We left Rowland at the age that I am at now, that is fifty six. Its a funny age. For some its all to do with ‘what to do next’. You’ve had the ‘starters’ and the main course. That’s all gone for better or worse and maybe some indigestion is marking its passing. The waiter is standing at the side of you asking if you would like to chose from the deserts or possibly the cheese board. Your might even be thinking “sod that, just bring a bottle over here”. What ever the decision there is a decision. Not to chose is still a decision.
Some straying wire in an electrical appliance at Scott & Rhodes (Banksfield mill) brought that decision into sudden sharp focus and gave it urgency.
The fire at Banksfield Mill which changed Rowlands menu options
The local history site does not agree with me, but I believe this fire at the mill happened in about 1976. It was apparently started by an electrical fault in the kitchen canteen area but spread astonishingly fast through the entire building. Next day there was nothing left of the main part of the building and essentially the business was finished although parts of it limped along for a number of months. By this time I was living in Leeds but on this evening I had stepped off a bus at Yeadon Town Hall and was walking the half mile to my parents house. As I got off the bus there was a glow in the sky above where they lived but in fact it was a slight distance away. Somebody said there was a fire at Banksfield Mill. As I ran in that direction the glow intensified and police and fire brigade arrived and cordoned off Banksfield Avenue which ran along the southern length of the building. The people in those houses were being evacuated because of concerns of the fire spreading and of course possible fuel tank explosions. At the house mother was out for the evening but Rowland was home and ignorant of what was happening just two hundred yards away. I’ve told people that he danced around the garden once he realised the mill was finished. That might be a memory of a memory which was not quiet there to begin with. He certainly did realise that the job at the mill had now gone, even if it took a few months to become official. He was animated and for the most part excited about this.
It happened bit by bit. There was still some work at the mill but it was about clearing what could be saved and redistributing work to other sites. Rowland gave updates. There was meetings at head office in Leeds, then the official letter distributed. For most it was redundancy and fairly quickly. Rowland was not unhappy about this. He had been working there more than forty years and was to get a sizeable redundancy pay-off.
Over the next few years virtually all of the mills in the town closed down and many hundreds of people got the official letters. For those who did not have other skills the prospects were bleak at least if they restricted their job search to the town. There’s only so many jobs at Morrison’s or Texas hardware.
Rowland was more fortunate though. Unlike most of his age contemporaries he owned a house and had fairly considerable savings. He also had many ways of making money to fall back on, or more truly to make his main job which in reality he should have done thirty odd years earlier. His children were all grown up and sort of independent. He also had a wife who was working full time and earning a good wage. Hundreds of thousand of people who lost their jobs over the next fifteen years were no where near as well placed.
He had the conversation with Kathleen. “What would you say if I gave up work.” She answered in the affirmative, which he must have known she would and that was it. Ten hours a day, times fifty weeks a year times forty years all done and finished, His life was now his own again. Kathleen said that in the first few weeks he walked around with a permanent grin on his face. For the first time in his life he was in control of every minute of the day. He still worked, and probably put in as many hours as most people do in a full time job but he was doing it for himself. Street selling was the main occupation but also the Punch and Judy and the magic shows. Then Maggie Thatcher and privatisation came along and this Communist took some direct action on ownership of the means of production. It became a second or third job. Studying the financial pages, and making his moves. Developing his ‘investments portfolio’ which was all exactly recorded in exercise books kept in cardboard wallets in a filing cabinet in the corner of the dining room. He was a cautious investor. It was mainly moving amounts around between building societies to get the extra half percent interest, but there was also some buying of shares. These were in the former public utilities, which Maggie was flogging off at discount on television. I don’t think he ever made a fortune out of them. He must have known what ever was being sold by the multiple hundredweight on TV was never going to be the golden bullet.
More than anything else the dancing took off. What had been four nights a week became that plus three or four afternoons plus four day weekends in February at hotels in the Lake District. He was dance crazy! Kathleen and later me wondered if there was other things going on as well.
Kathleen was never invited. She had assumed that when he gave up work that their marriage would now move into a new phase and have its renaissance. In reality there had been a change ten years earlier and the rest of their time together was going to be a continuation of that. They were on separate tracks.
Kathleen life was taken up with being a teacher and housewife. Evenings would be spent marking books or preparing for the following days lessons. The same went for part of school holidays too, but then she also had trips away with Marguerite, Joan and Peggy who were teachers at the second school she worked at in Bradford. These holidays were genteel and cultured. Thomas Hardy weeks in Dorset, Art Deco in Glasgow, days trips to historic houses.. Slightly later came the over seas trips. France with Joan, but also single supplement holidays in Italy and Spain (first morning in the dining room awkward, where to sit. Do you insert yourself on a table with a couple or sit on a single chair table in the corner).
Then there was the West Riding Play House and other theatres which became second homes. Most weekends she would be at the theatre, properly moved by a Shakespeare play or most of all by a modern American classic. Seeing Warren Mitchell, the chap who played father in ‘Till death us do part’ doing ‘Death of a Salesman’ was without exaggeration one of the best experiences of her life. This was not affectation. She was a rare creature who would walk a hundred miles to watch such a thing even if anybody else knew or not.
These things brought her genuine pleasure, but I suspect she would have swapped them all for a week of dancing and cabaret in a good hotel in Blackpool as a couple with Rowland. She often told the story of her grandmother Hetta, who brought her up saying that she would buy her friends if she could. She had friends now, lady school teachers like herself but I suspect it was not the same as being half of a couple like other people.
It also seemed very unfair that you have money at the wrong end of life. Its nice to do all of these things but she could have really done with a few more bob at the other end of life when so much was missed out on for the lack of it.
What we are really looking at here are the years from 1975 to 1998. Twenty three years almost a quarter of a century or two fifths of their marriage. Kathleen got to achieve her life ambition, which is more than most people can say but the chalice was not entirely without some bad tasting stuff in it. That was the kind of loneliness which can be experienced in a marriage which is hanging together by gravity. I might be overstating this. She numbers of times mentioned unexpected kind words Rowland had said, or the fun when he wandered around the house half sozzled on a Sunday afternoon singing ‘Take me home again Kathleen’. She would say that he was a peculiar bugger and she had to take him as he was. She would reassure herself that he valued her really, but was just not very good at being like that. She was probably in a better position to tell than me who was 6,000 miles away for half of this time. When I think of her during these years its going off to school in her Mini club-man, back seat full of exercise books and Sharps extra strong mints at the ready below the dashboard, or sat on an evening watching TV, knitting and doing low concentration marking. There are not many images of her andf Rowland.
The clothes got smarter, she developed a taste for Jaegar knitwear and belted full length coats. The post war furniture mostly went and got replaced by really good stuff bought at proper shops or auctions. Bills which had once been a chronic worry, that poisoned many days, now just were bit of paper on the mantle piece which would get sorted on the weekend when there was a bit of time to write out the cheque.
Its all a bit like you spend umpteen years waging a campaign of war and then one day you get to the objective, and its all a bit too quiet.
