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Going Back (Part 1: The Corner Shop)
Going Back (Part 1: The Corner Shop)

Going Back (Part 1: The Corner Shop)


Going Back

The summer of ‘66

‘I only want a bag of sugar!’

Alan Cooper’s squeaky eleven-year old voice reverberated around the corner shop, which, at just after ten to four on a Saturday afternoon, was eerily empty. There were no staff or customers. Alan had just a few unsold newspapers, plus the silent shelves of chocolate bars, crisps and tinned food, for company.

It was only the second time that he had been in the shop, which was located a couple of minutes’ walk away from the new house that he and his parents had moved into a few weeks before. When he had cried at the prospect of moving house and leaving behind all his friends, his mum had told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was lucky to be moving to a ‘nice’ area of Essex and getting away from the grime and overcrowding of the East End of London.

He knew that his parents had struggled to afford the new house and that his dad was working flat out to earn enough money to pay the mortgage. In the short time they had been living there, the pattern was well established. Dad would leave at the crack of dawn on his new moped, on the way to his job in the London Docks (a round trip of over forty miles) and get home at about eight thirty in the evening. He would have his dinner, watch the television (another recent acquisition) for a while and then go to bed. It was the same routine most Saturdays and Sundays. ‘Overtime,’ he once told Alan, ‘that’s the only way a working man can afford a place like this.’ And Dad did plenty of overtime. Whenever he was at home, he would launch into some kind of D.I.Y. or ‘make a start on the garden’, which was still something of a wilderness. Although Dad, at thirty-five, was still a young man and in good physical shape, he look exhausted much of the time.

The house was a three-bedroom, semi-detached one and, although it was situated in a supposedly ‘nice’ area, the local infrastructure was still very basic. Their road was covered with tarmac and had pavements, but many of the adjoining streets were still unmade and the houses were not connected to the main drainage. There was a bus service but it was not very frequent and Alan usually walked the mile and a quarter to his primary school every day. The school had now broken up for summer holidays and next term he would be going to the local Secondary Modern at Farm Road, which was actually a bit nearer but still a good round trip. In his first weeks in the area he had made friends with Joe, a boy who lived a few doors away, but otherwise he had felt a bit of an outsider at school, with his strong East End accent marking him out as someone to be suspicious of, especially among those pupils whose parents had ‘ambitions’ for them. With his dad rarely at home, Alan was often at a loose end. He was not unintelligent but he had failed his eleven-plus before they moved; ‘narrowly’, one teacher had told his mum. At the end of term the previous week his dad, in a state of grumpy fatigue that was becoming the norm, had told him:

‘It’s the Secondary Modern from now on. You can forget all those ideas of a fancy education at grammar school, with the uniform and all that. That’s what comes from not working hard enough. After everything we’ve done for you.’

And then, for the first time, he hit Alan, quite hard, over the head. Alan, in tears, had run into the kitchen and told his mum. She hugged him and said:

‘He’s tired, love, we all are.’

Mum was a pretty woman with a good figure and her blonde hair piled up on the top of her head. Alan had a close bond with her and, even at his age, he realised that she attracted the attention, often unwanted, of men. In particular, he had observed Mr Larkin, the butcher who owned the shop that they visited on the way back from school, openly drooling at the sight of this newcomer to the area, especially if there was the tiniest bit of cleavage on view. Alan found this acutely embarrassing.

‘Why does Mr Larkin look at you like that, Mum?’

‘Like what, love?’

‘You…you know’.

‘Oh, that’s just men, Alan. You’ll probably be the same one day!’

‘Doesn’t he know you’ve got Dad?’

‘Yes,’ she replied wistfully. ‘I suppose he does.’


As Alan stood there in the corner shop waiting to be served, he thought about his parents and, in particular, the blow he had received from Dad. But then his thoughts turned towards the risk of missing the start of the second half. The Saturday in question was the 30th of July 1966 and England were playing West Germany in the World Cup final. Alan had watched the first half on TV with his parents and had been engrossed in the action. He loved his football and was a big West Ham fan, his uncle having taken him to Upton Park a few times. He had become obsessed with the World Cup from the start of the first match against Uruguay and proudly displayed a huge wall chart in his bedroom. At half-time, with the score one-all, Alan’s mum had thrust a ten-shilling note into his hand and told him to go to the corner shop for a bag of sugar.

