Gleaning Teeming Brains 8B

Rowland and Kathleen as a young couple.

Rowland and Kathleen as a young couple.

Rowland Kitchen

Sneaky,
Slinky, Daft Beggar and Kath
.

 

Kathleen and Rowland had three children. Through reputation acquired within the family they came to be known as ‘Sneaky’, ‘Slinky’ and ‘Daft Beggar’. Their given names were Ian AKA Rowland, Neil and David (sometimes Max). I don’t know why there is such a difficulty about names. At the start Ian was named Rowland, but his paternal grandmother Ida said that there were too many men of that name in the family. So Rowland became known as Ian which (I think) was his second name. It may have been his first name though and if so they were just making an issue out of something which did not need to be made an issue of. So (maybe) Rowland became Ian until recent years when he has started calling himself Rowland again. The current position is that anyone female, born outside of the UK knows him as Rowland. Anyone male born in the UK knows him as Ian, but not if they know him through a connection with a foreign born female then they know him as Rowland. The third category is companies who have entered into financial agreements with Ian sometimes Rowland.  They knew him as Rowland and always did so, but for the last five years he has become a non person or person without acknowledged existence, His ‘in-house’ family name was ‘Sneaky’.

Neil stayed Neil throughout except for the given name ’Slinky’.  His official family wind up name before that was ‘Nelly’. Its origin is now unknown but I suspect that it came from the misogynist Yorkshire folk tradition of giving a man a woman’s name if you really wanted to insult him. This had further refinements as in my case. For a number of years between age 13 and 16 years I was known as ‘Namow’. This name had a twist in the tale. It worked to  heighten the insult in a double edged way. Firstly, in a kind of code  I was being directly called a woman (premium Yorkshire misogyny insult) and then…too perfect …it was spelt backwards, that is as  a ‘backward woman’. In effect a double plus good insult …but in a nice way.

So Neil remained Neil apart except when he was being wound up.

With me there was a dispute. Rowland’s antagonism to religion meant that he was loath to see his children carry a biblical name. With the first two he had got his way, but when the time came to name me Kathleen’s authority had increased or he was more amenable to a strategic retreat. So after some delay in naming I became ‘David’. The biblical first name is softened by a secular second name though.  Ian got Rowland (double secular with some Celtic aspiration depending upon what his name actually was), Neil did not get one at all (but clearly Celtic allusion which was a bonus), and I got Maxwell but it was meant to be Max. This choice was inspired by Rowland’s love for Max Miller, the ‘cheeky Chappy’ blue book comedian.

This is a link to a Youtube MM video  which gives a partly sanitised for film version of his act                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBBonVMUlFY

 Either I’ve been told by Kathleen or I have otherwise at some point decided that I would like to believe it, that for the first weeks of my life I was called ‘David’ by one, and ‘Max’ by the other. Psychologist friends tell me this name confusion may cause problems for the child in forming a clear and stable identity, but I know they just make these things up as they go along and then all agree with each other and then call that research.

David won out in the early years, but then around age 14 I did a zig-zag and started calling myself Max. Amazingly no one, parents or teachers objected to this. To those who knew me between leaving school in 1973 and starting nurse training in 1976, or were one the various examination boards with whom I sat exams,  I am Max Kitchen (occasionally ‘Red-Max’ or ‘Super-Max’). From age nineteen through to fifty five I have been David but with a liking for add ons. These have been ‘Big-Bopper’, Da-Da and most recently ‘Goose’. I remain surprised at people’s unconditional acceptance of name transplants. People who knew me in the late 1990’s will shout “Da-Da ! “across a crowded Marks and Spencer’s store with no self consciousness. Grandchildren from 2-9 when they think of me, think of Goose not Granddad..

In the family years though I was ‘Daft Beggar’ and this is the name in my head when my father talks to me.

My dawning of consciousness happened sometime in the winter to spring of 1961 which as everyone knows was a bad winter. The three year old I liked the snow and when the thaw started decided to keep some for the summer months in a hut at the side of the house. I can’t have waited that long before checking on the snow store because I found it as a wet patch on the cement floor before it disappeared all together. My mother was the first person to call me ‘Da-Da’ and it had something to do with rice pudding skin, which means that one is forever linked with an association with the other (or  at least until that mesh of neurons fails to light up any more).

Rowland was an intimidating figure who smelled of musty wet cloth. He shouted a lot and was generally somebody the three to four year old me was scared of. One image of a Christmas when Ian and Neil bought me a toy field gun which shot out match sticks. This was contraband in the eyes of the sometime pacifist, and so was confiscated. Was it a principled stand by a concerned father or was he, as Kathleen used to say fond of throwing his weight around. I do remember being happy when he was not in the house. A pall came over the place when he got home from work.

