Born within the sound of the Bow bells in Lambeth (and proud to be of Cockney status) I was originally raised for the first year or so by my Nan and my Aunt who lived in a flat near Kennington. The reasons for explaining this will become apparent much later. Little did I know that my Nan was to become my rock, savoir and the most highly respected and regarded person to ever grace my existence. Naturally, I have no real memories from this period other than the odd story from my Nan along with the fortunate praise of being an easy baby to look after. Apparently I was very calm and quiet and slept very well. Though my Nan did tell me that occasionally she would put a small tot of whisky in my bottle of milk, so maybe that would explain my why I was so quiet. Skipping a few years for now, at the age of four we moved from London to Broseley in Shropshire. Both my Aunt and my Nan were none too pleased at my father’s decision to move away, though his reasoning was that he didn’t feel that South London was the place to bring up children. Maybe he thought this way due to his own experiences of growing up? Whatever the reason, we moved and I was too young to really remember.
Growing up, I was in a family consisting of one brother, Antony (five years older than myself) and three sisters older than him. Caroline was two years older than Antony, Julie was a handful of years older than Caroline and Susan was the oldest. We moved to a property called Edinburgh House which was a lovely white rustic elongated building with half of it set quaintly into the side of a hill. The view looking out from the front of the house was very picturesque overlooking a valley of natural woodland and wild park area only divided by a single road which lead to Thomas Telford's Ironbridge Gorge only a couple of miles away. It was a beautiful location with no other houses in front of us on the hillside and we also had a couple of acres of land which my father wanted to clear and eventually sell with planning permission to build two more houses. If only home life was as serene. Even as young children we would quite often find ourselves being put to work with more than the average chores of our friends. Obviously I got off lightly simply due to my age. Sadly as young as I was, I could see that all was not well in the Stachini household.
Pretty much every day, as soon as Dad returned home there was always an uneasy air of tension, with the immediate, desperate, want of knowing... what mood was he in? Although this was naturally a fearful few seconds each day, we had to treat it almost like a game, maybe to help show solidarity or maybe simply to fool ourselves in the hope that we were all going to be fine for another day.
I simply can't go into every story or event so I shall just highlight a few throughout each period. I remember the upstairs of Edinburgh House having a very long narrow corridor with bedrooms off to each side and sadly only one staircase. Sadly because this meant only one exit point in case of trouble. Frequently in this house at night I would hear the sounds of soft gentle crying. The type of crying that you needed to let out but were frightened that someone may hear you. It was always the sound of one of my sisters, though I could never determine which one, and nothing was ever said about it the following morning. At the age I was I would always assume that someone had been naughty and subsequently been told off by my Dad. I always knew when my brother was in trouble because my father never held back punishing him in front of us and my brother had no shame in bursting out into full blown screams of pain and tears. So from as young as I can remember, I vowed to always do whatever I could to protect this boy despite him being older than myself... my big brother Ant.
I recall one day in the garden messing about with my brother and whatever we were playing or doing, he managed to push me down the steep garden path steps. We were both still laughing until I stood up, when he pointed at me dangling arm. For sure it was broken, yet I really and surprisingly was not in that much pain. The sheer look of horror on my brothers face is what I remember as tears rolled down his cheeks and as his ever growing presence approached me. Not to ask if I was OK but to beg and plead with me not to tell Dad, which was something that never even crossed my mind. With as much assurance as I could give, I told him not to worry, I surely fell down the steps of my own accord. No way, would I ever get him in to trouble. This is when I realised that we had a true brotherly friendship and I felt proud taking the blame for my own broken arm. Putting aside the annoying pain during the healing process, having such an injury does have it’s benefits, such as being excused from most chores and of course the little treats and rare moments of sympathy.
Life at Edinburgh House for me was my first taste of outdoor adventure with all the natural surroundings of a wild garden, hidden walk ways, trees to climb and all the exploration and discovery which surrounds the innocence of youth. The main things which I recall are sunny outdoor days often spent alone or occasionally in the calming company of my sister Caroline or the boisterous mischievous adventures with my brother. More often than not though, by myself, where I was most content. Even at the age of five it was not uncommon for me to wonder off away from home for an hour or two at a time and not be missed, which now, looking back seems rather strange. Somehow I also appreciated the warmth of an open fire and the smell it produced in the house, along with an equal appreciation for the home’s architecture of lovely old wooden beams spanning across the ceilings and the quirkiness of the uneven staircase and even the misshaped rooms. How could one so young have an understanding of such things? Not sure, but I’m glad I did. All of us children seemed to be happiest when left to our own devices, spending much of our time either in our bedrooms or out and about. Though it was protocol for the whole family to sit together at meal times and sometimes all gather at the same time of an evening to watch an hour or two of television.
The gathering of the Stachini family for dinner was really nice to have everyone together but a little tense and quite, as everyone hoped that Dad wouldn’t pose any individual questions which may either embarrass or cause alarm bells to ring that someone may be in trouble. We would all play our part in the swift clearing away and cleaning up after every meal. It was like a military operation, with everyone covering everyone else’s back to ensure efficiency and more importantly, to make sure that Dad had no reason for picking fault in anyone’s efforts. It was pretty obvious to me even then that everyone was certainly more at ease and open when Dad wasn’t around. Most of the tension and negativity seemed to occur during the night time and Father shouting and Mother crying was just how I thought parenting and married life was at this tender age. Though hearing the smashing of front room and kitchen objects must have made it an expensive past time, I thought. But hey what did I know?
The odd visit from my Nan was a rare treat and seemed like Christmas every time. God what a joy it was to see her. Not that any of us expected anything, but she always brought us a gift of some sort. But what I loved the best was that she spent every last minute of her stay with us close by my side. She was very concerned about me though I didn't understand why. I just presumed that it was because I was the youngest. Nan would spend hours with me in the garden as I would tell her all about my garden secrets and what I had been doing. She never seemed to tire of me. I thought it strange that my brother and sisters would display very little social engagement with Nan but on the other hand, I was only too pleased to have her to myself. There always seemed to be loud words spoken between my parents and Nan on her visits though I never took note of their conversations. In those days, travelling from London to Broseley was quite an ordeal and I know for fact that at times neither parent collected her from the train or bus station. She was generally left to her own devices to find her way to us. And I am so thankful that she did, it meant the world to me, even if it didn't to my brother and sisters. Her visits always came and went rather quickly and her departures were always followed by a week or two so sombre moods from myself as I would simply miss her presence greatly.