Rowland and Kathleen (front left) on Ian’s first wedding day. The brides parents at front right. Me and Neil on the back row. Kathleen in one of her belted coats. I’m guessing this would have been about 1974.
But I cant focus too much on Kathleen. This book is about John and Rowland, and how they experienced life. So what was Rowland thinking all this time.
Undoubtedly when it came to the end of his employed work years he felt like somebody who had been given a whole life sentence to wake up one day to discover he was getting a ten year remission on his tariff. Suddenly all that drudgery was over and he did not have to do all of that anymore.
The next bit is hard. Did he feel estranged from Kathleen or was he just somebody who did not do openly affectionate relationships and make a show of it. He would have been mortified to have to do open affection. Typing it even makes me grin. So was he just hanging about because it was convenient. There I’m also equally certain the answer is no. Certainly a mixture of gravity and inertia was a factor, but that s all too simple. He also felt understood by her, at least some of the time. She was prepared to accept his oddities. Being with her also held him together. Kathleen was convinced of this, and that he saw that as well. He would have ended up a sad figure if he had been on his own. Anything more than these default positions. Yes, on the margins and some of the time there was something there. Simple understated affection with small gestures (a brush of the hand, private locking of eyes) but they were hard work a good deal of the time. There was not the save level of ranting and raving rages. These greatly diminished at least after the mid seventies to be replaced by more stylised competitive arguing and name calling and just straight forward accommodation.
Her being a teacher and hanging out with the likes of them really pissed him off though. He could not abide that world. She would say that he was uncomfortable in the company of people from different backgrounds. That he felt socially uncomfortable and would not know what to talk about. Possibly but he also really did not like them, and he would not have liked to have a conversation to begin with. His words for them would have been effete posers, overgrown teenagers or neurotic schoolmistress wrecks. Kathleen sometimes with a half grin would agree. He really did not want to spend any time talking about them, God forbid actually spend time in their company.
He really did not like school teachers but to be fair there was a lot of other groups he didn’t like or trust as well. You should have heard him talk about policemen, solicitors or anybody who wore a uniform or suit for work that matter. In short there was a lot of people he did not want to be anywhere near but teachers were amongst the first on the list.
So who did he like? There was no close friends that I know of, but he would feel okay sitting at the same table as people from his world. That was women, and men from his kind of background or people from the trade
union world although that diminished when employed work ended. When he died Kathleen was told by some of them from the clubs that her husband was always the life and soul of any social thing. Making jokes and having a laugh. I really cant imagine that and neither could she and it made her feel more than a little jealous.
Rowland towards the end of his life sat in a social club somewhere. It looks to be evening and he hasn’t got a newspaper or book in front of him. l Did he always sit on his own at the edge of a group or have his friends nipped out for some reason. That ‘laugh’ is the one that used to come to the fore after about three pints.
When he died, in my over earnest way I took it upon myself to get in touch with this network of social club and dance friends that he had that non of the family had met. I knew that he regularly went to a Catholic Social club in Baildon not far off the main road into Bradford. I figured that if I let them know that he had died suddenly, and they would pass this on to everyone else who knew him. Maybe these people would also knew other people at other clubs or places that he visited around Bradford and they could pass in the word. That way it would not be like he had just dropped out of things with out a word.
I went there during the day to the Catholic Social Club which was on a hill leading off from the main Bradford Road upto the village of Baildon itself. it was all locked up and there was no one there. There was a house next door which seemed to have something to do with the club. I knocked and a Catholic priest came to the door. I must have looked very shocked because he glanced at me in a nervous way.
I was in that state you get into after a parent had died. All that you do for days seems to have a high magnification intensity. Peripheral details such as doorbells, crumbling concrete and stained glass in doors are given equal attention by ones memory. So the recollection of talking with a priests is layered alongside the feel of pebble dash and mulchy leaves on the steps. The recalled image is a multilayered sensory package embedded a vividness of emotion.
So the more than middle aged priest in full regalia got this on his doorstep. I suppose in his line of work he met many people who were having a patch like that. I might have rung a note of caution with him though because I did not get invited in past the hallway telephone table. I explained the situation and left both my telephone number, and that of my mothers. He did not remember Rowland but he promised to pass on the news to the club steward. I left feeling a bit foolish, but the message did get through and a couple did turn up for the Humanist funeral service. I think it then struck me how little people he spent time with outside of Yeadon knew about him. The chap from the Humanist society spoke about Rowland’s life, boxing, running, Communism, trade unionism, Punch and Judy, and street selling and it looked like the couple were thinking they’d walked into the wrong event. Of course all they knew of him was what he said which would have been virtually nothing. But more on that later.
The poor sod, that is Rowland had a lot to contend with. He must have thought that his children would never give him peace.
His eldest son Ian had gone for the alternative route. His life trajectory reminds me of a surfer catching the perfect wave. Standing astride the exact pinnacle, point of it and being lifted along. Ian was born I 1947, so he was sixteen in 1963, twenty one in 1968 and twenty five in 1973.
At sixteen he aspired to be a Beatnik (unearned college scarf, the right book in his jacket pocket and the mohair suite). At twenty one he was working hard on what was to become the hippy thing. He tells me a few years ago he fell asleep in front of the television at home. He woke up in the middle of the night. The TV was still one and showing film footage of the 1969 Isle of Wight festival. As he opened his eyes he came face to face with a twenty two year old version of himself running naked down the beach along with scores of other festival ‘goers’ (maybe in both senses of the word). Now not many of us can say that. (I wonder what happened to the other undressed ones. There must be scores of thousands of people who now are drawing their pensions, led respectable lives and never grew a beard again who have nice little remembering moments every so often. I hope they cut their feet. Apparently the beach was all sharp pebbles and shells).
Any chance of earning his ‘respectable working class’ badge had blown. Rowland was not happy with him. There was far too much of Uncle Eddie the tile thrower about Ian. By 1973 Ian had well and truly sailed off the edge of the world. I cant remember sequences. Maybe when Ian reads this he can add some map reference points if he does not ask for a big delete. Rowland may have had momentary cause for hope of redemption a few years later when Ian got married to Pat. They did get a house, and they had children but Ian did not stay with it. I hear that he took off with the Social Worker who had been allocated to the family, although I might have got the wrong occasion.
We are looking at how Rowland saw all of this rather than what actually happened. His view would have been that Ian was married and then left his wife and children. Maybe that triggered a memory or two. Kathleen was upset because she thought that she’d not get to see the grandchildren, It didn’t but it did mean that Kathleen did a lot of weekend round trips to Ashby De la zouze in Leicestershire in order to do so.
Ian had lots of jobs and lived in some pretty dodgy places. On the job front these included Rolls Royce at Derby, the Post office (sacked for punching a supervisor who called him Trotsky), Bus driver (sacked for dragging some passengers off the bus and beating them up for being cheeky). Less official jobs included the manufacture of fifty pence pieces which involved filing down two ten pence’s and sticking them together. These were used to buy packets of twenty cigs out of machines, which were then sold. The last stage in the chain would be the convert into money he could actually use. I really don’t get the economics of this. It would have been a hell of a lot easier and more profitable just getting a job.
