Chapter 1 – Greenford

I started life in Edgware hospital on 17.11.74, lqiving in Station Parade, Canons Park in Edgware for six months before relocating to Long Drive, Greenford, Middlesex.  Growing up with my dad Tony, mum Carol, older sister, and Toby Mk ll the house Labrador, who displayed human characteristics to a T by dropping his guts before vacating a room!  We lived in organized chaos, but we had fun!  Mum deserved a medal for multi-tasking! 

My parents were hard working and managed three transport businesses in the 70s and 80s from their rented depot in Shepherds Bush, West London.  They owned Adventurous Haulage of London, Adventurous Coaches of London and their terribly busy Adventurous Recovery & Repairs London, where they had the contract for the Met police to clear the roads at accident scenes.  Previously, my dad had been a manager for another coach company doing work above what he was paid for and after months of continual abuse & accusations, he made a sharp exit!  Mum had been a supervisor at a freezer company but enjoyed the challenge of running a coach business with her hubby.  An Australian staff nurse answered an advert in the Evening Standard and passed the interview to become our Nanny.  

Dad chose the name Adventurous Coaches so it would be seen early in the Yellow pages business directory.  Well done Laing!  My parents used to travel every day to Shepherd’s Bush on dad’s BMW motorbike, whilst the nanny from Oz looked after us kids, temporarily.  My parents did not trust anyone else for the post, but she could only fill it for six months before she had to return to Oz.  My poor mum then had to run three businesses from home and mothering two spoilt brats.  Mum had a down to earth way of parenting, like the time I came crying to her after my sister punched my tooth out. Mum said I should do the same back to her.  I will never forget the satisfaction after receiving permission to punch her in the mouth.  We both ended up crying and laughing, both with missing front teeth. 

Mum would drive us six miles to and from school and sometimes rely on people’s goodwill.  Dad could not have asked for a better helper of a wife, who also cleaned and cooked family meals, whilst preventing us kids from setting the house on fire and managing the office.  Dad was just as busy driving and maintaining the coaches, but my Wonder Woman of a mum would occasionally drive the Chelsea Pensioners in the 16-seater.

I grew up as one of two posh kids in Greenford by virtue of only us kids going to Montpelier primary school in Ealing, allegedly the best in the district.  Dad collected us on rare occasions, which always guaranteed ice cream and he would be the first up and the last to bed.  We did not have the privilege of a seeing our parents as much as we would have liked, but we are here today!

There must have been times when dad wished he had never introduced me to mini rugby just before my 6th birthday, when I bonded with him via unannounced tackles from behind.  Supporting your son playing mini rugby can be like keeping a tightrope between encouraging and monster when I once clashed heads during a game and lay on the floor crying.  Dad bellowed “It’s only pain”! I stopped crying and carried on playing, much to the disapproval of other mothers.

My best memories were from the playground, via a game called ‘Bundle’.  I doubt schools would allow it today due to health and safety.  The textbook demo had a child lie down on the floor whilst shouting bundle, resulting in a stampede of excitable children hurling themselves on top of this human sandwich.  In all my life I have not discovered any experience as funny.  As I was a bit of a joker who craved attention, I would often grab another boy and shout bundle, whilst hugging him pinned to the ground!   Long Drive was tucked away in the corner of Greenford with other children to play with, especially an Oriental gang who sometimes crossed our path with flying kicks.  Those were the days when you could innocently fight with someone from a different culture without being called a racist!  

I was surprised once whilst sparring in a kick-boxing class against one such boy.  I asked if we used to fight each other in Long Drive and we both laughed in recognition, which showed us this was just part of growing up.  I even used to play with a young man when I was six or so.  He would pick me up and swing me around above his head, outside of his house.  I am not sure my parents were even aware of this, or maybe they were, but just were not worried as I was a Menace!  

Sharing bunkbeds, I would hear my sister creep out to watch TV in the front room.  She would lean over the balcony and I sometimes pushed her down the stairs.  After listening to the sound of her crashing into the wardrobe at the bottom of the stairs, I sniggered back into bed.  The thudding of an unamused parent coming up the stairs was normally enough warning to successfully adopt the sleeping, butter would not melt in my mouth angel routine.  So long as I did not start laughing when my duvet was pulled back, which invariably ended up with a whack!

This was probably in retaliation to my sister putting her feet onto my top bunk which resullted n me flying off the bed like a ninja. Sometimes she would time it well and catch me in a deep sleep.  Dad would sometimes spend his spare time playing with his expensive music equipment which he obtained from his DJ days, and much to his disapproval we played with it in his absence.  To keep the peace, we were bought portable tape cassettes playing Disney classics.  This eventually evolved into Rock n Roll, which I played continually!  Our quality time with our dad was watching James Bond, the Professionals and Spitting Image.   

Alone, we liked to watch Tom & Jerry and other cartoon classics and the only l ever read were the square ‘Mr Men’ books.  I was driven to Campaigners – a superior alternative to scouts, again located in Ealing, where someone had to drive me to and from meetings.  Children today might learn a thing or two by watching 70’s and 80’s TV, which was fun, and innocent compared to today’s special effects with a sinister and subliminal agenda.  I am amazed that my dad had the time to build a train set in the loft that was so impressive it could have been used by a film studio.  Us kids were not allowed to operate the controls and learned to stay at our viewing post.

