A Saturday Morning, sometime in 1968

When I think about it, my dad knew everybody, there weren’t many people in the City of Leeds that he didn’t know and if you needed something or somebody then he would know where to get that something or somebody.

I was idly thinking of something else while in a queue of traffic tonight when my mind wandered back to a moment which perfectly demonstrates this pervading belief that my dad knew everybody.

I’d been at Leeds Modern Grammar School only a short time before that word that all first formers feared  cropped up in the teaching during a maths lesson – Algebra.

I didn’t understand algebra at all, not then and not now, I didn’t understand what it was for, could not perceive of a practical application for algebra, could not then and still can’t now, I could add numbers together to make another number, I could take away number from other numbers, I could multiply a number by another number and create a third number without any problem at all and mostly still get the correct answer, and I could even divide a number by another number and sometimes get it right – but adding a letter to another letter just made a word, thats all, you can’t add or subtract or multiply or divide letters and come up with a number, its just not on, probably defies all laws of nature, the global warming problem probably exists because we’ve messed with the laws of nature through algebra too often.

Like all 1960s dads my dad was not very demonstrative towards us, real men didn’t say “I love you son”, real men just went out to work for six days a week to keep the bills paid and the mortgage up to date and took the wife out once a week, real men had other real men as best mates and they went to the pub as often as possible and got drunk together, its an alien concept these days but real 1960s men didn’t care for their offspring in quite the same way as modern day man does now, my dad would die if anyone had ever suggested that he push a pram down the street or carry one of his baby sons in a sling across his chest.

But occasionally he took me out in the car on a Saturday morning while he tended to his work, he didn’t really have to work on a Saturday but I think it was just his routine, he’d go into his office for a couple of hours to catch up on some paperwork in the day job, then he’d go to a couple of jewellers wholesalers to buy spares and stuff for his “other job”, the job that he did in the evening for cash money, repairing clocks and watches for people he met in pubs, during those saturday morning trips out with my dad I came to realise that when he went into the jewellery wholesalers then everyone seemed to greet him as an old friend, and he them, and he talked different to them for they were Jewish, old European Jews with strong Eastern European accents, and my dad changed his mannerisms and waved his hands around a lot when he talked to them, he shouted a lot and said “Oye” a lot and I stood at the back of the room in astonishment and the transformation of my dad into Topol out of Fiddler on the Roof, and then they’d all laugh and slap each other on the back, shake hands and agree prices and the game would be over and he’d leave the wholesalers with a grin on his face content in the knowledge that he’d just knocked the price down again.

And one Saturday morning we were driving around in the car trying to kill time until the Con Club opened at 12 noon and I could be sat on a bench around the bowling green with a bottle of Coke until he’d had his Saturday lunchtime session of ale, and he asked me if everything was going ok at the new school, I know he was secretly proud of the fact that I’d gone to a Grammar School because his sister, my posh Auntie Doris used to tell me, but as a real man he wouldn’t tell me stuff like that.

And so I told him, “Its the Algebra” I said, “I can’t cope with it”.

And he stopped the car and he looked at me and he said that if ever I needed anything at all to help me in my schooling then all I had to do was ask and he’d go and get it for me – really profound moment that was, I still recall it, profoundly like.

“Well a book that explains all about algebra would be good” I said and he thought for half a minute, then set off driving again.

He drove us to a second hand books shop in Woodhouse, you see when he said that he’d get me anything to help with my schooling that wasn’t an open cheque book to spend his money flippantly, oh no, for my father never bought anything for the full price, and preferably he never bought stuff new if there was a perfectly good second hand version available.

So we walked into this tiny second hand bookshop in Woodhouse and he greeted the owner and his wife as if they were long lost friends, surely he couldn’t know these people as well for Woodhouse was not his normal stomping ground, Meanwood was his normal stomping ground, he knew everyone in Meanwood, now it looked as though he knew everyone in Woodhouse too.

They picked some books off a shelf for me to look at, algebra books and now I wished that I’d said I was struggling at comic books reading at school for no matter how you dress it up algebra is not going to make gripping reading, unless you were my mate Vaz for whom the concept of adding letters together to make a number made perfect sense – you won’t be surprised to know that he is a world renowned professor of mathematics these days. lecture in America and everything, its not normal I tell you, letters make words not numbers.

So my dad bought me the book, a “How to do Algebra” book, second hand and I’d love to say that on that day my love for algebra was born and that book taught me everything I know about algebra and that I still have it and read from it nightly, I’d love to say all that but frankly I;d be lying for that book made no more sense to me than our maths teacher did at school and in that respect my dad wasted five of his English shillings on it, but it was the thought that counted.

And then we went to the Con Club and he drank several pints and I sat outside with a bottle of coke and watched the old men playing bowls.



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