There were also the short prison sentences in Armley Jail in Leeds (stealing TV’s from student nurse residences). This paints a bad picture I know, but it was no so bad as it looks. He really was not a very competent criminal. I think the time in prison did shake him out of the worst of what had been going on if only because it meant mixing with people who had really fallen off the edge of the world and were pretty no hoper’s.
So in as far as Rowland knew Ian had gone way off course. He didn’t know about the times in prison. He just knew that every so often Ian just disappeared for some months at a time. He would have had his suspicions though and he had predicted it all for many years.
The big thing with Ian is his temper. Grudge, perceived insult, simmering anger and sudden escalation into explosive rage. Big blow up, People getting hit sometimes but much more often just things getting thrown around and him storming out of a house or job. Even now in his sixties it has not entirely gone even though he tries to get all Buddhist with me about it. In the trade we call it Affective Aggression. Getting wound up and losing it. Yes I’m in the trade but on the other side of the counter.
Ian says I’m as bad as him. We have weird conversations where we try and say the other is more full of anger and potential for violence than them. He says the only difference is I’ve got a certificate that says I train people how to stop others being aggressive. He reminds me of telephone boxes, I remind him of reactions to day time TV watching criticism, he raises it by mention of assaults on young car drivers with glasses or sackings from pram factories, I raise it again and use another bus employment bust up or his ruminations on taking pick axe handles to Halifax to sort out whoever liberated some paving flags and a boiler from his house there. I know I can win this game (and if my current employers read this my bits all happened a very long time ago and was no where near as bad as they sound in these notes). All of my blow ups happened before I was twenty five (some a lot before) his are something he’s trying not to have (and succeeding) most days.
The obvious point though is why have both of us spent a life time walking around this particular tree!
The way I see it is that a lot of things come from the same well, and most of that is somehow encoded in our genes. These little buggers have a lot to answer for. On one hand they gave us that restless energy, which has taken us to some great and odd places. The voice on the shoulder saying ‘more than this.’
The same little creatures turn us into raving monsters, all puffed up with rage and wanting to take a hammer to the world. (although if my current employers are reading this ……etc).
I also think I came along at a luckier time. By 1957 Rowland had a little more self control. The earlier version gave Ian a much harder time. Those things shaped us but also random things. Earning my Cub Scout ‘Volunteer Badge’ with the 16th Airedale Scout Group at age 12 set me on a path where I could ultimately make a living out of understanding rage (whenever I’m not having one). Are these little instances so important in determining our futures, or would we have have arrived at the same destination but by another route given enough time. Choosing to earn that badge helping out in a club for people with a Learning Disability, led in time to a job which in turn led be way of my many steps and places to what I do now. (Rowland had no time for that, he just saw my job as being an Asylum Attendant. He did not always keep up with things)
Moving on, Rowland got a lot happier when Ian got married again. This time to Rose. They had three children together. In between the erratic not working (but less illegal) pass-times Ian became a pub landlord of a pub in Syderstone just outside of Fakenham in Norfolk. This begs some obvious questions about wisdom of choices it more or less worked out okay apart from the occasional lapse into breaking pool cues over knees and attempting to impale people on them…but we all have our bad days.
Rowland even came and visited the pub once or twice which was indicative of substantial personal warming and a slow creeping tolerance which surprised Ian. The grand kids would have been at least part of the incentive. Rose kept Ian more or less on track. The pub licence must have been in her name and she had the financial skills to keep them almost afloat. Of all the things our Ian could have ended up doing being a pub landlord was I think the one which would find most favour with Rowland. Ian tells a story of his dad sat quietly in the corner sipping his pint whilst he played the big ebullient, bigger than life landlord. Almost a truce or at least as near as it was ever likely to be.
Then there’s Neil. We left him at the Slade Art College. He then returned to Bradford which may have been a mistake. A group of art school friends where setting up an arty business on several floors of a building in what was then the very centre of the town. An entrepreneur called Guy occupied the lower floors which were really a shop and gallery. Neil was at the very top of the building. He sold some pictures but it was mainly a jobbing silk screen printing workshop making cards, and posters to order for local businesses that wanted to have a touch of Bradford style Andy Warhol. He was chronically under capitalised though. The banks would not give him a business loan. Rowland would have been more than capable of doing so chose not to which rankled a lot with Neil. I can remember awful days where Neil was frantically rummaging around and approaching half friends for a few pounds to buy the art card for a job that had been due for delivery yesterday. He was also drinking a lot but so did everyone then. The smell of beer was rarely off him though but it was not a big problem yet. The person who was keeping Neil together was a small French woman called Dominique who he idolised, and kept him sane. You would not have guessed that by his manner around her in public and (probably in private). Neil was not great on interpersonal skills and really needed a woman who understood this and did not get pissed off with it. I cant remember exactly why she was in Bradford but it might have been a post graduate degree at the university. I think it was in English which always makes me smile. Doing an English degree in Bradford just does not seem right. In her relationship with Neil you could not have invented more of a contrast. He was essentially someone who was primed to be a mill worker, but ended up in artist clothing. Dominique was a daughter of a prosperous Veterinary Surgeon from rural southern France. All shimmering scarves and Jane Birkin. A fantastic looking woman and entirely sincere. The relationship did progress and Neil was at his best around her. They had motoring holidays in Ireland and Scotland just like normal people. Dominique was really classy and Neil was probably astonished that she chose, and continued to chose to be with someone like him. He always had the arrogant, off hand, this is my woman talk though. He would entirely forget sometimes that he was with her and wander off with friends and she would be left standing astonished and hurt. Incredibly things were getting more serious, and she was driving it. The time came for Neil to visit Dominique’s home and meet the very large extended family. This of course was a kind old vetting process. Would he fit in? Was this man going to be successful? Neil got on well with her father. He spent some days shadowing him on his farm visits, and they seemed to generally hit it off. Neil of course had no French but they some how got a rapport. Dominique’s mother did not see prospect at all, and the knife was in. She was the crucial voice. The relationship did not end immediately but Dominique later said that seeing Neil in France she knew that he would not fit in. The relationship worked in Bradford but was not going to happen in France. There was a few dog end months back in Bradford and then she said she was going. It was the count down to a last day and then a wretched goodbye. Neil was properly wounded and he never got over it. Its very rare that something is as clear cut as that but the next two decades were a decline from that point. He cant have been much past his early twenties and he should have been able to go on a meet other people and get over what happened but it never really happened. Playing the film backwards it is obvious that something was happening with Neil, but in real time it was just one small thing after another not going right.
