06 December 2011

Photos of my parents

My parents were great people (‘great’ in the old-fashioned sense) who had terrible lives. Like me, they were models of what the modern world most wishes to destroy, having aristocratic genes and high IQs. They were very idealistic, honest and responsible, perhaps too much so for their own good (or for mine). Here are a few photographs which may convey more than is easy to verbalise.

William Alfred Green, aged 15
The first is of my father (William Alfred Green) at the age of 15. He must have left the East Ham Grammar School by then, since the school-leaving age was 14, and his ostensible father did not want to support him for a moment longer than was necessary. So he left school and home, as his ostensible father (an engine-driver) had taken a mistress and did not want to have any children from his former family living at home after their ‘mother’ had died.
My father was the youngest and the only one still living at home. His ‘mother’ (who may have been an aunt) died when my father was 12. From the age of 14 onwards, my father supported himself by working very long hours as a junior (hack) chemist at the Beckton Gas Works, preparing at night school for the equivalent of the exams taken at 16 and 18. He did his homework on the Tube train which he took to get to the night school.
Then, also from night school, he took an Honours degree in chemistry, externally from London University. As he was very tired from his day’s work at the gas works, he found this difficult, in spite of his high IQ, and did not take the degree until he was 24. [1]
He disliked the working-class environment in which he grew up, and felt a strong need to rise in the world. His ‘mother’ was an invalid until she died, so she cannot have contributed much in the way of emotional support.
He read very few books while he was living at home, in fact I do not think he can ever have had time to read many. Nevertheless he came top of the borough in the grammar school scholarship.
He was fortunate to meet my mother (Dorothy Elizabeth Green, née Cleare), when they were both 14, at the East Ham Grammar School. She was precocious and brilliantly maternal, and must have supplied at least some of the deficits which resulted from the insecurities of his early life.

William Green and Dorothy Green (on left)
The second photograph shows them together, in their late teens, on a seaside holiday, or more likely weekend break. They both look older than I was told they were, which sometimes results from high IQs. In my father’s case the discrepancy with his chronological age is particularly marked, which probably results from the hardships of his early life, and from his continuing to work hard in his determination to rise in the world by taking a degree, in the first instance. At the time this photo was taken my mother was probably at the teacher training college, and the third person in the photograph (on the right) was at the college with her. This person later became a teacher at the primary school at the docks of which my father was then headmaster.

William Green at East Ham Grammar School
The third photo shows my father with other teachers at the East Ham Grammar School (middle of back row). He would now have been in his late twenties, having completed his degree but found no prospects open to him. With my mother’s support, he had hastily qualified as a teacher in the last year that this was possible without attending a two-year residential course, as my mother had done.
His hopes of rising to an adequate position in society had, however, been destroyed, and my mother married him when they were both about 24, recognising, I think, his need for support in living out his ruined life. This was damaging to her own prospects of a successful teaching career, although she continued to work as a supply teacher until I was born. [2]