In this dawning world Ian was already the wide boy one. The previous Christmas  or birthday he had bought me a record, ‘Swinging on a star’ by Dion and the Belmont’s. Listening to this song again today it is really a fairly aspirational anthem. The subject is invited to make the most of his potential or run the risk of becoming a mule, pig or fish, and to possess all the negative attributes of each

YouTube have it., and so does our Ian.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnFv8wAekac

My belief is the swine bought the record for me but not really. It was for himself and I’ve not seen it since. I choose to believe that It happened on my birthday and so every year in late July I remind him that I want the record back and he tells me to get over it. In recent years Facebook has helped me make sure that lots more people know of his shameful act.

So in about 1960 Ian at about thirteen already had the job spec for nare-do-well. Neil’s image from these times is much harder to remember maybe because he is not around to refresh the imprint. I think of knitted hooped jersey’s and shorts, bony knees, and once or twice being hit by him for breaking his Airfix models but then that’s it apart from the goldfish incident. We were moving house on a very cold day, going over the hill to live at Banksfield Rise. It was February 1962 so Neil would have been at a point very close to his twelfth birthday. The goldfish needed to be hand carried to avoid spilling out. Who made that decision I don’t know. Neil set off to carry the fish in its spherical glass bowl. I suppose some water would have slopped over the side and helped drop the temperature in his fingers. In any event he dropped the bowl and had to scramble about to scoop up the fish in his frozen hands. Then came the mercy dash over the fields known as the banks, about a third of a mile to the new house.  He ran his heart out; he was good at cross country. Nelly was crying when he got to their. The fish had stopped flipping. Kathleen acted quickly and used a unique procedure. The fish was placed in hot then cold water basins and the process repeated several time to achieve therapeutic effect. This was to shock its heart back into rhythm. A little finger was used for the cardiac compressions, to stroke blood from the fishy heart around its body.  Self evidently this was never going to work. If you showed me a fish I could not put a finger on its heart. It has one no doubt but it could be anywhere. Kathleen must have known this. Maybe she went through all of this just to show Neil that she had really tried hard. He was absolutely distraught. Rowland or maybe Kathleen or it could have been Ian flushed the fish down the toilet. Maybe that was the first time the new toilet had ever been used. Neil’s face was all hot tears and runny mucous.

Kathleen’s image in my four year old mind is all wrapped up with images of food. Mostly rice pudding, chairs at a kitchen table alongside her baking and being called Da-Da.

I was a bit of a laat lammetjie. The Afrikaans  words for late lamb, or a child born long after his siblings is an evocative way of saying it. Ian in 1947, Neil in 1950 and then me in 1957. If these were teeth there would be a gap. Somebody is missing who might have been born in 1953 or 54. Kathleen had a little girl who died very close to being born. She gave birth in the Labour ward and then joined the new mothers in the post natal ward. A family doctor with strong religious beliefs urged her to have the child christened Mary which she did. I think the events of that day were always on the edge of her mind, just standing to one side and being a presence. Oddly it seemed to me as a young teenager, she would make mention of it.  Describing the apparent heartlessness of the midwives and the awfulness of going home without a child. Rowland did not know what to do. He later said that at this time Kathleen “had a bad time with her nerves’. The next time she got pregnant though, he realised that sometimes things can go wrong. With Ian and Neil he had been semi detached, assuming it was a clockwork progress and just showing up when it was all over. Pregnancy equals new child. The experience here shook up that assumption and he was far more attentive. It was a very anxious time. Kathleen went two weeks over her due date and was told that “Id started to go off”. She went into labour on the 6th August. It was a heavy, humid day. Rowland phoned the hospital,  to get an ambulance out to her but there was none available. I don’t know what he said to the emergency calls operator but they sent a small bus instead. She was the only passenger. The journey took them down Yeadon High Street. Kathleen said it was like a royal procession. Everyone knew her upset and how important this pregnancy was. The traffic slowed the bus. People noticed the hospital insignia on the side and saw Kathleen and waved. Smiling and wishing her well. She barely made it to the hospital. Sister somebody who everyone knew said she was an ‘old hand at this game’ and told her to get on with it. Paradoxically the words made her feel good. I was born as the thunder storm broke (as did my first daughter but in thankfully different circumstances). Eleven pounds something with skin that was a bit spongy.  I was put on a trolley and shown round the wards as no one could believe I was a new born.

How much of this is true, how much the product of retelling and emotional overlay. The only facts I can bring to this apart from the birth record is a weather report. It still astonishes me that within a few moments of relating Kathleen’s memory of humidity and thunderstorms, I can go on line and find contemporary weather records from RAF Coningsby in South Yorkshire. That’s not Yeadon but hay-ho. That wonderful record gives me daily and hourly temperature, cloud cover, humidity, precipitation and much more. Late July, the time of waiting had seen a heat wave.  I can report that August 6th indeed was humid but not so hot. On or about that day the level of rainfall shows a sharp rise after a long dry patch. It’s not exceptional weather, but I am going to take the plunge and say there was a thunderstorm. Later in middle of the month there were more storms and much heavier rainfall. She also mentioned that. There was a break in the weather and in her dark mood.