He was increasinlg unhappy. The time came when the art studio business downstairs was doing well and wanted his space. He probably wasn’t keeping up with the rent. He moved into an upper floor of the shell of a mill building. The factory space had been sublet to small businesses but the facilities were minimal and Neil might have been one of a very few tenants. An unimproved building. No heating, hot water or telephone. An industrial capacity lift with iron folding gate doors which did not stay closed. Everything shabby and uncared for. Neil hung on in that place for a while. I can work out the dates from two events. The CIA backed military coup in Chile’ that ousted Allende and Bradford University Library giving me the sack. So that would be 1973 to 1975. Allende’s demise had an echo in Bradford. Chilean political refugees came into English university towns and set up groups in exile. The one in Bradford wanted to raise some money by selling Christmas cards. The image on the front was not so festive but I cant remember what it was. Inside the words were not really traditional festive. “Have a Chile’ Christmas’. I was sort of doing a Christmas holiday job with Neil in the freezer of a studio (we wore gloves and coats). That might have explained the mess I made of the guillotining of the card. Neil tried to tidy up the botched job but these cards were unsellable. The Chilean comrades were not going to pay money for the mess, and anyway Neil was late in delivering. No ones buying political message festive cards on Christmas Eve. The delay had been a mixture of too much time in the pub and the art suppliers refusing him further credit. We were supposed to work through Christmas. There were a few jobs. Not high art but money in the hand payment. A night club was opening on New Years Eve and wanted a few thousand hand bills and cheap posters posted, pasted and passed out around Bradford. This really had to happen from the day after Boxing day but the usual beer and paper issues got in the way and we ended up frantically churning these things out on the morning of the 31st. The nightclub owner had already given up on us but Neil thought that he might still get some money off him if we got the damn things out by lunch time. Neil did the posters and I got the hand bills. First I tried handing them out to shoppers outside Marks and Spencer’s on Darley Street but they were not really the nightclubbing type. By then it was mid afternoon and I still had a large sack of the things left. I set off for the multi- storey car parks. The cars could not refuse to take the bits of paper. First I put single hand bills under the windscreen wiper, but this was taking too long. Then a car owner shouted at me for handling his wipers. That made be nervous. I then moved onto shoving great wads of the damn onto every car. It was cold and windy and now dark and I wanted to get home and then out to the pub. So I just shoved the left over bills into bins around the bus station. Hundreds of them. The new club would be opening in three hours anyway. I caught the 55 bus back to Yeadon and forgot all about it until the next working day. Of course the night club was just around the corner from the bus station. Some scores of the bills were blowing up and down the station but the rest were not hard to spot either. The customer kept a sample and showed them to Neil when he asked for payment.
It was all a bit on the edge dodgy. When we got so cold in the workshop that we were unable to bend our fingers or talk we would go for a coffee and a hot sausage roll in an Italian or Greek place with steamy espresso machines near the Sunwin House Co-op store. That was where my memory tells me I first heard Baker Street, and it stuck in my head ever since. I hear that and I think of then and I can see Neil with his heavily nicotine stained fingers and beery clothes telling me his fantastic plans for the future, and how it was all going to be incredible if he could get some proper money behind him, and what a bastard Guy Watson was. He was the man whose studio; almost opposite was doing so well, and had just added an arty jewellery room on the top floor.
Baker Street on YouTube-
That’s strange because the song was not even a glimmer in Gerry’s eye at the time. Somehow the two impressions have become merged. Maybe for good reasons. The song does just about describe what was happening except there was not going to be an exhilarating last verse.
We lived in a sub divided semi detached house on Emm Lane in Bradford. It was up a very steep hill from Manningham Lane and a long walk past a glorious municipal park (although I did not appreciate it at the time). Neil and me had the upstairs rooms. The place smelt of damp and desperation. Stacks of bills staid where they fell from the letter box. The stair carpet was loose and growing things. I lived there with Neil from the back end of 1975 until I got sacked from Bradford University library in the summer of 1976. I couldn’t wait to leave home and Neil would find my rent money useful. The disciplinary procedures at the library was not helping but the place was generally miserable. Getting sacked was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me but at the time, being eighteen and losing my umpteenth job in a row was gut wrenching. Investigations by my line manager had uncovered that I spent long periods on the telephone listening to the ‘Dial a Disc service’ (Diana Ross singing Mahogany’ done for me), associating excessively with non professional staff (the security men),not knowing the Alphabet (true but only the middle bit between about ‘K’ and ‘S’) and letting off serious late returners from their large overdue fines (apparently word got around and they brought back their books when I was on duty). The house made me ill. It was cold and damp and crawling with bugs. I had raised and sore flea bites all over me. Neil was sliding into a pit. Drinking, not eating and laying in bed till lunch time. Going to the studio and feeling overwhelmed by the failure of it all and then grabbing a bag of chips before going to the pub again. Some nights we would sit by a wonderful fire they had in the pub at the top of the hill. He would ramble on about various injustices and the ‘Pakis’ (they don’t work harder they have just got bigger families). Increasingly his tone was ranting and he really didn’t need a participant. I had brought my ‘Dansette’ record player to the house. Neil only had John Lennon’s Imagine LP left. I would sit and play this record when Neil was not in the house. The first time I saw Withnail and I, it all seemed so familiar. I got sacked and went back to mum and dad in Yeadon. I had another job lined up at a Mental Subnormality Hospital in Leeds starting on August 23rd .That, was for me when things started going right. The man who sacked me was well intentioned and gave me a name and a telephone number of somebody he knew at the hospital. That man said I ought to try out for nurse training and that’s what I did.
After that I did not spend more than a few hours with Neil for the rest of his life. There’s Ian’s wedding, one or two Christmas days, and a meeting in pub where I predicted that he would soon be dead, only to be surprised when I was proved href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlzrNKN3rZI”>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlzrNKN3rZI
Neil fell off my radar but Ian watched out for him. Things came to a sad end in Bradford. They got in a car and his older brother drove him to Ashby De La Zouse where he was living with his first wife Pat. He organised a flat for Neil and got him set up. Neil got a job as a miner at nearby Rawdon Colliery (this was a coincidence, the neighbouring village to Yeadon is Rawdon. Neil got a Job in a village called Rawdon close by Ashby). His plan was to earn good money at the job and use this to float his art work. The reality was that the shift work and the pub took all his time. Ian tells me he barely picked up a pencil during the whole near decade he was there. Neil worked at the job up to and through the eight four to eighty five miners strike. Maggie got her revenge in with NUM union over the following months and shut down the mines. By1989/ 1990he was out of a job.
Rawdon Colliery near Ashby. Neil worked here during the 1980’s. The mine closed in 1989/ 1990 and Neil received redundancy.
I don’t really know how he was at the time. Ian tells me he his eccentricity was already noted by people he encountered but that in itself is not an absolute disqualification for being an artist.This might have been the time when he went back to what he was supposed to be about but maybe that boat had already sailed and what ever process was breaking him up had gone too far.
Neil got generous redundancy money. My memory says £10,000 but that must be wrong. What ever it was it was drank away inside a year. People told our Ian that his brother wasn’t right. He was sitting drinking in pubs all day by himself. Mumbling and distracted. Ian by this time had been through some changes. He’d left his wife Pat and the Kids in Ashby and gone back on the drift, but then met Rose in Exeter. She got a job with Halifax Tourism (yes that’s right) and they set up house first on the west side of town and then moved along the road eventually ending up in the Sowerby Bridge lo-cal where villages with wonderful names line the steep valleys. Luddenfoot was one of them.
