1991 was, by any standards, a busy and stressful year, 1992 was no better and rapidly got worse. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was moving into the most difficult period of my life so far and in the end, it was outside help that got me straight again. As I start to chronicle the actual events I must admit to wondering how I will cope with the process. In a way, writing down these events is a voyage of discovery. I am far clearer in my own mind about many of the events I have written about so far than I was when I started. It’s going to be an interesting experience dealing with equally painful events in the more recent past but in a strange way I feel more confident in my ability to be reasonably objective. I’m sure that the last three months of writing has been a very healthy exercise and that I’m better qualified now to write this segment than I would have been earlier. I have one consolation, if things get bad I can always bottle out and not allow anyone to see it! Let’s have a look at the rabbit.
After preparing you for doom and gloom I shall confuse you by starting with a very happy and productive event. Like all the bad parts of our lives, the sun does shine through every now and again! Things weren’t going well on Eigg. A change in the way business rates were levied had meant that Schellenberg had to stop letting the crofts and the Watermill as holiday cottages. Our days of wine and wood stoves, with the odd couple of rats thrown in, were over. However, we took the next best thing in March and stayed for a week at the Old Library at Arisaig which was run by Angela and Alan Broadhurst. We had first met them when we stayed there for a night while waiting for the ferry and from the first we got on like a house on fire. Alan had been a naval diver and then worked as a saturation diver in the North Sea before running a diving school in Fort William. In his latter days on the oil rigs he had done a lot of very deep diving. So deep that they stayed under compression, breathing a mixture of helium and oxygen for a week at a time, this saturated their blood with the gas mixture, hence the name of the technique. During their time out of the water they had to live in a special pressurised chamber and Alan passed the time away by reading cookery books. It paid off. When it was time for him to give the diving school up he and Angela bought the Old Library and soon made it into one of the best restaurants on the West Coast. An added bonus was the fact that Janet and Harry her boy friend and some of their friends stayed there at the same time and we had a wonderful week walking and playing Trivial Pursuits. The week Janet and I had spent in Arisaig had infected her with the West Coast bug and she wanted to share it with Harry.
One of my best resources in the struggle to get Ellenroad on the map as a venue for educational visits was a lady called Ann Metcalfe who lives on Old Bett’s Moor between Rochdale and Edenfield. This was a favourite route between our side of the hill and Rochdale and I used to call in regularly on Ann as I was passing. One day in October 91 I went into the house and sat down while Ann brewed up and a small bundle of black fluff came over to my feet and sat looking up at me. I picked it up and had a look and it was a beautiful black Patterdale Terrier pup. She immediately made herself at home and snuggled down on my lap.
Ann came in and seeing the pup said “Hello, that one knows where to go!” It turned out that it was a stray they had found on the moor with its mother. They couldn’t catch the mother but the pup was in a bad way so they took it in. They already had three strays, Old Betts was a favourite dumping ground for unwanted dogs from the towns nearby, and Ann was waiting for the RSPCA to come and collect it. I looked at the pup and told her that when the RSPCA bloke came she was to tell him it had got out and run away. There was no way I was going to let a good pup like that be put at risk of being put down. I had my tea, chatted with Ann and then went out and introduced Jess to Eigg and Muck the two Jack Russells who were always with me. They soon settled down together and all I had to do was get her through the door at Overdale! I named her Jess as soon as I saw her, to this day I don’t know why, normally I prefer to give dogs non-human names but Jess fitted her perfectly.
That night, as usual, the two Jacks were in the house before me and just for once, Mary was home before me. I walked in with Jess under my arm and Mary took to her just as quickly as I had. I told her where she had come from and Mary’s attitude was exactly the same as mine. It was made quite clear however that she was my dog and I had to care for her, As If! Jess soon settled in and became a member of the family straight away. The biggest problem I had with her was when we were out in the dark, a white terrier shows up nicely but a jet black Patterdale is a bugger. There was a lady down the road called Christine who was heavily into breeding dogs and she noticed Jess right away. She agreed with me that it was a very good Patterdale and she said I ought to show it but there was never any chance of that.
In November, there was bad news, Arthur Morrison, my old doctor died suddenly without consulting me. I had known Arthur for 35 years, for thirty years of that he had been my doctor. When he retired all his patients were invited to a drunken evening at Earby Conservative club and my retirement present for him was to do an album of pics for him on the night. I have some wonderful snaps of him with people he had cared for for most of their lives, it was a wonderful and emotional evening. Before it started Arthur had told me there was one pic he really wanted and that was him being carried out of the hall, legless, at closing time. The funny thing was that when I did the picture his mates set on me because they thought I was doing pics for the papers! I had to work hard to convince them that they were for Arthur not the Craven Herald!
