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A Shout From The Attic: A Wandering Aramean

Ronnie Bray tells of biking over the Pennine hills to vist his wandering father.

My father pulled up sticks and left his apartment. I heard that he had moved to Manchester. I don’t know how I knew but suspect that the grapevine was still in good working order. From somewhere I got an address, 2 Thursday Street, Miles Platting, Manchester. I took to my bike, cycled over the ‘tops’ and descended on Miles Platting.

Sandwiched behind the almost derelict Playhouse Theatre and the tatty brick railway arches was a small maze of old brick houses. Most of them were derelict, and those that were not, were hastening to catch up with their dilapidated contemporaries.

Thursday Street was difficult to negotiate due to massive wooden braces against the house walls, with struts out into the road on both sides, to stop the crumbling walls falling down. Father and his little tribe, now with an additional baby, George Frederick Bray Jr., were ensconced in an upper apartment consisting of two rooms, one of which was used as a bedroom cum sitting room.

The table leant against the tilted wall resting on two outer legs. Father was busy feeding one of the back legs into the dying fire in the tiny fireplace. Through a broken window unsuccessfully blocked with newspaper came a decent draught.

The family seemed, as usual, artificially cheerful. I was celebrated for my cycle ride of about twenty-six miles and as usual, not offered any refreshment. At one point during the conversation, my father did say that he looked forward to my eighteenth birthday so that he could take me down to the Bluebell on Oldham Road and buy me a pint of beer.

I pointed out to him that since I was now a Mormon I did not drink alcohol. He rejoined that he would make it a pint of milk, at which Aunt Kitty said cynically - and bravely – “I’d like to see you with a pint of milk!''

I visited Thursday Street only once. Some time later I found out - the grapevine again! - that he had moved to Wythenshawe. By this time, I was a serving soldier in the regular army so it would be 1953 or the first trimester of 1954. I visited this house once making the trip by train and bus into unknown but, as usual, welcoming territory.

The family seemed well, but I had learned that this family had public and private faces. I saw their public faces and the sense of all being well in spite of the visual evidence pointing to a different conclusion. I was too young and inexperienced to make this distinction at the time. Norina was her usual self, and I believe that she was at that time happy and cheerful. Alas, that in later years, dark clouds descended upon her and engulfed her, never to release her from its chilling grip. George was still a baby and not yet making much of a mark at my visits.

***

When I was fourteen my step-dad, Tommy Scott, gave me a letter in a pale green envelope written in pencil. It was addressed to “Ronnie Bray, 121 Fitzwilliam Street, Huddersfield” and stamped ‘Durban 1943’. It was from my father, written as he lay in the King George V British Military Hospital in South Africa expecting to die from his burns.

Dear Son,

This is your daddy’s dying wish. I hope you will never grow up like me. Grow up straight and honest - be a man!

I was a bad dad to you sometimes, but I always loved and wanted you.

Your loving Dad


The letter vanished years ago, but its lines remain in my memory and evoke sad feelings for they may be the only truly honest things my father ever said to me.

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