Tuesday, December 22

The ghost of Christmas Past....

Christmas is a time for family and loved ones and our thoughts often turn to those no longer with us. This to me, means my hero, the only man who will ever have my unconditional love and respect... my Dad. This will be the 6th Christmas without my Dad around, and to be honest, the age old adage 'time heals' is correct. The pain doesn't go away, but it lessons and I now remember the good things in the past that we shared rather than the total and utterly overwhelming pain that moved into my heart the day my Dad died. I have very fond memories of my Dad, and you will never hear me say a bad word against him, although I'm sure he had his faults, it's just that I never saw them. I'm not sure whether he chose to not let me see them or I just didn't see them. He was my dad afterall... in my eyes he could do no wrong.

Oddly enough, though all these fond memories of my Dad I really don't remember any Christmasses with him. He only got to spend alternate year Christmas Day's with us as he worked day on, day off shifts at Rampton Hospital, so it meant one year he was off Christmas Day and worked Boxing Day, then the next year, the other way around. Rampton Hospital isn't actually a hospital it's a maximum security prison for criminally insane and houses some of the most dangerous people in Britain. The likes of Moors Murderer Ian Brady, Charles Bronson, Ian Huntley (for the murder of two little girls in Soham).. well the list goes on. The worrying thing about our childhood now viewed from an adult perspective is that we lived on an estate that belonged to Rampton Hospital, so it was only hospital staff and families on the estate. Our house was actually only 300 yards from the prison perimiter fence. We could hear 'patients' (as they were called) wailing and screaming from inside, yet we thought nothing of it. While we were out and about wandering the streets (as you wre allowed to do in those days) prison officers were watching over in-mates tending the estate gardens and doing general repairs (makes me think of Cool Hand Luke without the whips and guns and ankle chains). When I look back (very fondly I might add) to my childhood, we were very well provided for. We had a playpark and a swimming pool that we could use at any time. We were all given free swimming lessons and so could all swim at a young age. We had our own sports day and the highlight of the week was the chip van that parked just outside the estate gates on a Saturday. We'd wait for it to arrive armed with 50p to buy 'Robert's Fishcakes' which were actually a slice of proper fish sandwiched between a slice of potato each side then deep fried. (salivating at the memory here).

Anyway.. I digress....

The one Christmas I do remember, I must have been about 8 years old. My brothers were 6 and 3. Dad was just about to let off some indoor fireworks. We were all sat with baited breath.. I mean, c'mon.. fireworks you can light inside your house? wow! I'm not sure what we expected really, but I'm sure the idea was far superior to the litle puff of coloured smoke that they actually produced. Dad was about to light the first one when the siren went off. The siren wailed, very much like the world war air-raid siren. The fireworks were put to one side, mum ran off to lock the outhouse and windows and doors, dad fled upstairs, donned his prison officer uniform and left. (he always looked so smart in his uniform). I think this was actually the first year I realised what the siren meant. A prisoner had escaped. All staff on the estate had to stop what they were doing (even on Christmas Day) and join the search party. Inconsiderate bugger.. whoever it was.. to escape on Christmas Day, especially when my dad was about to light these tremendous indoor fireworks! Dad came back about 6 hours later, which made it about 7pm. The prisoner had been caught 9 miles away at the train station. It was now too late for fireworks (said mum! bah humbug), so we had to wait until the day after boxing day as dad had to work boxing day.. the fireworks were a let down, and Christmas Day had been spoiled. The only saving grace on Christmas Day was that we were told not to worry about the 'patient' hiding in the garden as they'd want to get away from the estate as quick as they could, and not to worry about him shinning up the drainpipe in the night (I was panicing a bit).

When I look back at our life on a prison estate, I look back very fondly. Everyone was friends with everyone. You could go into anyone of your friends houses and stop for dinner and go home later and not be told off for not telling your mum where you were. We didn't even have a phone at that point to phone home. But no one worried. If your kids weren't back for dinner, you knew someone else was feeding them and they'd arrive home for bed time. It was just that kind of place. Of course, I'm viewing this from a parental perspective these days where you can't let your kids out to play on the street without keeping an eye on them at all times and then worry when they haven't checked in with you for over an hour. Times certainly have changed, and I now sound like a real old fuddy duddy...

I still miss you Dad, I love you with all my heart and I think of you every day. It's such a shame you never got to meet Isabelle, you would adore her.

Love and hugs

Your little princess xxxx

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