For years, Arthur had been collecting waste paper to finance the refurbishment of Thornton in Craven village hall. They eventually reached their target and had a grand opening do. Everybody baked cakes, made sandwiches and produced home made wine. I remember that Mary and I had been to the pictures in Skipton and went on to Thornton to put in an appearance at the party. As soon as we got in we were given a glass of red wine each and after looking at mine I whispered to Mary that on the whole, if the light can’t get through the wine in the glass, don’t drink it. She took my advice, we made same small talk and escaped fairly speedily.
I had occasion to be in Thornton the following day and called in at Windy Ridge to see Arthur and Kim, his wife. Kim was there but Arthur was nowhere to be seen. I made some remark about the old bugger being druffen sick and Kim said “No, it’s not him, it’s the rest of the village!” She told me they had been hard at it since about two in the morning going round the village doctoring the locals even though they were both retired. Evidently my assessment of the quality of the wine had been all too accurate, it was like the village of the damned, nobody was stirring and from all accounts it was three or four days before things got back to normal! Still, they’d given the hall a good send-off!
Arthur was buried at Thornton church and the minister was very good. He admitted cheerfully that he hadn’t the slightest notion why he had been chosen to plant Arthur because he knew his opinion of organised religion as well as anybody else! However, he made a good oration and we witnessed Arthur being committed to the ground using a service that he certainly wouldn’t have approved of. Kim is dead now as well and it is a constant regret that I didn’t call in on her more than I did. She was a lovely woman and I had as much time for her as I had for Arthur.
Life at Overdale was getting a bit difficult.. I had made a very bad mistake in 1989 when I sold King Street. I used the money partly to expand my workshop but partly to finance our lifestyle at Overdale. The first was a good investment, the second a big mistake. Let’s look at the workshop first because this turned out to be good in the end.
When I moved in with Mary I was still in the position I had been in since I left the Hey. Apart from a few favourite hand tools that I had clung on to, I had no workshop. There was plenty of room in the garage at Overdale so I started to get myself some proper tackle together. Newton Pickles and I had great fun trawling through second-hand machinery at various dealers. One of our favourites was Pollards at Worsthorne. They had been established in an old weaving shed for thirty years and it was a magical place, there was all sorts of stuff hidden about in the building and we spent hours looking round there. I bought some good stuff off them and gradually built up an excellent little machine shop with two lathes, a horizontal miller, a vertical miller and all the usual grinders, drill press and benches. I should say at this point that I never considered myself a turner, just a gifted amateur.
Round about 1989, Newton’s wife, Olive, died of cancer. This was bad for me because she was a lovely lady but it was shattering for Newton because he had nursed his first wife through cancer as well. Understandably he went to pieces after the funeral and I had some long conversations with his daughter Joyce about the situation. He started to hit the bottle and in the end I lost my temper with him and told him what a balls he was making of his relationships with everyone. In order to try to get him out of it I got some patterns off him and went to Keighley to Geoff Smith’s foundry and got a bunch of castings for a single cylinder engine similar to the Stuart 5A. I told Newton I wanted him to make me into a turner. I gave him a set of castings and said I wanted him to make the engine and I would follow him at home with another set. This got him going, we both built an engine. He told me he had never seen a better first attempt and he went on from their. Basically he hasn’t come out of the workshop since and I think the score is two grandfather clocks and four engines since then. I called in to see him this week and he was chopping out a crankshaft for another engine. I think that what we have to report is success!
It would be about 1988 or 89 when Newton rang me up one day. He had a lathe at home that his father had made, it was a copy of a Birch lathe, made in Manchester and one of the best all-metal ornamental lathes ever made. I had always fancied one but they never came on to the market. Newton said he knew where there was a Birch lathe for sale and so we went to have a look at it. It belonged to a lady who’s husband had collected machinery but had never really done anything with it.
We went to Gargrave and had a look and sure enough, there was a Birch lathe in the garage, it was slightly rusted but had seen very little use and was complete. I went in and offered her £500 for it. I told her it was worth more but that was all I could afford. She said it was three times what anyone else had offered and so I could have it. We started to dismantle it and get it out. The following day I paid the lady and she said there might be some other stuff that belonged to it in the undercroft of the house. This wasn’t a cellar, it was just a space under the floor reached through a small door in the end wall.
