This is where we begin – before the beginning ! –

And it all starts in 1950

‘Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come…


Well, what else could we call this first part ?
How our Peter began, or exactly where he came from for most people is a now a mystery.
As Kahlil Gibran, a poet often quoted by those who wish to sound profound when saying nothing, says, ‘Vague and nebulous is the beginning of all things – Life, and all that lives is conceived in the mist and not in the crystal !’.
Well in Peter’s case this is undoubtedly true, and like some mythic hero he springs into the world fully formed, with no conception or gestation; no father or mother. John Stokes, of course, knew where Peter really came from, but he would never tell.  And now he is dead.
There was probably a time when some people could have explained what had happened, but by now all those people are certainly dead.
Perhaps there are some yellowing pieces of paper in some file tucked away in some cabinet in some archive – but that’s unlikely.
From the present perspective it seems that Peter just appeared.There was a birth certificate, but this was issued in 1950, and Peter was born in 1946.
This certificate was issued at Brentford Magistrates Court, gave the name of the child as Peter Crawford, the son of John Stokes Crawford and Jane Crawford, who was born on the 31st December 1946.
And  what are the first memories to which Peter will admit ?
They are of huge, silent, empty, white rooms, and a big white rocking horse – beautifully painted, which only Peter used.
Now this could be described as a ‘false memory’, but that may not be so. It is a memory that Peter had from his earliest days, and Peter sometimes wondered if it was a real memory of if perhaps the real memories were blocked out.
If we are prepared to believe in the existence of the soul, then there is the possibility that it comes into being at conception or birth. It is also possible, however, that if the soul in fact exists, then it may have some pre-existence. To quote Longfellow, ‘we come trailing clouds of glory’. Perhaps these large, white empty rooms are all that a child’s mind can make of that other place, ‘before the beginning’ – a place to which we may also return ?And there is one other memory that Peter is prepared to recount. It is not a cold, empty memory, like that of the white rooms, but a joyful memory.
It is on a hill, covered in grass and purple heather, and there is a beautiful red sunrise, or sunset, and Peter is with a group of other children – the ‘lost boys’ perhaps ? The children are all happy and beautiful, and very young, and they are walking purposefully toward the brow of the hill, and toward the glowing, red and purple clouds.
And then a journey by train, with two people that Peter didn’t know, which ends up in a ‘living-room’ in a strange house, and a nice meal.
Peter’s adoption, as far as we can ascertain, took place in 1949, so Peter’s childhood took place in the nineteen fifties, in a London suburb called Hounslow, near Heathrow Airport, (which was at that time just emerging form its wartime guise, to become an international airport), and Peter was adopted by a couple called Mr & Mrs Crawford.
Jane and John Crawford were lucky – they had survived the War, despite John Crawford spending his war service in the Middle East, and Jane Crawford having to cope with the bombing in both Hounslow, Newcastle and central London.
Their wartime experiences undoubtedly caused them some significant emotional scarring, but in nineteen fifty, like so many relatively young people who had survived the war, they were hoping to start a new life in, what was for them, a safe and peaceful, post-war world.
But the world, that to our Peter seemed perfectly normal, was a world that had been traumatized by years of war, and almost all the adults in that world had been equally traumatized.
‘Nine eleven’ may have traumatized many people, both in New York, and in many other parts of the world, but what we must imagine was a ‘nine-eleven’ almost every day for years on end, culminating in the London Blitz , the fire storms of Dresden and Berlin, and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And on a lesser scale it was a world, for many years after that war, haunted by rationing, ‘make-do-and-mend’, and bomb-sites.So the people who had decided to look after Peter, even although they had survived the war, were not like the adults of today. They had seen things and done things that most of us now would find hard to imagine, and hard to ‘stomach’, and had been forced to go through years of privation, danger and seemingly endless waiting.
So the peace was, to those people, very precious. Something that they had been barely able to hope for.They were, for the most part, committed to make a better world for their children, but they would always be somehow disconnected and remote from those young people. Their experiences, about which they found it almost impossible to talk, would always separate them from those who grew up with no direct experience of the horrors and anxiety of war.
But who were these people – Jane and John Crawford ?
Of Peter’s grandparents he only knew one. This was ‘Granddad’; his adoptive mother’s father.
‘Granddad’s’ real name was Richard Walker, a master plumber & foreman of a small private company. Strictly speaking he was a Victorian, having been born in 1876 in Edinburgh.
His work was one of the high technologies of the Victorian era, & his background could be found in the milieu which spawned many of those technologies; namely Scottish Presbyterianism.
