1970. Life together Begins
When I first asked Sheila out it was assumed and predicted by my mother that we would not last beyond a fortnight together. I have to tell you, that was 51 years ago this February 2021 and is still getting less likely by the second.
Our wedding day was on a reasonably warm day in the autumn of 1972. Neither of us had any desire to have a BIG reception and all the shindig that goes with such a thing. We had a boat booked on the Norfolk Broads and they were a long way away, at least by an Austin A35 van they were! However, my new Father-in-Law had wanted to see his daughter “Properly” married and thus we spent a few hours at the Red Lion in Basingstoke, playing at being Newly Weds. It was a predictable sort of reception. Food, Drink, Photographer, Relations and Friends. Plus the usual few that you will never see again. Thus, we made happy noises and sat like lemons while everyone enjoyed themselves until, at last, we could acceptably depart on our journey.
Remember, The Broads wasn’t that easily accessible then. Not like it is now. No Motorways, no direct route, no SatNav. Just Sheila beside me with a map. Believe me, that distance on a autumn Saturday was a penance indeed. I think that when we finally arrived, that was when I first realised just how agonising the human body could be. I could hardly stand up straight!
On our arrival at South Walsham boatyard, late of course, we were presented with our Honeymoon Vessel, the SS Godawful. It was cold, it was damp and it smelled terrible but a judicial application of gas heating brought it to merely uncomfortable. Let’s face it, we didn’t intend to spend much time inside it. It wasn’t as if we were new to sleeping together… We didn’t travel far that first day. We were both exhausted from the journey up so we moored in a woody area not far from the yard. We don’t even remember making any food. We were asleep almost instantly.
We were also awake almost instantly! And early too!. The first takeoff from Lakenheath, the end of whos’ runway I had unknowingly moored at, was about 8am. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been asleep near the end of a runway but let me tell you, Americans don’t sneak out as they go. A deafening roar and a whoosh shot us straight up in bed. This was followed by seven more whooshes as the rest of the squadron tried to catch up with their leader, and a sudden stillness as hearing returned. This was followed by a blind panic as we tried to work out why we were being bombed, followed by a slow realisation of our whereabouts and the likelihood of further thundering. But it stayed quiet for a while and we began to relax. Of course, some ten minutes later the whole thing was repeated as the next lot got airborne. That was it for us. Blearily starting the motor and getting the tie-downs removed, we motored just far enough to avoid the noise, moored again and made some breakfast.
The first week went well. It was still warm and clear. We did the things young people did. We saw the sights, We sailed, walked, swam and screwed. It was quite idyllic, but lurking round the turn of the weekend things started to go a little awry. Sheila woke on the second Monday with a mouthful of ulcers, The drinking water was different, probably because it was out of a tank, and it hit her hard. She tried to put a brave face on, but she was in pain all day and night. We found a chemist who gave her useless medication and didn’t even want to know that late in the season. And I didn’t help her mood!
The ‘boat’ was quite a handful when mooring. It was too light and since it was also not easily manoeuvrable even normally, it took both of us to secure the damn thing in the wind. And we needed to moor in a sidewind this day. It didn’t end well. I pulled as close ashore as I could and Sheila jumped. I threw her the line but by then the tub was already moving back out into the river. Again I tried to bring it in but as before, since I had to cut the engine and then throw the rope. I couldn’t do it, and I took it out on her. Shouting at her to “grab the bloody rope!”. That was too much for her. Mouth hurting, three days of pain and then me shouting? She quit! Threw the rope down, crying and fuming and off she set.
Luckily for me, a couple of disgusted boatyard guys grabbed the lines and held the boat. One of them, very deliberately, said “If I were you, I’d get after her right now, and when you’ve caught up, I should grovel if I were you! That one is too good for you!” ….. So I did. Our first fight! My fault. I was a prat. Luckily she didn’t go far and she came back with me. I didn’t deserve her then. I never will.
1972. Married Life: Life BEFORE Children
We were married! No doubt both my mother and her mum & dad were thrilled. Not only were they rid of a useless child apiece, they now had rooms to rent. At least, that was what they thought….. My mothers hopes were dashed however. We had nowhere to live. And so it passed that she finally gave up the double bedroom, (and bed), to us and, following our wonderful Honeymoon, life returned to normal.
I was working for the Army. Driving trains full of ammo. Shells, bullets and that strange plasticky stuff you see on the movies being bunged into holes because someone has, quite carelessly, lost their safe to The Gang who are trying to open it without the key. Exciting stuff eh? Nope.
Sheila had the more interesting job. She, like myself had left the hospital laundry to try her hand at something a little more challenging. She too worked for the Army, also in Bramley, but she had gone one better than I. I drove trains around loaded up with whizzbangs. She sat or stood at a table happily taking the terrible things to bits so they could hit them with hammers or whatever to see if, should it ever become really necessary, they would in fact go bang.
I can’t say I was worried. She seemed to be getting away with it. There was only one occasion when I did worry a bit and that was when a story came down the line to us that a process examiner such as she was had been injured in an ‘unexpected’ detonation in a shed. Luckily it was well away from her and involved two imbeciles who had decided that it was fun to kick the exposed detonators along the track with their feet. Unfortunately, no one had put a stop at the end of the track and it had dropped off the end, pointy bit down! Concrete shrapnel had made a hole in the floor and instant dismissal now made a hole in their employment. Sheila was safe and I went back to not worrying.
At around the same time, some fool had driven a missile carrier across the tracks in front of my train and had lost the ensuing battle. Naturally, the story that ‘Jon has had an accident’ was delivered to Sheila without any details and it was her turn to worry about me… for an hour at least.
