Jim and Sybil acquired a house at 2231 Shakespeare Street. Virtually unchanged, it is still there today but the board sidewalks are gone as they were disappearing when we moved there in the summer of 1946. It was a small house sitting on a full basement. Its twin was next door just 3 feet away. On the other side was a vacant lot. The basement housed the wood burning furnace with all its ducts. We had never had central heating before. In England you got used to burning one side of you and freezing the other during cold weather. At 2231, you climbed steps to the front door. It opened on the hall that ran the full length of the house on the right side all the rooms where of to the left. First, the living room, then the bedroom, then the bathroom, then the kitchen. I counted; only one bedroom. Here I was alone in a strange land with no place to sleep. A cot was set up for me in the hallway next to the bathroom.
For "Mummy" we got a cat and dog and a piano. My parents finances were a mystery. I never knew where the money came from or how much there was. I thought Jim had received a gratuity when he was discharged from the Army and it was used to buy the house. I certainly felt it, but I never understood the bitterness that many returning veterans felt as they tried to fit into civilian life. It was worse for Jim. He had never before had roots or responsibilities. He was approaching 50 and his health was compromised. He had skills, but with his angry nature and violent outbursts he quickly burned any bridges he might be trying to build. Finally, he got a job as a night watchman at the naval dockyard. He was bitter. He was not alone. The benefits and programs designed to support veterans often worked to the advantage of those who had avoided active service or had never gone overseas. Hudson Graham was a perfect example. Some servicemen used the provisions of the Veteran's Land Act to prosper and eventually become wealthy. But often the most needful didn't qualify. Jim was one of these.
To say my stepfather was his own worst enemy was an understatement. He had always lived from hand to mouth. If he had money he would spend it. It was the way he lived before coming to England. So, when we first came to Shakespeare Street. We spent money. Many people like Jim's friend, Tiny Richards went fishing. So, we went fishing. We went to the Oak Bay Boat House and rented boats and got tackle and tried to catch fish. I too wanted rod and reel but Jim always put himself first. I had to start with a hand line. Jim was never a successful angler though at the time fish were plentiful. I was a similar failure. I once caught a rock cod when I snagged a hook in his gills as I was winding in my line. We were both surprised and "Mummy" screamed in horror when she saw the ugly beast. Fish or no fish Jim had to pay.
Outwardly, we had settled into life in Victoria. Jim and Sybil had friends, Hilda and Bill Lewis, and the Tidburys who lived in the twin house next door. I threw my last public tantrum shortly before my tenth birthday when Jim and Sybil wanted to leave me for the evening. After I had throughly embarrassed myself, I finally crossed the bar. I accepted the separation between mother and child that usually occurs much earlier in life.
On Shakespeare Street, I got to go out and play. There were children my own age. The boys were a bit rough but the girls seemed to like me because of my English accent. I learned to throw rocks we chose sides and tried to brain one another for fun. I learned to ride a sack swing hung from a large oak tree. Then, I was introduced to Funny Books a must for all of us. These comic books were often not funny at all. Superman and Batman didn't make jokes. We shared and traded these whenever we could find enough money to buy them. Jim and Sybil gave me an allowance, 50 cents a week. Candy was beginning to reappear in stores. So, our funds were mostly reserved for pop, candy and comic books. I arrived in May and didn't have to go to school until September. That summer, I became politically active and made signs with June Bennett who lived on the other side of the vacant lot. The signs were for a kid's march to protest the price of candy bars. The cost of each was being raised from 5 to 8 cents. We failed. Still, by far the biggest shock I got that summer surrounded my tenth birthday. "Mummy" said I could have a party and could invite all the kids. Happily, I went abroad to spread the news. To my horror, they attacked me. They beat me. The Royal Bumps meant nothing to me but I certainly did not enjoy them. I ran home hurt and crying. Finally, the kids came to see me aided by their parents. It seemed that the "Bumps" were a traditional way of celebrating a birthday. So, being bullied and beaten appeared to be a fine Canadian tradition signalling brotherhood and friendship. Of course this was in keeping with Jim Allan's brutal approach which suggested my grandfather was right to assume that manhood required one to emotionally and physically abuse others, especially males. If you couldn't strike fear into others you were a sissy and a wimp and most of all a coward. Jim considered me "nothing more than a split-assed mechanic!" This was one of his more endearing terms for women.
