At the time I was born in Chester-le-Street (pronounced Chesslee Street) he was running his business from home and doing all right. He then opened his own office over a tobacconist's shop in the main street with a large sign outside with his name on it. Years later Mum told me that she thought he should have kept costs down by continuing to work from home.
By this time he was active in the local brass band movement playing the bass trombone initially. My mother never really understood or approved of his musical activities. When he became a conductor he had lessons in composition with a well-known minor composer in Newcastle. He also paid for his solo cornet player to have music lessons. You can imagine that that wasn't very popular either.
Perhaps I should pass on things told me about my very early life and that, of course, I don't remember. We had a gramophone and there was one particular record that I insisted on being played over and over. It was of a lady singer and I think it was probably One Fine Day from Madam Butterfly. My mother hated it but then she didn't like classical music and was particularly averse to what she called squawky sopranos. As this was before electrical recording and the result was tinny and scratchy she may have had a point. Jumping ahead 60-70 years, when she was quite old and we were in Australia, she said in a letter that she was watching the Proms on TV and she blessed me for introducing her to classical music. That was news to me at that time but in the 1950s I did go to quite a few symphony concerts in Nottingham and I think I persuaded her to go with me sometimes but if I was aware of a conversion I didn't remember.
We used to have regular visits from all the London orchestras, the Halle orchestra, the City of Birmingham etc. Quite soon after the war a German orchestra came. Having recently wasted six years of my life in the army becasue of the German nation I rather resented having to stand for their national anthem. Going back to the early 1920s, gramophones had clockwork motors and had to be wound up between each playing. The steel needles also had to be changed frequently so it was more than my choice of music that was a nuisance.
When my father opened his upstairs office I would sometimes be left in my pram at the foot of the stairs. My favourite toy was a black cat. I'd chuck it out of my pram and then cry until he came downstairs to retrieve it. Once I started to talk it's said that I'd greet visitors with "Keen your feet, take a heat." Incidentally I discovered much later that the reason I was called Hal was that Les couldn't get his tongue around Harold.
I do remember the house in which I was born. It was up a hill and there was a sweet shop at the bottomo of the hill. I was allowed to go down there. Some small, egglike sweets had little metal toys inside. (Not all of them had anything in them but what was new about Yowies?).Les got one with a dog inside and I had to buy several blanks before I won something.
cigarette packets had picture cards in them. Les collected cards with professional footballers and invented a game which we played together in the backyard. It involved transferring the better players and I don't think I did very well out of those transactions.
I remember rather more about our next house. It was a short way out of town at a place called Fencehouses. I think our house was at the end of a terrace. I'm also fairly certain that there was a hedge of honeysuckle between our little front garden and the house next door. This was during our fairly affluent period. Our house had a separate patch of garden and we employed a gardener. Mum said he robbed us.
We had a car which was quite a big deal then. It was a blue, bull nosed Morris Cowley and the registration number was PT something. Only the grandest of cars had roofs. Ours certainly didn't so we had to wrap up to go for drives, picnics, to the seaside etc. The horn was outside the driver's seat and had a large rubber bulb that had to be squeezed. Later we got a brown Morris Oxford. This was ultra high tech. It had an electric horn, still no roof but it was very fast, it was supposed to be able to go at 65 miles an hour. I think self-starters had been invented but they weren't common. You started cars by cranking a starting handle at the front.
(There was a tradition in England - probably still is - of selling comic postcards at holiday resorts. These were pretty crude and mostly not all that funny. They tended to feature grossly overweight men and women with red noses. I remember one of a woman scrubbing steps and exposing her voluminous red bloomers. A parson is saying "Winter draws on Mrs Jones." I have a book of them. The front cover has a very fat man in swimming costume. A small boy is standing at his feet and he can't see him because of his protruding belly. The caption is "I've lost my little Willy." What started this train of thought was a postcard that I saw a lot of years later. It had a very modern young woman dressed in flapper style, choche hat, shortish skirt etc. This must have been a bit later in the 20s because the old fashioned car had a roof. She's driving and children are in the back. "Where's all the perishers and bleeders today, Mummy?" "they only come out when your father's driving.")