Life together was fun. We both had jobs, we both had money, new car, happy outlook and a fullsome love of sex. It was only going to be a matter of time…..
We had 420/1/2/3/4/5 at CAD Bramley
Errrrr…..no. That’s actually an oil pipe!
1975. Married Life: And Then There Were More!
Of course, when two highly inventive and inquisitive people spend so much time finding out just how much fun sex can be, it is bound to end in that age-old state of affairs whereby two become three…. at least. We had three years before the day that Sheila called in to the Railway depot on her way into work to tell me the news….
Sheila: I remember we had our second Honeymoon in Devon. A beautiful little cottage B&B at Bigbury with a view across to the Island. (Burgh Island) It was a lovely time. Autumnal trees and ferns everywhere on the moors. You and I in an idyllic little place. It seemed life was as great as it could ever be.
The second year was a time for new horizons. You wanted to get out of the country for a break in the sun. Both of us hating the winter cold, and so we made the momentous decision to have a Winter Sun holiday. Package tours were just getting going then. Freddie Laker had started an airline flying lots of people for little money, hotel included, and that seemed a great idea. We booked to come to Gran Canaria for Christmas 1974. I, who hadn’t even travelled by train until I met you, was unafraid because you weren’t. I had no concept of the journey, the airport. the flight or even what another country might be like. You were my guiding light in it all.
We set off, excited and scared in turn. Gatwick Airport I think? I don’t remember. The plane was so strange. A little cramped and a little scary but such times to look forward to! We landed in the afternoon at what was then a tiny airport. Steps down and walk to the terminal. Passports! Something neither of us had before, had to be presented and stamped. (I wish I had those now!) The bus outside. The journey down the coast road through small towns and villages, all gone now and replaced by motorway and Shopping Malls. The amazement at the bus with two engines, one of which was started to enable us to climb the hills before the resort. And the Hotel! Such a Palace of Wonder to us both. Bedrooms bigger than our home in England. Lights all around and sunlight glinting of every polished surface…..
The private beach, the deckchairs with someone to put them up for you. The silent waiters, sniggering at the English counter-jumpers who couldn’t even say thanks.
We stayed in our hotel room mostly. We couldn’t eat in the restaurant. We couldn’t take the sneers. Room Service was a disaster, you tried to order a glass of milk and got a cheese sandwich! We even tried to get a plane back to the UK but the cost was crazy. So, we went on the beach, went across the road to a spar shop and bought bread and jam to eat in our room. And we made love constantly. God knows how many times a day.
“Hi darling. Guess what? I’m pregnant”
A shock? Yes. A surprise? Good God no. Delight, dread, delight, dread etc. The emotions came and went one after the other.
We were to be parents! How do you do that? Ok, we have 9 months to work it all out. For Gods sake, we don’t even have a home of our own! Ok, We’ll manage.
Everyone else seemed to think it was wonderful. Her parents, my mother, our colleagues, all over the moon. Especially my mother. It meant the Williams family name would go on, although she did have high hopes for my brother to produce a boy. (Hopes, soon to be dashed unfortunately). It was a little odd. I wasn’t even really a Williams. Only by name. I was the son of a father who died 9 years before my conception and the result of the Queens Coronation in 1953, too much alcohol and a convenient haystack on a warm summers evening. But I WAS a Williams…. sort of, and that was good enough.
And thus, after the traditional 9 months. Young Master Williams entered the world, surprisingly easily and without much fuss. I held Sheilas hand whilst she dug her nails in and a very pretty nurse sat on my lap taking temps etc. thus raising one or two conflicts of interest for me as my love, very single mindedly, encouraged our son into the light.
Two things happened in quick succession. First, I discovered that pregnant girls don’t ‘suddenly go back the same’.
I had no idea what to fetch in for Sheila to wear after her week in hospital. (Oh yes, new mothers got a full week for the first child back then, and four days for the second. Presumably the deficit on the second child was reasoned thus: If you did it once and were fool enough to do it again, you didn’t deserve the care!) So, when she said “Can you bring my clothes in so i can come home”I brought in the clothes she had worn before she began to get bigger. She never complained. I think she too expected to have gone back to her size 8 self as soon as she had given birth. Let’s face it, that was a lot of baby that just popped out. She should be skinny again! So, safety pins to the rescue, a maternity shirt on top and we made our getaway.
Second, we got a house. During the time Sheila was in hospital, I had approached the merry folk of the council and asked for a house. Now this bit will come as a shock to those under 50….. All we had to do was register our sons birth and take the certificate to the council whereupon we would be given a brand new three bedroom house in the countryside. Deep in the old Eversley Forest we made our new home. New carpets, new cooker, new bed….. Second Hand everything else. We weren’t made of money and never would be again!
My God children are costly things! Prams, bought by Father in Law, Buggies later, and the clothing…! I used to hate the “Yes, it’s a bit big, but you’ll grow into it” thing when I was a child. But it’s real life. If you buy a baby something that fits, unless you are planning on having one every year for the next twenty years, it’ll never have time to wear out. So our boy had jumble-sale clothes for everyday use and some beautiful clothes made by his granny. She doted on him! He was her hope for the future and finally here.
Our son grew rapidly. He was intelligent, interested and interesting. His character quickly came through. He learned so fast it was amazing. Toilet training was so simple…. he hated to be wet or dirty and by just 12 months he was perfectly at home with the concept.
He rarely stopped smiling and almost never cried. He was possibly the most cuddled child it’s possible to imagine. Sheila had him in her arms almost the entire time and if not her, then his granny was next in line. I had to work so didn’t get much time for that but when I did, it was such an incredible feeling…
Was I a good father? I’ve no idea. As I say, I had to work. There was no other way. Sheila on the other hand………