" I was listening to 'Radio Four' in bed one morning a few weeks ago, when I heard this chap who had spent a number of years researching 'dreams' tell the listeners that our earliest memories are invariably 'false memories'.The long and short of his findings is that the things we can first remember happening in our lives are either things we've been told by others as we grew up really did happened or they are events and circumstances that we would like to be true, so we make true!
My father and I came across to England from Ireland in 1945, and for the first year, we lived with Aunt Eva in Bradford. Dad had left mum and my sisters Mary and Eileen behind in Ireland. He brought me to temporarily live at Aunt Eva's house while he sought work in one of the local coal mines. His plan was to get a job and a place to live before sending for mum and my two sisters to join us. Dad eventually secured work as a face worker in the pit, which also provided him with some tied-living accommodation. He had given up his place in the Irish soccer squad so that he could make a fresh start for mum, me, and younger sisters Mary and Eileen in a new land. Until the colliery gave dad a rented property, mum and my two sisters stayed in Ireland and I and dad stayed at his sister Eva's house.
About two years later in 1948 when I was five years, going on six years old, the five of us were reunited as a family unit. Me, mum, dad and my two sisters Mary and Eileen started life in a beautiful country cottage with its own fields and chickens to supply us with plenty of eggs. I recall going on a long bus ride to Bradford Market and bringing back half a dozen chicks in a large cardboard box. I instantly became friends with my cuddly feathered friends, not knowing that in the years to come that they would provide meat as well as eggs for the family table. I distinctly remember mum picking the feathers from a dead chicken one Christmas time, not knowing at the time that one of the feathered friends I daily fed had changed roles and was now feeding me.
I remember getting bathed in a tin tub which would be hung on the wall between uses, but the water was never hot enough after dad had used it or clean enough to luxuriate in. Yet, because we bathed in the same water in a natural order of ascendancy, and as my younger sisters, Mary and Eileen, jumped in the tin tub after me, the water was dirtier for them!
We stayed in that country cottage for about four years until we were allocated a brand new council house with an inside loo, outside loo and bathroom on Windy Bank Estate. By this time, mum had given birth to brothers Patrick and Peter. My two youngest siblings, Michael and Susan started off life on the council estate and they sadly missed the earlier delights of our idyllic country cottage experience.
When I first became a father in my 30s, I recall taking my two eldest sons James and Adam to see the 'country cottage' of my youth where the Forde family had started off life together in West Yorkshire, England. Until then, I couldn't believe just how far the mind and memory were capable of stretching and distorting the essence of the reality we had previously experienced. The 'country cottage' had been demolished during the interim years, and in its precise place now stood one single garage that was capable of housing one family car, no larger than an Austin 7. The expanse of homestead land where our poultry stock used to freely roam turned out to be adjoining farmer's fields belonging to someone else in which our hens daily trespassed.
This raw and bitter realisation instantly destroyed my precious childhood memories; leaving my treasured and idyllic early experiences crushed with the cruel sensation of butterfly wings being torn apart. I found it almost impossible to visualise just how a family of five children and two adults could occupy a dwelling comprising of one single room for a number of years in which we ate, slept and lived, and which my childhood memories had previously retained as having been no less than 'a country cottage' with its own surrounding land in which our poultry freely roamed and foraged.
That day during my 30s, I was obliged to accept the sad truth of our first English home. It was a reluctant acceptance that shattered that early memory I'd treasured since childhood. It hurt to learn that 'our land and country garden' wasn't really 'our land' but were farmer's fields which surrounded it. It also hurt to learn that the lovely country cottage we'd lived in wasn't ours also, and was on loan to us (for a weekly rent), for only as long as my dad continued to work down the pit. The chickens and hens were ours though, along with the exclusive use of the biological outside privy; a hole in the ground with a wooden sheltered surround. And please don't ask me about toilet paper, as my recollection seems to recall such necessary items as being sheets of cut-up newspapers strung together like a paper concertina. At the time, my father would frequently read the 'Daily Mirror'; I must admit, a newspaper worthy of little more than wiping one's backside on.
There have been so many times since that I've regretted returning to look at the 'country cottage' where we had lived so happily during the formative years of my life. If only I could go back to that day when I decided to take my two sons to show them where daddy had first grown up in West Yorkshire, there is simply no way I would have taken them. If only I hadn't been starkly awoken from my childhood dream, that idyllic illusion would have fondly stayed with me throughout the rest of my life and would have happily accompanied me to the grave.
Instead of proudly showing my children my romantic past, it would have been much better had I taken them to the park instead and bought them a big fat ice cream. They wouldn't have minded in the least and I could have lived and died with the memory of my idyllic country cottage and its extensive rural land where I once lived. How cruel reality can sometimes be when the garden of childhood dreams is revisited by the raw realities of an adult attempting to recapture their youth!" William Forde: August 13th, 2018.