I could not show my feelings in the same way he could not show his. That’s why he never called my name.
The earliest memories of my father are rather vague now, but remain with me nonetheless. They beckon feelings that I now feel I did not have a long time ago. I keep thinking what was going through his mind when I was with him. For instance, when I see him putting my boots on while I am sitting on the bed. My mother is missing, she always put my boots on. Where was she that morning? Was she ill? Having a lie in? Or was she in the hospital giving birth to my brother Thomas? He never said, maybe I was too young to understand why he tied my boots that day.
Another time and in another place I wonder what was going through his mind. He was in hospital and had already had a very serious operation for Cancer of the bowel. I knew he was afraid when first informed of his illness and I said to him, “say a prayer”, hoping it would give him some comfort, for at the time my father and I were fervent Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, when I left him to go home to my family I felt a strong feeling that I should have approached him in his bed and hugged him, something I had never experienced my dad doing to me. My mother was the one who throughout my life genuinely hugged me often, sometimes I would feel wretched because things were not going my way and hopelessly beaten, my mother would come around and enfold me in her arms and show me true affection. This was something my father could never do, to understand why you have to read this story.
One of many of the things my father did was showing his 9.5mm films of Charlie Chaplin through the kitchen window onto the whitewashed wall in the backyard. This was like having our own cinema he just loved using the projector. There is another occasion when he was seated on a stool and with intense concentration making adjustments to a beautifully constructed Galleon, called the Golden Hind, he had carefully made himself. This picture of him is recorded for posterity in the journals of the Pathe Pictorial News, I know this for real because I was there. At about the same time, we as a family enjoyed piling into a very large Hammock made with oriental Seagrass, where it came from I am unsure. If my memory serves me right the Hammock was left behind when the upstairs flat was vacated by the then tenant. Naturally my father being the landlord took possession of it in lieu of rent I suppose. Lounging in the hammock on sunny afternoons was something we all looked forward to and it was my father who made sure it was securely anchored to the two walls and safe to lie in. Another of my father’s interests was Budgerigars, he decided to start breeding them in a shed he had built in the backyard. All went well for a while, but no chicks were forthcoming, they just were not breeding. It was not long when the venture was abandoned and the Aviary he had put together was made into an outdoor Bathroom with a real bath. We were the only family in the street boasting such an amenity. I can remember being taken by my father when I was very young to the Comedy Theatre as it was then known, situated on Saville Street. From what I remember of the black and white film is that it was mainly of a well-known singing star of the period, namely Richard Tauber. At about the same time my father was keen on cameras and photography. One of the photos taken by him in the backyard was of Thomas and me standing against the whitewashed wall of the backyard.
On a Sunday it was a ritual going to Sunday School, often in the morning and afternoon. If we were to go for a walk on a Sunday, we would dress up in our best clothes and Father also dressed for the part and off we would go into the nearby countryside. The walks would take in almost all of the local farmhouses near Preston Village, Closes Farm, Monkhouse Farm and Whitehouse Farm. This was good exercise for the whole family. I remember those times as very happy times, but they were to be short lived, dark days were approaching in the form of political unrest and the threat of war.
My father worked as a Shipwright all his life, but not once did he mention what he actually did. I knew he worked with “Red lead”, used in painting ships’ hulls, also “Pitch”, a thick black tar with which to seal the planks on the deck of the ship. The residue of all these substances was to be seen all over his overalls, it never came off! During the war my father had an allotment which was part of the cemetery. To help him I would cut the virgin turf off the top of the soil, and later dig trenches then layer those turfs in the trench and bury them.
As a little boy, I remember my father taking me with him to the Tynemouth Lake where he would sail his model yacht back and forth across the water, it wasn’t a small model. At six feet long it was no easy task, carrying the hull almost three quarters of a mile and back again. While at the lake with him I accidently slipped into the water and soaked my boots. There was no exasperated shouting, he mildly took the boots off and gently dried my feet the best he could then put my boots back on again.
So why is it I have entitled this synopsis of my father in such a way? Because in my earliest years I fell into the habit of copying my father in everything he did, even his speech. My father had an impediment that made him stutter and I was not to know so I began to do the same. It was catastrophic for my father, it meant he could not have a proper conversation with me for fear of corrupting me. My mother and father agreed he should not speak in conversation with me, this would be the best policy to adopt in my company and from that day he never did. However, this decision worked, because I stopped the stutter I had learned from him. It is sad that this was the case but that is why he never called my name. At that time in my young life my father took on an enigmatic presence, I kept my distance and gave him the respect he deserved, even though I did not understand. I am sure my relationship with my father would have become much closer had his impediment not interfered. As I grew older with my father his stutter diminished considerably whereby I could talk to him quite naturally without the hint of a stammer, becoming much easier for him every day. This became evident when I decided at the age of fourteen to apply for the job of junior Projectionist at the Albion Cinema. When my Father heard of this he immediately offered to go with me and give his support for me, for which I was very grateful. He spoke with confidence to the manager Mr Gwilliams as they both had an appreciation of the Film industry. I got the job! I remember my father using his cine-projector to make silhouettes of the family cut out of blackout material. This was during the war! The Silhouettes were proudly attached to the frieze above the picture rail for all to see. No-one that I know, ever did anything like that. My proudest time with the help of my father was when I had not been long married and was urged to move to other accommodation. I had already got the key to a room in Newcastle Street and was hoping to clean it up and put new wallpaper on the walls. I had never wallpapered before, but I was prepared to have a go. I had seen my father do it often, even do it for other people for payment. With no prompting he immediately assured me he would do the paperhanging for me. We made a good partnership working together, he hanging and I pasting. I learned a valuable lesson, how to appreciate my father and inherit a skill for working with my hands. Although highly skilled in carpentry, his abiding joy was working his allotment behind Preston Cemetery. Ever since the time he learned the basics of cultivation from his friend Barty Taylor, he never looked back. Barty worked in the smokehouses of Ballard’s Kippers, then located at the top of Prospect Terrace where my two aunts Bella and Lowry lived. Looking back now, I realise how much I loved him and regret I never showed my love for him when he was ill in hospital, but I could not show my feelings in the same way he could not show his. That’s why he never called my name.