Ian went to fetch Neil again. As they got into the car to drive away from Ashby a woman ran across to the car and asked Neil what he was doing. He’d had a relationship with this person which had apparently featured Chicken Dinners but had not thought to mention that he was leaving the town. For some that would have been a deliberate meanness, but I suspect for him it was an absence of consideration. It just did not cross his mind to call round and have a word with somebody who had been friendly.
I’m not sure of the sequences but Neil at one point shared a flat with a postman old friend who was in no better state than him. His mental health was at its worst at this time. Kathleen saw him hiding behind chairs in the front room of her house hiding from SAS marksmen in the garden. He resisted attempts to talk, but seemed happy to sit quietly in a chair Maybe that familiar place felt safer but he said no to coming back to live there.
Ian picked him up from the postmans house and took him home. It did not work out sharing but Neil eventually got a flat and sought to set up a life for the umpteenth time. He got a job in a biscuit factory, He still could not drive but walked or biked to work. He rented a series of flats around the town getting behind with rent, arguing with landlords, living with less and less possessions until he ended up on Maggie s couch. She was a younger woman, I remember as being compassionate and caring. Her fate was to be the last stop on Neil’s line.
Her flat was in a building at the top of a hill pf steep steps at the bottom of which was the Puzzle Hall Inn. The pub was a collection of buildings put together like a jigsaw, but the player had got inpatient and had just forced the bits together. Igt had started off in the 17th century as a private house but once it became a pub generations of owners had added rooms. Wandering through the pub was like stepping between juxtaposed buildings with no continuity of dimensions, materials or style. Ceilings sloped off wildly in wrong directions. The bar must have been a nightmare to man. The place had a heavy drinking culture and revelled in it. At least one funeral cont-age set off by barge from the canal at the door of the building. There was a good crowd of people though. Ian knew most of them and Neil linked on. By now he was hearing voices again and asking a worried Ian if he could hear them as well. His self was unravelling. Then the symptoms escalated again. There were days when he thought SAS snipers were hunting him. Bizarrely there were problems being referred to a Psychiatrist because he was not registered with a GP. Ian took matters in his own hands and just marched Neil into a Psychiatrists waiting room one day. He was told that his brother could not be seen with out an appointment. Ian frustrated and scared got angry and probably seemed very threatening. The police got called and Ian was led away. Somewhere along the line Neil got some Haloperidol which would have helped but he needed to be in a hospital. Neil did not like the drug side effects and just stopped taking it. How can you hand out such medication and do nothing else. It is not like taking an antibiotic. Haloperidol is a serious top end anti-psychotic drug. It does the job but people need a lot of help getting through it, and of course when he got the inevitable side effects he stopped taking it. The slide continued. I have thought long and hard about this. Neil had a Psychotic illness. He was having auditory hallucinations, his thinking was irrational and drew wildly wrong conclusions from any given set of events. Psychosis is a symptom which can be produced by many different conditions. My bets ended up between a slow burning form of Schizophrenia or something linked to his undoubted alcoholism. He was drinking heavily all day every day. Mostly beer but some spirits. If it was Schizophrenia he could have been sedating himself. At the end of the day the two things fed into each other and the falling apart continued.
I had not realised how bad things were. I was living in South Africa and was wholly distracted with my life there. I had not seen Neil in a number of years. Somewhere around 1989 I got a study bursary to look at ‘transcultural psychiatric nursing issues in a multicultural society’ and thought Bradford would be as good a place as any for this. In between interviewing Indian ladies through interpreters I went along with Ian to have a look at Neilalthough it was not set up like that. We were just going out for a drink. We met up in a crowded, noisy pub.Despite everything I was still the younger brother who knew nowt. I felt there was no way I could say anything. Neil was a mess. His clothes smelled and did not fit. The coat looked like he slept in it (which he did)but worst of all was the rambling shambles of a conversation. He visibly shook and looked like a jumpy rabbit. I cant remember much more of the evening. What strikes me now was how superficial I was about the whole thing. I made a big point of telling my mother that I knew about such things and that this was an end stage, and likely Neil would be dead within three years. There was a lot of truth in that but what was missing was doing anything about it. Okay I had a plane to catch at some point but there was not enough proper caring.
In fact it took a lot less than three years. It was 11th November 1991. The same day his father was to die on seven years later. He had been out drinking as usual at the Puzzle Hall, I think by himself. He drank incredible amounts. Eight pints was routine for an evening and maybe this evening was unexceptional in that way. The walk to Maggie’s couch was a ginnel or footpath up the side of a steep ridge. Lots of stone steps in the dark. In the morning he was found by Maggie on the couch dead. The post mortem showed that he’s suffered an Aortic aneurysm. The wall of the artery leading out of his heart had ballooned and then ruptured. He would have died very quickly. The weakness in the artery wall would have likely been there from birth. No symptoms showed during his years of long distance running and art school partying. Maybe these things can happen to an individual living a blameless life but his pattern of living could not have helped any. He was forty one. Seven years older than me then and fifteen years younger than me now. Maggie got hold of Ian, he phoned his mother, she phoned the hospital where I was working, a man who I worked with and who had known my two brothers said he would tell me. There was no phone at my house so he came knocking on my door and simply told me the news (for which I’m grateful). I went to a phone box opposite and phoned mother and heard the details.
I had left South Africa temporarily and was living in the Isle of Man since the previous summer. The funeral was at a Crematorium somewhere near Halifax. We all stood on the front row of the chapel. Ian holding his mothers arm in a firm grip which she forever after remembered (until she stopped remembering things). Ian chose the music, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ by Bob Dylan. One of the most appropriate but inappropriate choices ever. I remember an involuntary sound coming out of my core with the opening bars.
A YouTube link to the Bob Dylan song played at Neil’s funeral.
‘Like a rolling stone’.
We went onto to someone’s house and met his friends. Maggie was there and we said thank-you to her. Someone had put on a Rod Stewart LP which was a favourite of Neil’s and the fates chose that moment for him to sing Maggie May. (“Wake up Maggie I think I’ve got something to say to you”). Later on at some kind of impromptu wake at the Puzzle Hall, dad had bought rounds of drinks for the people who knew Neil. He was to come back to the pub many times over the coming months and seek out their company for an opportunity to talk about his son. He and Kathleen then went home. The wake continued and numbers of people who had known Neil at art college turned up. They were scattered around the north of England and were now middle aged men and women. I’ve no idea how they got to hear about Neil but a surprising number turned up that night and we all got very drunk. I may have conflated two separate evenings but I remember an evening ending with someone putting on John Lennon singing ‘Stand by me’ which more or less said it all.
