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The Roman Walled City of York has a dark and turbulent history, which is relevant when introducing the black robed, cane wielding inquisitors determined to ensure I would not be a moron.
I’m a not person. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me I’m not this or not that.
I was not born to write and did not grow up with a pencil in my hand jotting down anecdotes for future novels. The only notes in my exercise book were by teachers decrying the inkblots and the stick figures I doodled. This did not signal I would become an artist or analyst.
I’m not an artist, though over the years I have sold a few canvases and collected a couple of minor awards, and I’m not into psychiatry, but my great-grandchildren think I’m a harmless nutcase.
After hours in detention, grinding lenses for the science master’s telescope – I’m not an astronomer. Such tasks persuaded me I was not destined to be academic.
I spent most of my thirteenth year bringing in the harvest for victory. I’m not a farmer, and dislike gardening. So I parted company with the land and school.
I’m not a musician. Music was scarce; we did not have a wireless. The only instrument I could afford was a mouth organ. It fell by the wayside when I discovered I had a tin ear. Four decades later I bought a Yamaha organ, taught myself to read simple music and with aid of modern-day technology can pretend to play.
The ear is a wonderful appendage, designed to give authority a handle. My mother grasped mine and hauled me off to become an apprentice Coachbuilder. Sixteen is the normal age, the war speeded things up. At seventeen, I could operate every machine in the mill, weld anything, beat life into metal, and give French polishing a shellacking. I also enjoyed smoking and fire watching. I would have taken up the latter as a career, but there was not much call for it after the war. Smoking stayed with me for the best part of a lifetime.
I was still a not. Having survived a few near misses, I was eager to join a Service and throw a few stones. I volunteered for the RAF.
I’m not Aircrew. They decided I was short of sight, which means I don’t need glasses to sign. I just can’t read the numbers on the runway from a height of 2000 feet. To make matters worse Germany surrendered before I finished my training. I spent most of my time on one course or another, so they managed to clean up the Pacific without me. I did learn that violent death occurs in peacetime operations, and is just as permanent. I was grateful; I was not a casualty.
Unlike my grandfathers, I’m not regimental minded, and when the RAF reverted to a ceremonial role, I quit to show off my demob suit. I was not a bachelor, for long. It was the conservative trilby I wore that persuaded her that I was ready to settle down.
A dozen jobs, two children, a steady stream of literature on Sunny Australia, and she began to suspect that I was hankering to not be a not, or not to split the infinitive, to be not a not.
To paraphrase the great man, this was the end of the beginning. I will not bore you with the rest of the bits. Suffice to say, that today, equipped only with my uneducated mother tongue, and a lifetime of memories, I write to keep Alzheimer’s at bay.