I started life in Edgware hospital on 17.11.74, living in Station Parade, Canons Park in Edgware for six months and then relocating to Long Drive, Greenford. Growing up with my dad Tony, mum Carol, older sister, and Toby MKII the house Labrador, who displayed human characteristics to a T by dropping his guts before vacating a room! We lived in organized chaos, but we had fun! Mum deserved a medal for multi-tasking!
My parents were hard working and managed 3 transport businesses in the 70’s and 80’s from their rented depot in Shepherds Bush, West London. They owned Adventurous Haulage of London, Adventurous Coaches of London and their very busy Adventurous Recovery & Repairs London, where they had the contract for the Met police to clear the roads at the scene of an accident. Previously my dad had been a manager for another coach company, doing work above what he was paid for and after months of continual abuse & accusations, he made a sharp exit! Mum had been a supervisor at a freezer company but enjoyed the challenge of running a coach business with her hubby. An Australian staff nurse answered an advert in the Evening Standard to pass the interview and become our nanny. Dad chose the name Adventurous Coaches so it would be seen early in the Yellow pages business directory. My parents used to travel every day to Shepherd’s Bush on my dad’s BMW motorbike, whilst the nanny from Oz looked after us kids, but only temporarily.
My parents didn’t trust anyone else for the post, but she could only fill it for 6 months before she had to return to Oz. My poor mum then had to run 3 businesses from home and mother two spoilt brats. Mum had a down to earth way of parenting, like the time I came crying to her after my sister punched my tooth out and mum said I should do the same back to her. I will never forget the satisfaction I had when I got permission to punch her in the mouth and we both ended up crying and laughing, both with missing front teeth.
Mum would drive us 6 miles to and from school and sometimes rely on people’s goodwill. Dad couldn’t have asked for a better helper of a wife, who also cleaned and cooked family meals, whilst preventing us kids from setting the house on fire and managing the office. Dad was just as busy driving and maintaining the coaches, but my Wonder Woman of a mum would also occasionally drive the Chelsea Pensioners in the 16 seater. I grew up as one of two posh kids in Greenford by virtue of us going to Montpelier primary school in Ealing, allegedly the best in the district. Dad would collect us on rare occasions, which would always guarantee ice cream and he would be the first up and the last to bed. We didn’t have the privilege of a seeing our dad as much as we would have liked; but we were never short of new clothes, regular meals and a roof over our head.
There must have been times when dad wished he’d never introduced me to mini rugby just before my 6th birthday when I bonded with him via unannounced tackles from behind. Supporting your son playing mini-rugby can be keeping a tightrope between encouraging and monster. As far as the other mothers were concerned, my dad had crossed it. During a game I once clashed heads and lay on the floor crying, to which my dad bellowed “it’s only pain!” I stopped crying and carried on playing.
My best memories were from the playground, via a game called ‘bundle’. I doubt schools would allow it today due to health and safety. The textbook demo had a child lie down on the floor, whilst shouting bundle, resulting in a stampede of excitable children hurling themselves on top of the human sandwich. In all my life I’ve not discovered any experience as funny. As I was a bit of a joker, who craved and enjoyed the attention, I would often grab another boy and shout bundle, whilst holding my victim on the ground!
Long Drive was tucked away in the corner of Greenford; with other children to play with. One such Oriental gang would sometimes cross our path with flying kicks. Those were the days when you could innocently fight with someone from a different culture; without being called a racist! I was surprised when I sparred in a kick-boxing class against one such boy years later. When I asked if we used to fight each other in Long Drive, we both laughed; which showed you it was just part of growing up. I even used to play with a young man when I was 6 or so. He used to pick me up and swing me around above his head, outside his house. I’m not sure my parents were even aware, or maybe they were, but not worried as I used to play mini-rugby for Harrow and had the nickname ‘tiger’ as I had unrivaled controlled aggression!
I was a menace! We shared bunk-beds and I’d hear my sister creep out to watch the TV in the front room. We were supposed to be asleep so she would lean over the balcony when I would sometimes push her down the stairs. Listening to her crash into the wardrobe at the bottom of the stairs, I sniggered back into bed. The thudding of an unamused parent coming up the stairs was normally enough warning to successfully adopt the sleeping, butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth angel routine, so long as I didn’t start laughing when my duvet was pulled back, which invariably ended up with a glowing bottom. This was probably in retaliation to my sister pushing her feet onto my bunk above, which always had me flying off like a ninja; but sometimes I would be caught out in a deep sleep.