For a second he protested, terrified of missing even one second of the action, but when she winked at him and said, ‘You get what you want too’, he was out of the front door in a flash, calculating that he would be back in good time to see the players emerging from the tunnel. However, he had not counted on the shop being deserted and by now it was approaching five to four.

‘Is anyone here?’ he shouted. ‘My mum needs a bag of sugar.’

Then he realised that everybody who worked in the shop was watching the match on a television in the back room, and he tentatively moved behind the counter and put his head round the door. As he did so, he reached out and took the two bars of milk chocolate he intended to buy from the shelf next to the cash register. The first person he saw was the shop owner, a burly man who, noticing his grab at the chocolate bars, immediately got up out of his chair and shouted, at the top of his voice:

‘Oi! What are you doing there? Put those back and get out!’

‘I was just…’

But it was too late. A woman’s voice echoed around the room. It was the owner’s wife.

‘It’s that little East End boy. You can bet your life he’s up to no good. Get him, Arthur.’

At this, a tall, whippet-like young man with greasy black hair, whom Alan presumed to be their son, leapt up and ran towards the door. Alan, suddenly gripped by fear and unwilling to stay to explain the reason for his visit, and that he fully intended to pay for everything, turned round and ran out of the shop. Without quite knowing why, he did not turn left towards his house but went right, in the direction of the other end of town, an area he did not know. He had seen Arthur follow him out of the shop but after a couple of minutes he was sure that he had lost him. Relieved, he sat down on a wall to get his breath back and to plot his route home, so that he could at least see most of the second half. But then, looking around, he realised that, in his haste to shake off his pursuer, he could not remember which route he had taken. Had he gone down the second road on the right or the third? Had he then turned left or right? All the streets in the area looked the same; all the houses were identical. As he sat on the wall, he felt a shiver go through his body as he realised that he was lost. He looked around for someone to ask but the whole street was deserted. The second half would have started by now. He did not know what to do. Suddenly, the world seemed a very big and unfamiliar place. He felt tears running down his cheek; he was angry and upset with himself for losing his way and for missing the match.

There was only one thing for it. He turned and looked at the house behind the wall. It was, in fact, unlike the others. It was a detached house and seemed a bit older than the rest of the neighbourhood. He decided to knock and to ask for directions back home. The front garden was very colourful and carefully tended. He could see that there were people in the front room and, as he got closer to the door, he observed that they were watching the match. Perhaps they wouldn’t mind if he…

When it came to it, he was unused to making enquiries at strange homes and it was with some trepidation that he finally opened the gate and began his walk up the drive. He was about to ring the bell but, before he could do so, a fair-haired boy, who seemed to be the same age as he was, opened the door.

‘Excuse me,’ said Alan, trying to suppress his accent as much as possible. ‘I’m new to this area and I’m afraid I’ve got lost. Can you tell me how to get back to Walker’s Road?’

‘I thought so. You’ve been crying,’ said the other boy, in a very direct way. ‘I saw you sitting on the wall. You had better come in. We are all watching the World Cup final.’

‘I’m sorry,’ replied Alan, unsure why he was apologising, ‘but that’s why I want to get back. I don’t want to miss it.’

‘Well, come in and watch it here. My dad will give you a lift home afterwards. You have come a long way from Walker’s Road!’

‘All right’, agreed Alan.

‘My name is Klaus,’ said the boy, as they went together into the hall.


Alan entered the living room rather nervously. The house, being detached, was more spacious than theirs, and the immaculately decorated and furnished living room seemed enormous when compared to what Dad referred to as the parlour.

Klaus, who seemed to control everything in a very grown-up way, called him back into the hall and pointed to the phone.

‘You should call your parents,’ he declared. ‘They will be wondering where you are.’

Almost without thinking, Alan called home. His mum answered.

‘Alan, where are you? We were getting worried.’

‘It’s all right, Mum,’ he replied, trying to be reassuring. ‘I met a friend from school and I am watching the second half at his place.’


‘Walpole Avenue,’ whispered Klaus.

‘Walpole Avenue,’ echoed Alan. He could hear his dad complaining in the background. ‘It’s not far. I’ll be back after the match. I’ve got to go; I don’t want to miss it.’

