11th November, Remembrance Day, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to commemorate the ending of hostilities in WW1 in 1918.
And my dads birthday.
11th November 1923 – 26th December 1998
Born the youngest son with three older sisters, one of whom died when he was still a young boy, and raised in various suburbs of Leeds, they seem to have moved around a bit from Beeston to a luxurious bungalow out in the countryside at Colton – “luxurious bungalow” if you believe his version of events, “wooden hut” if you believe my mothers, and now owning his archive of photos I tend to favour my mothers version – and thence back into the city and a house and watchmakers shop in Meanwood where he spent most of his child and youth-hood.
By the time it came to leave school and get a job (14 years of age) he was already a regular at the snooker and billiards club across the road from his fathers watchmakers shop and under duress from his mother he agreed to concentrate on a career in watchmaking, apprenticed to his own father, it was always destined to end in tears.
He told the story of how, countless times he would wander into the house in the middle of the morning where his mother would look up and ask why he wasn’t at work, “He’s sacked me again” he would reply and the rest of the day would be spent down at the snooker hall, his mother would berate his father when he got home and he’d be back in the apprenticeship the next morning, until the next time he did something wrong or simply popped out to run an errand and ended up playing billiards all afternoon, then get fired, again and again.
And around this time he was developing his other life-long obsession, that of singing to people. Now I don’t understand this practice at all, I can sit and listen to other people sing most of every night, but I cannot for the life of me imagine a time when I would ever feel the need to stand up in front of a crowd, pick up a microphone and sing them all a song, but he did, at every prompt, and sometimes with no prompting at all.
How much did my father love to get up and sing ? Well in the pubs and clubs of these parts they often have professional entertainers to perform to the clientel, but sometimes when the pub or club can’t afford to pay someone to sing to them they would have a “Free and Easy” night where anyone could get up and sing into the microphone – imagine you are in a pub and the landlord switches the microphone on to say “Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight is our Free and Easy Night…” well, my father would have snatched the microphone off him just about at the bit where I wrote “and the landlord switches the microphone on..”
He was of course living in the era of the great crooners and Sinatra was his crooner of preference, my earliest childhood memories are of watching him sing “That Old Black Magic” or “Thats Why The Lady Is A Tramp” in the holiday camp talent competitions at Cayton Bay, and he won most years mainly because he knew the keyboard player in the band and he always gave him a big build-up and backing chorus, then they shared the prize money out in the bar afterwards, have I mentioned my fathers little scams ?
Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Matt Munro, oh and Andy Williams, and several singers who appeared on Opportunity Knocks (who were never as good as he was), and Dave Green of course.
Dave Green ?
A small man, I won’t quite call him a dwarf, with a deformed hand who sang the Northern Club circuit on the strength of my dad recommending him to all of his concert secretary mates, have I mentioned he was a club concert secretary too ?
Well he was, such was his love of the Working Mens Club and Institute Union, the club that he was a life trustee of only ever had comedians and singers as entertainment, topped off every Saturday night by your very own concert secretary giving you a rendition of “My Way”, I can’t imagine why I never inherited this obsession of singing in public but the world is probably a better place for it.
He joined the Home Guard at the outbreak of World War Two because he was only 16 years old and therefore became officially Frank Pike out of Dads Army, a young kid in a makeshift band of old men pretending to be soldiers, he loved the role of Pike in Dads Army and it took us quite a few years to realise why – it was him, to a tee.
A couple of years later off he went to war and picked himself a nice little role in the Army Transport Corps in Africa, but not for him the epic battles raging across the Northern deserts, oh no, 1000 miles away he and his little corps of truck drivers were to be found transporting supplies from Nigeria to Ethiopia and the only shots fired in anger being those used to kill a couple of dozen Colobus monkeys to skin and make a rug of in the make-shift Sergeants Mess tent.
Returning home after the war he found his father dying of lung cancer and the shop all but bankrupt so he took up a position for a London company who were looking to open an office in the north, the Managing Director appointed him and another chap to be their reps based in a small office opposite Leeds railway station and after appointing them and showing them around the office he bid his farewell as he had a train to catch back to the smoke and he left them with a £10 note each, to be used as petty cash with receipts to be posted to head office every month. The train had barely chuffed its way out of Leeds station before my dad and Earnest, his new partner in crime, were down at the electrical wholesalers to buy themselves an new fangled electric shaver apiece – have I mentioned his scams yet ?
Skip forward many decades and he is running his own business with his retirement age imminent and a desire to spend the autumn of his days in Benidorm, the nirvana of all elderly would be club singers and comedians, its like a retirement home for people who think they can sing or tell a a joke to a willing crowd who are, in the main, continuously drunk.
Problem is that all of his pension scheme money was withdrawn and sunk into the business ten years previously and so what he needs is some kind of idiot who will come along and buy the business from him, liquidate his assets so to speak, and allow him to retire into a haze of lager, singing, nights that merge into sunrise the next day, and days sat outside a cheap bar in the sun with your shirt off and your now-mahoghany skin turning darker by the minute.
Then he remembered that he had a son living up north, a son who was stupid enough to buy the business from him to facilitate the great dream of his, yes, it was ME.
“Come back to Leeds with all haste” he wrote, “and I shall make you head honcho of this here nice little earner business of mine” and I thought , “HMMMM, that sounds ok” and I fell for his wile and found myself agreeing the purchase price of £100,000 payable in monthly installments of £1000 and 10% p.a. interest.
Look, I already told you I was an idiot.
I need also to point out that this was in the late 1980s so if you think that it sounds like a lot of money now just think what a sum it was in the late 80s, lets put it this way, the house that we bought when we moved back to Leeds to do all of this cost one quarter of the amount of the business deal that he stung me for.
Years later, when I was still nowhere near having paid off even a smidgen of what I owed him, I pondered awhile on the fact that a lot of sons who’s father own a business get to INHERIT those businesses from their fathers, not me, I had to BUY it from him, he was very clever and a very good salesman and I still admire him for pulling that one on me.
He had eight years living in Benidorm afer my mother died, eight years sharing an apartment with Brian his concert secretary mate, eight years in which they spent every night in bars and clubs boozing and singing to their hearts content, and when I say every night I mean EVERY night – and then he’d drive home with his glaucoma and tunnel vision certainly not aided by a barrel full of beer, the only saving grace being that everyone else driving on the roads of Benidorm at 4am in the morning was pissed as well, including the police, and so they all missed each other.
Eight years of going out in a blaze of glory finally took its toll on his liver and he died of what is now known as The Benidorm Disease, the one that gets all of the old folk eventually, its either your liver or your kidneys that pack in but eventually they all do, fortunately he managed to get himself home two weeks before he died so at least we didn’t have the cost of repatriation, not that we would have anyway, but still…