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. They succeeded and I became a not person. I’ve lost count of the number of people who told me I’m not this or not that.
I did not grow up with a pencil in hand, jotting down anecdotes for future novels. The 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 analyst on illustrator. I’m not an artist, though over the years I sold a few canvases and collected a couple of minor awards, nor am I a psychiatrist, but my great-grandchildren think I’m a harmless nutcase.
After spending hours in detention, grinding lenses for the science master’s telescope, and an equal number, learning unintelligible Latin responses to the Mass, I knew astronomy and religion were not career prospects.
Most of my thirteenth year, I spent bringing in the harvest, for victory. I’m not a farmer, and dislike gardening, so I parted company with the land and school.
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 the market collapsed. The weed stayed with me for the best part of a lifetime.
Having, survived a few near misses, I became impatient to join a Service and throw a few stones. The glamour of the RAF seduced me and I volunteered. I’m not Aircrew. Classed, short of sight, which means I don’t need glasses to sign, but the numbers on the runway become blurred at a height of 2000 feet. To make matters worse Germany surrendered before I finished the initial training. I spent the rest of my service 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. Thankfully, I was not a casualty and remained a not.
Not being regimentally minded, when the RAF reverted to a ceremonial role, I quit to become an eligible bachelor. But not for long, the demob suit, and conservative trilby I wore, persuaded her I was ready to settle down.
A dozen jobs, two children, a steady stream of literature on Sunny Australia, and she began to suspect I was hankering to not be a not, or not to split the infinitive, to be not a not.
To paraphrase a great man, this is the end of the beginning. I will not bore you with the rest of the bits. Suffice to say, today, equipped with my uneducated mother tongue, and a lifetime of memories, I write to keep Alzheimer’s at bay.
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