Gleaning Teeming Brains 1

Rowland Kitchen with a tap stuck on his head

It’s a Sunday morning around 1991, a seventy one year old man, my father is sat at a dining table studying the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph. A hearing aid plug stuck in his left ear and attached to a braided wire resting across a shirt and leading to the microphone box in the breast pocket. He is taking notes in an exercise book. The important bits underline twice in pencil and annotated with the word ‘useful’. He has always done this kind of thing, and we his family has always laughed about it. An easy target for jokes. My mother will remind hm that “there are no pockets in shrouds”., and he will quietly ignore her. Thinking back, he never really said what he was up to.On Monday he will take a Morrison’s carrier bag full of bank issue plastic envelopes and place it in an Adidas hold hall. Each of the envelopes will have the prescribed number of coins to make up £5 or whatever the sum was. He will walk down the High Street, make deposits at the Natwest, Lloyds and Yorkshire bank in turn. After due consideration this former union shop steward and member of the Communist Part will invest tranches of a few hundred pounds in denationalized utilities, building societies and premium bonds. Eight years later, during the week after he died I would have the task of sitting with a similar exercise book and pencil, and totting up the various pots of money. They added up to an astonishing amount.

The Office of National Statistics would have classified him, by occupational category as an L13.2. That is somebody whose job involves routine production work. He’s as a ‘Dyers labourer’ at Scott and Rhodes in Yeadon, West Yorkshire. Yeadon was a woollen town, and up until the 1970’s most men and a lot of women worked in some part of that industry. His job was to dye the cloth. That was what he did 7am to 5pm, but for the remaining 118 hours a week he was free to be something else. That first 50 hours at the mill he used to call dead time. The rest was something else and that’s what makes me smile. But “what is a poor man to do”. Well, street pedlar, magician, Punch and Judy man, seller of fake tips at race courses, investor, and that’s just the things that made money. He did these things everyday and every week for the whole of his adult life, then went out ballroom dancing, memorised poetry and prose, walked obsessively everywhere and was a shop steward for the National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers!
Today he would be classified as disabled as he had a severe hearing loss from the age of seven years, and just for the sake of irony a stammer as well.
Why did he do all of this? Money was certainly important to him. The relative prosperity of the late twentieth century was just a blip, he thought. It would all inevitably end in tears and worthless credit agreements. Money gave protection against the worst of it. Acquiring money though was only a measure it was not the sole purpose. I think it was the urge ‘to do’ and to create to say “I am not that, I am this”.
That sounds heroic and has echoes of superman nipping into phone boxes. The reality was very different. He was hard to get along with, solitary, selfish, judgemental and at times explosively violent. He was also capable of quiet compassion, discreet generosity and warm humour. Living with him was hard work, and had much of the flavour of the Old Testament in the Marxist edition.
As I get to the back end of my life I think more about him, what he was like and what made him that way. A few years ago I came across the diary of a distant ancestor of my father, John Yeadon and I was struck by the parallels in their lives. As well as the life reducing, reductive descriptions of class, occupation and place of origin he shared a similar flux of energy and drive to define himself, for himself.
John was in the textile trade and lived in Yeadon but in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He had fifteen children and somehow provided for them along with a wife who must have been exhausted and did die young. The times shaped his second life though. It was Methodism and the goings on at the local chapel (some stretching the definition of religious) that coloured his life. The chapel was his education and he became a lay minister in the hours outside of earning a living. The diary tells it all from the inside as well as giving a view of the world from a small textile town on the side of a cold, windy hill between Bradford and Leeds. He had the habits of the autodidact and these took him to some unusual places, but bounded by the Wharfe & Aire valleys and how far he could walk in a day. There is also a lot of sadness and failure. Rowland and John, if they had met though would have recognised each other. They almost certainly would not have talked about what drove them and how it felt though. I’m going to have a go on their behalf.



Filed under Aireborough, Biography, Family history, Humour, Local history, Social History, Yeadon

2 responses to “Gleaning Teeming Brains 1

  1. A pleasure to meet you, especially on this magical day – Merry Christmas.

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