At the start of 1963 my parents were 27 years old. I was 6 and my sister, Marianne, was 3.
And we were homeless.
Fortunately, one of our maternal relatives was a builder who was about to restore a cavernous, dilapidated house in Chalfont St. Peter. The work wasn’t to start until the spring, so we were allowed to ‘squat’ there in the meantime.
Even more fortunately, dad came from a wealthy family (his grandfather had created a successful business in the motor trade), and was able to ask his parents for help. Granny and Grandpa rose to the occasion by lending him the money to buy a 2-bedroom semi-detached house in the neighbouring village of Chalfont St. Giles.
It wasn’t long before my parents realised they could buy a more expensive house by refusing to repay the loan, so dad told them that they could whistle for their money. Thus were we able to move into a larger, detached property a few streets away. I clearly remember the day they made this decision, despite not understanding the full meaning of their conversation. I was mesmerised by the intense, wide-eyed look on mum’s face. She would often wear this expression when talking about money, or getting her own way.
Anyway, Grandpa died a few months later but had disinherited dad for defaulting on the loan. His family were kind and forgiving, though. They protected dad from hurt by pretending that he had been left £2000. This might not sound like much, but in 1964 it was enough to propel my parents yet another rung up the housing ladder.
Dad’s brother, Uncle John, persuaded him to work for the family company (D.A Atkin Ltd.) and we moved to Leamington Spa so he could take up this position. The employment package included a company car and, significantly, payment of Marianne’s fees at a local girls’ school called New College. ‘Significantly’ because mum had aspirations to be a teacher, and Marianne’s attendance was a useful entry card for her to obtain a part-time job there.
Marianne and I had a happy childhood in the early years. Dad was a great father, the only downside being that he had occasional episodes that we called “Moods” which made him quite unpleasant. These could explode out of nowhere, and weren’t necessarily caused by events within our family. In fact he had a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde personality. These Moods weren’t too bad to begin with. They were merely Proto-Moods in comparison with what was to come later, after we’d moved into New College.
I don’t remember mum being particularly maternal, she was a little remote. One of her favourite sayings was “Children Should Be Seen And Not Heard”. But she was obsessively involved in our academic lives.
I was quite good at arithmetic, passing the 11+ exams to receive a free scholarship at Warwick School, and she grew consumed with her ambition that I should become a Professor at university.