For the first 11 years of my life I spent some time with the boy next door to avoid my sister until I was strong enough to stand up to her!  I spent much of my time playing football in their garden or Match of the Day & Formula 1 on the ZX Spectrum which taught us how to be patient, especially if the game crashed after it took 5-10 minutes to load.  Patience is something that is missing from today’s children who have everything in an instant.  It is in the waiting that we learn to mature and appreciate what we have.

At school, my emphasis was on having fun and I became friends with another joker, who also had a big smile and an infectious laugh.  Together we brought much joy and laughter to the class!

The stairs were also a source of much fun as we slid down together on our enormous teddy bear that was twice our size!  This was in the care-free 70’s and 80’s before Health & Safety went crazy.  We would sometimes crash into the wardrobe at the bottom of the stairs and cry, otherwise our mum was none the wiser.  My funniest memories of playing with next door’s son were spying from behind their hedgerow and waiting for cars to drive over our boobie trap, consisting of a blown-up empty drink’s cartoon.  Cars would stop once a loud popping sound was made.  It was hilarious to watch their brake lights come on, especially if the drivers stopped to get out.

My mum was friends with Deryth, a popular childminder and there would be occasions when she fed and supervised us kids.  Sometimes mum would be the host and share a bottle of wine.  I never knew when to stop or just to be quiet, so my parents tried to subdue me through discipline, but eventually I would stop crying when spanked.  At school, diplomacy was never my forte, hence I was often a frequent guest in the deputy headmistress’ office.  I was a cheeky little so and so, which was kind of counter-productive to my dad’s short temper.  My parents did what they thought was best at the time and I can only imagine they had wanted to build a business for us to inherit, so sacrifices had to be made. 

In November 1984, my mum went to visit Deryth in hospital, who was having her ovaries out.  Mum told her that she should be having that operation.  It turns out that mum had developed a cyst on her ovaries causing her stomach to swell at night.  Mum was trapped in a prison, by virtue of her managing the coaches and two demanding children.  Mum eventually promised dad that she would have her ovaries out after Christmas.  However, fate showed her cruel side, when on Boxing Day 1984, mum’s ovaries burst.  They were cancerous and rapidly spread throughout her body. 

Fortunately, mum was able to receive excellent treatment at the Royal Marsden hospital in London. 

As a 10-year-old child I could not comprehend what was happening.  All I could understand was that my mummy was faring very poorly.  It broke my heart to see mum in her new disposition, especially after her stroke that paralyzed down the left-hand side.  Dad would bring mum home on day visits and one time I felt pain and anguish after being left alone briefly with mum.  It was long enough for me to start crying in worry because I could not understand what she was trying to say.  That was the first and last time my dad left me alone with mum!  We also joined Aunt Sue for walks around Holland Park, and there were times that I did not want to be around my mum in her wheelchair.  I was now on an emotional roller-coaster like never before.  I often felt uncomfortable being around my mum, so instead I would always play in the adventure park.  I remember being frustrated that I could no longer laugh with mum or even understand two words that she said.  Not forgetting the pain and frustration that my poor mum would have also felt in this darkest season of her life.

We spent a few weeks in the summer of 1985 with our Godparents in Devon because dad had taken up Linda’s kind offer.  She had been best friends with mum at school.  Linda and Martin also had two younger children.  They drove us home, to be greeted by my dad and Sue.  My sister had enquired why there were flowers all around the house, which was dad’s cue to tell us that mum had died!  We both cried our little hearts out, hugging our dad, which had a domino effect on all our visitors.  Not a dry eye was in sight.  My Aunt Sue is known for her prowess as a multi-linguist, a classical pianist or a cordon bleu chef.  During this dark chapter of my life it was her love, compassion and support that I will cherish.  Her heart is to be treasured! 

I have been told that my behaviour at the funeral was impeccable, greeting everyone and showing love to everyone.  I thought I just cried my eyes out, so I must have been sheltered by my Guardian Angel.  I saw the newspaper cuttings of the Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioners making a tunnel for the hearse.  Going by the numbers in attendance, Mum must have made a lasting impression on everyone she knew.   How sad that her own mother had also died of cancer. 

I miss the embrace of my mum and having fun with her.   I will remember my mum as someone who wore her heart on her sleeve and was not shy or afraid of being silly.  I miss her hugs and telling me that she loves me so.  I am so thankful that I had Carol as a mum for the first ten years of my life.  I am so proud that people can see streaks of my mum in me, especially when it comes to our sense of humour.  Mum had commented how I had the body of a ballerina, even though I played rugby and how ironic that my sister used to do ballet.  In a cruel twist of fate, my sister was born with lymphedema in her legs, which was and has always been a stigma, especially at school.  I commend her and admire her for keeping on regardless. 