I opened the door and shone the torch in. There was only room for one person at the time and Newton was scrabbling at my heels like a ferret, he wanted to look as well. After a second I said to him “You’re not going to believe what I’ve found!” It was the headstock of Johnny Pickles’s double spindle ornamental lathe that he had made in 1956! Newton said “How do you know?” I said “Because it says J.A.Pickles on the dividing plate!” I let Newton have a look and he was like a dog with two tails. The lathe had once belonged to him and there was a story behind it.
Johnny had been sat by the fire one day watching his daughter play with a new toy. It was a Spirograph and was a drawing tool made by using combinations of epicyclical gears to draw spiral patterns. Johnny started playing with it and it triggered him off into a train of thought, this was the same principle that was used in epicycloidal chucks which is a specialised form of chuck used on ornamental turning lathes. The best description I can give of an ornamental lathe is that its like comparing three dimensional chess with the ordinary variety. Put it this way, you can put something round into and ornamental lathe and turn it flat! Johnny got the bug and went out to find a lathe. They were all too expensive so he made himself a half size copy of a Birch lathe which Newton still has and uses for cutting all his gears.
At the time, Johnny was simply interested in mastering ornamental turning but having made the small lathe he realised the possibilities of using a larger one for making gears for tower clocks which was another thing he was interested in. Ornamental lathes have tangential dividing gear built into the headstock. This means that it is easy to divide a circle into any number of divisions. In other words, if you’re cutting gear wheels, any number of teeth. He went round the scrap yards, found a big enough lathe bed on ‘A’ frame legs and got Hartley King from Salterforth to scrape the bed for him. He then made the rest of it and finished up with an ornamental lathe big enough to make his clock gears on. He also made epicycloidal chucks, a medallion machine and an ornamental slide turning rest for it. After a while he got fed up with it and Newton used it for a while. Then one day his dad said he wanted it back and that was the end of the lathe as far as Newton was concerned.
In later years I found out that the lathe had been the subject of an article in Model Engineer after it won a Bronze Medal at the ME annual exhibition and that the Science Museum had the epicycloidal chucks which belonged to it but the lathe itself had vanished.
Once inside the undercroft in Gargrave we found out where the lathe had gone. It wasn’t the only thing that Johnny had made either, there was a six inch Astronomical telescope which Newton remembered his dad making when he was a lad. It was obvious I had to have another word with the widow!
I told her what I had found and said I wanted to buy it but again, I couldn’t give her what it was worth. All I could rake up was £400. She said it was mine and I could have all the lathe stuff I could find, she was well pleased. Newton and I set out to extract the headstock from the undercroft but then we hit a problem! We had the head and tail stocks and the ‘A’ frame legs but we couldn’t find the bed and the saddle. In the end I told the widow what our problem was and she told us to look in the garage next door. This was another treasure trove, in there was the nicest Bentley I have ever seen and a delightful Post Office van on an Austin Ruby chassis! In the end we found the bed and the saddle under the Bentley so that was all right!
This was what you might call a surfeit of riches! I cleaned both lathes up and decided to keep Johnny’s and sell the Birch. It broke my heart to do it because it was a lovely thing. However, it went to a good home at Hebden Bridge and everybody was well-pleased. Incidentally, I mentioned the fact that I had found the lathe to the Science Museum and the cheeky buggers asked if they could have it! I said yes, if they’d let me have the chucks they had for it until I died but they wouldn’t play so I told them to bugger off. I shall make sure that Janet gets the lathe when I die and it will go to Australia
Back at Overdale, my preferred method of contributing to our living expenses was getting me into trouble. I thought I was being fair, if not generous, for instance, when the central heating boiler or the washing machine packed up I bought new ones. Mary was getting very twitchy about the fact that we didn’t have any fixed agreement about how we shared household costs and my argument was always that if we did that it would remove the spontaneity from the arrangement and she would be worse off. I kept a balance in my own head and knew I was paying my way but she didn’t trust me. One evening we had a fairly pointed discussion about it and I said “Look, let’s not fight, give me half an hour and I’ll show you something that will surprise you.” I went into the office, fired the computer up, got my accounts out and did a list of my contributions for the last year, excluding clothes and holidays I had bought for her. I came down and gave it to her and she was genuinely shocked, it was over £8,000! I took it off her and destroyed it because I didn’t want it to be seen as a weapon.
