BOOZE AND FISTS
Psychologically, I was in a complete mess. I’d never know what to expect when I’d arrive home from school at around 16:00 each day. Usually, I could expect nothing as they’d both be asleep: Dad sleeping off his few beers at lunchtime, Mum sleeping away the scotch. Sometimes I’d be greeted for five seconds if they felt like it. Other times I’d just wish I hadn’t gone home at all.
One such occasion was when I’d let myself in and had heard crying coming from upstairs. I could also hear Dad yelling. I slowly went up the stairs, and found Mum on the floor outside her bedroom sobbing, and covered in blood. Dad had beaten her senseless. I despised my father for doing that. It wasn’t until many years later that I’d start asking why it had happened, which will be addressed in later chapters.
Dad was fast becoming completely and utterly unapproachable. One winter evening he was lighting the fire. I asked if he wanted me to help with anything, and very angrily he snapped back, ‘No.’
I said, ‘Sorry, I was only asking.’ His face then transformed into something which I can only describe as evil. He picked up a big piece of firewood and threatened to wrap it around my fucking head if I ever answered him back again.
Another time, I caught Mum having one of her secret drinking sessions, and she was as high as a kite by then. She saw me and told me to go away. I told her, half crying and half shouting with anger, that I was fed up with her always being drunk – which I damn well was – and that I was going to tell Dad that she was boozing behind his back again.
I then went straight to the piano to practise. I’d already learned that playing something loud and powerful could be therapeutic, and that is still the case today. Over the years as a professional hotel pianist, hundreds of thousands of people have heard me play, but very few have listened to me while I’m angry or emotionally upset. They all missed me at my best.
Shortly after my run-in with Mum, Dad came towards me. He stood right next to me at the piano. He was smiling and breathing heavily through his nose, but said nothing. I asked him if he was ok. He gently lifted my hands from the piano keys, closed the lid, grabbed me by the throat, pushed me backwards causing my head to hit the floor, and, using all his strength, fist-punched in the face over and over again. Not slapped, punched.
He finished by telling me that if I ever blackmailed my mother again, he would kill me. I’d done no such thing.
Now a wreck, I went upstairs to shower – I needed to – and was then called back down. I was told that if anyone at school asked about my bruises and black eyes, I’d fallen down the stairs.
That incident was never spoken of again, but it stayed with me for a long time. I didn’t understand why he thought I’d blackmailed Mum. It wasn’t until later on in life – well into my 30s – when I’d been thinking about that day for the thousandth time, that the pieces all fell into place. After so many years, I’d found the answer that I’d been searching for.
Suddenly, it seemed more obvious than a set of balls on a Great Dane, that when I’d told Mum I was going to tell Dad she’d been drinking, she’d gone to him first with a whole lot of garbage – and a barrow load of guile – to protect herself. I’ll never know exactly what was said during their conversation, but whatever it was, it would cause me a great deal of immediate physical pain, and the psychological effects would last for many years.
Now in my mid 40s and a parent myself, I can never forgive my mother for doing that regardless of how afraid of Dad she was. It goes against every grain, against every natural instinct as a parent to protect yourself while putting your child in danger. You put yourself in front of a pride of lions if it will protect your child. You run into a burning building and die, if it will save your child.
Having spent most of my childhood in rural locations, I’d got to know a lot of other kids who had lived on farms. I’d visit, watch them work, and get involved. I became at a young age quite proficient at driving tractors.
Dad was doing some gardening and had filled up his trailer ready to take the cuttings to the local dump. He hooked up the trailer to the car but had to turn around. One thing my Dad could never master was reversing with a trailer. His hands just refused to coordinate with his brain. Eventually he got out of the car and stormed off somewhere. I got in the car, remembered what I’d seen on those farms, put the car into reverse and turned the trailer perfectly.
When he came back, he went nuclear. He wasn’t proud that his son had done something that he couldn’t do himself; he was ashamed, and he took that shame – and feeling of inadequacy – out on me in the form of anger.