Mr Voller's Daughter
1947 to 1954
Mr Voller was the neighbour with one arm that I knew from birth through puberty and into adulthood.
I found myself thinking about Mr Voller because one month ago I fell playing tennis and broke my arm. I have been in a cast ever since and have rendered myself, as Mr Voller, one short of the full complement of useful arms.
To this day I never wondered why, how, or when Mr Voller lost his arm.
In as much I am able to recall Mr Voller during that first 7 years of my life, 1947 to 1954, Mr Voller's status as a one-armed man was not a matter that concerned me at all; that might be because I only had one direct neighbour and therefore a man with two arms would be the unusual man and the man more likely to surprise me.
Dinky toys were the more enduring concern of that age, particularly that much loved hand-me-down Fire Engine.
Mr Voller rarely spoke to me directly. If we did pass by each other, he acknowledged me with a knowing glance, as if we were sharing a secret. This baffled me but I realise now that he may have incorrectly thought I was wondering about his deficit in the arm department, but of course I was not. Mr Voller and I had something else in common; both of us were surrounded by women and girls. He and Mrs Lucy Voller had two daughters and I had my ever present Mother and two older sisters both of whom have since admitted that they resented the "attention" I got at that age. I have no recollection of any special "attention" or privileges. I may follow this up with further enquiries in due course.
One Christmas / birthday present that came my way happened to be a toy six-gun and holster.
Since we had no television, I was not prepared for this strange convoluted addition to my short trousered hip. It is possible that it was not so much intended to please me and more about charming and gratifying adults; to be more specific I refer to the charming of mothers in particular since most men, including Mr Voller, would be more inclined to empathise with my humiliation.
I had no idea about the point of this costume when I became adorned with it, anymore than I knew the point of that strange knitted bunny rabbit Christmas hat that I was obliged to wear for a Christmas nativity play. Still makes no sense today but the photographic evidence of my childhood humiliation does exist somewhere.
All pictures illustrating this story are library pictures
When Mr Voller saw me resplendent in this costume he gave me another of his knowing glances with a hint of pity in the slow motion shake of his head.
However I did learn from other kids, that the game of taking the gun out of the holster and saying "You're dead" quicker than another kid was a skill worth having.
This seemed be an odd game but at least a contest with a quantifiable outcome and a clear winner who might demand respect even if he might be wearing a woolly bunny hat at the same time.
Perhaps Mr. Voller would have looked upon my new skill wondering how he might execute that task with his one arm. It was a two handed task the way I did it.
I would like to think that any man of my age who might be reading this, may now be going through the moves in their head. I invite them to stand up before a full length mirror and have a go, but to avoid doing what I did as a seven year old and show it off in the middle of the street as if I were Clint Eastwood and not the confused boy who had never seen a cowboy, or a TV, or a John Wayne movie.
Fact check: Clint Eastwood did not exist as a cowboy until 1957 when Rawhide was first broadcast. I was at least 2 years ahead of Clint Eastwood.
Mr Voller's younger daughter, Carol was my age and usually paid no attention to me and kept her distance, preferring the company of her sister. The antipathy was mutual but when she heard about my talent with the six gun, I found her following me apparently wanting to become my sidekick and my Annie Oakley. I had picked up the notion of what a cowboy might be from other boys but the exotic idea of "cowgirls" seemed like an unnecessary complication of little consequence.
We boys gathered on some wild unkempt ground behind some advertising hoarding where we practised our six-gun skills. Carol Voller had followed us there and no boy acknowledged her presence. I attempted to placate her hurt feelings; I unhooked my holster and six-gun and offered it to her so she might have a go at the skill of taking the gun out of the holster and saying "You're dead" quicker than me. She took it from me and in one swift move she tossed it over a barbed wire fence into a prickly scrub. She laughed out loud and ran off and left me and the other boys contemplating the futile prospect of recovering the six gun and holster.
Each boy gazed and contemplated and then in turn gave up and wandered off without saying a word.
There would be no more gun slinging in that wild space at the end of the road behind the advertising hoarding.
I may have considered the following question in 1953 when Mr Voller's Daughter and I were seven years old: how bad and how worse is the notion of a winner being too exuberant about winning than a loser being too ignoble to admire the excellence of the winner?
1955 to 1962
As I grew older I noticed that Mr Voller's dexterity had become a recurring talking point when we had visitors, who were usually surprised to learn that Mr Voller was employed by the local council as a handy man and that his job was to repair and maintain council houses.
I never witnessed him at work on council houses, but I did observe him maintaining his own garden which was the pride of the avenue. He had the tidiest runs of vegetables and the neatest lawn. I saw how he was able to restrain a 2 x 4 fence post with his legs and shape it with a hand saw. I observed his use of his one good hand and stump to tie a knot in a string to restrain a row of sweet peas. His dexterity was so natural and uncomplicated that it never seemed particularly remarkable, but I was then fourteen years old and otherwise preoccupied and less impressed than I should have been.
We Monks may well have been the last family to have a TV, so it did come to pass belatedly that I would watch Rawhide and discover the actual deadly function of a six-gun.
"I Love Lucy" introduced me to a notion of "love," but that did not necessarily explain the paperbacks which circulated amongst boys in the boy's only school which I attended. The Longford School was founded by the decent but excessively puritanical Lord Longford who kept me and all boys, in the dark and very much apart from girls.
Mr Voller's daughter and all other daughters would have been a considerable distraction to me and most other boys. I now know that Lord Longford feared we boys and girls might like each other too much.
But then, apparently overnight, all of that changed; Carol Voller's would be Annie Oakley turned into a wannabe Susan Hayward. Hitherto Mr. Voller's daughter had a boyish shape that was hardly worth a second glance of a young man, but when that pubescent transformation occurred Mr Voller's daughter made sure I noticed her developing charms.
Carol Voller would have noted her older sister's new status of having a boyfriend and perhaps that is why she made it her business to flirt with me, the boy next door. It did not go well. I was not accomplished in the dangerous art of seduction.
Since I broke my arm just a month ago I am bound to admit to my method of dealing with certain insurmountable tasks:
- The opening of a bottle of wine.
- The washing of the arm pit of the good arm.
- The tying of shoelaces.
- Enduring the status of car passenger while Mrs. Monk drives the car.
Observing Mr. Voller did not guide me with any of these tasks but the breaking of my arm is what caused me to recall Mr Voller and Mr. Voller's daughter. Carol Voller managed to upstage her father by being a girl and doing what girls do.
Was ever thus.
The Year after I left Lord Longford's school it became co-educational with unfortunate timing.
Subsequently Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse joined forces to fight pornography and curtail the free spirit of the 60's. It did not go well for them. The rest of us, including Germain Greer, had a wonderful time.
"We were golden." Joni Mitchell.