This quietened the situation for a long time but the subject cropped up with distressing frequency every time Mary got a letter from the bank drawing her attention to her overdraft. I didn’t help matters by working out how much she spent on booze and fags each week and pointing out that she would be in the black if she cut back. I remember in particular she raised the matter one day when we were on the way back from a wedding. I kept quiet but reflected that it was a bit hard being taken to task like this by a woman who was wearing a dress that I had paid £350 for in Harrogate a week before! I suppose I was soft but at the back of my mind was the uncomfortable fact that if I’d kept away from Mary, stayed in King Street and banked the money I earned while at Ellenroad I would have been very comfortable thank you. Then, as now, I spent nothing on non-essential items apart from my tobacco and a bottle of whisky every three months.
I think other things were troubling Mary as well. She was doing her sums and had realised that I was sixteen years older than her and she could see a scenario where she would be locked into a relationship with a seventy year old has-been while she was fifty four, or something like that. There was a definite chill creeping in and it bothered me. There were other problems as well. It was the reverse of the housewife syndrome really, Mary was a workaholic and was never home before half past seven at the earliest. If there was a meeting or something going on in Leeds it would be much later. I was up early in the morning and by the time Mary got home I was knackered and ready for bed. If there’s one thing I would advise about relationships it is that being an early bird living with a night person is the biggest handicap there is!
Early in 1992 Mary went to Australia for about six weeks. I was in the middle of building the Whitelees and was doing about sixteen hours a day. One of the volunteers knew this and offered to make my tea for me to save me having to cook when I got home. Before long I was sleeping on her couch, then the spare bed and then, you’ve guessed it, in the same bed. Funnily enough, and this puzzled me for a long time, I wasn’t physically attracted to her. I’ll try to explain this later but for the moment, take it as read that this was the case.
There was a funny incident while all this was going on. John Pierce and Veronica with their family were going to the States for a holiday and I said I’d look after their West Highland Terrier, Maisy, while they were away. They left on the Friday and I lost Maisy either that day or the day after. She was playing about with Eigg, Muck and Jess outside the engine house one minute and next time I looked she had vanished! For two days I had gangs of blokes wandering the streets of Milnrow and Newhey shouting “Maisy!” at the tops of their voices. I’m sure the locals thought it was a movement. I arranged for an advertisement to be put in the local paper on the following Thursday and rang all John’s neighbours to ask them to keep an eye open for her. For two nights I couldn’t sleep, it was terrible. I remember Cecil Hufton saying to me on the second day “Is this the end of Ellenroad as we know it?” I mean, losing the Chief Executive’s dog!
On the Sunday I went to Ringway to pick Mary up off the plane and I asked her if she would indulge me and let me go round by Ellenroad. I told her what had happened. When we got there the security guard at Coates came out and said he’d just seen a dog answering Maisy’s description and he pointed to where she had gone. I told Mary to stay with the car in case she turned up and I set off across the fields. It took me about half an hour to find and catch her. I carried her back to the car and was I one Happy Bunny Mary was pleased as well and it eased her return and my feelings of foreboding but we both knew all was not well. I realised later that Mary’s problems weren’t entirely home-made or because of me, I saw a letter by chance from one of her sisters and even though I only saw one sentence in passing I knew that Mary had been discussing her situation with her sisters and I have no doubt they’d come to some conclusions.
All this was buried in work as I finished the Whitelees, steamed it and then went through the process of winding down my relationship with the Trust. Hard on the heels of all this came the annual two day steam fair at Ellenroad. It was very busy, wonderful weather and Mary came across on the first day but not the second. I can’t remember now what the trigger was but I found myself that evening with Christine, my tea lady! We were discussing when I would move in with her! I still find it hard to believe but I got in the pick-up and drove to Overdale. It was Sunday and Mary was in. I asked her to sit down and I told her all that had been happening, what my fears were, what my assessment was and that I thought the best thing I could do was get out of her life. She took it all in very calmly and then said “You bugger, I might have known you would do something like this, you’ve got in first again!” We didn’t discuss it much but basically I had saved her the trouble. She had made her own mind up and was waiting for a ‘good moment’ to give me the sack. I arranged to meet her to talk about things like shifting my furniture, the workshop etc. and then, leaving Muck with her, I climbed in the van, drove back to Rochdale and became the live-in man in Christine’s household.
