I was about nine or ten and I was with a group of friends at BB’s house. We were in the back garden, playing war or something. Someone said to me, “Your mum’s here.” I thought that highly unlikely, but I looked round and there she was.
You know how, particularly when you’re young, you can sense trouble? I sensed it straight away. We all stopped what we were doing and gathered together in a little group, like we would do at school when a teacher caught us doing something we weren’t supposed to.
Mum stood before us, leaning slightly forward. Her arm was stretched out in front of her, holding a tiny gold crucifix. She looked as though she was trying to ward off a coven of vampires. Then she began to speak.
I didn’t listen to a word she said. I didn’t need to. I could guess. She was wittering some incomprehensible drivel she had picked up from that toxic black book of hers. BB and the other boys stood either side of me, dumbfounded. I didn’t trouble myself wondering what they were thinking. I was concentrating only on what the consequences would be for a nine-year-old boy when it became generally known that his mother was a religious lunatic. BB’s mother appeared and gently led her into the house.
“She’s mad,” I kept repeating. “She’s mad.” No one disagreed.
Word got round pretty quickly. Of course, I gibbed off school as much as I could after that. Dad was a shift worker at the docks and every other week he had to leave home at five in the morning. Mum was so weak it was the simplest thing to convince her that I was ill and should be kept at home, often for a week at a time.
I suppose, looking back, things were at their worst for about five years, but it took about another five years before we returned to something approaching normality. Somehow Dad managed to keep the family together and maintain an air of respectability in the neighbourhood, though to this day I don’t know how he did it.
And then, just as we emerged from the crisis, Dad was diagnosed with cancer. Aunt J, who was devoutly religious, came to see him to cheer him up. He was sitting in an armchair beside the fire. Aunt J knelt before him, took him by the hand and began to pray for him. That was the only time in my life that I ever saw my father weep. He broke down completely and cried like a little child. A week later he was dead.
But long before that, I had ceased to be a Christian.