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A Shout From The Attic: Flashes Of Light

Ronnie Bray describes what it feels like to be an "outsider''.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

I knew at an early age that I could not live as others lived. For me, doors would be closed for no reason other than that it was me. I saw children taking part in things, games, parties, and pursuits that were forever locked against me, as the pianos were locked silently. I knew the pain of being the auslander, the perpetual foreigner with no place of safety or acceptance.

I took a birthday gift to Barry Heap in his flat above Gabriella’s Milk Bar just below the Park Gates expecting to be invited in and he took it from me at the door and thanked me but didn’t invite me to the party. I had never been to a birthday party and never had one of my own until my fiftieth birthday, by which time the excitement had faded but the grievance of that denial remained as a farcical bitter-sweet recollection of times past and moments lost.

Every inviting door was closed and barred in silence to deny me out in the wet and cold of a stony life eased only by dreaming of better places, times and things. Access to understanding was likewise impeded and not even a question formed in my mind as to why it was so - that’s just the way it was. It was some long time before the painful questions formed in my mind as if a slow lamp was turned up piece by piece to cast a hazy glow on a dark canvas whose subject had melted into the background and the dim light hardly penetrated the gloom but somehow deepened it into a mystery whose core crumbled seconds before a finger could touch it or know its shape.

The world reminds such as myself that there is another life which we cannot hope to know except in dreams and færy tales. I looked in through the windows of happy homes where children and grown ups lived together comfortable in mutually satisfying symbiosis and envied the unseen company for what I thought it must be like for them.

They had a self-assurance that I was conscious of lacking. They looked better, smarter, more put-together than I did. Mary Milner from the house next to the off license at the corner of Portland Street and Fitzwilliam Street – the shop we didn’t go to – always turned out in smart simplicity as if she was a princess. The little boys and girls from Wentworth School in their green blazers, straw boaters with green and yellow ribbons and matching ties were from a world I did not know and we had only the streets in common for a brief time of minutes coming and going to our worlds-apart desks.

The older boys and girls from Waverley School up New North Road, next to the ancient wooden tram shelter above the green field sledding hill where winter froze and wet us even as we enjoyed our fleeting sport on iron runners shaped and pierced for sixpence a pair by the LMS blacksmith down Viaduct Street. And the big boys and girls in their navy blue Kaye’s College uniforms laughed and sported as if the world was theirs, and it seemed, it was.

There was something innate and untaught in the way I walked up from the off-license at the corner of Portland Street and Trinity Street with a bottle of Ben Shaw’s yellow lemonade with its hard black screw stopper pointing out into the road at passing cars, silently shooting it like machine gun. I sensed a thrill of unseen power that was equal to the thrill of safety I felt when I curled up under the blanket in my attic bed. My gun made me all-powerful and my bed made me invincible. To have curled up in bed with a bottle of Ben Shaw’s would gave been Valhalla. More often than not, it was a cat and a stone hot water bottle. I rarely felt that life had more to offer.

I originally slept with my head away from the window end of the attic, but later, when I was older and had traded my bike for the radio, my head was almost under the window. I remember waking up one Christmas morning and finding a pillow case on the end of my bed with a balsa wood model aeroplane kit and an apple, an orange, and a new penny with King George VI bright and shiny. He must have been as surprised to find himself in my bedroom as I was to find him there.

As a boy, I did not complete any of the model aeroplane kits I had. I did make the wings and fuselage, and other parts, carefully assembling them from balsa wood. I loved to see the wings with the ailerons and spars in place, they looked so fine, but I never got as far as covering them with tissue paper. Had I got that done, I would have painted them with coloured dope that shrunk as it dried to tighten the paper and make it aerodynamically effective.

There will have been other Christmas mornings when I awoke to plunder my gifts, but none come to mind. My childhood is a sweep of feelings, not a visual recollection and from what I can recall and visualise has to be the interstitial framework on what else must have been.

The attic window let in the late day sunshine and the music from the Bandstand in Greenhead Park on summer breezes and made more than sunshine of the brightness and sound. The seeming endless summer of some childhood years imprinted themselves so powerfully on my mind and I mostly find a summer day the envelope for most precious of my memories.

From strangers, who I knew not and who in their insulated world didn’t know me in mine, I took gladly and with indecent gratitude the dregs of life that they didn’t want, or had no need of, or had finished with and discarded carelessly. These became my treasures and so could not be thrown away as of too great a value for I read my worth in their mass and number. Whatever they added up to so did I. Little did I know how truly worthless they were, and little did anyone know how truly valuable they were to me.

Our home rarely entertained a sustained conversation in which ideas, opinions, and feelings were freely exchanged. What talk there was usually consisted of an accusatory, a denial, and criticism, but little more. This stifled my dialogue skills to a remarkable degree, because I feel that I have little to contribute to any discussion that will be of interest to anyone else. And just maybe that is why I have taken refuge in singing, painting, and writing, because they do not involve conversation and they have given me a voice, even if it is only a shout from the attic, but that voice I take as a final blessing from God.


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