This chapter is supposed to be about Rowland but writing about what happened to Neil has so far taken up most of it. I wanted there to be something left of Neil to show for his forty one years. I’ve got some art card with pictures of his on, and Ian also has a few similar things, and then there are half a dozen images of him at the edge of photographs and that’s just about it. Looking back over what I’ve written it is all about decline and things going wrong. There may have been times after his mid twenties when he had happy days but there cannot have been so many of them. Kathleen was right ultimately. The happiest days of his life had been at the fought over art college in Bradford, the time at the Slade and the months with Dominique.
Kathleen said that it was not in the natural order of things that a parent should live to see the death of their child. She mentally catalogued herself alongside women she had known around the town for whom the same thing had happened. Her mourning often consisted of the re telling of these sad stories. The son who killed himself after the break up of a relationship, the boy who was knocked over by a car late at night as he walked over the moor from Horsforth after walking his girlfriend home. I dont know how much her and Rowland spoke about it. I suspect little (and that does not imply criticism. How do some people ever talk about such things).
Rowland was wounded. That’s the best way to describe it. This was the only time that I ever saw him with the stuffing knocked out. People like him just quietly carry on. There’s no crying out to the gods or tearing of clothing, taking to drink or going to live by himself in a tent. He just continued to live but I believe that Neil was always there at the edge or front of his mind.
Ian was Kathleen favourite son but without a doubt Neil was the one that Rowland had most natural affinity with. It was not about looks, or even every aspect of personality but in the way they looked at the world and were with other people. A kind of semi estrangement. At various times Psychiatric trade have described a pattern of functioning which is sometimes seen in young people who have the potential to develop Schizophrenia. The reality of that is argued about but right or wrong Neil certainly had the personality described and I think Rowland would also have had some facets of it as a young man. Kathleen used to say that without her Rowland would have gone a similar way to Neil if he had not married her. I think there’s a good chance she was at least partly right. He would have been a sort of Neil without the Alcohol problem.
Neil died in on November 11th 1991. Rowland had exactly another seven years to live. He might have been wounded but he was not felled. All through these years as well as the decade before he continued with street trading, and his own attempts at ownership of the means of production, distribution and banking. He was worrying about bank and building society collapses twenty years before they happened. He had given up on the Punch and Judy. The sheer physical strength and stamina needed to cart the equipment around the West Riding was not there any more. He was starting to worry about a heart attack. I used to laugh at this, as I felt he was so fit he would outlive us all.
Ian and Neil on a lads day trip to Bridlington. At at left in the suite and tie. Next to him with the already long hair is Neil. He would have been about 18 in this picture so the year would have been 1968. At Art College and looking forward. A good time of his life
The Puzzle Hall Inn at Sowerby Bridge near Halifax. Any one single angle view of the building does not do justice to its Rubik cubeness. Where Neil went for his last drink.
One of two pictures I have of Neil’s. Ian’s got the best one, of the man sat in a deck chair on a seaside the promenade. There was maybe half a dozen versions of the picture here. They were just try outs for one of his submissions at art college. Another copy had the score given by the teacher in the corner. It might have been 6/10.
I have to consider next my shadow on his life. I’m pretty sure I was a pain in the back side to him. In his eyes I certainly earned the name ‘Daft-beggar’, I was basically a nice lad but not very bright. The common sense gene was definitionally missing. Bit of a fool really,
Expectations were very low but I had the habit of never getting to even the most basic ones. That is establishing myself and accumulating enough money and possessions to be financially stable. “David, if you keep moving all the time you will never have nowt”. Of course he was right and this used to infuriate him. As he said, “once you have kids its not about you any-more. Grow up”. His big ambition for me was that I get a trade and stick with it. He worried that Kathleen would give me ideas that I was not up to achieving. He had a trinity. Bricklaying, an engineering apprenticeship at Kirkstall forge in Leeds, or being an Undertaker. His logic was that I would never be out of work in any one of them. He was right about the third but could not have been more wrong about the first two.
Sat on a bench in the garden of the Royal College of Physicians yesterday lunch time I posted this bit of silliness on my Facebook page.
El Goose is down in London attending a conference to do with his job. After 37 years it still fascinates me. Am very happy that I got sacked from the pram factory and the library”.
I could have added a lot more jobs. PS I have added he ‘El’ prefix to Goose for any occasion where I am travelling somewhere which feels exotic. In this case London NW1.
It would have been very nice to have been a doctor. Sitting on that bench after walking around the building and soaking in its atmosphere felt like a good fit. I’ve no doubt that I could have done it (and a medical friend once offered to help) but I was always a bit of a late developer. Whatever else my family did it left me with a certainty that I can do what every I wanted. That’s caused a few problems. I will briefly run through them just so we can get a sense of what Rowland had to put up with from me.
When I was fifteen my metalwork teacher gave me detention for using the time set aside for drafting up plans for my ‘Certificate in Secondary Education’ Metalwork project to copying out details of how to construct a tank trap from Che’ Guevara’s manual on guerilla warfare. It was really not going to go well.
The book that confused by metalwork teacher. It includes a chapter on ‘The Guerilla band’
It took me some time to get direction after leaving school. All that I did know was that I did not want anything to do with the jobs Rowland was pushing me towards. I have already talked about the sacking from the library, before that there was the sacking from the Pram factory (punching David Drinkall for attempting to clean my machine whilst I was going for the 4,000 bracket piece work threshold), the lack of interest by Addy’s outfitters in re-employing me (“that lad that smells has come back for another job”) and the general unsuitability for a career in street trading (although if Id stuck at it that might have worked out. As I say I’m a late developer).
So with the help of the man who sacked meat Bradford University Library I ended up at Meanwood Park Mental Subnormality Hospital in Leeds on the 23rd August 1976. My spell check does not recognise the existence of the word ‘Subnormality’. That is some kind of achievement. The very word does not exist any-more. I had a lot of growing up to do, a lot more than most nineteen year olds and this was the place I was going to start doing it. I was a Mental Subnormality student nurse there for three years. Virtually nothing on the syllabus of training was relevant to taking care of people who nowadays we would say have a ‘Learning Disability’ or ‘Intellectual and Developmental Disability.’
Subnormality hospitals have a log history of abuse and neglect scandals from Ely Hospital in Cardiff in 1968 (where I was later to work) to Winterbourne View in 2011 there have been scores of investigations and reports into such places. Some wide ranging others more limited in scope. The investigation at Meanwood was one the latter. I don’t know the process followed in those days for triggering a full on investigation. Whether through reasons of lack of curiosity, bureaucratic inertia or actual obstruction Meanwood failed to get the investigation it should have had. In the three and a bit years I was there I did not work one day without seeing physical or psychological abuse. On some wards such as Villa 12 and Villa 13 it was how the places were run. One day I will make myself sit down and write a proper account of what used to go on there. This is not the place to do it though.
Negative learning (how something should not be done) can have its uses. I have drawn upon what I learnt about the job and about the parameters of human nature at Meanwood for the rest of my career.
A YouTube video about Meanwood Park Hospital.