I remember driving back to Rochdale and wondering what I had done. Basically I knew then it was all a mistake but the die was cast and all I could do was give it my best shot. Give Christine her due, she was tremendously supportive and tried to reassure me when I told her what my fears were. The house she was in was very small and she immediately decided that we would have to move to somewhere where I could have my workshop. I told her I had lost everything else, I wasn’t going to let that slip. During the next six months we moved to Bacup. I got all my furniture out of store and my workshop from Mary’s and we settled in at Greave Farm and I started pointing the house, doing other maintenance jobs and gardening! There had been one small glitch when I moved in, Christine told me she could manage living with Eigg but Jess had to go. I knew John Ingoe wanted a good dog so I gave her to him and she still lives happily there. It was a wrench but I could see Christine’s point and I still had Eigg so I reconciled myself to it.
I hadn’t got any work at this time and I kept us going by selling cameras, digging into my small savings and generally doing everything I could to make a go of it. We got to the point where I finished all the major repairs and I started looking for work. They just laughed at me when I went to the Job Centre in Bacup, it was fairly obvious that a fifty seven year old bloke wasn’t going to have much luck there! Things were looking black!
I was in Rochdale one day and I called in at Rochdale Electric Welding and had a word with John Ingoe. I hadn’t seen him since I’d given him Jess and he wanted to know all about what I was doing. I told him about the job search and he said don’t worry about that, come down here and look after the shop and sweep up, that’ll keep you going! Thank God for friends, I was in work again. REW was a good and interesting experience but I’ll leave it there for the time being, I want to come back to it later and do a proper explanation of what I was doing.
Shortly after I moved in with Christine I got a phone call from Janet. She was getting married in Perth on the 31st. of October 19912 and would I please come and give her away if she sent me the ticket? Guess what my answer was. Christine wasn’t overjoyed about this but she realised it was something I had to do. She left me in no doubt however that she needed support at the beginning of November because it was the anniversary of her husband’s death and because she still loved him she was terribly affected by it. He had died under particularly horrible circumstances and I agreed to get back as soon after the wedding as I could. I flew out to Perth at the beginning of October and had a joyous time. Let’s have a bit of light relief!
A NEW FAMILY
Any new relationship is a gamble, God knows I had reason to know this. Janet was starting a new relationship with a new family in a new location and one of the concomitants of this was that I got an extension to my family as well. Before we go any further, let me say with seven years of experience behind me that I did well out of it. Apart from getting Harry Protoolis as a son in law, I got the whole extended family as well and what a delight they have turned out to be! However, I’m getting in front of myself here, in October 1992 everything was new, an adventure and a promise.
My previous experience of Australia was New South Wales in the East. Western Australia is totally different. Basically it’s desert with some well watered valleys and is absolutely enormous. It looks out on to the Indian Ocean and the nearest major city is Singapore, 3,000 miles to the north east. The weather is great, temperate in winter and hot in summer. 120 degrees is quite common and a bit further north and inland it can get to 150. It’s generally very low humidity so these temperatures are usually relatively comfortable. Just south of Perth is the port of Fremantle which serves the whole of the South corner of the continent. Fremantle has been re-developed in the last ten years but to my mind, is a model which everybody else should follow. Basically, the city laid down two ground rules for the developers at the start, they couldn’t demolish anything or build anything new. The re-development had to be done by refurbishing what was already there. The result is that Fremantle is still a low rise colonial port, even the horse troughs survived! Harry and Janet ended up working there and on later visits I have spent many a happy day in the town. I have to say that as a city I prefer it to Perth.
Janet had arranged it so that Susan, Jessica and I flew out together. We had a four hour stopover in Hong Kong and we spent part of the time sitting on the floor playing dominoes. We soon gathered a crowd of itinerant Chinese workers who were fascinated by two things, first was Jessica’s fair hair, they all wanted to touch it. Second was the fact that they evidently understood dominoes or something like it and were gathered behind us criticising the way we were playing our hands. Every time Jess made a winning move they applauded! Susan’s husband, Paul was following later as he was very busy at work.
My first impressions when I got to Perth in early October were of space, cleanliness, light and a pleasing relationship between the built environment and the native bush. By the latter I mean that the suburbs had been built in the bush rather than the bush having been destroyed to build the suburbs. All the undeveloped land was native bush and the effect was to soften the impact of the housing on the landscape. This was particularly true of the house where Janet and Harry were to move five years into the marriage, up in City Beach. If you stand at the top of the drive there it’s very hard to believe you are only 15 minutes travel from the centre of the city.
