Nicholas, Daphné, Alban,
Thomas, Charles and Alexander,
“May you build a ladder to the
And climb on every rung.
May you stay forever young.”
© Ian J. Stock
Dad and I were having one of those meaningful discussions: I must have been 17 or 18 years old. He could be brilliant, in the sense of tying together empathy (or intuition) with reason into a simple and coherent whole that was somehow new.
In this particular discussion, I was asking him for insight into me. “Well,” he said, for one thing, you always talk about yourself.” I thought about that, and of course argued about it, and after a while he continued, “just as now, this whole argument is about whether you always talk about you.” He had me there.
Nothing has changed in the intervening 45 years!
“If I Only Knew” is an illustrated memoir of my first 18 years, 125,000 words and still only the first part of a modest life. In short, let the reader beware!
Written for the children, and perhaps friends and other family, the memoir is unlikely to be of much interest to strangers. There’s not a lot of drama, not a lot happening. Some of the time, even those close to me say that the stories and anecdotes comprising these 18 years can drag on.
All I hope is that each of my children immerses him or herself in this at some time or another. That’s the only thing that I really care about.
* * *
The table of contents below gives a flavor of what is in each chapter of these memoirs. They are not strictly chronological, jumping back and forth in time within each theme.
Photos that do not reflect the theme of the chapter are noted in italics at the end of the chapter’s description.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 “I Have a Photograph” An introduction. The line is Paul Simon’s from Old friends/Bookends: “I have a photograph. Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.” How do you remember the past accurately?
Chapter 2 What Mum and Dad Told Me. A rather miserable and colorless beginning. My birth in a pea-souper outside Slough. Dad’s first affair and its consequences. Our family’s unsung war hero, Uncle Ron. Sue arrives after we move to Cardiff.
Chapter 3 Daily Life in a Small World. Moving house again, from Cardiff to Bristol. Hand washing laundry and Bill and Ben, Flowerpot Men, on the BBC. Counting the pennies and its consequences.
Chapter 4 The English Riviera. To Paignton in South Devon with Henleaze Hockey Club, the “Bluebottles,” each Easter. Driving down the A38. Mum is surprised by an admirer on the hockey team! Being King Canute as the tide comes in during a storm. Westerleigh Road School in Bristol.
Chapter 5 Home as a Pressure Cooker. Penny-pinching and early health problems. Gresley Pacifics at the home of Aunty Rose Ives (née Burrell) in Potter’s Bar. “And I love you, love you, love you.” Heinz baked beans and chocolate. Enlightened education: a visit to the Cadbury factory in Bournville! Bicycling from home in Downend to dad’s office at Bristol Aircraft in Filton. And back. The plans they made to get me into trouble!
Chapter 6 Success at School. Intelligence by diagnosis. A Bristol Britannia crashes in Downend. Small boys fight. Another move for the family, this time to the outskirts of Birmingham. Scholarship exams at age 11. A failed Hindustani lesson. Hooked on doing well at Haslucks Green County Primary School.
Chapter 6 photos: summer holiday in Ostende.
Chapter 7 Dad’s Career. Starting at LSE, studying under Laski and Nancy Seear, his tutor. Personnel Director for Rank Hovis McDougall in the Midlands. Building relationships, at home and with the unions. The Midlands Region of the TGWU, run by Alan Law. Mother’s Pride, Hovis bread, and Mr. Kipling’s “exceedingly good” cakes. Alex Jarratt at Reed International.
Chapter 7 photos: dad’s family and childhood.
Chapter 8 Football. Football for small boys, with tennis balls on concrete. A winklepicker in the face. Sir Matt Busby’s “holy trinity” at Manchester United: Law, Charlton and Best. A bully in Shirley park. Altruism and egotism on the field.
Chapter 8 photos: mum’s parents.
Chapter 9 Train spotting. A passion long gone: steam locomotives. Playing “last across” with Michael Palmer? Ian Allan’s “Modern Railways.” Obsessing about “Kings” on Birmingham Snow Hill station. Watching out for strange men. Bullies at Tyseley shed. Ultimate train spotting alone in 1964 all day in London. Such a lucky boy!
Chapter 10 The Tough go Shopping. Mum’s hobby. On a Midland Red double-decker bus to Rackham’s and Lewis’s department stores. Stress! Philosophy of shopping. Mum and I arguing.
Chapter 11 “Summer Holiday.” Sleeping car trains to Scotland. Pathogenic pairing? Climbing Ben Nevis. Big brother lording it over little sister? The beginnings of pop music. “The Young Ones.” Cliff Richard and the Shadows convert a London bus into an RV.
Chapter 12 “All I want for Christmas is a Beatle.” The Beatles! A Beatle Jacket. “Yeah yeah yeah!” The rich rattle their jewelry. The most perfect Christmas present in the world. Hammersmith Odeon, Boxing Day 1964. “She’s Leaving Home.” Beginning life in a colored world. “Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away!”