Although fond of his whisky, he was, moreover, committed to hard work & the pursuit of a respectable & good living which would grant him independence & the respect of his peers.
For him, as for most people during the Victorian & Edwardian eras, with the exception of the upper classes, leisure was a rare commodity taken, mainly for the children’s sake, at Christmas, Easter & Bank Holiday. It was a precept of the Protestant Work Ethic that ‘work, & success through work, were justified means for salvation – that Satan made work for idle hands & that to work hard, bring up your family & leave them with a skill, a trade or a business so that they could follow in your footsteps, was a man’s privilege & duty’. The concept of working to finance periods of leisure & ‘having fun’ was totally alien to ‘Granddad’s’ generation.
Although rather simply stated here, this attitude & philosophy was dominant among the lower classes during the decades around the turn of the century. When, inevitably,  the Great War came, it undoubtedly shook the foundations of these working class values, although not to the extent that it effected political, intellectual & aesthetic endeavours.
Returning soldiers demanded ‘Homes fit for Heroes’, & there was even a General Strike in 1926, but still, as a result of education, the influence of the  churches &, in many cases their own convictions, the majority of workers & small entrepreneurs continued to live by the values of the previous generation.
‘Granddad’s’ wife, ‘our Peter’s’ adoptive ‘grandmother’, Jane, was Roman Catholic, so their marriage, for that time, was unusual to say the least.As was the custom, the children of the marriage were brought up as Catholics, which put an unfortunate barrier between Richard and his children.
When Richard Walker died, in the nineteen sixties, he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, although as he was convinced during his final illness that he had won the Football Pools, and had taken to reading the newspaper upside down, this decision seems to have more to do with his rabidly Catholic daughter Mary, who was nursing him, rather than any rational deliberations or spiritual awakening on his part.
‘Our Peter’s’ adoptive mother was born in Jarrow, in 1914, the youngest of a family of five.
The eldest child of Richard and Jane Walker was Margaret, always known as Maggie. The next was Richard, the only son. Then came Mary, and finally ‘our Peter’s’ adoptive mother, Jane.Two years after little Jane was born her mother, Jane – the mother – died, and it was left to Maggie to bring up the family.
Richard never re-married, and the children undoubtedly missed the love and care that a mother could provide. Peter’s adoptive mother, being the youngest, and needing most care, was regularly farmed out to relatives, and most often to her great aunt, Sarah, who lived in a huge Victorian apartment in Princes street, close to John Knox’s house, in Edinburgh.Holidays were usually spent at the local coastal resorts of Cramond, Leith, Musselburgh or Port Seton, and on other occasions there were trips to Holyrood, the Castle and Arthur’s Seat, and the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Interestingly, ‘our Peter’ met Great Aunt Sarah, his only Great Aunt, when he was a little boy, probably about six years old. Of course, Peter had no idea of who she was, and strangely nobody told him.
Jane, Peter’s adoptive mother, deep down, thought of herself as being essentially Scottish, and in later life, after a few sherries, or whiskies at Hogmanay, she would become maudlin, and start singing sentimental Scottish ballads in between reminiscences of those far off days. Undoubtedly the most secure and stable times in her life were spent in the cultured air and tranquillity of Scotland’s noble capital.
Peter’s adoptive father was born in Gateshead, on the twenty-seventh of January 1906.
Oddly he shared his birthday with the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II.
Although he boasted a Scottish surname of the finest pedigree, his links with Scotland were far more tenuous than Jane’s.
His father’s name was Joseph Crawford, and his mother was called Jane.
The family was Protestant; Church of England, and this was to cause problems later on when he decided to marry.Joe, as he was always called, died while John was very young.
Jane, (yes, another Jane), Joe’s wife, had five children.
The eldest was Richard, then came Ralph, then Winney, then Molly and finally John.
Unable to support such a large brood, Jane quickly remarried.He second husband was always referred to by John as Mr Wilkes. It said much about the relationship between son and stepfather that no Christian name was ever revealed.
Mr Wilkes died after a few years & Jane was once again on her own. By then, however, the children were growing up, and the boys left school at fourteen and got whatever jobs were available.John went to work for a butcher; started as a delivery boy but was soon preparing joints, and attending to the customers in the shop.Eventually, however, with the coming of the recession, they all found themselves out of work.
The boys, in order not to be any burden on their mother, moved out each Summer, and camped at Frenchman’s Bay, and it was there that John Crawford met Jane Walker.
In nineteen-thirty-seven Jane and John were married in Felling, near Gateshead.
They then travelled south, and settled in Barrack Road in Hounslow, Middlesex, as John was stationed at the headquarters of the Army Southern Command in Hounslow barracks.



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part of the blog ‘Through My Eyes’