In 1992 the couple were living at the family home where Peter and Anna Protoolis lived. Peter was a foreman in a bakery which made buns for the burger trade and it says volumes for the standard of living in Western Australia that they owned a large bungalow surrounded by gardens which would have been the envy of any chief executive living in Barlick! They had migrated to Australia in the late 50’s and had started a completely new life there. Anna, Harry’s mother was born on Lesbos and I remember that one of the first stories she told me was about them being bombed during the war. She appeared to be under the impression that it was the Germans who were doing the bombing but as they were occupied at the time I was pretty sure it was our lot! In the interests of the forthcoming union I thought it best to keep my opinions to myself! Anna was, and still is, impressive. She is what I believe to be a typical example of a Greek Matriarch, not a lot of difference between her and Vera’s mother actually. When given the chance she ruled the family with a rod of iron. Peter, Harry’s dad was my kind of bloke. We sat down and talked and it soon became obvious we were getting on well together. We both had a working background, our politics were the same and I have little doubt that had we had more time together we would have got much closer and got into trouble together!
I was staying about two miles away from the family home with Rita, Harry’s sister and her husband Peter. This was an inspired billet on Janet and Harry’s part because I fell in love with Rita straight away and Peter and I hit it off immediately. Again, he was a worker and recognised me as one as well. I was with them for a month and there was never a wrong word.
I had to go through a fairly steep learning curve but this was eased by my experience in New York with Ethel’s family. There are a lot of points in common between the Greek extended family and a Jewish one. Basically, the ground rule is that if you cross one you cross the lot! This was never any problem due largely I think to the fact that the whole family approved of Harry’s choice of a bride and if her family did anything that seemed slightly out of their normal experience they were going to give us all the rope we needed. If that was the strategy, it worked, I’ve seldom felt at home so quickly anywhere in the world. Of course, I took great delight in pointing out to them that I fitted in so well because I was actually more Australian than they were! Peter Protoolis took great delight in pointing this out to the older members of the family who I met later. He also made an interesting comment one day when we were talking about the concept many Australians have of the English as ‘whinging poms’ because they are always complaining. Peter said this was unfair on the English because all immigrants complained, it was simply that the poms were doing it in English so the Aussies could understand them!
I need to say a word about the older end before I go any further. I don’t know a lot about them because I only ever saw them twice, once at a social function before the wedding and at the actual ceremony and celebration afterwards. We were all at the family house one night and I found myself sitting with a group of old men, all in their seventies, who didn’t say a lot but sat there quietly drinking. There was a lot of activity, the women seemed to have clustered together and the kids were being supervised by the younger end so it seemed natural to sit with them and have a drink and a smoke. Funnily enough, I think it was the fact that I smoked a pipe which triggered them off. Anyway, we started talking and they were soon telling me about their war experiences. It was then I realised I was sat with what was probably a bunch of the most dangerous men I had ever met in my life. They had been partisans during the war and some had been captured by the Germans. They told me tales about the war and about their imprisonment and what the Nazis did to the Russians they captured. It was surreal, sitting there on this balmy evening in Perth and listening to these blokes talking about death, torture and incredible hardship. I consider myself to be pretty tough but I was a sprog next to these old lads.
Harry noticed us talking and he told me afterwards that he’d never seen them open up so quickly to anyone. He said that from what he had heard they were telling me about things he had never heard them mention before. I wasn’t surprised really, I was a stranger and yet they understood me and it all seemed very natural to me and must have been to them as well.
Janet had to give me a crash course in my responsibilities and status. Even though it took Harry’s family a while to grasp the fact that I was Janet’s father and the man who was married to her mother wasn’t, I got the mantle of patriarch! As far as a Greek family is concerned, whilst the bride and the groom are the focus of all the attention at a wedding, the two king pins are the patriarchs followed closely by the matriarchs, Anna and Vera. Even the kids observed this rule, I noticed that when any of the older boys spoke to me they stood up straight, treated me with respect and were very formal in their conversation. I know them a lot better now but there is still this vestige of formality and respect and I think it’s great actually!
The wedding was at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Perth. My chief preparation for the day was to get as much sun in as possible. Rita and Peter worried about me at first but soon realised that I didn’t seem to be coming to any harm. On the day itself Peter said that it was strange but that I had more colour than any of the natives! I told them that it was only living in England that kept me white, I was naturally a far darker colour and it was probably due to some Aborigine blood somewhere in the family. This suited them.