The still birth was often on her mind as he got older. In the years when she was still well, this would be coupled with the happy story. The latter did not take away anything from the pain of the first event but it did give reason to why my birth was so important to her. I am told that she intensely, obsessively doted on me as a pre-school child. That sounds more than a bit narcissistic or self absorbed.  Its not. I am trying to describe a heightened concern that came from a previous loss. Her favourite child was her first Ian, but the one she worried most about was me. Ian was the big strong man who made her laugh. I was the happy laat lammetjie,  who came out of a sadness. In later years concerns arose and then were confirmed by teachers that I was not very bright. Parents were told that I had difficulties and would do well if I acquired the very basics. More reason to worry.

Kathleen much later fretted that she did not give the in-between son Neil enough time. He was an easy child who did not cry or make demands. Happy to sleep in the Silver Cross baby carriage at the front door. These long sleeps gave Kathleen much needed rest.  As Neil began to struggle more and more in later in life she worried that in some way she had not given him enough. At the very worst times she tortured herself. I have no doubt that she was this was misplaced.  Neil’s problems had other causes but it was characteristic of her to see fault in herself where none existed. More than anything else Kathleen did a lot of worrying.

The two decades between these events and 1976, was the time when Rowland must have thought that he had to defer or forget some of his more ambitious life plans and concentrate on his family. Kathleen many times said that Rowland would have been most happy as a single man, just  indulging his interests. Some men find fatherhood natural, and they come to it instinctively. For Rowland it was hard work

First off it is likely he felt trapped into marriage. Maybe not at the very beginning but when things got tougher and he had to be a little less selfish. The relationship with Ian was always fraught. The eldest son was quick tempered and rebellious not only as a child and teenager but for life. Uncle Eddie the striker and roof top tile thrower was said to live again in Ian.

Ian was always getting into trouble. School mates being told to stay clear of him. Apprenticeships he walked out of (probably with justification but the timing was not good). Many more jobs he walked out of. (timing irrelevant, and justification arguably less than optimum).  Suspicions of thieving from money stashes secreted around the house.  (We were all doing it including Kathleen but Ian got the blame). Suspicions of criminal propensities and disrespect for Methodism (stealing the scouts ‘Bob-a-job money’, dipping his hands into the service collection money and carnal acts committed on or about chapel fittings).

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Haystack, Ian and an unidentified friend. Ian probably about 17.

As Ian grew into his teens it became civil war in the family. Some instances stand out as emblematic. The pub fights at the White Swan (allusions to landlord’s illicit relationship with barmaid and use of foul language). Ian was taken into a back room and given a pasting by the landlord and a support act. Word of these events spread overnight to Rowland’s place of work and thus stage set for big blow up at ‘Romany Rye’/ Banksfield Rise.  Rowland arriving home from work, stomping through the house and venting spleen at Kathleen.  Rolling thunder building to a storm. “He’s barred you know, he’s managed to get himself barred from’t White Swan. I don’t want to be having to go into work and be hearing stories about my sons fighting in pubs. He needs ‘tecking ‘in hand”. 

Ian arrives home apparently sunny and unsuspecting.  Rowland leaden opening remark “I want to have a word with you”. Chairs and furniture knocked over, round house punches.  Kathleen screaming, Ian dodging behind improvised barriers and then running out the back door. Kathleen would occasionally say that Rowland went too far. In later years she would add that “it was how people were at the time but Ian probably got more than his share of it”.

 These blow ups were like rolling thunder. Near or further away they were always present. Strangely we all accepted it.  A Christmas when proper punches were thrown and Ian was sent stumbling across the room into a chair which rolled over with him, comes to mind. I made what was probably a reasonable comment, “that’s spoilt Christmas” only to be told by Kathleen “not to exaggerate”. 

He was slow to calm, and the wisest course was to stay clear of him as far as possible. Eventually after a day or two there there would be an easing of the atmosphere signalled by a small gesture, usually at a mealtime.  Passing the bread plate or pouring tea would mean that things could now move on.  There was never a follow on conversation, just a truce and a resumption of normality. I have met men who were bullies and behaved like this for reasons of malice or through delight in the exercise of cruel, arbitrary power over others. Rowland was neither of these. He had no tolerance; he got angry, blew up and calmed down. Malice or cruelty was not in the mix. Did he feel remorseful?  He probably did, but it was only ever shown by small gestures or a momentary inflection in his voice. Paradoxically that little thing, from him could truly surprise and affect me.  I’ve experienced the feeling of omnipotence that can come with rage, and understand it addictive potentials. I had assumed that this was something that I had learnt from or constitutionally shared with him. My intuition is that as a younger man he probably did feel like this. At some point in his life it left him. Many years later when I was going head to head with him, he shocked me by saying “Stop David, I can’t do this anymore. It makes me ill”. Nothing else, then just walked off.  I have thought about that moment often. I am now at the same age as when he said it. Assuming the inside of me is much the same as the inside of him at this point, I would guess that he had come to see the swelling rage as a monster to be locked up. Instead of producing flights of omnipotence it instead leaves one feeling weakened, regretful and worse. How much like others, men who formed his peers was he? As bad, better or worse .What was that potential twinned with for better or not. Kathleen’s view (a woman who went on to have a Masters Degree in the Psychology of Education but was at this time a cleaner in a doctor’s surgery) was that was how most men were, but that probably his deafness somehow made it worse. By this time though she was a fan of DH Lawrence though, so might have got it wrong.

