Out of the Camp

Out of the Camp Ch. 33 – Back to Moredun via Worksop & Music

Pleasurama was a duo consisting of songwriters, Mike Young, aka David Motion, and Dave Kovacevic. They produced and released a 12” dance mix vinyl record released on Sedition Records called ‘Come Dance With Me’ which we published and which I’d completely forgotten about until I found a copy during a search of demos and other vinyl discs we’d recorded. I also don’t remember a whole lot about the activities of Pleasurama mainly because I wasn’t ‘hands-on’ for a lot of the time, busy as I was with the other businesses. I do seem to remember though, that they kept quite busy with gigs, and also their production activities with other artists. Indeed, when I decided to go back into the studio again after a ten-year absence, they were very much in the driving seat when it came to pulling it all together. We received a demo one day from a guy called Willie Logan who, amazingly, came from Edinburgh and he’d written a song called ‘Set Me Free’ which I loved and which I’d spoken to Tony about recording. He liked the song but had been speaking to John Edwards, the owner of Hollywood Records, an independent label based in North London. This company had no connection to Disney, and in fact all of this took place many years before the Disney-owned Hollywood Records was established. Anyway, John Edwards had expressed interest in a Pleasurama song called, ‘Temptation’, not the Everly Brothers’ 1961 hit, but another song entirely, and Tony suggested that I do it. This was hard to refuse as I was anxious to perform again and also, we’d incur no recording costs as Hollywood had agreed to pay for it, so all we had to do was book the studio, hire the engineer and musicians, maybe a photographer, prepare any charts, etc. and prior to the recording day, line-up a couple of rehearsal sessions.

After our return to London, Mary had decided she wasn’t going to continue with hospital nursing and had for some time been expressing an interest in becoming a Health Visitor which she ultimately did, and which involved a 12-month Post-Grad RN course of study. By the time we had the music publishing business underway she’d been a Health Visitor for some time and absolutely loved her job. She also had a ‘cause’. Almost immediately on arriving in London she took up Russian. That’s to say the study of the Russian language; to this day I really don’t know why and I realize it wasn’t a ‘cause’ per say, but she nonetheless pursued it with a similar passion she would, any other mission. Prior to leaving Peterhead she had become involved with SPUC (If you’re not familiar, I won’t trouble you!) and she actually invited the then UK national president, Phyllis Bowman, to stay with us during her Peterhead stop on a national lecture tour. Now, currently, Mary was active in lobbying the local education authority to properly accommodate the needs of learning-disabled children and inculcate appropriate materials and practices into the school curriculum while, at the same time, counselling anxious parents and where possible, personally taking up appropriate cases with the education authority. I’m not naming him here, but I remember the man’s name who was head of the Ealing Education Authority back then and we have it on good authority that Mary became the bane of the poor guy’s life. To this end the newly formed committee of the Ealing Dyslexia Association, which she founded together with Sue Loftus-Brigham, had decided to have a fundraiser in our back garden, and Mary suggested we get one of the rock groups to set a date and play for us. Just as a footnote to this; it’s now over 30 years since we left Ealing and I’m happy to report that the Ealing Dyslexia Association continues to be active in assisting learning disabled children and their families.

Around this time, we took off for a weekend visit with my Uncle George in Grantham, leaving Noleen, our lovely housekeeper, to care for the kids. Saturday evening after dinner we were sitting around the dining table when my uncle produced a big box of photographs and proceeded to plough through them, pulling out shots of interest and handing them around. At one point he gave Mary a picture of a young man in wartime army uniform holding a baby, and asked her, “Do you know who this is?” She guessed correctly that the young soldier was him but had no idea about the baby. She passed it to me, and I had already guessed that it was me and said so. At which point Mary asked him what he knew about my adoption since I hardly knew anything other than that my biological father had supposedly been French/Canadian and was killed in the war, and that my birth mother had been English, but nobody knew what had happened to her. Mary said, “This is bullshit!” continuing as though I weren’t there “He’s a married man with three kids and she doesn’t think he’s got any right to ask questions?” I’d been sworn to secrecy under threat and forbidden to ever mention it again since being told at nine years old almost twenty years earlier. Over the years there had been several awkward incidents where a chance remark about my appearance might create a question or provoke a remark made in jest in all innocence. It was very clear particularly in the height of summer when I would turn as brown as a berry that I bore no resemblance whatever to either of my parents. I remember on one occasion an unfortunate wag asking where the milkman came from receiving a look of thunder from my mother. Also, I can’t count the number of times people would ask words to the effect, “Where did he get those beautiful big brown eyes?” and my mother would be seething. In case you might think I’m a bit of a narcissist, just ask anybody who knows me now and I’m sure they’ll happily confirm that my eyes are now are a red-tinged dirty green colour. I remember on one occasion she explained that as a baby I’d spent much of my time on Portobello Beach.

