That is the first page from my book The Four Corners - Missing Home. It is an account of my journey around the island of Great Britain, to its four cardinal points. To places that I had personal connection to, either through my own experience and interest or through familial contact. I travelled from Lowestoft, the most easterly point, to the Lizard, the most southerly point, then to Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point and finally to Dunnett Head the most northerly point. On the way I passed through the easterly counties, along the south coast, up through the west and Wales, then midlands and to the north before heading into Scotland. Finally, I passed down the east coast of Britain returning back to my homeland of East Anglia.
The Four Corners - Missing Home
Chapter One - The Sixties
I was born into that afterglow of empire, the nineteen sixties.
I came into the world on the seventeenth of August, nineteen sixty-one. However, this wasn’t the sixties of, ‘If you remember it, you weren’t there’ – I always want to add ‘Man’, and who would, for that matter, ever trust the views of drug addled hippies. No, this was the era of the business man travelling into London in a bowler hat, black morning jacket and trousers, with a firmly wrapped umbrella under one arm and a neatly pressed copy of the Times under the other. This was still a period when shop keepers were dressed in brown overall coats, fruit and veg came in brown paper bags and beer in brown bottles – a brown period as it were. Milk still came in humming floats; lemonade was delivered in Corona vans while the bottles chinked in their crates. Britain was a nation of shop keepers rather than shoppers, as it is now.
This was a society that purported respect and deference where people knew their place and the country, on the whole, conformed to social norms and class structures. That’s how some people would like you think of it. The reality was, well, how can I put it. In certain levels of British society the family consisted of husband, wife, children, and mistress; and for the particularly privileged, high class prostitutes.
I have to say that I’m quite pleased to be here at all; because, at least in Britain, sex wasn’t invented until nineteen sixty-three according to that cheerful chap, the poet Philip Larkin.
I’m sorry I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll introduce myself; I’m Bob Cains and I come from Norwich in the county of Norfolk, in the East Anglia region of England. As mentioned I came into the world on the seventeenth of August nineteen sixty-one, at six in the morning. I was delivered at the West Norwich Hospital, in the western suburbs of the city. This hospital is noted for being the former workhouse for the area. If only I’d been born a few decades earlier I could have had a wonderful Dickensian start to life. As it was although we were surrounded by relative wealth – it was after all a time of modest prosperity – I was born to a poor family, our straightened circumstances having considerably to do with my mother’s severe mental illness. Traumatised by the death of her brothers; one during the Second World War and the other in National Service in the nineteen fifties she suffered a number of breakdowns throughout her life. This gave our family circumstances a rather chastened aspect and it is just as well that I can’t remember those very earliest years.
The year nineteen sixty-one seemed, in my early childhood years, to be a pretty inauspicious year; no wars started or ended, no liners sank or bridges were built. Only later did I realise that it the year that; in January John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn in as the thirty-fifth president of the United States of America, on the twelfth of April Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space, the Bay of Pigs debacle commenced five days later, Diana, Princess of Wales was born on the first of July and on the fourteenth of August the Soviets began the building of the Berlin Wall, they must have known I was coming.
The story is about my homeland of forty years, its own history and its people before I left its shores for a new land half a world away.
Over the next few months chapters of the book will appear here.