I don’t know when the comparison to an Old Testament God first came into my mind. All rules, wrath and no mercy. It is probably over stated, especially on the mercy front  but in my early twenties that’s how I saw him. As I’ve got older and particularly after he died I’ve tried to take a more nuanced view. My current analysis is that I have now got no sodding idea. He was not easy company. I was all of twenty five before I could be in the same room than him for more than fifteen minutes without being provoked to rage. No relaxed talk or pleasure in company. Conversation did not come easy to him. He confused it with lecturing. I probably brought out his life time best performances but no man could pack more deeply personal judgements into fifteen ordinary minutes. No dilution by self doubt. These are the ways in which you are wrong through self delusion, lack of effort or stupidity. This is the only correct course of action and if you fail in any of these regards, then you are a “useless washout”. His talent was astonishing. Astonishingly also was that all of his sons worshipped him and whatever our future failings were to be I am convinced it was through our own choices not from any harm done by him (more or less, plus minus).

Ian did get the worse of the ire though. Rowland was younger and in peak form. Ten years forward in Rowland’s career curve I’m told that I experienced a more mellowed presentation. Well he must have been something then.

Son number two, Neil rang different bells in Rowland. They recognised themselves in each other. Neil , according to Kathleen was a 1960’s version of Rowland. I’m not sure of that but there was definitely an affinity between them and less occasions of rage. It was not just that Neil was athletic, went to Grammar school, had a puritan steak and was tight with money there was also something which made them comfortable in each other’s company. They understood each other. None of the tiresome need to explain or tolerate foolishness.

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Neil around the time he went to the Grammar School

 

 

 

 

Neil’s’ reports from the Grammar school talked of lack of commitment, continuing failure to reach potentials in all areas apart from English, sport and art despite ability. Some masters also suspected poor attitude. Peace symbols on the rugby boots, the silver white streak in his red hair which was getting dangerously close to his collar, answering teachers back and effectively threatening to deck them. Aireborough Grammar school had given up on him by year three and he was just waiting to leave.  All the years of underachieving and failing to toe the school line left him with a solitary ‘O’ level in art. This was worrying, not so much the failure to get a bunch of qualifications but that it was in art. This could lead to bad things. Rowland suspected the whole syllabus but this subject most of all. It was an unsettling subject. Only religious studies could have been more disquieting.

Kathleen made it her mission to get Neil into Art College, when Rowland could not have been more viscerally opposed. He intuitively believed that the experience would cause Neil harm. At the end of the two year course he would be ruined for life, and incapable of employment.  It would immerse him in an alien, posturing, self indulgent, effete milieu   which would spoil his chances of real life success. Many people have characterised such view as Luddite. Working class parents clinging to the familiar drudgery of factory life and short-sightedly denying their children life changing opportunities.   Undoubtedly that was true in many cases (as it was for Kathleen) but it would have been a distortion to judge Rowland’s actions in that way. Like many Marxists he saw intellectuals as weak, self deluded and parasitic. In short, living in pretend worlds. Real knowledge was held by people who ‘did’ as well as ‘thought’ because they were anchored in reality.  A lived experience reflected upon has more validity than a hundred books on the subject. A diploma in art was nothing when set against a time served apprenticeship in a sought after skill. Rowland worried that Neil was about to be lost at sea.

Against the distress of the two and a bit decades which remained of Neil’s life, Kathleen held that this was one thing she got right. He had a talent and he was going to Art College, and nothing was going to stop it. There were memorable days of rage. Arguments that tore the house apart but in the end what won out for her and Neil was just quietly going ahead and doing it. Application, interview, county council educational grant, and money to get him by (from ‘scivvying’ as Neil once thoughtlessly called it) were all done below the radar. By September Rowland was faced with a done job, and no way of stopping it. He ranted and imposed sanctions through tightening of the house keeping money (none of his money would go on supporting this) but he was stuck with it.

He would believe for the rest of his life that this was where it all went wrong for Neil. If he had stayed away from that place, Bradford Art College then maybe what happened would not have happened.

