In 1937 my father was 15 years of age, he’d left school the year before and living in Meanwood you had two career choices, you either got a job at “The Switchgear” or you stayed on the tram and went all the way down into Leeds and found work there.
He got a start at The Switchgear. Yorkshire Switchgear manufactured industrial electrical control gear, large metal switches capable of handling 415 volts and more, huge metal boxes with big levers on the front to control the electrical supply into business premises – it was a factory of metalworkers, cutting, forming and welding sheet steel, they were still trading when I moved back to Leeds in the 1980s and they were customers of ours, my dad would take me up there and we’d wander the shopfloors in the pretence of servicing their equipment while he told me tales of where he used to work and the people who worked there.
His father Percy was running his watch repairing business in a lock-up shop in the cellars of The Becketts Arms, you went around the back of The Becketts in order to find the shop but for all that it was apparently popular and he had a thriving business, especially when he digressed into industrial time recording devices which involved him locking up the shop from time to time while he took his tools on the bus and travelled to wherever his customers were located in the city.
Percy decided that it was time his son joined him in the business of time recording.
But there was a problem.
Directly opposite the shop was The Meanwood Conservative Club and its main attraction, the two snooker/billiards tables. Percy was no-ones Conservative but he was a member of the club simply because it had the best snooker tables in the district, it was an excuse well-worn and well used by all the other working class members not least of all my father Frank who at 15 years was not old enough to be on licensed premises but that appeared not to matter as much as he took to the game of snooker like a duck to water and spent every waking minute of his day in there.
An old timer, a close friend of Percy’s took young Frank under his wing, George Hughes was a district Billiards champion, a game that looks as though it should be much easier than snooker but is in fact much harder in the same way that chess and draughts use the same board but not the same amount of intellect.
George Hughes taught my father how to play Billiards to a standard that was within a whisker of being an ace, they were close friends although a generation apart and my father would act as his chauffeur in later years ferrying him to the shops or the club, as young kids we’d often be out in the car with our dad when he’d take a diversion to Meanwood where the 80 year old George Hughes would be stood at his garden gate waiting for us and a lift to the shops – how they arranged that without the use of mobile phones or even home telephones I’ll never know.
So at fifteen years of age my father went to work with his father and if he was given a moment to spend on his own he’d be over the road in the club to practice on the billiards table, my grandfather would pop his head out of the workshop to find the front of shop empty of its assistant and swearing and cursing would stomp across the road to drag him away from the billiards table by his ear.
My father told me of the dozens, probably hundreds of times that he arrived back at home early in the day for his mother Clarice to ask “What are you doing home at this time?” and he had to confirm to her that once again his dad had sacked him.
My dad got the sack from his dad on more occasions than he could reasonably count and on every one of those occasions the billiard table was to blame and on every one of those occasions the answer was the same , “Well you’re not sitting around here all day, get yourself down to The Switchgear and get a start”, and he did, every time, and every time he was sacked from The Switchgear within a few weeks for absconding to the billiards hall and so he went back to work for his father again.