crackling of their radio and voices too indistinct for me to interpret interrupted him but carried on talking,
Weve got another call, men off sick and a lot going on. I was determined not to let this incident inconvenience me let alone suffer unnecessarily and thought of a gentle walk past the duck-pond to the pub, a quiet pint and a chat about something entirely mundane would be the effective treatment and instant medicine for emotional disturbance and physical aches and pains. I left a note,
Terry Stanton knocked me over - gone for a walk. Maureen was not fooled and I had only taken a couple of gulps from my glass when she walked into the Raven for the first and hopefully last time as she never drinks and has only ever gone into any pub for a meal. It was very quiet and there were only two, not so regular blokes at this early time in the lounge bar. They were very interested as I expanded the salient point of my written message, finished off my pint and the got up to leave so that she could get a better account. Luckily our G.P. was in surgery in the latter part of the afternoon. My communication skills were not in good order; in fact the readers of this chapter written fifteen years after the event will be the first to know the accuracy of detail. My left jaw was slightly puffy due to an inflammation of gums and in my fall and reaction to the dislodged denture, which had bitten into the tender regions of my mouth. Stantons right fist had perversely connected with my right jaw as I twisted anti-clockwise. The connected was not a sharp blow and did not hurt in itself as my aggressor pushed rather than struck me to the ground. Stanton has convinced himself that he never hit me at all but he failed abysmally in court, even with the most expensive lawyers ever. Stanton continued to dig a hole for himself by trying to defend himself on TV but I will tell you about that later. His gut intention to wap me hard was mitigated into a push not to spare me pain but to in a futile attempt to avoid the inevitable consequences by retracting his intention a microsecond too late. In law the assault had been made and I was glad not just of that but, that it was provable. The good doctor is to be forgiven if he wrongly assumed the swelling was caused by the impact of right fist on left jaw when he wrote his report used for evidence. I never saw it and his legal team failed to pick up the discrepancy but you must wait for my next chapter, as a year has to pass. The impact marks of branches sticking into me were only pink marks, but in a couple of days they developed into many pretty shades of yellow and blue which did not hurt unless pressed but which we photographed to produce very convincing evidence. Ian came round, was extremely angry and was only placated by the assurance that on the basis of evidence the police would prosecute. He went to the police station later that evening and demanded to see the crime book and insisted that a record be made when he had protested about the incident not being recorded in it. I rang the contractors and told them that a witness statement would be required but they answered that the incident was a quarrel nothing to do with cutting the trees, so the incident did not concern them - they did not see a fire-arm actually produced and they would refuse any further association with either neighbour.
At 8.30 am the next morning I sawed through the trunk of the remaining four foot spike, and deliberately gave it a push over the Stanton side. Now was a sense of satisfaction of completion. We had light and a level hedge that was the reasonable height of fourteen feet opposite our patio window. The height of my choice would have been the guideline specification of six feet six but this new height was always something that had we should have been talking about as a compromise. As far as I was concerned the dispute was finished and I was prepared to maintain it at this height, permanently. It did not look so unsightly now, apart from the saw cuts, now at the very top as all the remaining stalks were clothed in greenery, some of it growing through from shoots from the other side seeking the light from my side and some of it growing from fresh young shoots from the bottom. The bare trunks themselves from which I had stripped long branches three years ago could never re-generate such is the nature of the species, but they were being quickly covered with greenery growing fast from other parts of the trees. I rang the solicitor who immediately got in touch with the police. Then I phoned Mr Thompson asking what the BV Trustees were going to do about the threat of a firearm, the assault on me and, my intention to force a prosecution, if there was no permanent arrangement for securing the height of the Leylandii at its present level; would they be prepared for me to be assaulted every time I tried to maintain the hedge? I wrote letters confirming the time, date and salient points of the conversation.
The next two officers, a WPC and policeman who called to take a statement from me, a few days afterwards stuck with me for a year until the assault was brought before the court. They looked at the hedge and wondered why when paying for the work I had not cut it down further to a more reasonable level and could not understand my spirit of compromise. Like their colleagues they marvelled at a hundred quid and how anyone would go into the police force when hedge maintenance paid so well. Looking back fifteen years, a hundred quid does not buy much tree work but a firearm threat would be sufficient to produce an armed response unit.
We celebrated Andrews birthday and a week later we were off to the Moselle valley for a week, luckily avoiding not missing an Albion home game but, all the time the glowing thought of coming back to light, no more gloom, and if the problem was not solved, I held powerful negotiating strength to bring it to an end. Above all we had a hedge that did not look grotesque - and a tranquil life at last.