As he put the phone down, Klaus beckoned him into the living room.

A group of people were seated around the television. There was a couple whom Alan presumed to be Klaus’ parents, as they were about the same age as his mum and dad, although they were much better dressed and looked a bit like people in some of the commercials on ITV. Then there was another man, who turned out to be Klaus’ uncle, and a much older man, who had ‘Grandad’ written all over him.

‘This is Alan,’ announced Klaus. ‘He has come to watch the match. We used to go to school together.’ The parents, who were both concentrating intently on the game, looked up and nodded in acknowledgment. Alan was briefly puzzled; he had never met Klaus before, but then he understood that it would have been awkward for his new-found friend to say:

‘This is Alan. I just saw him outside crying his eyes out in front of the house.’

He pulled up an extra chair and watched the action. Although it seemed ages since he had been chased out of the shop, only ten minutes of the second half had been played. The score was still one-all. Almost immediately, an England player was tackled by one of the West Germans and went to ground. Play went on.

‘Foul!’ shouted Alan, getting up out of his chair.

At once, the old man turned to him.

‘Nein!’ he shouted. ‘Das war kein…’

Klaus’ father intervened. ‘Vater, er ist Englander.’

The old man, who was red-faced and quite severe in manner, smiled and looked at Alan.


Alan had never heard anyone speak a foreign language before and he was confused by words he could not understand. Klaus came over to him.

‘Just to explain,’ he said, ‘we are German. At least, I’m… Well, I’ll explain later.’

Alan continued to watch the match but was now perplexed by what was happening. He felt as though he had entered a different world when he walked through Klaus’ front door. Who were these people? Why were they here? Would they take him prisoner? He remembered seeing Germans on TV in a war film and none of them seemed very nice. He sat watching as the second half progressed, feeling a little detached from the proceedings as the family continued to chatter in a tongue which meant nothing to him.

Then, with about twelve minutes remaining, Martin Peters, who was Alan’s big hero at West Ham, scored and put England two-one ahead. On seeing this, Alan forgot where he was and shouted ‘Goal!’, leaping out of his chair in celebration and singing ‘We’re going to win the cup, We’re going to win the cup.’ At this moment, he noticed that everyone else in the room had gone silent and was looking totally despondent. He sat down. As the game restarted, no one said anything.

The minutes ticked away and time was almost up. England were going to win and Alan knew that he would not be able to contain his joy when the final whistle blew. He would jump up and dance around the room, he would do it, he would. Surely no one could object.

Just as he was preparing for the moment of victory, West Germany were awarded a free kick just outside the England penalty area.

‘Never!’ shouted Alan, complaining about the decision.

The old man stared at him, in a much less friendly way this time. In the mêlée which followed the free kick, West Germany equalised. This was the cue for an explosion of joy in the living room, the like of which Alan had never seen before. Everyone, even the old man, leapt in the air and started hugging each other. Everyone except Alan, who sat motionless where he was, mirroring the state of mind of millions of English fans up and down the country. Hardly had the family settled down again when the final whistle blew. The match had finished two-all at the end of normal time. There was a collective sigh of relief; there would be time to stretch legs for a few minutes and to organise thoughts before extra time started.

Klaus’ father, a tall, distinguished man with well-groomed dark hair, got up and walked towards Alan, offering his hand.

‘My name is Harry. Harry Smith.’ He laughed. ‘You must find this all a bit strange. I understand that you know Klaus and apart from his name you would never know that he was anything but a normal English boy. With me, my English is good, I think, but I have never quite lost the accent.’

‘In fact,’ chuckled the father, ‘my real name is Hartmut Schmidt. My parents sent me over to England just before the war.’

‘Why?’ asked Alan, who had begun to recognise a few German names from his wall chart.

‘It’s a long story. You may know that things were very bad in Germany. It would take a long time to explain. Let’s just say that we have been here for a long while and for most of the time we are just like any other English family. I tell you, we were cheering when England beat Portugal on Tuesday! It’s just that, on occasions like this, we become German again, particularly my father-in-law! I hope it doesn’t worry you too much. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like!’

‘It doesn’t worry me,’ replied Alan, trying to sound very grown up. ‘But I still want England to win.’