I believe that my dad was the only person in the street to own a 7 series BMW. He would sometimes spend his spare time playing with his expensive music equipment, from his DJ days, and much to his disapproval, we played with it in his absence. To keep the peace, we were bought portable tape cassettes playing Disney classics, evolving into my dad’s Thin Lizzy ‘The Boys are back in town’, which I played continually!
Our quality time with our dad was watching James Bond and the Professionals. I also have a memory of tracing a picture of a footballer.
Alone, we liked to watch Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, Rainbow, Bagpuss and the A-Team, around the time I was driven to Campaigners – a superior alternative to scouts, again located in Ealing. I remembered that someone would have to drive me and collect me. Children today might learn a thing or two by watching 70’s and 80’s TV, which was fun and innocent compared to today’s special effects with a sinister and subliminal agenda. I’m amazed that my dad had the time to build an impressive train set in the loft, which could have been used for a film studio. We kids were not allowed to operate the controls and learned to stay at our viewing post.
In school photos, I sometimes had a wet patch at the top of my t-shirt below my chin, which I sucked as a comfort blanket. As children, it would appear we were alright as we had our materialistic needs being met, but my t-shirt showed otherwise. For the first 11 years of my life, my sister used to bully me and this was probably why the majority of my time was spent with the boy next door. I just needed to escape her clutches, until I was strong enough to stand up to her!
I spent much time playing football next door in the garden or Match of the Day & Formula 1 on the ZX Spectrum which taught us how to be patient, especially as the programme sometimes crashed after you’d spent 5-10 minutes waiting for it to load. That’s what missing with today’s children who have everything in an instant because it’s in the waiting that you mature and appreciate what you have.
At school, my emphasis was to have fun and I became friends with another joker, also with a big smile and an infectious laugh. Together we brought much joy and laughter to the class.
My mum was friends with Deryth, a popular childminder and there would be occasions when she fed and supervised us, kids. Mum would sometimes host sharing a bottle of wine. It blows my mind when I think how my parents coped with running 3 transport companies from a yard half an hour away, parented two spoilt children and cared for a farting Labrador dog. I remember that my dad used to love collecting petrol coupons.
The stairs were also a source of much fun, sliding together down on our enormous teddy bear, twice our size! This was in the care-free 70’s and 80’s before Health & Safety went crazy! My funniest memories of playing with next door’s son were spying from behind their hedgerow and waiting for cars to drive over our boobie trap. Cars would stop once a loud popping sound was made. It was hilarious just to watch their brake lights come on, especially if drivers also got out. It was only a blown up empty drink’s cartoon.
I never knew when to stop or just to be quiet, as my parents tried to subdue me through discipline, but eventually, I would stop crying when spanked. At school, diplomacy was never my forte, hence my often ending up in the deputy headmistress’ office. I was a cheeky little so and so, which was kind of counter-productive to my dad’s short temper, which I later inherited. Sometimes I received the attention I craved, whenever I misbehaved. My parents did what they thought was best at the time and I can only imagine they had wanted to build a business for us to inherit, so sacrifices had to be made.
In November 1984, my mum went to visit Deryth in hospital, having her ovaries out. Mum told her that she should be having that operation. It turns out that mum had developed a cyst on her ovaries causing her stomach to swell at night. Mum was trapped in a prison, by virtue of her managing Adventurous coaches of London and being a mother to two demanding children. Mum eventually promised dad, that she would go into hospital, to have her ovaries out after Christmas. However, fate showed her cruel side, when on Boxing Day 1984, mum’s ovaries burst. They were cancerous and spread throughout her body. Mum was to receive excellent treatment at the Royal Marsden hospital in London.