The actual wedding was marvellous. Far better than an English wedding, more ceremony and symbolism and what to me was the most touching and effective thing, after the ceremony, in the church, every member of the congregation files past and introduces themselves to the family. I got to kiss every lady in the place! Another thing I learned later was that the Matron of Honour, who plays a very important part in the ceremony, was usually someone who through circumstance or accident had no, or very little family herself. By filling the role of Matron of Honour she becomes a surrogate member of the family.
After the wedding we went into King’s Park for the photographs and then on to the wedding reception. It was here that I had my biggest test. Harry’s dad had given me a crash course in Greek dancing because by tradition, he and I had to start the dancing. I have to say that I was crap! My dancing skills are non-existent in the first place and when we were joined on the floor by the old blokes I had been talking to at the party I realised that we were in what can only be called the kamikaze school of dancing and in the interests of safety I baled out! When I got to my seat I found I had been given a drink, a bottle of Johnny Walker! Actually, I think I was expected to drink the lot but used my head. It was a wonderful evening and it was so nice to sit there and watch Janet as part of a wonderful, warm and excitable extended family. I had little doubt she was going to prosper among them.
One more memory of the evening. The bridal carriage was a white Ford Fairlane with a five litre engine and Peter had got it into his head that he was going to drive this home! I have to say he was with drink taken and we set off up the road at an alarming pace with Anna in the front trying to slow him down and me in the back keeping very quiet. As we were going along a horn kept sounding and Peter kept pulling violently in to the side to let the other driver past. In the end I looked through the rear window and saw that there wasn’t another car in sight. It was then I realised that the horn was ours! Peter kept pressing the button on the steering wheel himself as he drove! I kept quiet and we proceeded up the road at a definitely unlawful speed but eventually arrived home in one piece. All I could say was Thank God!
While I was there we had a few trips out. My favourite was Perth Zoo. We saw kangaroos, wallabies and wombats, they all had plenty of room and seemed very content. Susan had her picture taken holding a koala bear and whilst they look cuddly, they are actually nasty little buggers! I reckon they had these specially trained for the tourists! The main entertainment was the family and that never palled. I had to leave on the third of November and when it came time to go I was very sorry to leave some new, but very good friends.
The day we left was Melbourne Cup day. I don’t suppose anyone remembered afterwards but Peter had asked me what I fancied in the race. I’d been looking at the form and gave him the name of the horse I fancied. Shortly after we took off the captain announced the winner and it was the horse I’d tipped. I remember thinking that it wouldn’t do my reputation any harm! I had a companion at the airport. Susan’s husband Paul was flying out the same day as me, he had to be back in UK as well. Everyone at the wedding had been impressed by the fact that he’d flown out to Perth for the weekend from UK to be at Janet’s wedding. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit strange but didn’t attach any weight to it. We were on different flights but met up again at Heathrow when we collected our bags as he had arrived at almost the same time as me. I caught the flight to Manchester where Christine met me and immediately refused to walk with me because I looked like someone who had been to Australia! Great welcome and my heart sank into my boots.
Well, that was the wedding over but there were to be repercussions that echoed down the next few months and cause no end of trouble. Some of these were with Christine but these were minor and simply an indication of things to come. There were far more serious matters.
The first was a fortnight after the wedding. Janet and Harry had set off on an extended honeymoon which was like a tour of the world! They went to New Zealand, then Tahiti and Easter Island and then walking in the Andes. Great stuff. The problem was that shortly after they left there was a stunning blow. Peter Protoolis died in his sleep one night. I can honestly say I was devastated. I had really taken to Peter and I think he thought the same about me. We were at the start of a great friendship and the news of his death knocked me sideways. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see him again. However, this was small beer compared to Harry’s position. What made it worse was the fact that we didn’t know exactly where they were.
We were all leaving messages at airports to try to get word to them to get home. In the end the news caught up with them but I can only imagine what it was like for them when they heard what had happened. I felt so much for Harry, I can’t think of a more terrible way of finding out that your father has died than an impersonal message waiting at an information desk. They coped of course but I still think about it. Harry told me years later that his main problem was the fact that he was angry with his dad for carrying on working as hard as he had ever done when he knew he wasn’t 100%. I told him that he must try to get rid of this anger because it was all part of the sort of bloke his dad was, I could empathise with this because in the same circumstances I would have done exactly the same thing. Luckily, it hasn’t come to that yet but when I do die I suppose someone will say that if I’d stopped smoking or drinking I would have lasted longer. As I said to Harry, so what, life is a terminal disease and if you’re going to live it in fear of fat bacon, whisky and tobacco or work you might as well top yourself!