Life was busy. Plans to construct the Selly Oak by-pass were progressing with the enthusiastic endorsement of the three main local political parties, all hoping to gain political kudos. I gave my time and organisational expertise to the opposition to the new road by helping start up B.R.A.G. the Bristol Road Action Group that had inherited a little pot of gold from a previous, similar organisation that had been wound up. I had given the embryonic group a free stall at the Easter Peace Festival but my best contribution now was to open an account at the local building society and give a home for the donations pouring in. Usually any campaigning initiative begins with raising funds. The fact that it was the West Bromwich Building Society were also sponsors of the Albion was pure co-incidence (!) and never entered my head, of course. My relations with the local press were useful and suddenly I became a focal point. The local gun maker and its tiny workforce were up in arms when they found out the new road would run over their factory site. The idea of an alliance with an arms manufacture seemed bizarre and I had conversations as support and contributions were offered. The local nursery and allotment society was seething with indignation but this was nothing to the support of the University when they found out that half their playing fields would be ploughed up. I had no intention of becoming a leader of men or being subsumed in a single issue. B.R.A.G. and the local Green Party were very capable of carrying this single-issue campaign but when the official Council Plans collapsed under media pressure the main political parties, sniffing the uncertainties withdrew their endorsement of the scheme. It was exciting.
There were other groups, amongst them the local Nuclear Trains Group, part of a national and international network but I had to limit my support to less than the average contribution of an activist, such was the drain on my time and energy. My next Festival was always in my mind and it was important to give a home to all parts of this Peace, Justice and Environmental rainbow coalition. War started in Kuwait and it was imperative that Selly Oak Peace Council should fulfil its position of opposing all war. Elnora Ferguson was Chairman of The National Peace Council that was at the centre of the national coalition opposing the war. She was also our Chairman of Selly Oak Peace Council and a very competent, highly knowledgeable figurehead to chair the motley group of Birmingham protesters that appropriately centred physically around Birmingham Cathedral - with the active and open support of its Provost Peter Berry. It is worthwhile mentioning that he had tried to get rapport with the Imam at the Central Mosque but there were no common meeting points. He got so carried away that he completely forgot the co-incidental November armistice celebrations organised by equally committed members of the British Legion within his flock. Some of these thought the involvement of British Forces in the new war would ideally fit in with remembrance of the dead of the old wars. Any other thought could be distinctly disloyal and unpatriotic. However anti-war groups and individuals demonstrated outside the cathedral then met in the crypt where welcome refreshments were on hand. Richard Burden had just been selected as Prospective Labour candidate for Northfield and we had an interesting, long chat whilst demonstrating and he gave me his card. Elnora chaired the motley gathering with great skill. A small ad hoc committee was elected, a march, demo and forms of publicity were decided upon and the organisation of these was allocated to enthusiastic volunteers representing no named body but positioned and supported appropriately - as no one opposed them they were chosen nem. con. A meeting in Woodbrooke College, which conveniently gives hospitality to all anti-war groups, was arranged for a week hence to report progress. I volunteered for nothing on the principle that others who were keen, able, and young should do it and leave me the time to enthuse other members of my local Rainbow Coalition. The snag was that these new workers were politically dedicated and highly committed to left wing sects and parties. Their life-style and sole activity outside work and domestic responsibilities, if they had any, was furtherance of their ultra left wing causes. So here was another band of anti-war activists emanating from the Socialist Workers Party, Ex-Labour Party Militants and various Trotskiest groups who would in normal circumstances would not touch one another with a barge pole let alone our Rainbow Coalition. I succeeded in ecumenical terms although a representative of local Baptists said although they had studied my successive Peace literature they refused to go into the Selly Oak Peace Festival Hall and associate in any way with Muslims, yes they would agree stretch ecumenism to the limit and associate with fellow Christians in the cause of Peace. In a holy war against Iraq they could not be expected to do that. Now we had come to the crunch point there was no way these militant groups would associate with any religious denominations. However all agreed to accept to accept the auspices of Selly Oak Peace Council and Elnoras chairmanship for a week and accept a free booking in a Quaker College. Quite deliberately we had neither membership no money nor even a bank account but did have a treasurer Walter Hillman who used an account to cash cheques not made out to me personally. I raised money annually and spent for the festival only and that was my limited mission in life. Mostly I was a few pounds out to my disadvantage but I could afford the small sum. We had no members, no committee, no meetings and I had no will to take any further part in the Birmingham Anti-War Campaign. There was nothing that that this gathering agreed upon except opposition to the Gulf War but everyone disagreed about the reasons for opposing it. There was little need for coming together. Hard twenty-four hours a day organisation had been put in by the non labour or communist left -wingers still primed and honed for the poll tax campaign. Posters had been printed, bands made ready