The birthday present

Author: Mick Beville

28 March 1963 was my fourteenth birthday and there was a surprise present waiting in the house for me.
I did expect to receive a card from granddad, possibly with a ten bob note or a pound enclosed, but this was something entirely different. It was that time of the day when everyone was home and today they were all at home waiting for the birthday boy.
It was with hindsight a well-orchestrated affair that had much more to it than just my birthday.

Wrapped in brown paper and laid out on the table like a child�s coffin, the box had a certain presence about it.
There was an expectation in the room that I would be excited but �uneasy� would have better described my mood.
A sea of faces gawped with half opened mouths as I approached the table.
On the top of the box there was an envelope. I hesitated.

�Go on lad, open it� said Uncle Alfred

I didn�t know why I felt uncomfortable, but I opened the card and read it to myself.

Happy birthday to Michael from your Mam and Uncle Alfred.

�Read it out loud lad� he called out. I looked to me mam and she was standing next to him. I nervously read the card out loud and as soon as I�d finished the whole room sang happy birthday. It was while they were singing that I saw me dad disappear up the stairs. At first I had an optimistic notion that he had gone to bring me another present, but then I noticed Uncle Alfred looking at me mam with a big smug grin on his face.

�Come on lad open the box, me and your mam paid ten pounds for that present and the least you can do is open it.�

Paralyzed between feelings of excitement and foreboding I stood like a statue. Uncle Alfred was excited like a child and he ripped the paper from the box himself revealing literally a wooden box.
I lifted the lid from the box to find it filled with carpentry tools. A big cross cut saw that was as long as the box. A tenon saw, a bit and brace, a wooden mallet, a wooden yard rule, a set square, loads of screwdrivers and wood chisels as well as pinchers and pliers. The chisels and pliers were all smeared in grease and wrapped in greaseproof paper. I was starting to get a little excited; this was a serious present.

As I was going through the box and the hoo-ha was fading, I discovered that there wasn�t a claw hammer: �You can�t have a carpenter�s tool box without a claw hammer. Along side a saw it�s the most important tool.�
Uncle Alfred had disappeared about this time and I said to me mam. �I�m don�t want to sound ungrateful mam but there isn�t a claw hammer.�
She put my mind straight at ease, or so she thought, as she naively announced, �Uncle Alfred borrowed it to bang some nails at his rag and bone yard in Otley Road:

I bit my tongue but my mind exploded.

�The miserable low life mongrel scheming low life mongrel miserable prick�

I couldn�t find the words but I knew at that moment, I hated him. I hated him with a passion that only hate could deliver.

It would take less than six months for the rest of the tools to find their way to Otley Road and for the time being I would live with the notion that it was all about the present.