The moving van that carried us with all of our belongings to our new home in the village of Alvechurch, came to a stop at 48 Bear Hill. I was almost 9 and Robert was just 6.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms and a bathroom. The room that was mine had pink wallpaper, covered with tiny rosebuds in a diamond pattern and the windows faced west towards the Lickey Hills and the sunset. My bed had a cast iron frame and bedstead, painted pink, with springs that squeaked with every movement.
Downstairs there was a kitchen and hallway with a red flagstone tiled floor, which either Dad or Mum would sweep and mop every day. The kitchen and living room both had fireplaces in which we burned coal. There was a flat roofed addition to the house on one side. It had a passageway, an outside washroom, a coal bunker and a room that Dad used for his tools and workbench.
The village was drenched in history and we arrived in it at a time in which it still felt like a microcosmic world. Parts of the church of St. Laurence that stood on the hill and overlooked our house, were over a thousand years old. We walked through the churchyard every day on our way to the small village school that had been built in the 1850's.
In my second of three years at the school, when I was ten, my teacher was Miss Harding, a woman with brooding, gentle, brown eyes and strong eyebrows. Her hair was parted on the side and was of medium length, chestnut brown and frizzily wild. I loved her.
One day that year, I was asked to go to the Headmaster, Mr. Lowe's office. A Dutch girl had come to the school and because I could speak Dutch, I was assigned to be her friend and help her as much as I could. Her name was Lisbet and her family had come to live in Alvechurch for a year. They lived on the Redditch Road in a lovely home, much bigger than our modest council house. I understood what it was to feel homesick and also how she must miss Holland. I think that's why my school report for that year noted that Belinda, "...has an unusual appreciation of human problems."
The school report for that year seems prophetic, as if in that child of ten, Miss Harding saw accurately the child who was and the woman I would be--a lover of literature and poetry, not so good with numbers, but an artist and lover of words.
Further down Bear Hill lay the village shops. Miss Twitty had a sweet shop at which the village children were frequent visitors. Her hair was cut in a short bob.She was thin and angular and seemed all boney shoulders and elbows. Her wiry body moved quickly.She had bought the shop in 1933 from the previous owners after taking it over in 1929 when they retired. She had her sitting room on the right hand side behnd the shop door and would emerge on hearing the ping of the bell attached to the top of the door. She worked at the shop for 34 years.
In the same row of shops was Gidley's haberdasher's shop, which I thought for many years was "Giggly's." There was Pretty's Bakery and the Post Office, as well as Turners the ironmonger and Onions the greengrocer. Mrs. Haynes had a shoe shop and became a friend of Mum's although I never heard them call eachother anything other than Mrs. Haynes and Mrs. Cater. At Christmas time she and Mum would have a glass of sherry to celebrate and then, as she often did, Mum would confide her troubles.
Mr. Dobin the milkman delivered the milk with a rattle of bottles in the early morning and Samuel Dedicoat was the coalman who would shake empty his sacks of coal into our coal house.
Across the road, before getting to the village, was a big field that sloped down towards a brook. No longer there, a housing estate is where we played for long hours in its long waving grass, or climbed the trees that hung over the brook. A holly tree became our look out post and a hedgerow was our playroom as three or four of us would find our way into the space inside it which was hollowed out, and play games of make believe.
Our parents were unhappy together. At night, their voices were arrows, piercing our hearts when we were in bed and maybe they thought we wouldn't hear. Mum would be crying, and Dad, loud and bellowing with anger. He was well known at the village pubs, a part of his life that Mum refused to share, so he went alone and they grew further apart. Alcohol made him nasty, argumentative and prone to irrational fits of rage. The tears would trickle down my cheeks and soak the pillow as I wished things were different.
At 11 I took the 11 Plus exam which decided whether you would go to a grammar school or a secondary modern school. I failed the exam, and so in September of 1961 I went to Bridley Moor Secondary Modern School, in Redditch. Somewhere in the school was a 14 year old boy named Paul Burston. Although we were there together for at least a year, we didn't meet for another 5 years...