Now Much Wenlock was a very special place for me and I loved the tranquillity of an ever expanding village which offered so many great adventures for a little boy. I was five or six when we moved to a public house called The Talbot Inn, steeped in antiquity comprising an old gate house entrance leading to an open courtyard, with the largest barn I had ever seen. As if this was not overwhelming enough in beauty, there was a very large, perfectly flat bowling green at the rear of the property with precision cut grass. Naturally we were not allowed to play on this area for fear of damage which the permanently employed grounds man would have surely spotted. It was an area treated with respect and used regularly for competitions. And still there was more. Behind the bowling green lay an allotment area, though not really used and just full of rhubarb and a wash with stinging nettles. Running along side this was a pathway to an exist which took you to a whole different area of the village. This was to be my shortcut to school. Finally, adjacent to the bowling green stood a huge derelict building planted in an immense area of wasteland. Now this I could use! Climbing trees, building camps on the old dilapidated roof and creating secret hideouts.
This was to become my main sanctuary, my secret garden of escapism, which miraculously was never discovered by any of my siblings. I even used to tell people that I was going to see a friend and let them see me head towards the rear exit past the nettles, and then I would lay in wait. I would stand motionless outside of the boundary walls and peek through the tiniest gap to ensure no one was around to see me sneak back to the far right top end of the green, squeeze through a hedge and in military fashion make my way to the den. Endless hours at a time was spent here, my second home. Even at the age of seven I would contemplate many things, plan escapes from home or simply relish in the success of my temporary freedom. I was king of the corrugated roof top.
In fact I used to climb anything and everything back then, from scaffolding around building sites, old stone and rock faced walls, trees, lampposts and drain pipes. I was the only one brave or stupid enough to climb on to the school roof tops to retrieve tennis balls and footballs for my friends. In the summertime I would always wear wellington boots, shorts and a t-shirt, no matter where I was off to and irrespective of the weather. One place within the village of particular interest to me was the church and surrounding graveyard where, on one of it's gently sloping grass banks, which lead to a wide stream, stood a lonely willow tree with it's umbrella like structure reaching down and touching the ground. Within the confines of the willows graceful spread, it was like a secret cave or shelter where no one could see in, but you could see out. I used to read and touch the crooked headstones and pretend to speak to the engraved names. Asking them for their stories of life and comforting them in return with tales of my own. The mix of shapes, sizes, designs and textures kept me busy exploring for hours amongst these great monuments of ironic immortality. There was a mutually unspoken bond of trust and respect between us, as this was indeed truly a place of sacred security, not just for me but for all it's residents. If ever my friends suggested that we play in the church grounds, I would always manage to dissuade them and venture on somewhere else. I had this sense that they would upset or violate my resting friends and I was their protector.
Moving through the village towards it's boundary end stood a very large proud perfectly shaped and aged stone wall property, owned by a lovely couple who two years later were to become my god parents. It was The Old Police Station which commanded respect by it's natural stature, a beautiful house both inside and out. One country lane ran down the side of this house leading to yet a whole new adventurous world, full of countryside, woodlands, wildlife and intrigue. Though it may not have been good parenting, I would often leave the house (pub) soon after pretending that I had already eaten my breakfast and I only had to report home once in the afternoon and then be back before dark. I was thankful for this freedom though my parents had now idea where I was or what I was doing. For literally miles on end my little legs would soldier me on, all day long.
But as each day's adventure drew to a reluctant close, just like the dark side of the moon, the internal home life of the Stachini family could become a blackened, terrifying and uncertain dimension. The upstairs living accommodation of The Talbot was rather quirky in it's layout. There were two bedrooms which were effectively above the coach entrance to the building and these opened out to the main lounge area which was immense in size. Then exiting the front room you were faced with a staircase leading down towards the back of the main bar, a bathroom and a landing leading to two more bedrooms. Initially my brother and I shared a room above the coach entrance with windows overlooking the main high street. With one sister next door and the other in a room next to my parents. It wasn't long before the gentle sound of painful teas and crying could be heard by both my brother and I. We never dared venture out of our room to help, comfort or find out why my sister was crying, though I always suspected that my brother knew, though at the time I did not.
About an hour two after every closing time, I could hear Mum and Dad in the main lounge outside our bedroom. This was their time to rest, eat and catch up on the day. Though far too frequently, the familiar sounds of violence and rage from my father would send chills through my bones within the early hours of the morning. The usual, smashing of objects, the torment, abuse and dreadful sounds of slapping kept me awake for hours. The cries and occasional surprised yelps of pain from my mother were haunting. And then me, quite as a mouse, powerless, why wasn't anyone helping her or intervening to cease my mothers torture? Far too scared to even approach the bedroom door, I had no choice at times but to wet myself, rather that, than witness was happening behind the door and try to go to the bathroom. And in this scenario, during the day after I or my siblings would have to let Mum know that I had wet the bed, so that she could secretly get it changed without Dad knowing, in fear that I would be in trouble.
In the mornings when it was time to get up for school, the place was as silent as could be. With Mum and Dad in bed asleep, we would all rally round as swiftly as possible, whispering to each other until we had left the house and were finally on our way to the place of education which provided a whole eight hours of escapism. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single hour of every school day, throughout the whole of my education. It meant that I did not have to think of home. And when that final bell went, my heart would sink, knowing that I was now forced to return to the one place I feared the most, home. Most children would amble along and enjoy their friendships whilst making their way home, but not any of us. God forbid should we take any longer than was acceptable by our Dad, concerned that there was a possible bollocking waiting for us on arrival. We had a rule that whoever got home first had to bite the bullet and assess the mood situation in the house, then either give the all clear, or raise the red alert for the others. An 'all clear' day meant that we would still waste no time in getting out of our school uniforms just in case my Dad spotted any imperfections in our attire, which could then set him off. And then we would venture out to see friends or provide any reason for not being in the house. A 'red alert' day meant that there was still the same routine for changing out of our school wear, but then none of us would go out. We would all do, or at least give the appearance of, household chores, tidying our rooms, doing homework and keeping out of the way! Very quiet, meek and orderly.