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The First Seventy Years: 2 - Explosive Language

...My mother, somewhat shocked that my literary repertoire contained such a word, allegedly marched me out of the room...

Eric Biddulph, continuing his wonderfully detailed and frank life story, tells of a childish outburst at a birthday party.

During World War Two my father borrowed books from a privately-owned library about half a mile from our house in Birrell Road. He paid two (old) pence a week for each book borrowed. I used to walk down to the library with him quite often. He was an avid reader, particularly of'westerns'.

I recall that on one occasion I took it upon myself to take off alone from our house to go and visit 'Mr Bookshopman'. I remember uttering these words to the person whose suspicions were aroused when he saw me making this unauthorised journey. I don't know whether I ever made it to the library or my interceptor knew me and took me back to the family home. This was probably the first of my many lone forays into the world. I guess I would be three or four years old making it 1940 or 1941.

I started school in 1941 at Forest Fields Infants. I walked the half mile to school with my gasmask in a small square box carried on my shoulder and secured by a strap. The horrific gas poisoning experiences of soldiers during the First World War had raised fears that the Germans might unlease gas attacks on the UK civilian population. The Government made a decision to provide every citizen, including babies, with protection against such an attack.

We did not suffer many air raids so we did not find ourselves having to get up very often in the middle of the night to go into the air raid shelter which had been built over the cobblestoned road outside our house. I can remember being coaxed out of my bed by my parents on a few occasions and taken out to the shelter with the wailing of sirens ringing in my ears. On one night in particular I recall hearing loud bangs. In retrospect, this might have been the night when a wing of Nottingham and District Technical College was destroyed.

As a bus driver, my father was in a reserved occupation. Getting men and particularly women to the factories engaged on the war effort was vital, be it armaments at Raleigh Cycles; medicines at Boots or cigarettes at John Players.
Because of the threat of the bus depots being bombed the bus fleet was dispersed to a range of outdoor locations around the city. One such location was a wooded public park known as "The Forest'. It was only a short distance from our house. When my father was on the 'early shift' he would walk to 'The Forest' and drive one of the buses into the centre of Nottingham where it would be allocated to a route. The Forest covered quite a large area with a high steel railing ringing it. I recall quite early on in the war seeing men with oxyacetylene cutters removing the railings to later be melted down and turned into armaments.

During school time we were instructed to lay on a simple bed at a certain time in the day, close our eyes and go to sleep. I don't know whether I ever slept; my best recollection is that I never felt tired enough to fall asleep and merely lay as still as possible to ensure that I was not reprimanded by a teacher. On one occasion I remember doing a 'performance' in my short trousers. As the excreta began to trickle down my legs I exited the school premises and made my way home adopting a somewhat unusual walking style.

At about the same time I picked up a hot poker by the wrong end. This was used to break up the coal in the open fire grate of our dining room. Needless to say I yelled with pain. I quickly released my hold only to have it fall on my exposed right thigh. My great grandmother appears to have been present because I recall her treating my burns with a bright yellow ointment and applying bandages. I can only presume she was living with us following the death of my great grandfather.

It must have been around the same time that I attended a birthday party accompanied by my mother. Each child was invited to perform a short act. My speciality was to stand on my head with my feet held up by my mother. I apparently became impatient for my turn to arrive. So impatient, in fact, that when I was invited to perform 'my act' I responded with, "I'm not doing it. Shit on the lot of you." My mother, somewhat shocked that my literary repertoire contained such a word, allegedly marched me out of the room and we left somewhat rapidly for home and, no doubt, a quick trip up to my bedroom.


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