Recalling the fear of inevitable loss
Getting me to school was a trial for my mother. The school bus would pull up at the farm gate each morning and I would do my utmost not to be placed on it. One morning, I recall, I was lifted off the floor to be put aboard which enabled me to plant my feet on either side of the bus door.
At some point, I must have surrendered to the inevitable, and gone to school peaceably. My only memory of my eighteen months at Long Sutton school is of a deep loneliness.
I had spent my early years as a solitary child on the farm and my attachment to the handful of adults was strong, particularly to my father who went out in blue overalls each morning to his job at the naval air station at Yeovilton.
I was always afraid he would go away.
There was a time, maybe in 1964 maybe 1965, certainly before school had cast its dark shadow over the days of innocence, when he was posted to an RAF station on the far side of England, instead of his daily journeys to Yeovilton he was sent to work at a place called Manby in Lincolnshire, it was a place that was so distant that it might have been overseas. For years afterwards even the name of the place had the power to evoke a sense of bewilderment.
On one occasion he returned to the farm on leave and I believed he had returned forever from the time of exile, only to be told that the leave would soon end. The night before he was due to return to Manby, I stood in the house in tears and he suggested we go for a walk.
Putting on Wellington boots, we walked through the barton and through a gate into a field that lay above the farm. A Friesian cow stood with a calf that had been tethered to a fence post and we stood and looked at them. The mud near the gateway was deep, each footprint threatening to retain the boots of a small boy.
As if only a few hours has passed since that moment, the sense of pain and desolation remains fresh; holding onto my father’s hand and pleading that he not return to Manby.
Perhaps it was the same year, perhaps it was the year after, I developed measles and seemed to spend weeks in bed. Feverish at times, my father seemed to drift in and out, all the time there was the fear that he might not return.
The sense of being in a world that is beyond the comprehension of a pre-school child remains. Coughing this evening, I should like to talk to him.
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