Whoever was right, the two years at Bradford Art College and the time that followed at the Slade Art College in London where undoubtedly the best years of his life.  Whilst at the Slade he worked nights in a bakery in Wimbledon and attended classes during the day whilst grabbing sleep where ever he could. Kathleen helped out even though by this time she was herself a mature student and living on a grant plus housekeeping. In my mind he had long red hair with a natural silver streak, product of a fall from a swing running down the back.  Jockeying with  arty students to find clothing with the shock factor. Not many people in Bradford of 1968 would have worn a full leather Gestapo great coat bought from a market stall in Prague. Its weight and shape around the shoulders felt good .Best of all it could stand alone without the benefit of human frame. Its owner was envied. Harlequin trousers hand sewn by fawning girlfriends (he was good looking for a time) also figure but the silver streak was his trade mark.  Rowland, now reluctantly relaxing to the idea of an arty son loved to take the urination out of the sixteen year old Neil. . He had his moments after the war. Pink shirts and French Berets in 1945 were not common but Neil was better. Rowland for a time liked this 1966 song by the Kinks and would sing the best lines when Neil entered a room                                                                                                                                  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQAR-nx4w88

 

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Photo of Neil and Rowland on Yeadon Banks.

 

 

 

 

Dedicated Follower of Fashion. The Kinks (1966). The song evokes this time and its happiness.

Then there was the third son, myself. Rowland was thirty seven when I was born, and by all accounts considerably mellowed. The seven and ten year gap between Neil and me was significant. Two or three year gaps seem to be the natural normal in families with three children. Their ages loosely cluster so that everyone in the family whilst not being on the same page is at least not half a chapter apart.  When I was nine the other two were sixteen and nineteen.    In effect I was a part only child.

 

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David aged two years with Ian (left) and Neil (right)

 

 

 

Rowland did the same with me as he had with Ian and Neil that is I accompanied him selling or helped with the Punch and Judy. He told me bedtime stories about Thom Thumb (that recollection drifted in from the edge of consciousness and feels very early). The Sunday routines seem most prominent in my memory. Firstly the  three mile walks to visit Aunties Kathleen and Iris, and grandma Kitchen with Mars Bars or blocks of Bournville plain chocolate as gifts. .Alternatively a slightly longer walk over Yeadon Banks, across the beck, through a muddy farmyard and over West Chevin and back home through Guiseley after maybe lemonade at the Drop Inn. Along the way he would sometimes shoot off questions at me, tapping into my levels of educational attainment. School reports and parents evenings were telling him and Kathleen that there was a problem. I was in the language of the time ‘remedial’ or ‘Backward’.  At ten years old I was barely reading and was well behind the other children. I was taken for testing. Physical, hearing and then psychometric.  No deafness or TB but apparently but I had a low IQ and was not going to do very well. It’s worrying for an eight or ten year old when their mother comes home from parents evenings crying and then undergoes a personality transformation becoming usually tactile and nice. I would have preferred to have been shouted at like Ian or Neil was being lazy and not trying. Rowland would talk to me about the importance of practical learning and say that not everyone had to be academic, it was just a case of finding something I was good at. He would mention a local man; Willy Matchell who had made millions from scrap metal after the war but could not apparently read or write. I think we both knew even as he said it that was not going to be me. Nice but dim was more the flavour.  It was going to be hard to find my niche.

One of these questions from the Sunday morning route march sticks in my mind. That’s because I accidentally got it right..  Rowland’s questions were always way above my level., and so was this one.“What fraction is 33 1/3 of a 100”? Replaying and scanning the sentence none of the bits sounded like English to me, so in my panic I  just repeated back the words that caused most anxiety “one third”. His astonishment was obvious and stung. I had got it right!

 There were also concerns about my speech. I lisped, cluttered and stuttered. Rowland’s  theory was that I was tongue tied, the fraenulum beneath my tongue might be too long and tight. Rowland knew about such things and made me recite exercises which included every letter and sound that I could not do. This I hated and avoided as it just brought home how out of control my mouth was.

  My strategy at the time was not to talk. Be silent, stand at the edge of groups and avoid eye contact with strangers or adults. If talking was unavoidable then  to use words which did not have any of the tank trap sounds such as ‘L’, ‘R’ , ‘Th’ or ‘S’. I would verbally stumble around in a circle to avoid these dangerous sounds, and talk absolute nonsense just to avoid saying ‘their, ‘there ‘or ‘they’. Words like ‘like’ were a nightmare so I would say ‘prefer’ instead. Expressing gratitude was a difficulty so I replaced all “Thank you’s  with “Ta’.  Years later I caused some awkwardness when I had to discuss my proposed ‘thesis’ in front of a large group. People tended to not to get the best of impressions

All of this was torture. What I did not realise of course was that the speech problems at least were all very familiar to Rowland and probably uncomfortable for him to watch and hear. So instead he taught me how to clean my shoes, apply Bryl cream, and then shell peas on a Sunday morning for lunch. Practical learning which would get me by and lessen the appearance of idiocy. ”This lads going to struggle” was the diagnosis..  I don’t know how close I came to special education; I was apparently borderline Educationally Subnormal in the words of the time. I know that it could have very well made my future different, and for the worse. I spent my life working in a related field and understand something of the process and dangers. Sometimes experts don’t understand child development.

