I was what could be called a reluctant baby, my poor mother having struggled for a week to bring me into the world in 1936. This terrible experience did not put her off childbirth as she repeated it nine times!
War was looming on the horizon and when it was announced that Germany had invaded Poland, Mum put her hands on her hips and declared “Hitler’s not going to force me out of my home!”. She changed her mind a year later as we lay under our old wooden kitchen table, down in the basement, listening to the bombs rain out of the evening sky. Within a fortnight we were evacuated to Newquay, Cornwall, where we spent three happy years in The Great Western Hotel, not all of them safe from bombing, as I relate in my book “A Schoolboy’s War in Cornwall”. One day out of the blue mum received a letter from my grandmother saying she had been taken ill. Soon we were on our way to gran’s rose covered cottage in Essex.
About this time my parents divorced, as many couples did after the long war separation. We moved back to the East End of London, where we were introduced to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the new man in Mum’s life. To all outside, he was charming and polite but to us children he introduced a regime of hell. The least I say about this the better, other than we were beaten for no reason, frequently starved and when we heard his key in the door we scampered like frightened rabbits into our freezing cold bedroom. We were not allowed to have lights on and so, determined to write, I did so under the blankets, using a home- made torch. It is said that every dog has his day and mine came when I was fifteen and I floored him and left home. I remember thinking, as I hoisted my kit bag on my shoulder and the front door slammed behind me
“Where do I go now?” I didn’t have a clue
I marched down to Hackney Road and spent the next week in Wells Street tramps home. My cubicle was clean and tidy but I only wished that the other inhabitants were the same. Finally, I obtained lodgings and for two days a week, when I ran out of money, I went hungry. In those days you had to do National Service when you were eighteen and so, after being sacked at seventeen and a half from my job as a plasterer I joined the RAF Regiment for three years. I spent some of my time in Berlin before the wall went up, let alone down, and I made full use of the education facilities as I wanted to join the police force when I was demobbed. By this time, I had met my future wife, Joan, with the help of a brown case. (To see the full story see my page on short stories).
I was demobbed, just as the Suez crisis erupted and as a signaller, Joan and I thought they were going to keep me in, but they did not and I achieved my ambition by passing the examination and interview for the Metropolitan Police and served at the Elephant and Castle for five years. Life was exciting, dangerous and great!
For personal reasons, I left the police and obtained a post as an Estate Officer with the Greater London Council, which was as exciting as being on the beat. Out of twelve estate officers in our office in Bethnal Green only one was not robbed. There are no prizes for guessing who the odd one out was! I was the youngest, an ex-policeman and possibly the real reason was that I went to school with most of the local villains. While there, I upset the brother of one of the train robbers, after he tried to knife me. I upset one of the Kray gang. You never knew what was going to happen.
After six years I obtained a post with Basildon Development Corporation and finally, qualifying became a District Housing Manager and the adventures continued, managing an area of 6,000 properties with 32 staff. On my area I had murders, drugs, evictions, a council house turned into a public house after closing time, neighbour disputes and fires, the list is endless.
Since retiring I have put my experiences to good use by writing four novels, two plays, fifty short stories and had four books published. I have won a number of competitions including, Basildon’s Writer of the Year, Aged Concern, Society of Women Writers’ and Journalists, ( the first man to do so), the Jack Kendal Trophy (Three times plus four places) won the Meggs Competition and came second and third three times. I am currently commissioned to write a book on Chelmsford for Amberley Press. I have given interviews on radio, talks to a Rotary Club, The U3A, schools and the East End Historical Society.
In 2013 my short story, 'The First Casualty', was shortlisted in a competition run by The Writing Magazine.
I am married to Joan and have two sons, five grandchildren and one great granddaughter.
My hobbies are going to the gym, (I have done so since I was 40) wind surfing, fly fishing, reading, gardening and, of course, writing.
I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing and an associate member of the Society of Women Writers’ and Journalists, who started admitting men about four years ago. I was Chairman of Brentwood Writers’ Circle for three years and am now their Treasurer.
I like all kinds of music. Joan and I got engaged at Sadler’s Wells.
My favourite piece of music is “The New World Symphony”
Favourite films, Bernard Cornwall’s Sharp. They are also my choice of books.
Although my poor mum had a struggle having me I’m glad she did, as apart from a having a bad start I consider myself lucky.
- Jim Reeve