Maya Angelou once said “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been”. I started this blog as a way of speaking to my Son Joseph from beyond the grave in the event that I don’t live long enough to guide him as he grows to being the brilliant man I know he will become. I know where he came from, even if I don’t yet know where he’s going; I was the first person to hold him (after the nurses who cleaned him up and swaddled him) when he was born (I’ll tackle that day in another post!) and he’s certainly inherited some of my traits – my wonky ears, my predilection towards OCD type behaviour and my loud voice – but he’ll likely know very little about where I came from if I’m not there to tell him. I don’t know about you, but I love a good origin story.
I was born in January 1980, the second child of my parents and their only son. My parents had met and married when they were teenagers – my Mum 18 and Dad 19. My paternal grandparents, both now deceased, didn’t approve of the union and gave the marriage 6 months. I loved him and he had a very dry wit, but my Grandad Colley was a miserable old bastard who thought he knew everything. It’s a trait all we Colley men inherit. I’m happy to say he was wrong and they’re still together as I write.
I was lucky to be born, however. You see, medical technology has advanced hugely in the last 40 years and at the time I was in utero, a test performed at the hospital said I would likely be born with the condition spina bifida, and they recommend termination. This was of course a massive and potentially heartbreaking decision for my parents, but given you’re reading this you know the outcome. Spoilers. I don’t have spina bifida by the way. My sister is 20 months older than me and is a registered professional nurse working for a private healthcare company. She has 3 kids, all girls, all spoiled millennial little shits who don’t recognise how lucky they are to be alive at this time and who can’t possibly comprehend how anybody did anything or even lived without a cellphone or the internet. My sister is going through a difficult divorce from her husband of 18 years (they’ve been together since they were teenagers, too) and my nieces talk to their mother like they’ve just scraped her off their shoes (which enrages Sarah), but I’m getting sidetracked.
My folks lived in Mansfield, the town they were both born in, too, in the little 3 bed house they’d managed to buy not too long after they’d married in the area known as Mansfield Woodhouse. It wasn’t much, but it was always clean, warm and comfortable. It’s hard to imagine now, but we didn’t have a phone (or a car until 1986, when my Dad bought a used Vauxhall Magnum when he passed his test). We did however have a good sized rear garden complete with a swing, and there was a public playground directly behind the house. I had two friends who lived on the same street; Robert and Wayne who were a similar age. We’d play on the street or around our houses all day and watch films on my parents’ top-loading VHS recorder in an evening if we’d rented a film from the local video shop. Film has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember.
My parents worked day and night (Dad day as an engineer and Mum night at the local bingo hall and later stocking factory and Co-op Supermarket) to keep the roof over our heads and food on the table. I don’t ever remember going without anything, however my Dad would many years later lament stories of desperately checking the sofa cushions for loose change to pay for food or utilities. Occasionally they had to miss a payment on their mortgage to get by. He once found a £5 note when searching the sofa which was apparently like Christmas. He did however manage to escape the fate which befell the majority of males on both sides of my family; the horror of working the coal face down the pit.
Mansfield is one of the oldest towns in the UK, even appearing in the Domesday Book of 1086. Coal mining was the main industry of the town when I was born and, if you were from a poor family (both sides of my family are working class, my parents from families with 5 (Dad, eldest) or 6 (Mum, eldest again) kids who had very little), you were more or less destined to that employment as a male. By 1984 however, the then Conservative Government began closing the pits and my family had to retrain in other fields. It was for the best for them personally in any event as they’re all better off as a result and doing work which is unlikely to place them in mortal danger. It also meant it wasn’t a reality I’d ever have to face. Although I’m of course glad of this, the fact that my family were safer and not engaged in an industry I abhor (renewables are where it’s at, this is the 21st Century), I’m sorry to report that the town itself has never really recovered.
I started at the local Church of England Primary School the September before my 5th birthday, as we all do in the UK. I wasn’t a good student. I didn’t seem to do well at anything and I even vaguely recall comments from my teacher Mr. Scott at the age of 6 or 7 that I was useless and would amount to nothing. You know what? Had I have stayed in that town as the majority of my family did, I think he’d have been right.