As a 10-year-old child, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening, all I could understand was that my mummy was very poorly. It broke my heart to see mum in her new disposition, especially after she’d had a stroke, paralyzing her down the left- hand side. Dad would bring mum home on day visits and I once felt pain and anguish when I was once left alone briefly with mum, but long enough for me to start crying in worry because I couldn’t understand what mum was trying to say. That was the first and last time my dad left me alone with mum! We also joined Aunt Sue for walks around Holland Park, and there were times that I did not want to be around my mum in her wheelchair. I was on an emotional roller-coaster like never before; where I often felt uncomfortable to be around my mum, but instead I would always play in the adventure park. I remember being frustrated that I could no longer laugh with mum or even understand two words that she said. Not forgetting the pain and frustration that my poor mum would have also felt in this darkest season of her life.
We spent a few weeks in summer 85 with my Godparents Linda and Martin in Devon, because my dad had taken up Linda’s kind offer. She had been best friends with mum at school. Linda and Martin also had two younger children, Anna and Laura. They drove us home, to be greeted by my dad and his sister Sue. My sister had enquired why there were flowers all around the house. That was my dad’s cue to tell us that mum had died! We both cried our little hearts out, hugging our dad, having a domino effect on all our visitors. Not a dry eye was in sight.
My Aunt Sue is known for her prowess as a multi-linguist, a classical pianist or a cordon bleu chef. In this dark chapter of my life, it was her love, compassion and her support that I will cherish. Her heart is to be treasured!
I’ve been told that my behaviour at the funeral was impeccable, greeting everyone and showing love to everyone. I must have been sheltered by God’s peace & love. I saw the newspaper cuttings of the Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioners making a tunnel for the hearse. I thought I’d just cried my eyes out. Mum must have made a lasting impression on everyone she knew, going by the numbers in attendance, and how sad that her own mother had also died of cancer. I miss the embrace of my mum and having fun with her.
I will remember my mum as someone who wore her heart on her sleeve and was not shy of being silly. I miss her hugs and telling me that she loves me so. I am so thankful that I had Carol as a mum for the first ten years of my life. I am so proud that people can see streaks of my mum in me, especially when it comes to her humour. Mum commented how I had the body of a ballerina, even though I played rugby and how ironic that my sister used to do ballet. My sister, in a cruel twist of fate, was born with lymphedema in her legs, which was and has always been her cross to carry, especially at school. I commend her and admire her for keeping on regardless.
It was at the funeral that the RSM Pensioner callously said to my dad ‘for mum’s sake don’t sell the business.’ This was exactly what Dad had planned to do! However, the Chelsea pensioners didn’t want to see my dad go, because they never had it so good! Everyone said that mum was the brains behind the business, but somehow my dad kept the business going for another decade.
I’m so glad for having grown up in the chilled out 70-80’s when I was able to seek healing at school via bundle. I encourage schools to reintroduce it as I am testimony that it is therapeutic and still makes me smile 30+ years on!
We continued to live at Long Drive for another 13 months, receiving regular meals and foster care from Deryth.
Mum got Deryth to promise to look after us on her deathbed and God must have intervened to have Deryth and my dad fall in love, even though he had a coach business and 2 haphazard children. She even gave the coach drivers meals & a bed to support my dad, on top of being a childminder to at least 3 toddlers until one day the drivers noticed an advert in the office to sell all the coaches. Dad’s intention was to only sell two vehicles to reduce the fleet, but without even asking they thought the worst and made a sharp exit!
My sister and I had so much learning to do on taking up residence with our step-mum. We were not independent and had to be shown how to use public transport. I now lived in one of the nicest homes in Greenford, a large 4 bedroom house with an amazing garden, which I rarely mowed, before playing football in the local park. I thought that we took turns washing up, drying up, emptying the bins and mopping the kitchen floor every night, but again my memory has left me hanging out to dry. Amazingly I learned to do kitchen duties, just by watching. Deryth was a childminder, where hygiene was always a priority! I can imagine at the beginning of my time at 195, I must have felt hard done by.
Previously we had been spoilt and not given any responsibilities, now it was rubber meets the road for the young Laing’s. I had to do a paper round so that I could have some pocket money and be taught responsibilities in getting up early for future employment. Unknowingly I may have been preparing for a career in counter-espionage by hiding the back door key in a plant. My biggest surprise was that I had deliberately put my foot through the roof of the shed. As I reminiscence of my errors, I often forgot my guilt, convenience or a normal human trait?