 Kathleen blindly trusted what she was told by not very good educational professionals. Rowland was out of his depth and just by turns got angry then worryingly pedagogical. In reality I was a seriously late developer with a rather erratic developmental pathway which ultimately got me to the approximate right place but at different time points to everyone else.  It’s either a false memory or a particularly accurate one that at some point my father said “what does not destroy you makes you strong”. Our imperfections can become our strengths. In any event he had the clarity at some point to get it right, and to care that he got it right. He of course knew about living with imperfections and the process of finding your own reasonable adjustments, the idiosyncratic strategies to achieve the end. He was a severely deaf magician come Punch and Judy man with a stutter for God’s sake. I think now what was hard for him was watching someone else finding out how to do it. Every day of my working life I get up in front of groups of people, sometimes two hundred or more. I speak for hours at a time (poor buggers) and they get to see to see an accumulation of a thousand and one ‘reasonable adjustments’ stumbling around and giving voice. What was hardest is now what pays the rent (and gives me the greatest pleasure).

In the 1960’s and the early years of the following decade the chief smells of the house are musty damp wool on work days and aftershave, Fox’ Glacier Mints and flatulence on a weekend. In there at some point is the smell of shaving soap. Very young boys are fascinated in watching their fathers shave. Rowland died first twenty odd years after this time and Kathleen lived alone for a number of years, becoming increasingly mentally and physically frail. A time came, probably two years later than it should have when she went into a dementia care home. The house had become very neglected and in need of considerable amount of money spent upon it. The work was organised very quickly and I was given a date by which everything had to be moved from the house. I hired a large van and drove the 185 miles to the back doorstep of 2 Banksfield Rise. I had just a few hours to make decisions about everything.  Forty odd years of living had happened there and like some supermarket dash TV programme I had to route through everything and discard 19/20ths of it. Kathleen and Rowland never threw anything out. The house in 2008 was like a museum of the 1970’s. I filled scores of bin bags and boxes and threw them into the back of the van and drove to the council dump  lots of times during the day.  I was committing sacrilege but felt there was no practical choice. In these circumstances I was surprised what I chose to keep. There was some 1970’s Habitat tat and the wartime chairs and cupboards. After driving it all the way back to Norfolk much of that went to the skip over the next few weeks. The item which had come first to mind, that had to be saved was Rowland’s shaving brush, which now sits on my kitchen window and smells of fifty years of Palmolive shaving soap stick. Of all the things that passed through his hands over seventy eight years that’s the thing that chance and disorganisation have chosen to preserve.

 Whatever he did with me he was also lecturing. It was all about rules for life. This is how to do this, this is why it’s important, this is what happens to you (or what people think of you) if you don’t do it. He did not overly modify his words to aid my understanding, so I learnt words before I understood meanings. His deafness meant that he pronounced words in his own idiosyncratic way, placing emphasis on the wrong syllables. Sometimes words were used eccentrically. ‘Telescope’ was such a word.  First I leant that people who telescoped were good, sensible organised people, second it was a word to do with plates and cups and anything else that could be stacked one upon or within another.  Thirdly it was a doing word, as in “telescope those plates, it will make more space on the table”. Finally it was to be pronounced one syllable at a time as in “get those cups and tel-e-scope them.”  As I am writing these words it is my fifty sixth birthday, fifty years since I probably learnt about the morality of ‘telescoping’. Hearing the word telescope brings to mind plates and cups before planets and stars and I still place the emphasis in the wrong places and sound each syllable separately. If that’s the case for the habit of stacking plates what else has been imbued with his ten degree out of synch worldview (I am not complaining).

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David around 12 years old. Front row centre. His turn to be captain of Banksfield United. Banksfield MIll is just behind the bushes

 

 

A great deal happened for Kathleen over these years, maybe more than for Rowland, but most of it had to wait until the youngest of her children (me) was (almost) at high school. The years from 1947 until 1967 were all about family and bringing up children. She had part time jobs. Mill work for a time when Neil was a toddler. Cleaner at the doctor’s surgery. This was better as it was okay to take the pre-school me along.  The doctors there were a colourful group. One or two drank rather too much. The cry of “Sod the surgery, open another bottle was” was heard a few times ahead of the 9am start.

For the most part though she was a stay at home mother. These jobs were to buy electrical appliances, and later to help keep Neil at art college. Still later they paid for driving lessons. You can go further when you don’t have to wait for a bus.

