Balham, London, 1961. I was twenty and my fiancé eighteen when we decided to get married. London was my fiancé’s home town. Being young and in love we discounted obstacles, the first being my girlfriend’s mother, who was not impressed by the idea. Not only was I from a northern tribe with a Liverpool accent, I was a labourer. We never did become pals but we learned to tolerate each other.
My job at the time was carrying loads of concrete tiles up two-storey ladders all day, not an easy job and not well paid. I wrenched my back but we were saving so, with some difficulty, I carried on working at the job which was out of town. The bus went on the hour.
One morning (late) I ran for some distance and just managed to jump on as it was taking off. When I sat down I felt a pain in my neck, which quickly travelled around my chest and upper back. I squirmed all over the seat for an hour and found, when the bus reached my destination, I could not stand. I sat slumped in a shop doorway until two men came to my aid and carted me off to a local doctor.
This was still before 8am and the doctor was not amused, he was having his breakfast. Although in pain, I managed a few groaned expletives before my good Samaritans carted me off to another more sympathetic doctor who knew instantly what the trouble was. He put me on a bed (with my chest raised) and called an ambulance.
I spent two weeks in a very nice country hospital in bed but not lying flat. In that semi-sitting position there was no pain. Apparently I had developed a leak or bubble in my lungs. Rest was the only treatment. If you have to get sick this was a cushy number. Apart from one lovely afternoon when two demented wasps flew in the window and stung me on the arm, my stay was pleasant and uneventful.
But I wasn’t earning. My boss paid what he owed me by letter. My flat-mates couldn’t afford to pay my rent. To make this situation worse, I was sent to a convalescence home for a further two weeks.
The home was an old manor house in a leafy lane. Splendid, I was living the life of Riley. But my fiancé could only manage one visit a week. Apart from the distance and as well as her day job, she was now working evenings in the local cinema as an usherette. Which tended to make me feel guilty. So when I was discharged, I ignored instructions to desist from manual labour for a month.
No worries. I got a job as a gardener (second class) in the Brixton Fever Hospital, pushing wheelbarrows full of soil. Not the brightest decision. This came home forcibly when I collapsed again, struggled to reception, where I hung on to the desk in obvious distress asking to see a doctor. My request was firmly refused by one of those gatekeepers you come across sometimes.
“No. Come back when you have a referral from your GP”, I was told. Had I not been in so much pain I would have laughed. I refused to budge and eventually, was put in a bed for a another ten days. Time was getting short for the Big Day.
But eventually, off to Liverpool we went for our wedding. My oldest brother had a car. He tied white tape to the bonnet and took my intended to church.
Later it was back to my family home for the reception. It was a small house shared by many brothers and sisters but it did have a big table. My mother was away and could not make it back for the wedding, so my eighteen-year old sister did us proud.
Although it was a squeeze, by the time my family, mates, and new mother-in-law were seated, I felt the wedding reception was a success. I never dared ask my mother-in-law what she thought. She wisely skipped off to catch a train back to London while the rest of us partied. Then with my new wife, I sought out the marital bed.
Honeymoons usually = hankypanky, but not for us. Instead we bedded down like an old married couple and courted what most newly-weds don’t: sleep!