Throughout the war I had lived in the presence of death and devastation. Still, no one except my grandfather and Jim Allan had ever laid a hand on me. Now in the summer of 1946, a curious event took place. I got into a fight with another boy in front of the house. I didn't want to. I was afraid, but he wouldn't leave me alone. He pushed me down and sat on me. In a blind rage, I pulled him over backwards got on top and punched him in the face. His nose bled. I was horrified at what I had done. As "Mummy" cleaned him up, he told me I was a pretty good fighter. How was it possible that I had gained this boy's respect by hurting him? I was hurt by Jim and Frank but I did not respect them
Frankly, I was afraid of fighting. I was afraid of being hurt. So, I equated my fear and rage with cowardice. Jim agreed. I was his burden and chattel. The ideas of indenture and slavery were never far away. He owed me nothing. I owed him anything and everything. A big lorry (truck} with a huge box full of firewood arrived one day. The driver was East Indian. He dumped the load in the vacant lot next to our house, one huge wood pile. There were two and a half cords. It was my job to split, carry, and stack the wood in the basement to fuel the furnace. I was 10 with a dull hatchet. It was a formidable task and mine alone. Firewood, in those days was what was discarded as waste from the sawmills. It was ugly stuff that wouldn't split. I toiled long hours every day and the pile, to me, only seemed to grow. No matter how hard I tried I would never please Jim, my taskmaster.
That September, I started school at Oaklands Elementary in Grade 4. 32 years later I was to become principal of the same school. Canadian schools had no headmaster. Instead there was a Principal. Ours was Mr. Norman Forbes, a stern and dower figure, who, years later would be a colleague of mine. There was no cane but there was a strap to be feared. One recess, I retrieved a soccer ball for some kids and one of them jumped on me even though I was just trying to be helpful. Suddenly, a male figure descended on us and arbitrarily took both of us to the office. We remained there until the afternoon while my assailant explained the torture and punishment we would undergo. After lunch, the male presence who was the Vice- Principal returned and took the strap to us. My companion received 2 strokes on each hand and it hurt. He screamed and cried. I tried to explain that I had been attacked and was innocent. I had not even tried to defend myself. Instead of gaining a sympathetic ear, my words seemed to enrage the thug. He showed me no mercy. He doubled my punishment and gave me 4 strokes on each hand. I too screamed and cried. He struck me across the wrists as well as the hand and my arms ballooned with red welts. I went home enraged over the injustice but scared that Jim would punish me as well. I hid in the basement. Sybil discovered my injuries. She wanted to know what I had done. Jim said It was a good lesson for me to learn. Welcome to Canada young man, you have just passed another rite of manhood.
Something was wrong, "Mummy" had to go to the hospital. I was left with Jim. Frightened, I hid in the basement. I didn't go to school. I had overheard talk. Something about a lump. It was in a breast. To that date, cancer had been beyond my consciousness. The possibility of death suddenly loomed. The thought of being left alone in Canada with Jim terrified me. So, I hid in the basement looking through the window to the street, throughout the day. Relief came when I was taken to the hospital to see "Mummy" She was recovering. The lump was a benign cyst. I frankly thanked God. Her illness however, put an end to the budding dressmaking business she entered into with Hilda Lewis. Veteran's wives talked frequently about doing whatever they could to help make ends meet. The dressmaking effort was Hilda and Sybil's contribution.
As I neared the end of Grade four, I learned of the next great upheaval in our lives. We were selling the house and going to Calgary. It was much later that I learned the prime cause for this disruption. Jim, as always, did as he pleased. Unbeknown to Sybil. He gambled. He played cards. The game was illegal. He lost. Still, true to his male code, he honoured the debt by disposing of everything that was his. That meant everything and anything he and Sybil possessed. It included Granny Fiddler's diamond engagement ring that Sybil inherited. The diamond went: to be replaced with paste and so it remained for the rest of Sybil's life. My son Craig still has the setting.
From the proceeds of all sales, the debt was apparently paid and we acquired a Model A Ford to take us to Calgary. The house was gone and I finished my school year while living in the Beverley Hotel on the second floor of a building on Yates Street in downtown Victoria. The animals were going with us. Cat and dog were lodged in a veterinary kennel. The cat immediately escaped and returned to Shakespeare Street. We recovered it only to lose it forever when Jim deliberately let it out of our room in Vantage Washington. The trip was epic by today's standards. Our vehicle was old and the roads were a challenge. We went through the United States because the roads were better. We took a Ferry to Port Angeles then stopped for lunch in the Olympic Forest getting water for tea from a real spring. It was a rustic adventure to be enjoyed until I annoyed Jim and he flattened me with his fist. He must have really felt trapped surrounded by his personal human and animal menagerie that he could neither desert or shake off.