Her life was three children, the home, Queen Street Methodist chapel (young Wives Group), the annual day trip or weekend at the seaside, going to the cinema once a week with her Aunt Flo …and waiting.

The Young Wives group met weekly from the late 1940’s till about 2007. Kathleen attended until the 1970’s and then again for the last year or so, when the same women were all in their late seventies. The name of the group had changed to… I can’t remember what but the members still used the original name with a grin. Kathleen gave an account of the last meeting she attended. The women sat in a circle on the chapel fold up chairs. The same faces but much older. There was no real programme, they just sat and prompted stories out of each other. The year they had dressed up as the Beatles and mimed to ‘She Loves You’ at a chapel concert. The seaside trips with the children, the chapel bazaars, promenading around Yeadon dam with their babies in Silver Cross prams.  Some women were very frail but the healthier ones helped the others. Kathleen at this time counted herself amongst the former. The last story told was modern. One of the ladies had a bad experience with an electric swivel door, telephone box like public lavatory on the Headrow in Leeds. The lady could not fathom the push button technology and found herself exposed to the Saturday morning shoppers. The chapel ladies laughed till they cried and then called it a day. 

Rowland had the perfect house wife. There were routines for everything. Each room in the house was thoroughly cleaned once a week (bathroom on a Sunday morning which meant that no one could use it that day). Meal planning never altered which made shopping easier. Monday steak, Tuesday fish and chips, Wednesday Meat and Potato Pie, Thursday Sausage and chips, Friday pork pie and ham, Saturday more meat and potato pie and Sunday Roast Beef (bacon for breakfast).

He never had to lift a finger although he would dry the pots after Sunday lunch. All of this for two piles of money in the Kitchen cupboard on a Thursday evening, Housekeeping and 2/6 pocket money. Kathleen carried on and waited, until it was time to stop waiting and do.

My brother Ian tells me that it was Rowland who first suggested that Kathleen reactivate her education, but maybe not appreciating how far it would go. I think she might have been priming him to have the idea.  Her school life had come to a halt at fourteen when she had reached working age. Her parent’s marriage had broken down when she was three years old. She had been raised by grandmother Hetta and step-grandfather Hextall. Her mother asked for her back and pulled her out of school to work in a local factory, Crompton Parkinson’s when she reached working age. This despite being told by the grammar school headmaster that her daughter was in line for an Oxbridge scholarship.  There is a photograph which completes the circle on these events. Two and a half decades later Kathleen returned to education, and went from night school O’levels to teaching diploma, degree and masters degree in about ten years. Her mother did not come to the degree ceremony, but did attend the one for the masters degree. She simply said that she was sorry for her actions in 1940. Kathleen said that it did not matter. The way she had got her teaching diploma and degree was the better one.  Did the life that she had in between make her a better teacher? It certainly put her firmly on the side of the child from an imperfect background who was struggling. That was evident to to scores of children in the years of teaching that were left to her.

Im not sure when Rowland became unhappy about what was happening and why. Kathleen’s catch up time line beginning around the age of thirty seven was O’ levels and then ‘A; Levels at night school a bus journey away in Leeds. Then doing more of them to get the number and grades for teaching training college. Astonishingly (to her)  getting a council education grant to do the teaching diploma, which was her first ever pot of  personally controlled money. The cultural shock of immersing herself in education and studying alongside people twenty years younger than her, and dealing with the poor expectations of some lecturers. An expectation that somebody who talked and looked like her was bound to fail. Horrendous, near fail teaching practices. Juggling all of this with a less than easy family. At around aged forty four she qualified as a teacher and got her first job at Baildon Secondary School. Then three nights a week after a school day to get a degree in the Psychology of Education. First hating then coming to love the study of statistics. Moving to Swaine House (lovely name for a place of education) school on the edge of inner city Bradford where she became head of English and spent the rest of her career. Back to three nights a week studying at Bradford University and a masters degree. Hesitating then deciding against a doctorate. All in time to hit enforced retirement. The 1960’s and 1970’s turned the world upside down for people like her.

I don’t really know what Rowland thought of this. It would be wrong to judge him by his worst reactions such as the time he picked up all her college books and through them discus like out of the back bedroom window into ours and neighbours gardens. Of course there was rows. There was always fights. Kathleen threatening to leave home and get a flat on Manningham Lane in Bradford, accusations that she was neglecting the house and family,  remarks about the ‘middle class posturer’s’ she was associating with and the time she was spending out of the house. Kathleen’s view was that he felt threatened. She had shifted onto a different life trajectory.  They were busy and there cannot have been much relaxed time together (and anyway Rowland never really did ‘relaxed’.). He must have given her some kind of hand, through altruism or self interest because the whole thing would have been impossible otherwise.  By the time I was thirteen in 1970, they were each building new bits of their lives which did not fall on shared ground. Rowland’s social life surged. He took up ballroom dancing and was out most evenings when Kathleen was at home. She was studying obsessively when she was not doing everything else. The house ran like clockwork.

