Monday, 7 December 2020

Book Spotlight and Extract: Becoming Alfie by Neil Patterson

Becoming Alfie by Neil Patterson

Alfie Norrington was born into poverty in London’s East End in the first minute of the twentieth century. His life was a battle. From the Brick Lane markets where young Alfie pilfered and pickpocketed, to the trenches of Flanders, Alfie fought every step of the way.

Almost killed by a trench bomb he battled to recover and while in a military hospital Alfie made a promise that dramatically change’s his life. A true East End hero, Alfie begins his journey away from poverty armed with a robust moral compass and an open heart.

Becoming Alfie is the first in the Alfie Norrington series. It follows the life of a man who positively influenced thousands of people. The world needs more individuals like Alfie Norrington, that give much more than they take.

It is from chapter 3 and set in November 1913 in the tenement where Alfie grew up, in Mile End. His alcoholic father died some months earlier and contains a couple of revealing disclosures from family members.

I’ve met a man and I am quite taken by him,” Elsie continued.

The room exploded in questions and disbelief until Jack quietened the family down.

Shh, you lot, keep quiet, give Mum her time to tell the story. Go on, Mum.”

Well, his name is Tommy Smith. He has no children and his wife passed away about ten years ago. I met him at the match factory and we have been friendly for some time. I like him and he likes me and I’ve invited him to ’ave Christmas with us all. What d’ya fink?”

Again, the table erupted in opinions and questions, with no one listening to anyone else. Jack was just as noisy as the others at this declaration. Once the din died down, Elsie spoke again.

Right, you lot, bloody well hear me and hear me good. I have spent twenty-two years giving birth to you kids, wiping your arses, wiping your noses; feeding you, sometimes even I don’t know how; washing your clothes, making your beds, loving you in every possible way. Now I want a little love, and Tommy Smith offers me that. He is coming over ’ere at Christmas and by Christ, I expect you all to welcome him with open arms – particularly you, Fred. And try not to get too pissed on the day, please.”

Well, Mum, I for one am well pleased for you,” said Alfie. “Will he be staying the night?”

Spontaneous laughter spilled around the room. Elsie couldn’t help but smile.

No, my gentlemen friend won’t be staying, as we are going back to his flat to sleep.”

Ooh, Mum, how exciting for you! Do you remember how to do it?” giggled Lily.

“’Cause when you find out, can you tell Lily? She needs all the help she can get,” replied Rose.

By this time the room was full of laughter and leg-pulling. Jack stood up, tapped his beer glass with his teaspoon, and said, “Mum, you deserve all the happiness in the world and then some. So, speaking for us all, but particularly for me, we welcome Tommy Smith into our house and will take the piss out of the pair of you for most of the day.”

Hear, hear” was the cry from the table. Only Fred looked less than enthused by the concept. He downed his beer in one draught and left the table to refill his glass from the dark bottle on the sideboard.

There was more laughter, then more questions about Elsie’s relationship with Tommy. Everyone seemed happy about it except Fred.

“’Scuse me, everyone.” Fred jumped up from his chair, looking nervous. “I have a little somefing to tell you all, too.”

Don’t tell me you’re in the family way?” chided Alfie.

Fred scowled. “No, little bruvver, I ain’t up the duff. But…” He took what seemed like minutes to say, “I… I… I’ve signed up with the army and am off to training camp next week.”

After more silence, a rare commodity in the Norrington house, Elsie spoke through the tears welling up in her eyes.

Well, I’ll be. My luverly is going to war to fight for King and country.” She got up from the table and wrapped her whole body around her second-born. “May God take care of you and bring you ’ome to your family when this ’orrible war is over, my brave, brave boy.”

At this the family surrounded Fred, the girls crying and the boys pumping his hands in manly shakes. They were too tough, or too well-rehearsed, to cry.

Well, mate, I wish you all the very best. You know my views on the fucking war,” said Jack.

Watch your language, Jack!”

Sorry, Mum. But come ’ome quickly, Fred, and come ’ome complete in every way. Let’s toast our bruvver for his bravery and his courage.”

Once the shock wore off, many questions were fired towards Fred at the same time – mainly by Alfie, who was interested in the process of joining up.

Alright, alright, alright,” Fred said. “I am joining the 1/17th London Battalion, known as the East End Regiment. Some of me mates have joined up as well, so I’ll ’ave familiar faces with me. We go down to Devizes for training – that’s in Wiltshire, wherever that is. I leave from Paddington station at eight o’clock on Fursday mornin’. I ain’t certain as to where I’ll be once the training is over – it takes twelve weeks. Me mates fink we’ll be in Flanders, as that’s where the Jerries are givin’ us a bit of a nosebleed, but I’ll write to Mum every week so she can let you all know what’s what.”

The shock of Fred’s impending departure for the Western Front got Alfie thinking. He had felt a burgeoning desire to protect his country. He knew this was a silly idea, as the age for volunteering was eighteen. Although he looked older than his years, he was still only fourteen. His birth certificate demonstrated that, and he had no other formal documents that may be easy to adapt to make him seem older. He pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind as the family gathered around Fred, hugging him, slapping him on the back, and in the case of the girls, crying uncontrollably.

Born in South Essex close to the River Thames and directly East of London, my childhood was peppered with memories of the mighty river itself.

We would swim, fish and discover hidden treasure in the tidal mudflats with the fragments of clay pipes we found taking us back to another era. It was here that my inspiration for writing was born. I began to keep a diary of my observations from life and documented my feelings and thoughts.

My wife was twenty two and I was twenty four when we migrated to Australia with a glorious expectation. The sun was shining, the people were friendly and Sydney Harbour simply magnificent. Together we were committed to making the most of this opportunity beginning the next step in our lives. Everything was new which gave me endless writing opportunities that I recorded in my diary which had spilled over into a number of books. We travelled around this incredible country meeting people from all walks of life and from many nationalities. We lived and worked in a variety of capital cities enjoying each and every experience. All this was tremendous fodder for my writing.

I began to write short stories and poetry, none of which I sought to publish. By my fifty second birthday I was able to finish working and focus full time on my writing, the results so far are The Alfie Norrington Series with Becoming Alfie the first in the series of four. I hope that you enjoy reading Becoming Alfie as much as I did writing it.

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