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Around The Sun: Early Days

Steve Harrison shares some of his childhood memories - not all of them happy ones.

I came screaming into the world in the early hours of the July 14, 1952, which makes me a Cancerian according to Western astrology and a Dragon according to Eastern thinking. I was christened Stephen Harrison, but have always preferred the shorter Steve, mainly because my mother always called me Stephen when she was angry with me.

My birthplace was Liversedge in West Yorkshire, in the north of England. A place where they donít bury the dead. They stand them at the bus stops to make the place look busy.

On a clear day in my hometown you could see all the way to the other side of the road, but those occasions were infrequent. Yorkshire has a gloomy climate. I suppose I was 18 years old when the first really clear day came along. I remember asking "What's that big yellow thing in the sky?''

"Eh that's the sun lad,'' said my mother, proud that she remembered what it was.

Long before that I remember sitting with my eldest sister, Elizabeth. We were eating boiled sweets shaped like fish, bought from a woman with a beard in the nearby corner shop.

Once I got one of those boiled sweets stuck in my throat. My dad held me upside down over the kitchen sink and slapped me on the back until it came out.

I remember smells. The smell of grass, of cows and pigs. The smell of dad - cigarettes, old beer and carbolic soap. Mum smelt of talcum powder.

We used to put buttercups under our chins. If our skin looked yellow it meant we liked butter. There in the fields we'd lay in grass that was taller than ourselves, watching the passing clouds, seeing shapes - a knight in armour, a sailing ship, dragons, angelic beings...

I remember in a school art class mixing red, yellow and blue powder to produce a mud-coloured mess.

There was a sand pit, and a kid of my own age who wore ugly glasses and had an iron support fitted to one of his legs. He often kicked out with that metal-clad leg. We soon learned to avoid him.

Then I got sick and had vivid nightmares. The blankets and sheets on my bed weighed a ton. They pinned me down. One moment I was red hot, the next freezing cold. On those fevered nights a Michelin-tyre man lumbered up the stairs and tried to get into the room. He was so fat that he struggled in the doorway of my bedroom, trying to get in. I screamed in terror.

During my waking hours a man in a white coat came to examine me, placing a cold stethoscope against my skin, shining a light into my mouth. He would then fill a huge syringe. My body tensed apprehensively. Then I was in agony as something was injected into me. The injection process seemed to take for ever. I hated that man. I screamed at the mention of his coming to the house. He was my torturer. It took me years to get over my fear of injections.

I really was desperately ill, lying in a pool of sweat, struggling to move arms and legs.

Much later my mother told me I had been suffering from diphtheria and had been close to death. People thought I was going to die. Many children in Britain died of the disease at that time.


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