Kathleen, Rowland and Ian. Sea side Day tripping in about 1949.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Every picture tells a story. Kathleen the educator. She got there eventually just a quarter century later than planned. Kathleen qualified as a teacher in about in about 1970. This photo was taken in 1985 a short time before her unwelcome retirement. During these years through studying three evenings a week at night school she added a first degree and a then masters to her teaching diploma. Kathleen is fourth from the right on the middle row.

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Kathleen’s graduation photograph.  Prime Minister Harold Wilson as Chancellor of Bradford University handed her the degree. Despite having a heavy cold and drenching rain he stayed behind after the ceremony and made time to say hello to each of the students. Kathleen noticed that he spent most time with the older students like her. Asking about their achievements, and giving his congratulations. He seemed very sincere. She was probably right. His former education secretary Shirley Williams has said that he was a true egalitarian who judged people on merit not antecedents.  The man who had established that great equality of opportunity machine, the Open University really understood what education could achieve. He probably knew what these degree’s meant to some of the people he shook hands with.

 

 

No shared holidays or other time outside of the house spent together. When Kathleen was forty eight Rowland was made redundant following the fire at Banksfield Mill. He had said to her “what do you think about me taking redundancy”. She had felt proud to be in a position to encourage him. On the first day of his not employed life she waited for a discussion about what they could do that day (and others). It coincided with a school holiday and she had an expectation of some kind of renaissance in their relationship. The conversation never happened. If anything their lives became increasingly separate. Rowland’s day became filled with the things other than mill work that he had always done. Dancing moved up a few gears and took on an afternoon dimension as well (there is a whole parallel world of ‘ballroomers’). Kathleen took holidays and had days out at the weekend with other (single) lady teachers. The holidays were cultural. Italy, France and Spain, Dorset, Stratford and Edinburgh. She went to all the places where she had always wanted to go, just not with the person that she really wanted to go with.

So putting aside cats and goldfish, that was Rowland’s middle years. Were they a success? Crassly, as   measured by job achievements, things bought and paid for,  wealth, well adjusted and in turn successful children, relationships, and use of talents. Things that might add up to sustained happiness.

I may be judging it wrong, but my best belief is that he did not think in this way. Taking a parallel some time around 1968 when there was a lot of discussion about freedom, he was genuinely perplexed about what the young people on the marches were demanding. When pushed they might talk about freedom of expression, autonomy, self determination, unrestricted acts. Rowland saw freedom as the inverse. The absence of forces which limit ones life. That is freedom from Illness, poverty, ignorance, and squalor. These were the things, which uncontrolled would control and ruin your life. Using these measure, in 1968 and more so later he judged himself as free.

So would he have seen these years as successful? For many people success equates to happiness, and I think that would have been his take. I’m guessing, once the mpment by moment pleasures were put on one side (dancing, having a drink, going for walks, exploring new places) that happiness for him would have been an absence of things which made him unhappy. These things were like creatures which took possession of your life and ruined it. Chief amongst these things in Rowland’s scheme would have been illness and poverty. That belief was part of his core, fear of both had shaped him from childhood. Strangely though  I never heard him include his deafness amongst the former. That wasn’t an illness it was just him.

 The next creature to be resisted  would have been weakness. A deficiency of character. Happiness was  ‘doing right by others and by yourself’. Integrity, not shaming yourself through ones actions, having backbone.

 Waste would be the third evil to resist. Especially a squandering of the hours. A consciousness of time running away was always present. Here is twenty four hours. How much can be cram into it. Write a list and drive our way through. Calculating and then loading a time to activity equation. Idle time produced unease and made him restless.

The fourth horseman in this scheme is the one that prompted me to write this thing. That is passivity, , a hands in the air in the surrender atitiude, just letting things happen. Rowland saw no dignity in victimhood. He would have said there is a choice. Allowing the world to act upon you, or taking action and acting upon it. When people came on the radio and belittled others by referring to them as  ‘ordinary people’, or ‘the man in the street’, or worse still the ‘little people’ you could see rage or more in his eyes.  In short for a Communist he was a dyed in the wool individualist. His instinct was to take control and to shape events.  He despised

Did he ever get to a point in his fifties of equanimity?  A shutting down the restlessness machine and calling a truce with these creatures.  Sitting in a lobotomised, self satisfied lump with a silly grin on his face. No, not a chance.

 He never in my hearing spoke about the success or otherwise of these times, still less used these things as  measurements.

This is all my guess work. What would he have made of what I’ve written.  This time its less of a guess. It would be something along the lines of  “Sod off silly bugger, you haven’t got the first idea”.

I’m happy enough with that.

Its worth showing this photo again. Well done Kathleen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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