‘Of course you do.’

At this point Klaus appeared and handed Alan a glass of lemonade. Slices of some sort of fruit cake, which Alan had never seen before, were passed around. And then extra time started.

England’s third goal, scored in the ninety-eighth minute by Geoff Hurst, another of Alan’s West Ham heroes, has been the subject of controversy ever since the ball hit the crossbar and bounced down somewhere near the goal line.

Alan was so excited when the referee, after consulting the linesman, pointed to the centre circle. He knew that this might be the decisive goal and once again he got up and danced in celebration, almost hitting the ceiling as he waved his arms in the air. Then he became aware of an atmosphere in the room. It was quite unlike the feeling of disappointment after England’s second goal, more a mixture of stupefaction and anger. The grandfather stood up.

‘Was fur eine Schande!’ he shouted

‘We have been cheated,’ cried the mother, in an almost ferocious manner. The fact that she had spoken in English made Alan think that her remark was directed at him.

He took his seat and kept his head down. As the others continued to discuss what happened, he did not understand what was being said but he felt like an outsider who was under threat. The air of disbelief, punctuated by the occasional tutting and gasped ‘aah’, continued right to the end of the extra-time period, when Hurst completed his hat-trick and the match finished. England had triumphed four-two and had won the World Cup.

As the players shook hands or collapsed on the floor with sheer exhaustion, Klaus’ family relaxed and appeared resigned to their defeat. One by one, they approached Alan and shook him by the hand.

‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ said Hartmut. ‘Still, I’m pleased for England, in a way. After all, this is where I have spent most of my life. It’s where my heart is. But Germany is where my soul is. I hope you understand.’

Alan didn’t pretend to understand much of it. Klaus approached them.

‘Father,’ he said, ‘can we take Alan home now? His parents will be waiting for him.’ And so, as a toothless Nobby Stiles performed a jig around Wembley Stadium with the Jules Rimet Trophy in his hands, Alan bade farewell to everyone and headed for the garage with Klaus and his dad.

As the three of them jumped into the Morris Minor, it occurred to Alan that he had never been in a car. Apart from his dad’s moped, his family’s transport, wherever they went, had been bus, train or foot. So even such a basic, everyday vehicle made Alan feel that he had stepped into a world of luxury.

In what seemed a matter of seconds, they arrived at Alan’s house in Walker’s Road. Klaus opened the passenger door to let Alan out.

‘Goodbye, Alan,’ shouted Hartmut. ‘Don’t celebrate too much! Think of us!’ Alan was too young to appreciate the gentle irony of this remark.

Klaus went with Alan to the front gate and shook his hand. Alan found this gesture strange for someone of his age.

‘Do you go to the Secondary Modern at Farm Road?’ asked Alan. He had never seen Klaus at the primary school and suspected him to be a little older than himself.

‘No.’ Klaus smiled. ‘You see, since I left the primary school last year, I don’t normally live at home, except in the school holidays. I am sure that my father realises that we have never met. But let’s get to know each other one day. We could go to Southend, to the beach, it’s not far. Call me, you know where I live.’

‘All right,’ said Alan, a little overwhelmed by this boy, neatly dressed in his black trousers and pullover, who seemed all-knowing and at ease with everyone, children and adults alike.

Klaus was about to go back to the car when he stopped and grabbed Alan by the arm.

‘By the way, that third goal was not a goal. The ball did not cross the line. You were lucky.’

‘It was a goal,’ replied Alan weakly, knowing that it would be difficult to argue with someone whom he already worshipped and adored. By this time, Klaus had got back into the car and a few moments later it drove away. Alan stood on the pavement and watched it turn left onto the main road at the end of the street.

‘It was a goal,’ he repeated, mumbling to himself. ‘I’ll prove it to you when I see you again, Klaus. Even to you.’

But, with regard to Klaus, and to all other aspects of Alan’s life, things were about to take a dramatic turn.


‘Where have you been?’ shouted his dad, as Alan entered the front door of the house.

His dad, for once, had not gone to work to do overtime that day. He had stayed at home to watch the ‘biggest bleedin’ match of our lives’, as he put it. He was obviously put out that Alan had not watched most of it with him. Even from some distance away, Alan could sense, and indeed smell, that he had been drinking.

