Unforgivable – my violent dad

Lionel Morton, former leader of chart-topping Lancashire pop group The Four Pennies, has entertained and amused Northern Life readers with tales of his teenage years, his music and TV career, and his encounters with famous and notorious people. He now reveals darker episodes from his childhood...

Lionel Morton
Lionel in his heyday in The Four Pennies

The boy stood on tiptoe at the kitchen sink, looking out, screaming, crying and sobbing like only a child can, watching as the hammer rose and fell. With every smash the child convulsed, the horror the pain the anguish the confusion the utter grief as the hammer again rose and fell.

A hysterical boy. Where was his mother to protect him from this monster of a man in the small back garden, killing baby frogs with a hammer? The child was a wreck by now, uncontrollable sobbing and retching, then the monster was gone. The monster was my father. I was seven or eight years of age, and frogs and tadpoles were my passion – sticklebacks too – still are to this day. We have two ponds today at my home in Cornwall with frogs (an army) and toads (in knots), sticklebacks as well, which I handfeed every day with worms and woodlice etc. When a frog takes a worm out of your hand it is a pure joy. Even the stickleback will come and be hand fed…fantastic!

I would have to spend the next 10 years of my life in the same house as this monster, this cruel heartless, bad bad man. A worm in him ate his soul many years ago, maybe as an officer in the merchant navy he did things that bent him out of shape. The man rose to be chief Water Mechanics Engineer for Blackburn, Lancashire, a respected member of the local
church, (every Sunday) a member of the local amateur dramatics society as well as local Masonic lodge, attaining Worshipful Master at the Blackpool lodge in the 1970s.

One of the men he worked with went out of his way to tell me “what a good man Bert was.” I looked him straight in the eye and if looks could kill, he felt it and was obviously shocked.

In the home Bert was a monster; inanimate objects would be flung about every day more or less.

“I would have to spend the next 10 years of my life in the same house as this monster”

His youngest son did a runner 20 years ago leaving a horrendous tirade in the form of a letter to us all. It is disgusting that his eldest son died not long ago, a 25-stone homosexual man whom I never got to know.

When Bert died aged 97, only his miserable frigid wife was there. He was a bitter man, with a chronic temper, a far right wing racist, Conservative-voting working-class bigot. A coward and a bully, sycophantic toady; never did anything with his three sons, had no hobbies or pets or garden, not even a single book in the house. No joy for the man who would deny his family life and die a lonely bad man, going nowhere.

Let me tell you how frightening Bert was to his family. He had a way of folding back his tongue so the underside would stick out between his teeth, then clenching his teeth together, the underside of his tongue sticking out like a piece of raw meat, then in this state of temper he would terrorise us beyond the pale, breaking things. He smashed up a lovely toy fort of mine, again with a hammer. This was the 1940s when toys where in short supply and were treasured possessions.

Outside in the shed was a coke boiler for the house. We would be in the house as this man was raking the boiler fire with an iron so violently the house would shake, one time slamming the boiler’s iron door so violently that it broke in half. Carrying a shovel full of coal into the living room, should one piece fall to the floor, the tongue would bulge out, the eyes would glaze over as the shovel of coal would hit the fire back, a display of bad temper in front of his family.

These were daily occurrences, no excuses and no forgiveness for a man who destroyed his family systematically over the years. Two straps hung on nails under the stairs; one a soft leather strap with six-inch strips, the other a razor-sharpening strap, hard as nails. The thing is, the man could never catch me. By the time he’d gone under the stairs for his choice of strap, I was upstairs under their big heavy bed and he couldn’t get at me. Slash under the bed he may, I just rolled away from side to side till the idiot gave up and went. How long I stayed under that bed is anybody’s guess.

I know I spent a lot of times contemplating springs and they didn’t go squeak in the night- never. I never once saw Bert and Ethel touch each other, not once, or us, never so much as a hug even when hurt and miserable. And his relationship with Ethel, a frigid, boring, loveless woman with beady eyes that looked for fault in everything; I often wonder when Ethel saw the monster appear in Bert. They would have been married a while when one day he turned on her and she saw the monster for the first time. It gives me the willies just thinking about it. I mean, Ethel came from a very laidback family; her dad kept British songbirds, built the shed and cages himself, rode a bike and possessed a beautiful phonogram and vinyl record collection. He was a ‘drawerin’ at the mill and a lovely old man. How could his daughter make such a bad choice and marry this monster of a man? My dad’s father was a foreman engineer and fitted 20-ton boilers all over the country, a big man who enjoyed a drink. His two sons and his daughter were truly horrible people, and I don’t know why!

For Bartholomew and Ethel there is no forgiveness for they turned their three sons into nervous wrecks, suffering broken marriages. Brothers who don’t/can’t speak to each other. Until I settled down with Tracy nearly 30 years ago I was a bit badtempered myself, paranoid, insecure, no confidence, unable to concentrate, full of lies and falseness, unloved, scatterbrained, frightened by many things. What I did have was a love for all things wildlife; fish, frogs, newts, sticklebacks, frog spawn.

When I wasn’t at Blackburn Cathedral as a chorister or at school I was up the Yellow Hills of Blackburn, exploring and playing away from Waverley House, Waverley Place, the home of terror, the monsters within, Bert the monster and his (sick) wife Ethel.

Over the years I tried to get through to these people, only to give up in my forties, just when my young brother did a runner, and now I find I can’t forgive. You never forget, obviously, but forgiveness…I don’t think so.

Now I have a happy family of my own, Bert and Ethel’s dark deeds seem even worse. That they could treat their little ones in such a bad, bad way is UNFORGIVEABLE.

“I never once saw Bert and Ethel touch each other, not once, or us, never so much as a hug”

I still suffer dark days of depression when all the bad memories come flooding in and I can’t stop them. I want to smash things, shout and swear at the idiots around us, punishing my partner for nothing, but I don’t. I just sit and wallow, for a couple of days, don’t eat, don’t sleep, just wallow in a pit of self-disgust, a bad trip and no escape.

I’ve learnt to tell myself “IT WILL PASS.” It doesn’t help at the time and I come out of it glad to be alive, ready to do business, reconnect with my family. Life goes on, until the next time the ‘Black Dog’ of depression and despair returns to haunt me, each time believing to be the last. No chance.

I’m me, a screwed-up human being, so lucky to have a soul mate who stuck by me even when I turned on her, just like Bert did on Ethel all those years ago.

I’m over that now…

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