It was at the funeral that the RSM Pensioner callously said to my dad “For mum’s sake don’t sell the business”.  This was exactly what Dad had planned to do!  However, the Chelsea pensioners didn’t want to see my dad go because they never had it so good!  Everyone said mum was the brains behind the business, but somehow my dad kept the business going for another decade. 

I am so glad for having grown up in the chilled out 70-80s when I was able to seek healing at school via Bundle.   If not used I encourage schools to reintroduce it as I am proof that it is therapeutic.  It still makes me smile 30+ years on!

Mum got Deryth to promise to look after us on her deathbed and fate had Deryth and my dad fell in love, despite his having a coach business and two haphazard children.  She even gave the coach drivers meals and a bed to support my dad, all while being a childminder to at least three toddlers, until one day the drivers noticed an advert in the office to sell all the coaches.  Dad’s intention was to only sell two vehicles to reduce the fleet, but they thought the worst and made a sharp exit! 

My sister and I had so much learning to do upon taking up residence with our stepmother.  We were not independent and had to be shown how to use public transport.  I now lived in one of the nicest homes in Greenford, a large four-bedroom house with an amazing garden, which I hardly ever mowed before playing football in the local park.  I thought we took turns washing up, drying up, emptying the bins and mopping the kitchen floor every night.  Instead I must have learned to do kitchen duties just by watching.  Deryth was a childminder and hygiene are always a priority!  I can imagine at the beginning of my time at 195, I must have felt hard done by.

Previously we had been spoilt and never had any responsibilities, and now it was rubber meets the road for the young Laing’s.  I had to do a paper round just so that I could have some pocket money and be taught responsibilities such as getting up early for future employment.  Unknowingly, I may have been preparing for a career in counterespionage by hiding the back-door key in a plant pot, and my biggest surprise occurred when I deliberately put my foot through the roof of the shed.  As I reminiscence of my errors, I often forgot my guilt.  Convenience?  Or proof that I am not a robot? 

In my last year at Junior school, I noticed my peers started to open their hearts to me.  One boy invited me to my first and last sleepover, as I struggled to communicate and punched him in the face!  Even the prettiest girl in the history of the school started to befriend me and she became my first angel at Montpelier school who helped distract me from my heartache.  We had our first ever proper conversation after my mum’s passing when she invited me to her birthday party.  While there, I danced with all the girls.  I was in heaven!  We used to walk to school together until one day, either pride or jealousy put a stop to this beautiful but short season in my life.  I think I may have exaggerated a simple but innocent holding of hands.  

Deryth came galloping along on her trusty steed to the rescue to become the silver lining to the cloud over us.  She has given me the best memories via her wooden spoon with her cooking prowess, as my taste buds will testify in adoration of her numerous tasty dishes.  Not forgetting the love and patience she showed us with a sharp sense of humour, and her favourite saying MYOB (mind your own business). 

Why did mum keep cancer a secret?  I believe she wanted to change her life but did not know how.  Mum had a tough childhood with her mother dying young and living with an unloving stepfather whilst bringing up her younger sister.  My dad was the complete opposite, being the only son of a Brigadier in the British Army with two siblings.  They met at a disco in an Ilfracombe hotel, where my dad was the DJ.  My mum was enjoying her freedom with her younger sister when this charming and handsome coach driver approached her table, personifying a knight in shining armour coming to her rescue.

My dad had the contract to Royal Hospital Chelsea for 14 years.  After mum’s death, the Chelsea pensioners made it possible for me to sit with them in the Director’s box at Chelsea FC.  This was during the days of Dave Speedie and Kerry Dixon up front and Pat Nevin on the wing.  I had the privilege of joining my dad on his jobs taking Chelsea Pensioners from their barracks to the home matches, where I would sit with them in the director’s box. 

I will never forget the game versus Middlesbrough, (2nd leg in the play-off final) which Chelsea had to win 2-0 in order to get promotion back to division 1.  The blues could only manage a 1-0 win and what happened afterwards resulted in my last FREE match.  Following the final whistle, I was shocked by the shouting and aggression from some of the home fans.  Initially, I nearly poohed my pants, but with the unpredictable behaviour of our fans I was intrigued.  I will never forget one idiot trying to climb over the barbed-wire fence, but I was too interested with everything going on around me to find safety. 

I have fond memories of Chelsea playing Liverpool, even though they spanked us 5-2, where Kerry Dixon scored to ease the pain.  The atmosphere was electric, especially walking with thousands of other fans towards the stadium was an experience to cherish with all the smiles and laughter.  Their goalkeeper was a real treat to have banter with, especially the time he was at the Shed End.  Bending over and shaking his rear at us we chanted “He’s bold, he’s queer, he takes it up the rear, Grobabelaar Grobabelaar” and everyone cried with laughter!  

Somehow, I was able to focus on my entrance exam into a Military Boarding School.  I passed and was put into 1N, which is the middle class for academic achievement, with 1O top set and 1E bottom.  If our family were to repeat this part of my life, time management springs to mind, but most importantly that running a coach business would be avoided with a passion and instead manage a more doable business.  In my own understanding I have hope that one day I will see my mum again.

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