‘Well?’ he cried, when his son did not reply. ‘Didn’t fancy watching with your old dad, eh? Had some better offer, I suppose?’ He started sniggering and Alan suddenly felt threatened by his boorish behaviour, which contrasted so starkly with that of Klaus’ father. Dad liked a drink, as did most of the other fathers he knew, but since they had started saving up for the house, both his parents had decided to give up cigarettes and booze. But today had been a special day; England had won the World Cup. And Dad had obviously downed quite a few in celebration.

‘I met a friend on the way back from the shop,’ said Alan. ‘He invited me to his house. I…I had to decide straight away whether I would go, and I went. It was fun.’

‘Who is this friend?’ asked his dad, obviously suspicious. ‘I didn’t think you had many friends around here.’

‘You don’t know him.’

‘What’s his name? Tell me his name. Tell me where he lives!’

‘You don’t know him, I told you.’

‘Don’t you get cheeky with me, you liar.’ Alan’s dad grabbed him and shook him quite roughly, pulling his hair. At that moment, his mum appeared in the hallway.

‘Ray!’ she shouted. ‘What the hell are you doing? Let him go.’

‘I’ll tell you what I’m doing,’ replied his dad. ‘I’m trying to find out where he went today after he deserted us!’

Alan’s mum, seeing the state her husband was in, pulled Alan close to her.

‘Did you get that bag of sugar for me, love?’

‘Er, no, I went…’

‘You see,’ yelled his dad, who was now turning an increasingly bright shade of red. ‘He planned it. He just wanted an excuse to get away from us.’ Then, looking at his wife, he said ‘Or perhaps, you planned it with him. That’s right, you were in it together. You gave him the excuse by telling him to run that errand. You couldn’t bear the idea of him spending time with me, watching the match together, like a father and a son should. He’s my son, Carol, as well as yours. I need to have time with him. You’re always protecting him.’

‘Ray,’ said Alan’s mum, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

Suddenly, Alan’s dad leapt forward and seized her, throwing her against the wall.

‘Yes you do, you silly cow. You’re always taking his side.’

Alan, alarmed at this, tried to place himself between them.

‘Stop it!’ he yelled at his dad. ‘It’s your fault. You’re never here. You’re always working. That’s why Uncle Reggie has to take me to Upton Park. You never come with me.’

His dad backed away and became almost apologetic all of a sudden. ‘I have to work to get money, son. Do you think I want to be doing that bloody job seven days a week? Don’t you think I’d rather be here? But I don’t have any choice.’ He bent down and took Alan by the shoulders.

‘Let’s go inside,’ said Alan’s mum, hoping that the situation had been defused and sensing that her husband was showing remorse for what he had done. She put her arms around him but realised immediately that she had misjudged his mood. He pushed her away roughly and twice hit her hard around the face. After the second blow she slipped on the carpet and fell onto the floor. As she went down, she put out her left arm to break her fall and let out a cry of pain.

Alan ran over to help her. He could see that his mum was clasping her left hand and cursing.

‘You’re horrible,’ he cried to his dad. ‘I’m glad I watched the match with Klaus this afternoon. His family doesn’t behave like this.’

Ray Cooper, seemingly oblivious to the sight of his stricken wife struggling to pick herself up off the floor, moved towards Alan, pinning him against the staircase.

‘Klaus!’ he screamed, sarcastically. ‘Klaus! That’s a German name. You mean that you watched the match with a bunch of krauts? Is that what you planned? Is that what she planned?’

‘There was no plan,’ replied Alan defiantly, although the sight of his beery father towering over him filled him with fear. ‘I got lost, it’s a long story. I knocked on their door and Klaus invited me in. I’d never met him before. That’s all. I’m really sorry I missed the second half with you.’

‘Sorry? Sorry! I bet you enjoyed sitting there watching it with your bunch of krauts. Cheering for them, were yer?’

‘They’re not krauts,’ said Alan. ‘They’re nice people. Klaus’ dad gave me a lift back in his car.’

‘Oh, I see, they’re well off as well.’ Alan could see that his dad was getting more and more exasperated. He knew that he should not have mentioned the car. His dad’s rant continued, louder than ever.

