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I remember: Garrison Lane.

IN the 1920s the gloom of the depression hung over our home. Father was still out of work along with millions of others.

Living with me at 312 Garrison Lane were my mother, father, my brother Charles, then aged 21 and working, and my twin sisters Norah and Eileen. My other sister, Hilda, was in service. Charlie contributed about a pound a week to the family coffers. The rest of our cash income was nil. We had only the "treacle stick" (parish relief) for essentials.

Sometimes when he was lucky dad managed to obtain a few shillings doing odd jobs and on those rare occasions he would indulge his fondness for gambling by having a fourpenny roll-up on the horses. One day he clicked. He redeemed his best suit and shoes from the pawn shop and on the following Saturday went on a charabanc trip with some cronies from his favourite pub. The night of his return was to be one of horror and misery.

Mother had put the twins and me to bed and gone up the hill to the pub on the corner of Tilton Road. It must have been a little after 11 when I was awakened by a fracas in the street outside. I was not too bothered because street fights were commonplace, until I heard the voice of my Irish mother screaming abuse.

I could see a mob of people and moving among them two familiar figures. One was my mother still screaming abuse, the other, staggering along after her, was my father. I saw a flash of light reflected from something he was brandishing in his raised hand and my heart leaped as I recognised the cut-throat razor.

Many of the women kicked and punched my father as he drunkenly pushed his way towards my taunting mother. I learned later that dad had asked her to be waiting for him when the coach returned to Coventry Road but mother had a strong aversion to being given orders. Father had hoped to prove to his drinking friends that he too could bring his woman to heel. The disobeying of his command had led to his drunken rage.

I saw my mother's laughing face as she darted between jeering gapers and, behind her, the beer-suffused features of her angry pursuer. Shame for my family came over me and I began to cry.

"Here's Charlie," said a voice and I saw my elder brother climbing the hill.

The blade of the razor was hinged into its protective handle and I saw it passed from father to son. Then dad said something and there was a struggle. Suddenly they separated and my brother was staring at his left hand. I could see the bloody mess left by the razor's slash.

Two policemen appeared at the edge of the crowd. My father made for the door.

I heard him shout: "You can't touch me in my own house."

He might have got away with it too if he had not added: "You bastards!"

I saw one of the officers ascend the granite steps to the door and then I heard the thud of his shoulder against it.

Next week: A tram ride to paradise.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 22, 1999
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