In a working class area having a car meant that you were a member of the capitalist classes. I have a vague recollection of the General Strike of 1926. This is said to have been as close as England came to a French-style revolution. We were driving in the dark one night and there was something on the road in front of us. Dad stopped the car and went forward to investigate in case it was a bomb. Once when I wasn't present the road ahead was blocked by a mob of strikers. they used to tip over cars, set them on fire, beat up the occupants. It was all very ugly. Apparently Mum said "Put your foot down." "It'll kill somebody." "They'll get out of the way. Put your foot down." He did and they did.
This was the time when the head of the BBC, John Reith, mortally offended Winston Churchill by refusing to broadcast Government propaganda. Broadcasting was in its early stages and there weren't too many listeners but the BBC was the only organisation at that time that gave fair coverage to both sides of the dispute. Churchill never forgave him. We had an early wireless. This was a crystal set with thin wires called cat's whiskers. You had to twiddle these together to get a signal. There was no loudspeaker, of course, and you had to hold some kind of receiver, rather like the earpiece of a telephone, to your ear. It was all rather fiddly and not at all worth the effort but it was exciting new technology and what might it lead to?
I had a pet rabbit. When it disappeared I was told that I must have left the cage door open because it had got away. Recently I was asking Les what happened to a toy train set that he had. He seemed to think that he had been lied to and they had probably sold it when the ship started to sink. I wasn't necessarily told the truth about my rabbit and you'll note that it was all my fault!
Dad earned a few shillings by being the local correspondent for a brass band magazine. He contributed a short paragraph of news under the name Mercartor (or similar). Much, much later wehn he knew of my own writing ambitions he told me that he had made 100 punds from writing and he put this forward as a target for me.
Why did most collieries and many of the larger factories have brass bands? Because men doing manual work didn't have the dexterity in their fingers to play string or woodwind instruments.
Dad had his Sam Browne belt from the war and also his service revolver. He got some blanks once and fired them in the backyard. He told us about a narrow escape once when a bullet actually burned the collar of his greatcoat. I thought we had that coat but perhaps I'm remembering a mental image rather than the real thing.
My mother was estranged from her elder sister for quite some time. I think I was there when the breakup happened. Les must have been at school so I was perhaps slightly under or over 5. I was playing in the yard (I'd probably been sent out.) Jennie came out very red in the face. Afterward Mum was crying so that was most probably it. From a distance of a great many years I guess it was mainly over money. Dad owed money to my maternal grandfather and this would have been just before his business totally collapsed. Knowing what I know now about the reason my parents had to marry Jennie probably threw references to that into the row and that what might have been what most upset my mother. Jennie was said to be positioning herself in her father's favour, to the detriment of my mother, so that she would inherit whatever was going. This duly happened by more of that later.
It's possible that my father was too nice a bloke to be a really successful money lender although he did very well for a time. On my birth certificate he gave his occupation as "Financier". He told me he did that because he thought it might help me later in life. It never did but it was a kind thought. I always thought he was undischarged bankrupt and that was why when we bought furniture in Nottingham under a hire purchase agreement it had to be in my mother's name rather than his. I once scanned lists of bankrupts for that period without finding his name. My mother told me that he was never actually bankrupt. He came to an arrangement with his creditors. From the legal ability to enter into financial commitments it was probably the same.
I've a feeling there were three creditors but I can only remember two of them. Grandpa Johnson and Mr Stokoe the tobacconist downstairs from his office. I used to think badly of Mr S but he was probably only a creditor because Dad was way behind with his office rent. We had a framed copy of Rudyard Kipling's If which used to hang in the hall.
Somehow I acquired it and brought it to Australia. At some time the glass got broken. Eventually I removed it from the frame and found on the back that it had been given to Dad at Christmas 1927 by Mr Stokoe. Why did he owe money to my grandfather? He probably borrowed the money to go into business on his own. Why didn't he pay off at least some of that capital instead of buying cars etc? No doubt my mother said that but he probably felt that appearing affluent was good for the business. Anyway he needed to bolster his morale after his war experiences. The alternative theory is that he borrowed the money to see him through what he thought was temporary bad patch. Mum said he paid 40% interest on the loan so Grandad may have had the money back anyway. next