Last week saw a rather sad landmark for the Lenton family: my uncle Paul, the youngest of my father’s brothers, died at the age of 96. He was the last of his generation, and the longest-lived.
This of course means that I am now part of the oldest generation, and some time in the not-too-distant future someone may well be writing similar words about me, or one of my brothers or cousins. That, I have to admit, is a little unsettling.
Paul was a good man. He founded a church near Eaton Park and was decorated for his first aid work during the war. He played football till he was well over 50 – mainly in goal –- and I played against him on occasion. His team in those matches was Park Church. I played for Surrey Chapel. Games took place twice a year, on Boxing Day and Easter Monday, and were the forerunner of today’s thriving Norwich Christian Football League.
Paul was born in Norwich, but his parents came from further afield. His father was born in Norman’s Cross, near Peterborough, and his mother in Sheffield. I’m not sure where they met, but I suspect it was in London, where my grandmother was a hospital nurse. Her maiden name was Booth, and she always claimed that she was related to the founder of the Salvation Army, but no-one ever worked out how.
The family moved to Norwich from Mansfield in about 1908. Their two eldest sons, Leonard and Reg, had already been born, but the rest were born in Norwich. Leonard moved to Africa not long after he married, and I don’t think I ever met him, though I now know his daughter, who lives in Liverpool.
Reg was a good friend to us, particularly after my father died of a stroke at the age of 43. But eventually he too moved away, though not so far. His three children – all older than me – now live in South-West England.
The Lenton family continued to grow in Norwich and became stalwarts at Surrey Chapel free church. The next boy, Frank, became a manager at Colman’s, and my father David went into local government, eventually becoming assistant education officer in Coventry.
Ken followed in 1915. He was a company secretary, I believe, and probably because he lived fairly close to us in Norwich, I became friendly with his two children, one of whom is now dead.
Having produced five boys, my grandparents now came up with two girls – Dorothea, who was matron of Norwich School when it took boarders, and who was one of the nicest people I’ve met. Her sister Kathleen was rather more severe, but I got to know her better after she returned from Zimbabwe after many years as a nurse/missionary and lived in Norwich until her death in 2011. She had outlived two husbands. Neither girl produced children.
Paul’s birth in 1923 completed that generation of the Lenton family. His three children survive him – two of them living in Norwich and one in Lincolnshire.
I still have an aunt living just outside Norwich. She is in her 90s, but she is not a Lenton – she is my mother’s youngest sister; so her maiden name was Brown. But that’s another story.
Sixty years on, the trains
still run at the bottom of my garden.
I return, expecting to see
uprooted rails, something for walkers,
a crazed cycle path,
but I hear the train, and I see
the track, though the meadows it ran through
have been shaved and smartened
into a blazered sports field, and a fence
blocks my old path to the dark woods.
I search for signs of my childhood,
marks I might have made.
Someone has thrown away the broken tooth
and the bicycle,
and the moon my father chased up the street
got away – as did the boy
who pulled his toy from underneath a moving car
while I stood transfixed.
But the numbers remain:
the pavements, the houses,
the steps towards school.
The scene of my first major crime
(grand theft marble)
has been wiped clean
like my sins.
No more lovely young girls,
no more shotguns,
no more holes in the ground.
Everything is neat now,
except the forces’ club and its
car park in no-man’s-land,
leaking on to the street, as it always did.
Swinging on some railings by the iron road,
I dropped a magical red magnet
and could never find it.
Perhaps that is what draws me back
to this unremarkable street,
this shadowed and temperamental sky
under which strange things happened
to someone I almost knew.