The last year of my studentship coincided with what became known as ‘The Winter of discontent’ which was about the trade union movement resisting government wage control policies. In the health service there was single days of industrial action and I took part in them. I have an image in my mind of me running and kicking the side of the district Human Resources managers car with my Doc Martins after he had seemed to drive over the foot of one of our cleaners on the picket line. The incident was never formally mentioned by management which seems astonishing. Maybe there had been some uncertainty about identification or concern that it would highlight the driving problems of the HR manager but things began to freeze around me a little bit. I had also put in a complaint of ill treatment and neglect against two charge nurses DB and DW. The latter is still on the nursing register, the former not. This was certainly covered up and a middle manager told me I had been blacklisted as a consequence of my complaint. I thought the chap was being a bit over dramatic (after all I was in the right wasn’t I?) but years later when I applied for a job it was evident that they were not keen to employ me despite advertising vacancies. So I strongly believe there is or was a bit of paper somewhere with my name on it. Another lucky escape.
There was some good times though. I discovered what it was to be young, go to parties and have a good time. We worked hard on the parties. Riding a motor bike almost naked into a crowded room at my twenty first was up there as one of the things that gave me the most laughs plus the house wrecking party at Delph Mount in Woodhouse Moor. Lots and lots of things.
It didn’t last long though. In the summer of 1978 I met my future wife Lynn. A few of us had been sat around watching Top of the Pops on a Thursday evening in a bored miasma. It was close to pay-day and we decided to go out nightclubbing. We ended up in a place called ‘Heaven and Hell’ which must be amongst the most ironic places to meet a future wife. I met this woman, told her I was going to Australia and did she want to come. We did not get there but ended up in a lot of other places instead. We moved into a shared house above a hairdressers shop on Harehills Lane in Leeds. One of the co-tenants used to throw tines of dog food in the air and then slice the tin in half with a meat cleaver as it fell. The place was alive with fleas and other micro wildlife. I swear that both of us had Dysentery which probably led to the decision to move out which had a the side consequence of the decision to get married. As a young teenager I had loved the book ‘Watership Down’. A cartoon film of the book came out that year and we decided to go and see it at Cottage Road cinema in nearby Headingley. The symptoms of what I swear was Dysentery came on mid way through the film. That awful feeling will be forever linked with Art Garfunkel singing ‘Bright Eyes’ theme tune to the movie. I don’t know how we managed to get across town to Harehills. We were both lay on the bed being eating alive by fleas and unable to move for violent illness for a week. And there is no exaggeration in that. I believe at times I was hallucinating with fever and dehydration. I lost a lot of weight and felt weak for long afterwards. That’s when we decided to move out and get married. The flea bites had barely gone down before it was achieved.
Lynn and I got married at a church off Harrogate Road in Chapel Allerton in Leeds on the 25th November 1978. The week or two before had been eventful. The vicar who was to have married us had a heart attack, the stand in curate had a bad stammer and the church had a serious fire. The service went ahead despite everything. Both the curate and I had difficulty with the vows but we somehow stumbled through them. I was unaware of Neil trying to summon the nerve to raise his objection at that particular point in the service. I am told it was seriously a possibility.
As Lynn and I processed down the isle I looked to the back door of the church and there was my dad with his Punch and Judy gear. It had been touch and go if he would get to the church as he had a children’s party engagement earlier in the day but he had managed to get there for the last few minutes of the service. He then dragged his cases and Punch and Judy booth to the reception.
After the fist fights amongst relatives at the reception in the hall without floorboards in the toilets we set off on our married life with 10p in the world. It was literally 10p and a house devoid of all furniture apart from two chairs and a Duck-down duvet.
I had just turned twenty one. The name on the marriage register was Max which is not altogether my proper name. I should have remembered that twenty one years later when I had to fork out £4,000 for a divorce. That sounds a touch negative. We did have some very good times (marvellous times) in between and two very important (plus at the time of writing four more) people exist because of it all…but I must be one of the very few people in the world who has a near anaphylatic reaction whenever I hear Art G. crooning ‘Bright Eyes’ or see cartoon images of a rabbit called Hazel.
YouTube Video. ‘Bright Eyes’ Art Garfunkel (1978).
Rowland understood ‘starting out poor’ but what he got really upset about was choosing to remain that way…sort of, and then asking for handouts when things crashed.
I need to summarise things here a bit otherwise it could take up a great deal of space. Rowland and Kathleen had to watch whilst I was determined to have my cake and eat it. One the one hand I wanted the family life. Two children came along (Ruby and Emma) but on the other I was determined to live the travelling life and learn by living. At this point I do not regret most of the choices that I made but I can certainly see that it caused a lot of distress to some people including Rowland and Kathleen. (Ruby and Emma love to sit and reminisce about the places and situations I dragged them through including taking stray cats to a free vets in the centre of a near war zone and living in a very not adapted school science laboratory). Lynn did not come out of these events well but that had mostly other causes.
We started out modest. The first move after the several in Leeds was to Orpington in Kent. That was fairly sensible. I was doing a second nursing qualification and arguably it was a good thing to leave ones home town and move to a more prosperous area. After eighteen months of that, having our first child (Emma) and failing the qualification we shot across country where I got my first post qualification job at Ely Hospital in Cardiff. Things could have worked well there. I was promoted very fast and was a Charge Nurse within six months but then saw an advert for nurses in Bermuda. That was good and it lasted a whole three years and our Second child Ruby was born there. We managed to go through four houses in that time and ran up a fair bit of debt (which I mostly paid off). Next came back to England and a three month stint on the dole in Mytholmroyd near Halifax in Yorkshire. Very nice place but spent too much time living off the blackberries picked from the bushes near the railway station. I did try and settle back in England but it could be a sodding miserable, squalid place so on impulse I dragged the family to just outside Johannesburg, South Africa to live in a farm community for people with a Learning Disability which espoused a system of belief called Anthroposothy (50% Buddhism, 50% Christianity, 100% exhaustion). The year 1986 was not a good one in South Africa. The whole place was kicking off around us. I would drive out on my days off to watch the revolution. Sometimes Emma and Ruby came along. After a year of that I went to work in the Psychiatric Hospital in Johannesburg where I did some of the best work of my life and learned more than every before or since. South Africa despite its dark side can be a place where the world is your oyster and you can achieve anything. Its a manic depressive society but at is two poles its people do wonderful things and I would not have missed it for the world. I got to live things not one person in a thousand gets the chance to do. I worked sixty hours a week at two or three jobs but somehow still managed to stay poor. There was lots of phone calls back to Yeadon asking for emergency money. I have forgotten how may house and school moves there were but I know Emma and Ruby have it all itemised somewhere.