So anyway, Uncle George asked me, “What do you know about it all?” And I told him that it had never been mentioned again; the only exception being one time by a cousin on my father’s side whose mother, my aunt, had apparently told him that I’d been raised by my mother’s sister. I had dismissed that notion as impossible as I didn’t believe that I could possibly have been related to her. My uncle immediately put both hands on the table, leaned forward and confronted me saying, “How would you feel if it were true?” To say I was stunned at this wouldn’t even begin to describe my inner emotions. All I remember is that I froze. There was an unnaturally long silence eventually broken by my uncle telling me pointedly that I didn’t hear this from him. I knew from childhood observation that there was a fear of my mother amongst certain of her siblings, and if she ever found out who had ‘squealed’ they’d be for it. In addition, her mother, my grandmother, I believe was also wary of inciting her wrath. On every occasion when we’d visit, she’d take me aside and quietly explain that my mother was very strict because she loved me, and that I’d appreciate that when I grew up. This would happen regularly during our annual visits to Worksop, and it didn’t strike me until many years later that this was likely provoked somehow by guilt on my grandmother’s part. But what could she possibly have done, she was always very loving and kind to both me and all of my cousins. My mother was the eldest of her children followed by two aunts and then my uncle and his twin, my other aunt, Ellen. Speaking of her, the youngest, I remember during a summertime visit to my grandmother’s that she’d been involved in a physical altercation with my mother in my grandmother’s bedroom. I was probably 3 or 4 years old at the time, and my mother was the aggressor, pulling my aunt’s hair, screaming at her and smacking and punching her about the head. My aunt, crying and also screaming, was retaliating as best she could but my mother was clearly getting the better of her. I’ve no idea what set this off but when they realized I was in the room I was quickly shooed out. The door closed behind me, and the screaming continued.

Coming back to the 80s in Grantham and sitting across the table from my uncle, I embarked upon a process of elimination. If it could be true that my mother was actually my biological aunt, then which of her sisters could possibly be my birth mother? I remembered that the second eldest, Irene who I was very fond of, had tried for ten years before having a baby and that that birth had apparently nearly killed her, so she wasn’t a likely candidate.  The next, Rose, was married with three children, all younger than me and the fourth, Ellen, my uncle’s twin was married with a daughter but can only have been a very young teenager back then and so again, not a very likely possibility. So that left just one logical conclusion; it was that middle child, the one who’d later married and had subsequently had three children. I do remember as a child having a special fondness for her and always looking especially forward to visits there. I also clearly remember my mother always being irritated at the prospect. On the journey to my aunt’s who lived a little way outside of Worksop in a mining village, she would always complain that we’d probably just get a bloody salad again with ham and tomato. The funny thing is she was usually right. It shouldn’t have been surprising as it was always summer when we visited and so the weather was invariably pleasant.

For as far back as I can remember I was afraid of my mother, and that’s putting it mildly. She was overly strict, and I often felt that she hated me. By the time I was six when we left Duddingston Camp to move to Moredun I had already developed a terror of her. Several incidents over the years would reinforce this such as, a couple of times we had a dog, usually a mongrel pup that my dad would have picked up from the RSPCA. On reflection, this really was never a good idea because my father worked away from home for most of the time I was growing up, and my mother initially cleaned houses but later managed to get a job as a cook (sic) in a convent in Mayfield, somewhere around Duncan Street and I, obviously, was at school so the poor wretched thing would be stuck in the house most of the day, locked in the kitchen. As I say on both occasions, they were pups and consequently not house trained, and therefore there was always clean up to do when I got home. It was actually worse overnight when, again locked in the kitchen, they would often howl when we wanted to go to bed, and my mother would go at them with a leash which would set me off me crying. In the morning, there was invariably a puddle and she’d grab the lease again with the poor dog huddled in a corner screeching. It was really terrible and there was no one else around, just me and my mother with her terrifying rage.