‘I’m not good enough, I suppose. Your poor old dad, working all the hours that God sends so that we can live in a little box like this. I suppose his family have a big house and a nice car. Well, you go and tell them this. We didn’t just win the World Cup, we won the bloody war and we should have all that. I should have it!’ He pointed angrily at his chest. Then he began to cry.

At that moment, Alan noticed his mum, who still looked unsteady from her fall, dialling a number on the phone. His dad, looking distraught by now, turned towards her.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m calling the police. You’re out of control.’

‘No, Carol,’ pleaded his dad, taking a step in her direction.

She put out her right hand. The left one, which was clearly still painful, was holding the phone. ‘Don’t come any nearer. Don’t try to touch me and don’t tell me that you’re sorry. You know it’s not the first time.’

On hearing this, Alan, who had been tiptoeing into the living room, turned round.

‘You mean he’s hit you before, Mum?’ He felt very small and frightened.

‘Many times, love. It started when we were first married and living in Stratford. You should see what he’s like when he’s had a few drinks. You’ve never seen it before, not really. It usually happens in private, you might say, and I usually manage to hide any damage with make-up. This is the first time for a while, but I’m blowed if I’m taking it any more. He’s probably broken my bloody wrist. It hurts like hell.’

Ray Cooper put up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

‘All right,’ he said. ‘I’ve done wrong in the past, I admit it. But we can work things out. Please, Carol, put the phone down. How do you think you’re going to survive if the police come for me?’ He looked, in some desperation, at Alan. ‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘it’s his fault. Everything was fine until he went out. We were together, as a family. And then he just deserted us, went off with his krauts.’

‘At least,’ shouted Alan, ‘Klaus’ dad doesn’t beat up his mum, like you do. You’re just a drunk, and a coward!’

‘Alan, don’t…’ exclaimed his mum.

But it was too late. Before Alan could run, his dad took what seemed to be two giant strides across the hall and grabbed him by the collar.

‘You little bastard!’ he cried.

In one movement, he threw Alan against the banisters and his head struck the large upright column at the bottom of the stairs. The last words he heard were his mum screaming ‘Please don’t!’ and then pain seared through his head as he felt the impact. After that, everything seemed to melt into a pool of darkness, into which he fell, spinning endlessly downwards.


The room was small and dimly lit and yet Alan Cooper had to open and shut his eyes several times before he could bear the subdued light. There was a painting of a horse on the wall which he could just about make out. His head felt heavy, as if stuffed full of something, and he was aware of a dull pain coming from inside it. He felt it with his right hand and realised that it was encased in a bandage. His left arm was attached to some kind of drip coming from a bottle. The clock on the wall said half-past ten and it was light, so Alan reckoned that it must be morning. A calendar to his left gradually became visible; it was opened at October 1966 and had a photograph of Tower Bridge above it. That much he knew, although he no longer recognised the bridge. What he did not know was where he was, why he was there or even who he was. He had no recollection of anything which had gone before in his whole life. He was, to all intents and purposes, a blank sheet of paper, although he had no way of knowing this at the time.

Slowly, he began to experiment, to raise his legs and to move from side to side. Everything seemed to work, although what purpose it would serve he did not know. Instinctively, he opened his mouth and spoke.

‘Hello,’ he said quietly. So there was language, although he did not understand what he was saying.

‘Hello,’ he repeated, a little more loudly.

‘Hello!’ he shouted.

Finally, bouncing up and down on the bed, he bellowed at the top of his voice. ‘Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello!’


It was two days later when Alan awoke. He was covered in sweat and was strapped to the bed. He remembered that some people had come in and held him down. Then a man had stuck something in his arm.

A little while later, the same man appeared, dressed in a white coat. He was smiling broadly and exuded authority.

‘Aha! Pleased to see that you are awake, young man. I’m sorry that we had to deal with you so roughly the other day, but it was for your own good, believe me.’

‘You’re a doctor!’ exclaimed Alan.

‘Well, that’s progress,’ replied the man.

‘I remember doctors, in hospitals. This is a hospital, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it is. Do you know why you are here?’

‘I must have been ill.’

The doctor moved closer and sat down next to him.

‘And do you remember what made you ill?’

‘No. Just that my head hurts.’