and a route planned for a march, not through the city centre but through the Muslim areas of Balsall Heath. I joined the march. The Tories had been in power, absolute power, and absolute Maggie power for eleven years the last election was three years away and there was frustration, absolute frustration because everyone knew if that woman called another election she would get back in again. Yes, Labour was building up from its roots, rejecting its extremists, winning massively in local elections but as there was no convincing credibility at the top of the Labour Party. Maggies magic prevailed, fuelled by the right wing press ridiculing Neil Kinnock as a person and an alternative prime minister. Now there was a whiff of people power and the parliamentary Tories were running scared all they had to do was keep their nerve a very difficult thing to do in face of the poll tax. They collapsed, thinking of irretrievable disaster under Maggie and ditched her. She unwisely left for the Paris conference; confidently assuming she had the same absolute loyalty from her parliamentary colleagues as she had with her party workers in the country. I had promised faithfully, maybe in a rash moment but utterly and sincerely nevertheless, to dance in the streets the day Maggie went forever. I was thinking of a shindig in the Croft, but nothing more than what I could do in spite of others expecting more. Yet, I suppose the thought crossed my mind that the nation would celebrate with rapturous glee. Instead it watched with fascination as the PM fumbled and stumbled and John Major emerged from the carnage. Then the compassionate watched as a wretched old lady, unable to suppress her tears tumbled into the back of the Downing Street limousine. At what precise point were we supposed to be dancing? The mood was not there, certainly not for real change, the Tories were still wanted although without any great enthusiasm and it was with great relief that the same lot but without the matriarch were able to carry on. What a glorious chance for Neil Kinnock. I got no end of stick for breaking my promise but now I think what if I had got a bit of music going, what sort of music would it be? Who would supply it for there is no dance music amongst scores of our classical long play records? And who would dance with me? Certainly not Maureen as she is not up to that sort of thing since I put her through a school cupboard forty-five years ago at a Labour Party League of Youth social. Nobody had taught me the polka. She married me yes, but dance with me ever again, no.
We had our traditional turkey Christmas Day, although Maureen cooks beef for me. Ian, Rose, Christopher aged ten and Andrew nine came. This was the fourth year without half our family, Martin, Janet, Michelle aged eleven and Anthony aged eight. I paid money into their savings account and sent a card telling them about it. We had been issued strict instructions not to visit their home so it would be unlikely with that atmosphere of hostility and exclusion they would be allowed to receive my message. Nevertheless, the money would be given and wait its time, maybe months, maybe years, or maybe never, before it was received. This is how I survived the sadness of the rejection of my son. His children were not given that choice, just ruthlessly excluded from visiting their grandparents. For Maureen, she got through by excluding herself from even thinking about it and requested neither mention of the subject nor any tiny fraction of news about this half of the family. At the time of parting the hurt had been so intense she had been suicidal. We all respected her survival strategy and continued to enjoy a very fulfilling family life with the half that was with us practically every day.
I can hear my reader say,
Hmn, something very wrong about that, that cant get on with the neighbours and fall out with their family. I can get on with the Stantons but cannot tolerate his fires or Leylandii. The Stantons were never going to make good friends with whoever moved in to the house that that blocked their twenty-three year old view of virgin Selly Oak countryside. It is also certain that Janet would find any mother-in-law relationship extremely difficult. It is not the purpose of my book to lay blame. There were strong willed people involved in these relationships.
The Clays and their little girls, who had come to live next door but two, ten years ago enriched our lives. Now they were grown up, Liz was eighteen and Becky was sixteen. Four years ago when Martin and Janet took away their children from us, they had just lost the last of their four grandparents. They came to us and asked if we would become their adoptive grandparents. We had watched them grow up as part of and the delight of our lives, seeing us several times in a week. They fitted in perfectly with our family. Maureen and I were invited to spend the evening after Boxing Day with their extended family. Sue, John and Holly their tiny dog continued to call in as they had done for some years and with their two girls had brought happiness to our home, filling in the black hole left by the absence of our own dear ones. On that day Ian and Rose and Christopher and Andrew went to Roses parents. We always had a grand party with festive leftovers, at Ian and Roses with old family games that Maureen was adept at organising.
The 1990 Festive season was happy and our home filled with wonderful, natural if short-day light. A mound of slowly creeping, fresh green growing foliage steadily masking the stark trunks and sharp cuts replaced tall impenetrable trees. The weather was good and if you could forget for a moment that the Baggies were doing badly and Mr Stanton jnr. appeared to have got off completely from the crass injustice of pushing his way into my home, knocking me down on my own garage floor.
But what a year, the nation at war, the most turbulent Tory government leadership crisis since Chamberlain, the eleven-year reign of the most powerful Prime Minister since Churchill deposed by the most ruthless internal party putsch of the century. Yes, things were so peaceful as the old year drifted away so quietly and in stark contrast to the way in which it had begun.