And then there were the chores; every day I came home from school to an empty house – yup! I was a latch-key kid – and I had to get down on my hands and knees and dust the linoleum around the edge of the room including below the furniture and also, always with a separate duster, dust the furniture being careful to pick up all the little chachkes and dust beneath them, and I did this faithfully. Why? Because when my mother arrived home, she’d put down her bag and before she took off her coat, she’d walk around the room running her finger across the furniture surfaces to check that they’d been dusted properly and never failed to lift the ornaments, etc. to check underneath for dust. Then, she’d get down on her hands and knees and run her fingers across the linoleum reaching all the way underneath the furniture and around the edge of the room. Keeping my room tidy, of course, was a no-brainer and probably most kids in those days were expected to at least make an effort in that direction.

Some of the things that gave me pleasure when I was very young was giving puppet shows out of my bedroom window for the neighborhood kids (Derek Stewart, are you out there? Remember this?) I had one or two glove puppets and used to crouch down below the open window and put on some silly voice or other and try to make them all laugh. Another neighborhood pal was Jim Webber – James in those days – and he, like me, collected Dinky Toys and we used to get together in his back garden and make roads amongst his mother’s lovely flower beds. This was before the days of motorways so our roads, winding this way and that to avoid major floral casualties, weren’t too far removed from the realities of roads in 50s Scotland. There was a stream nearby – we called them ‘burns’ in Scotland – and this one was called Mickie’s Burn, and I used to like to go down there and guddle fish. They were always awfully wee, so I’d just put them back because it seemed cruel to kill little fish like that. I loved the Life Boys which I think met every Wednesday evening in Moredun Primary School and I was a member until I transferred to the Boys Brigade when I turned 12.

Throughout this entire narrative I’ve taken a number of cruel swipes at my poor, long departed mother and I feel I need to put some things, as far as I understand them, in perspective. The person she became, she became because of an event or more likely, a series of events in her life, since she certainly wasn’t born that way, and I’ll never really know or fully understand the extent to which the challenges she faced as a young girl or later, as a young woman caused her to be so irreversibly damaged. What I do know is that she left school in 1934 at 14 years of age and went to work 28 miles from home ‘below stairs’ in a large house in the city of Lincoln. There are two questions that can never now be answered satisfactorily. The first is, why was she was sent away from home at such a tender age? and the second; what may have taken place in the big house in Lincoln that caused her so much distress and left her with a deep-seated bitterness and anger, and also suffering from a level of obsessive-compulsive disorder, my own untutored diagnosis based simply on observation, that drove her to levels of domestic cleanliness probably matched only by healthcare facilities? I’ve some further thoughts on this and in addition, certain very personal and revealing experiences to share that some may find shocking or inappropriate, and about which I sought counsel as I was very uncomfortable revealing certain of my own childhood experiences. I was encouraged to proceed with these revelations which I’ll do in a future episode in the hope that it may help others come to terms with disturbing childhood events.

Images.

(1) Pleasurama – Come Dance With Me. (2) Cousins, David & Iris with me. (3) Me and my Mother outside our Moredun prefab. (4) The bairns in oor street (ie – us!) in the ‘50s. (That’s James Smith’s prefab behind us)
Derek! Help me oot here. Elizabeth & Derek Stewart, James Smith, ? , Alan Baird, me, Marilyn Baird? (5) Our Lovely Neighbors in Moredun. Mary Stewart, Else Smith, Auntie Betty, forget!, Mrs Webber, big Morrison, forget!
Front: Hazel Cairns, Ella Morrison, Mrs. McMillan, Cathy Baird, Mrs Gifford, Betty Cant (the street nutter!)

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