I did notice that in this last year at school, my peers started to open their hearts out to me. One boy invited me to a sleepover, which was my first and last as I struggled to communicate and punched him in the face! Even the prettiest girl in the history of the school started to help me and she was my first angel at Montpelier school who helped distract me from my heartache. Our first ever proper conversation was after my mum’s passing when she invited me to her birthday party where I danced with all the girls. I was in heaven! We used to walk to school together until one day it was either pride or jealousy that put a stop to this beautiful but short season in my life. I think that I may have exaggerated a simple but innocent holding of hands and we all know what Chinese whispers can do.
Deryth came galloping along on her trusty steed to the rescue, to become my silver lining. She has given me the best memories via her wooden spoon, with her cooking prowess, as my taste buds will testify in adoration of her numerous tasty dishes!
Why did she keep her cancer a secret? I believe that she wanted to change her life, but didn’t know how to. Mum also had a tough childhood with her mother dying young and living with an unloving step-father, whilst bringing up her younger sister. My dad was the complete opposite, being the only son of a Brigadier in the British Army with two siblings.
The two of them met at a disco in an Ilfracombe hotel, where my dad was also the DJ. My dad was in top form, considering he had recently survived a serious car crash and had his spleen removed. My mum was enjoying her freedom, with her younger sister, when the charming and handsome coach driver approached her table, personifying a knight in shining armour coming to her rescue.
I used to think that it was my dad’s lack of patience, diplomacy or humour that moulded me into a little thug with an adorable smile. I now realize now that I was the product of growing up having to defend myself from an overbearing sister who had difficulties which she didn’t understand or have the support to understand. Mind you, when we moved into Oldfield Lane North after they got married, my step-mum asked my dad if he could calm down on the way he disciplined us.
My dad had the contract to Royal Hospital Chelsea for 14 years. After mum’s death, the Chelsea pensioners made it possible for me to sit with them in the Director’s box at Chelsea FC. That was in the days of Dave Speedie and Kerry Dixon up front and Pat Nevin on the wing. I imagine Pat Nevin was also a good Salsa dancer by the way he moved his hips on the side-line making defenders look silly all for our entertainment. I had the privilege to join my dad on his jobs taking Chelsea Pensioners from their barracks to the home matches and sit with them in the director’s box and then I was moved downstairs to be with the home fans in the lower tier near the tunnel. My initial response was wondering where my free cup of tea and biscuits were? But after spending time with fans of passion and a sense of humour I was so much happier.
Years later I even felt obliged to buy my own tickets and I have fond memories of Chelsea playing Liverpool, even though they spanked us 5-2, where Kerry Dixon scored to ease the pain. The atmosphere was electric, especially walking with thousands of others towards the stadium was an experience to cherish with all the smiles and laughter. Their goalkeeper was a real treat to watch and have banter with, especially the time he was at the shed end, bending over and shaking his rear whilst we were chanting ‘He’s bold…..he’s queer…..he takes it up the rear and then chanting his name afterward’. I have never laughed so much at a football match.
I will never forget the game versus Middlesbrough (2nd leg in the play-off final), which Chelsea had to win 2-0 in order to get promotion back to division 1. The blues could only manage a 1-0 win and what happened afterwards was to result in my last match. At the final whistle, I was shocked by the shouting and aggression from some of the home fans. Initially, I nearly berthed something in my pants, but with the unpredictable behaviour of our fans, I was intrigued. I will never forget one idiot trying to climb over the barbed-wire fence and I was too interested with everything going on around me to find a safe haven.
I will not forget the TLC my step brothers and sisters showered me with as and when required.
Somehow I was able to focus on my entrance exam into a Military Boarding School. I passed and was put into 1N, which is the middle class for academic achievement, with 1O top set and 1E bottom.
If this season was repeated, time management springs to mind, but most importantly that running a coach business would have been avoided with a passion and instead they would have just worked for somebody else, whilst fulfilling their role as a parent. That way my mum would most probably still be alive today!
How profound that mum’s age of death was the same as the numbers of Jesus’ stripes and even though she wasn’t born again, in my own understanding I have hope that I will see her again.