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Just a Few Seconds – Sample Chapters

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We all have patterns in our lives that repeat themselves constantly. One of my main patterns became evident when I was only five years old. I was seated in class when the teacher asked each of us to stand up and describe our parents’ wedding day. No problem with that. Each child gave the usual account of white dresses, bridesmaids, flowers and wedding cakes.

“And you Derek. How was your parents’ wedding day?”

I shot to my feet. It wasn’t often I was asked a question I knew the answer to.

“My mum and dad were married in Italy. It was very hot. The priest needed a shave. The church was very big and my mum wore a parachute.”

The teacher looked confused even before I continued with my final, shocking revelation:

“After the wedding a policeman took my dad to prison.”

She took a few seconds to regain her composure and said:

“I’m sure that can’t be right Derek.”

I was devastated. At last I had given an answer I knew was correct but no one believed me. Life can be tough for a five year old.

“Honest Miss! That’s what happened!”

She moved quickly on to the next child. I felt cheated and couldn’t understand why teacher hadn’t believed me so that night I told my parents about the incident. My father, who was one of the most honourable men that ever lived, was mortified at the thought of the whole school talking about poor young Derek coming from a criminal fraternity. What I said was true but far from being something to be ashamed of, my father’s imprisonment turned out to be one of his greatest moments.

My parents met in Milan where my father was stationed at the end of World War 2. He fell in love with a local girl and they wanted to marry as soon as possible. The British Army was happy to allow its soldiers to marry but permission was being withheld in his regiment by a power hungry captain as every soldier that married and returned to England was one less under his command and he couldn’t stand to see his empire crumbling. Totally out of character my father went ahead and married without permission. They had a lovely wedding in Milan and my mother being a gifted dressmaker made a beautiful dress out of an old silk parachute. At the tender age of five it was inconceivable to me that anyone could make a real wedding dress out of a parachute so I naturally assumed that all she had done was cut a hole in the top and worn it over her head like a tent. As for the priest needing a shave, it was the only thing my father remembered about the ceremony so I figured it must be important. My father was not the most romantic of men.

Shortly after the ceremony finished and photos were taken the Military Police arrived and took my father to prison where he shared a cell with two murderers. When the company commander found out what had happened he was livid and ordered a full inquiry with the outcome being that all the men were free to marry. The hated captain was disgraced and my father became a hero. Until that day I honestly believed it was normal that at the end of every wedding the bridegroom was taken to prison. So there you have the main pattern of my life… nothing was ever simple for me.

Another incident was in secondary school whilst seated at my first French lesson. Every other year my family drove to Italy to visit our relatives and one problem we always had was getting through France at a time when no one spoke English. My father never understood that French was a different language to Italian or maybe it was just a matter of waving your hands in a different way. It was always my mother who was pushed out the car to ask for directions so I was overjoyed that I was going to learn French. I spent the whole of the first lesson daydreaming about our next trip through France when I would be the family saviour. We would go into restaurants and I would call the waiter over and order in fluent French while my family sat back and watched with amazement and pride. My second lesson took me daydreaming through little French towns, talking and laughing with the locals and bargaining for cheese at market stalls. After three months of this I was devastated one day when the boy next to me stood up in class and spoke a whole sentence in French. I didn’t understand a single word and realised it was too late for me to catch up on all that my daydreaming had caused me to miss. During the remainder of my French lessons I returned to my old dreams of being the first man to captain England in football, cricket and fishing.

And there you have the second main pattern of my life; I would forever be at the mercy of my dreams. It is a shame however that dreamers are generally looked down on by society and that there is only one word for two different kinds of dreamer. There are passive dreamers who sit on their backsides and do very little to follow those dreams and there are active dreamers who devote their entire life to following their dreams and if they succeed we all benefit from their perseverance. There is no doubt that during my French lessons I was a passive dreamer but no one reading my story can disagree with my claim to later becoming an active dreamer.

Chapter 3  –   HARD TIMES

My exam results were a constant mystery to my parents and teachers as I alternated between top of the class and the bottom. If I was interested in a subject my marks were good unless I sat next to a girl I fancied in which case they were bad. I loved sport and represented my comprehensive school in every team possible, not always because I was good at them but because it was a small school so for the less popular sports anyone able to run in a straight line without falling over was selected. One year our sports master entered a boxing team into the London schoolboy championships and as always I volunteered. I had never even worn boxing gloves let alone boxed so I don’t know why the probability of me being bashed around the head for five minutes never occurred to me. I was able to look after myself in the school playground but fighting a trained boxer was much harder than standing up to the school bully. I was only a few seconds into the first round when I was attacked by what felt like a swarm of flying rhinos. The referee stopped the bout after deciding that my spinning around in circles didn’t constitute an ability to defend myself. It was a humiliating experience but it only made me determined to learn how to box. I joined a club and became quite a good boxer although I lacked the killer instinct and always felt the need to apologise to my opponent after hitting him.

My favourite sport was cricket and not only did I captain the school team but I also played regularly for London and the occasional game for the South of England. I wanted to become a professional cricketer but every time I mentioned it to someone they laughed so I put the idea out of my head. Every week during winter I went to the Crystal Palace Recreation Centre with my friend John where we were coached by professionals. One day a group of us were sitting in the cafe after practice and the usual subject came up:

“What are you going to do when you leave school?” asked John.

“I’m going to be an electrician,” I said.

The only thing that had led me to this momentous decision was I had recently fixed our front door bell and my father was so impressed that he thought I should do it as a career.

“How about you?” I asked John.

“I’m going to be a professional cricketer.”

We all fell about laughing and sneered as people do when hearing about the dreams of others, especially when their own have been abandoned. He was a quiet, sensitive boy who was hurt by our mockery. It was many years after we lost touch that I heard the news on the radio:

“On his 36th birthday John Embury has been selected to captain England in the forthcoming Test Series.”

At that time he was regarded as the best spin bowler in the world. Maybe I would never have made it as a professional cricketer but that was the last time I let anyone talk me out of a dream.

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