Chapter 13 “Bye-bye Love.” Spin the bottle. “Bachelor Boy.” Moving house again, and leaving girls behind. Red ants.
Chapter 14 The Scholarship Boy. Solihull School, for boys only. Holiday in Benodet. Working so hard. “I bet Cranny got it!” Private school in England: call it “public school!” Billiards at Swatty’s house. Reading out loud for Bogbrush. Playing rugby for the U13s. Winning at cross-country and public speaking.
Chapter 15 “(I Wish I Was) Homeward Bound.” Boarding: the biggest mistake we made. The Beach Boys: “I wanna go home, let me go home, why don’t you let me go home . . . ? ” Simon & Garfunkel:”like emptiness and harmony I need someone to comfort me. Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound.” A Stock doesn’t quit. Cranny making radios in matchboxes. Simon Billing’s cool joke. Praying for the children of Aberfan. Head Boy’s fag. Dougal Mackay and I avoid a fight; Cranny and Billing regale in one. Feeling smaller and smaller. Hard boys. An accidental hole in the ceiling. Two ways to present buttocks. Bubbling in my ears. Not feeling anything anymore.
Chapter 16 Catholicism Lapsing. More on dad, our affable atheist. “Openness to the unbidden.” Sickness in his family. “You can’t win them all.” A careful moral education. Paul Robeson singing “Ol’ Man River.” A womanizing priest? Lacking a spiritual life. Father Gaffney’s high speed high mass. “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” Sunday mornings at Marlow Lock.
Chapter 17 “Gee but it’s Great to be Back Home!” 18 South View Road, Marlow, Bucks. A few random slaps from Great Marlow School. Sir Steve Redgrave, Olympic rower, and the 11+ exam. A “Teasmade” for mum and dad. Saturday morning shopping at Clark’s the Butchers and for cartons of cigarettes. Kittens for Sue and me. Mum’s third kidney sent packing. Morecambe and Wise on TV. My peak soccer moment. Summer holidays on the Adriatic. Rosella Bufundi cried! Dad’s “Sunshine.”
Chapter 18 “Balls to Ernest Hazelton.” Sir William Borlase’s School, again for boys. “O” level exams and anomie. John Lennon on the effects of education. Bunsen burner as water pistol. The Monk. Playing pinball in the West Street Cafe. Smoker’s Corner. Skiing on a stretcher. Burying Caesar or praising him? “Cool, so cool, cold as death!”
Chapter 19 “Working on the Night Moves.” Abject terror on Marlow High Street. Snogging (what the English call making out). Love by the gravel pits. English romance, an oxymoron complicated by late development. Flight! In our own cocoon in Higginson Park. “The Carpetbaggers.” Oases in a pool of solitude. Phil Slow’s party, and our party at 18 South View. Condom complexities. Turn off that d—d light! Anti-seduction techniques. Vulgarity v. consideration.
Chapter 19 photos: from the time, including the cats, the Stocks at home and on holiday, relatives visiting, Marlow Bridge, etc.
Chapter 20 “Baby Driver.” My 17th birthday. The most perfect birthday present ever. MY Austin Mini turned loose on an unsuspecting world. Burning rubber on a country lane. Weaving through traffic. Plane spotting. Collective property. Wheelies on the runway at Heathrow.
Chapter 21 “The Working Life.” Washing dishes in the Vienna Coffee House. Waiting tables at the White Swan. Mrs Pickles. A white Christmas story with fish. A mother’s suicide. Human contact. Horn’s the Tailors of Oxford Street, W1.
Chapter 21 photos: Sue
Chapter 22 “(Just let me hear some of that) Rock and Roll Music.” Soundtrack of a teenage life. Our incredible music. The Nag’s Head. The Stones in Hyde Park. The Dead in the Midlands. Led Zep at Bath. The Who play Tommy at the Isle of Wight: “right behind you, I see the millions.” Riding the wave. Dumb anarchists and dead rock stars. David Milsom dancing. Adrian Wynne gesticulating. “Do bats scream?” The music never died.
Chapter 23 “America.” The US seen from England. Entertainment and shameful tragedy. The Roys of Cambridge, New York. Johnny’s in Hoosick Falls. Girls at school. Seeing stars! My first Big Mac. American frankness: “what a bod!” Warmth on a cold porch. Feelings first.
Chapter 24 “Head out on the Highway.” “Hitchin’ on the run-in, . . .“. The Trans-Canada Highway. A mistake outside Thunder Bay. Pam and Dave and Children’s Aid in Vancouver. No work. My Journal of the meandering trip back East. Changing my name. You can always leave. On the road again. Winter coming to Canada. Panhandling. “Pretty Flamingo.” Making a mess of it. A birthday trip on a ferry. Gander. “Become yourself, because the past is just a good-bye.”
Chapter 25 “Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound.” Taking stock. The line is Tom Paxton’s, a young hippy wondering. As I did.