May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
Forever Young – Bob Dylan
Dad was the 7th child of a 7th child. I remember him telling me this and just simply about why people would have so many kids. It would be the start of my interest in social history.
It would be fair to say that by all accounts Dad’s upbringing was not easy. The youngest of a large family entering the troubled world of 1936 into an equally troubled family who really didn’t need another mouth to feed. The result of one of Grandad’s spells at home when not residing at his majesties pleasure, Grandma would often remind her youngest how unwanted he was.
Grandad was a miner and an active member of the communist party and as such would be arrested on a regular basis.
I’m not sure if Grandma, a strict Catholic, had realised until the letter from the Vatican arrived that marrying a known communist would mean excommunication from the Church. The way she was treated was to lead to Dad’s atheism. I am not sure when it fully formed but I do know that it stayed with him until the end.
Grandad was to succumb to pneumoconiosis before his 40th birthday, and consequently we never met. He had probably been working down a coal mine since he was 14, maybe younger.
In one of the letters Dad wrote to me in my thirties he recalled as a toddler, choking, and how grandma has carried him all the way to the doctors so of course there was a feeling of protection within the family for him, particularly from his elder sisters I think. So, he concluded ‘there must have been some love there somewhere’.
He carried deep scars from his childhood and consequently his children carried the scars of those scars and history could easily have repeated himself, but Dad in his own way worked hard that that would not happen. Though a number of beatings I would endure as a child would show those scars could spontaneously burst into life.
However in the midst of the overriding culture of our small villages way of life, a hard working male dominated landscape fearful of anything different and seemingly alien he taught me to respect people regardless of their background long before this would start to become an accepted view point. The thing that is often referred to these days as being ‘politically correct’ as if that’s a bad thing to be avoided. He often didn’t ‘fit-in’ because he wouldn’t join in with the everyday racist banter, the sexism etc. He chose his own path that he believed to be right.
His experience of his own problems living with an awfully bad speech impediment would have forged this viewpoint.
I remember returning home from school one day. I would have been about eleven and casual repeated some racist comment that I would have heard during the day.
When the stars stopped revolving round my head I contemplated what had happened, pretty much everyone talked like this, what had I done wrong?
Over the next few weeks books would start to appear from the local library, dad knew I was an avid reader, he had always encouraged me to do so and had taught me to read pre-school. Books about Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement, about Gandhi, William Wilberforce and many other people he admired.
Newspaper articles about Apartheid in South Africa, a subject much in the news at the time would be left out on the kitchen table.
Dad didn’t find it easy to communicate, everyday conversations could be frustrating, deeper conversations even more so. But he was well read, clever enough despite the disadvantages to pass his 11 plus and have a good grammar school education in Wakefield.
The thing that reminds me the most of the Dad I knew as a child though was teaching me to play Chess. It started at the age of seven and we would play at least once a week. I was eleven when I won my first game. For a few months it was fairly even and the final year or so I never lost.
Mum and Dad separated and later divorced when I was fourteen. When asked whom we would like to live with my sister chose to go with Mum. I chose to stay with Dad, mainly because I had decided that it was mum who had broken up the family home. In reality of course they both carried blame. Dad said I could stay but I was to do everything for myself.
I learnt to cook and sort of look after myself. Dad arranged for me to have a weekend job delivering furniture so I could pay board.
With the touring that I was doing with a local band and my Air Training Corp attendance etc it was a busy time.
Sad to say we never played Chess again.
58 days into treatment and although I look terrible (not someone would want to have dinner with never mind coffee for being sick in on your pizza lol) I feel ok. Still a bit achy in places and getting tired quicker than usual.
I was struck this week by a part in the recent adaption of Dracula (a brave but flawed effort from Moffat and Gratiss) when Dracula is in a modern yet modest house to say the least saying how it was full of riches never seen by kings and emperors he had known.
It reminded me of Harold Macmillan speech in the 1950’s “most of our people have never had it so good” It is probably so true today but the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is massive and surely as a nation we cannot be comfortable with that. can we?
May see you soon, take care, be kind…