‘Do you remember where you lived, Alan?’

‘That’s right, I’m Alan. That’s my name. I lived in a house.’

‘What sort of house?’

‘Just a house.’

‘Do you know who your parents are?’


‘Yes, you know. Your mother and father.’

‘I don’t…..’

‘Your mother wants to visit you. Would you like that?’

Over the coming weeks and months, Alan would learn that the blow to his head from being thrown against the staircase had fractured his skull. He had undergone an emergency operation and had been in a coma for several weeks. He had the best care that medicine could provide but, given the technology available in 1966, the doctors were not sure whether he would regain consciousness, and, even if he did, what state he would be in.

Therefore, they were delighted when Alan finally woke up and even more pleased when they found that his speech was articulate and that he was able to recall people and events. But, by the spring of 1967, it became clear that there were limits to his recovery. His mother, Carol, visited every week. He was aware of their relationship and gradually regained memories of a number of events from his childhood, such as days out at the seaside at Southend. But the maternal bond had gone. To him, she was just another woman, like the nurses or the ladies who came in to clean the room.

As the years went by, Alan Cooper became well enough to lead a fairly normal life. He had been able to resume, and complete, his education, managing to pass a few ‘O’ levels. Gradually the world around him began to make sense. He was able to fill in enough pieces of the jigsaw to get a clerical job in the Civil Service, at which he worked diligently for more than forty years. There was talk of promotion from time to time but the general consensus in his Department was that he ‘didn’t quite have what it takes’, although he was doing a ‘first class job in his present grade’. So he remained a clerical officer for the whole of his career, appreciated by all and a veritable font of knowledge and wisdom by the time he retired in January 2016. The retirement party was a joyous occasion, with good wishes and tributes sincerely meant. Alan was able to reflect that while his professional achievements had been modest, he had been a good colleague over the years and his job, athough not particularly well paid, had given him a decent standard of living and a pension.

His personal life had been rather more uneven. At the age of twenty-six he had married Mary, who worked in the local branch of Lloyds Bank. In many ways, the marriage was happy and they shared many interests. They bought a modest house in Barnet, Middlesex and were active members of the National Trust, visiting many gardens and country houses. Then one Saturday morning in the summer of 2010, Mary had gone out for the day to visit some relatives in Watford. She was never seen again. The police tried their best but there were no clues, no leads. Alan was saddened by her disappearance but got over it fairly quickly, continuing to live alone in the same house. He had never felt love in the conventional sense; companionship, certainly, and perhaps contentment. He sometimes saw men in films telling a woman in a passionate moment that they ‘wanted’ her, and he never understood what this meant. He had never ‘wanted’ Mary; she was not something to be ‘had’ by him. When she had agreed to marry him he felt an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude. She was so nice, so considerate that he felt honoured to be with her. And yet, at the back of his mind, there was the thought that she would not always be there, and so when she left it did not take him long to adapt to a new life. It was only recently that he had thought fondly about her, remembering the good times and wishing that he had been able to say goodbye.

Alan’s relationship with his mother, Carol, had evolved into one of a close bond of friendship. As time went by, he was able to piece together memories of his childhood and came to recognise the part that his mum had played in his early life. But they could never be more than good, respectful friends. That intimacy and physical link between a mother and son had been broken forever by the accident. When she passed away, not long before Mary disappeared from his life, he did not feel bereft or heartbroken, just sad that a lifelong companion was no more.

In contrast, Alan knew nothing of his father. His mother had moved with her son to North London; she had never remarried after their divorce went through in 1968 and she and Alan never spoke about his dad. Alan knew that he had lived with his father, as well as his mother, until July 1966 but he had no memory of him. He could not recall what he looked like, how he spoke or what he did. As the years went by, he had no idea where his father was or even whether he was still alive. And he had no particular desire to find out.

Alan had no memory of the incident of the 30th of July 1966 and, in particular, of the blow which had changed the course of his life, as well as that of his parents. He had seen film of the World Cup Final on television from time to time, although as an adult he retained very little interest in football. He had no recollection of having watched the match live, of being sent to the corner shop, of meeting Klaus and his family or of being driven home to the ill-fated confrontation with his father. He had no memory of that day at all.

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2 May, 2018
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