Then Lynn got sick. In retrospect there had been signs of it in Bermuda but then it all seemed to go away. I’m still not sure of the whole story but around 1990 she started having extreme mood changes, erratic behaviour, uncontrolled movements and very severe headaches. I spoke to a Psychiatrist friend who said that she needed to have an MRI scan. He spoke to a Neurologist friend and called in a favour and Lynn was seen within a few days. It is the only time in my life that I have relied upon privilege and I don’t regret it. The scan showed a nice big cherry of a brain aneurysm on something called the Circle of Willis. It was fit to burst and was pressing on all the bits around it. Hence the symptoms. The privileged network of favours extended next to seeing a Neurosurgeon within a few days who was prepared to do surgery. My understanding is that most surgeons at the time would not consider operating on this kind of aneurysm as the outcomes were often poor and the surgery itself dangerous. The doctor described his job as being a bit like a plumber but the leaks he worked on were in the pipes in the brain (where do surgeons learn to be so reassuring!). He was frank. The job was risky and we had to think of Lynn only having a fifty percent chance of surviving the operation. We did not talk about how she would be afterwards… if she survived. We were left in no doubt though that the alternative to an operation was almost certain death. More phone calls to England for help. Lots of very practical help from my bosses at work.
Lynn did survive but the cost of living with the results was very expensive in many ways. I had medical aid but the costs of her drugs were astronomical and we had to pay a proportion which was taking up close to half my income.
So we set off again. This time to the Isle of Man. Part of the British Isles but not part of the United Kingdom but it did have a health service. The Manx government paid for Lynn to receive follow up treatment at hospital in Liverpool including the ferry and a taxi at the other end (all taxi drivers in Liverpool at some time have carried one or all of the Beatles but that’s not relevant here). The treatment worked and things settled down again for a while and she seemed to be okay. So I decided that we should all go back to South Africa where I would set myself up in business as well as work at the hospital…as you do.
All the time Rowland and Kathleen are having to play the role of witness to these goings on. They attempted to persuade and Rowland was often more than exasperated. If my children did these things to me I do not know what I would do.
So back to South Africa for four years. Lots of amazing things. Self employed training and consultancy work with mental health and Learning Disability services all over what was b then then called Gauteng . Travelling vast differences across a giants landscape and doing my gigs at rural schools down red dirt tracks or at awe inspiring self help programmes run by parents in the townships, or vast industrial scale hostels for ‘the mentally defective’ where street gangsters broke in every night through skylights and did dreadful things. Life was painted in vivid colours.
I didn’t really do business plans though and inevitably my schemes crashed during one of the long summer holidays just before the southern Christmas in 1995. We had not much more than a weekend to get out. On the phone again to Yeadon and abandoning all our possessions in the dead of night and racing to the airport in a car which I then abandoned. This wrench was the toughest for the children. They thought of South Africa as home and their wreck-less unpredictable, clearly half mad father had deposited them in an alien country in circumstances that were humiliating. Lynn had grown more sick again and her behaviour had become extremely erratic and odd (and at times dangerous). The family badly needed some stability. Rowland forked out the money to set us up in a beautiful old house at the edge of an idyllic medieval green in a Norfolk market town. He paid the initial rent and deposit along with buying their school uniforms and helping us get through the first month till pay-day. The next three years were extremely difficult. Lynn’s personality transformation after the operation continued. The mood changes and rages became more frequent and extreme. She withdrew and became preoccupied with esoteric subjects and sort of stopped being part of the family although she still lived with us. There was no peace in the house at all and for periods the children by now in their early teens had to witness their mother falling apart. After too long a period I called it a day. I remember spending long periods in the back garden during the summer of 1998 obsessively ruminating about what to do. It had been eight years since the operation which saved Lynn’s life but which had left her with damage which wrecked what remained of it. Daily life had become miserable and occasionally very dangerous.
Rowland then died on November 11th seven years to the day after his middle son. He left me a lot of money some of which I used to buy off Lynn and set her up in a house. Whatever happened afterwards always had a way of ending in disaster for her. She has subsequently been through some very bad times. That continues. I eventually did what needed to happen though but I should have done it a lot sooner.
The following year I put the children and myself in a motor home in Newark, New Jersey USA and spent a month driving 5,000 miles around America. That was to put a full stop on some very bad times. The inside of a motor home it not a very big space in which to spend four weeks with two teenage daughters who are raging, and desperate for a normal life. They were not particularly interested in (the sometimes) endless drives across featureless landscapes but we had a lot of time to talk about things other than all the bad things that had been happening and I brought some good music tapes with us. Once I cottoned on that Ruby was in nicotine withdrawal things improved and the daily ritual of coffee and doughnuts at the morning gas station fill up also helped. Back in England things then started to get better and inch by inch I got better at being responsible. There is some truth in the saying that you do not properly finish growing up until your father dies.
That last paragraph was also paid for by Rowland.
The poor sod had a lot to put up with. Being a father did not come naturally to him. He must have wished for some peace during these years but felt a little bit cheated of it. After all he had got all three of his sons to adulthood you don’t expect to spend the rest of your life worrying about what they are getting up to.
But again his voice is in my head saying “stop being self indulgent and maudlin. It was fine. Neil hurt but the dancing helped”.
I had always assumed that he would live a very long time. As I’ve said possibly longer than his children although that calculation had a number of incalculables. We joked about his Gout (too much rich living) and there was the childhood TB but the man had otherwise not had a days illness in his life. He was the one who could march at the twice the speed of the rest of us and had the stamina of an ox. But in that month, as he told Kathleen he was feeling some discomfort in his chest. He had even, for the first time in his life had to stop half way up the cobbled hill known as The Steep in the town. Kathleen phoned me about this and I laughed at the story. I said something like not one person in twenty after the age of fifty could walk without a rest up that hill, let alone those aged seventy eight as he was. I really did not think twice about it. Shortly afterwards he went to the doctors and had an Electro-cardiogram which showed a healthy heart. He was so pleased with the result that he brought a print out of the ECG trace home to show Kathleen. The anxiety that had been on him for days fell away.
That night though they had an argument. That in itself was not unusual. Most couples have them very often and Kathleen and Rowland were well practised although in recent years things had been less volatile. The row ended with Rowland saying “shut up you stupid woman”. Kathleen went to bed and sometime later Rowland came upstairs and joined her. She awoke at the normal time the next morning and felt a surprise that he was still there as he was normally the first to rise. She sat up and looked over. It was obvious he was dead. He always slept with one eye open. He had some funny kind of eye lid closing problem. This morning though both eyes were open and so was his mouth.
Death always surprises me. I can understand it as the end of cycle in plants and animals but it does not feel right for the arc of a human life to end in nothingness after so much as happened. Maybe that’s why we have an instinct for a belief in an after life because there has to be an outcome. Some kind of meaning has to be stamped on the whole enterprise. In my heart though I know there is no eternal life and that the enduring meaning is eventually for others to ascribe.
The last time I saw Rowland was in a Chapel of rest in-between Guiseley Swimming Pool and Morrisons. It was rather a small building for its purpose in 1998 but it has now become a Micro fitness centre. One day I must go and see how they fitted it all into that space.
I went there with Ian shortly before the funeral. Someone let us in and we stood next to our father for a few minutes. I tried to bring to my mind memory pictures of the person in front of me but my mind would not follow commands. Instead my hand moved out and touched him on his forehead. He felt like cold clay.
Ian and me then went to the new cafeteria in Morrison’s across the road and had a filter coffee and a hot sausage roll. All those things to do with him that had so filled our time and preoccupied our emotions were over.