All this goes back to my earlier comments about frame of reference. I remember having a conversation with Janet one day as we were driving out to the zoo, we were alone in the car because there were too many of us for one vehicle. I told her that with her living 10,000 miles away the odds were that when I died she wouldn’t be there. I was remembering the problems that Dorothy and Leslie had because they were away when father died and I told Janet that when it happened she had to be sure that it didn’t matter. I would be as full of love for her when I died as I would have been if she was there and she should remember this. I didn’t want her to punish herself with the thought that I would think she didn’t care about me because she was absent off parade. She didn’t like me telling her this. I suppose it’s embarrassing for the young to talk to someone who has no fear of death. I’ve told her the same thing since and had the same reaction. I suppose some people could say this was insensitive but I believe that when the time comes she might remember it and it could be a small comfort. The point in this case is that Harry had exactly this problem. I know he is still scarred by it and I sympathise deeply. The only consolation is that if Peter were alive today he would be so proud of them and their family. Poor compensation I know, but all we have. As the Dean said to my friend, “Life’s messy!”
H&J went back to Perth, went through the trauma of the funeral and eventually set off again on their travels. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, another human drama was unfolding. I’m going to be very brief in my telling of this part of the story because the details aren’t part of my life, simply the consequences.
I got word from Susan that there was a problem. She and Paul had moved to a larger house and all seemed well. Suddenly, one day, her world fell in on her. Paul had done something he shouldn’t have done at work which at that point looked as though it could result in him going to gaol. This explained Paul only spending a weekend in Perth, he had to be back at work to maintain his cover. It affected me because this shattered the marriage and the upshot was that Susan and Jess were left to fend for themselves. I did all I could to help and Janet and Harry cut short their trip to come back to UK and do their bit as well. The end result was that Susan and Jess were installed in a flat in Bushey and Susan settled down to the hard task of providing for herself an Jess. She did a wonderful job against all the odds, went back to school to get a degree to raise her qualifications and has come out seven years later with a stable life, a full time job and a wonderfully talented daughter. I have to say that when you see your kids confront situations like this and surmount them it is the best feeling in the world for a parent. I have nothing but respect and admiration for what she has done.
Harry and Janet were to be based in London for a couple of years while they both worked for financial institutions in the City. They went back to Perth in 1994 and at first they rented a house but then bit the bullet and bought the house at City Beach where they live now. As I write they have three children, Holly, Yiotta and HarryII who was brand new in January 1999. As it turned out it was a good job for me they were in the country!
Back in this country, by mid 1993 I am living with Christine in Bacup, I have started working for Rochdale Electric Welding. The flit from Mary’s at Overdale is complete, all my workshop is installed at Greave Farm and I am working to try to make a success of a very difficult relationship. I told you that this was a bad couple of years!
I don’t want to say a lot about my stay with Christine apart from the fact that with hindsight, it was a lost cause from the start. I have come to some concusions about what was actually going on behind it all and I’ll come to them when we have got the actuality out of the way. It wasn’t all bad, but it got worse so I’ll get this lot off my chest now and do the good things that happened later.
1993 was, on the whole, a lousy year. I hit rock bottom by October and I have never been so unhappy or insecure and lacking in confidence in my life. Life with Christine was not happy for a variety of reasons. I’m not in the business of blame, only consequences and I am the first to admit that a lot of the problems were mine. However, when these are added to somebody else’s problems there can be an explosive mixture. This was what happened with me and Christine and it eventually came to a head in mid October 1993. By this time I had exhausted my financial resources. Leaving Mary cost a lot, leaving Christine did as well. The consequence was that I had to get out but had about £50 in my pocket, a workshop and a dependent Jack Russell. My morale was zero, I felt a complete failure and all I could see in front of me was cardboard city. In my defence, I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. One particular area of disagreement triggered me off one night and I snapped. I told Christine that was it, I had to get out before Christmas. I can remember going to bed that night and lying there in total misery wondering what the hell I was going to do. Funnily enough, what made it worse was the fact that Eigg was in bed with Christine not me! Total rejection.
The following day I did the most sensible thing I have done for years, I rang Janet, told her I was in trouble and I needed to talk to her. That weekend I was in London telling Janet and Harry exactly how big the mess was that I had made of my life.
THINGS START TO LOOK UP
The first thing H&J did was to agree with me! Janet said she had been worried about me for a few years, I wasn’t the dad she knew and had lost my fire and confidence. She was right of course and even though I knew this, and sub-consciously, the reasons for it, I had not faced up to what was happening. All I had done was regret the mistakes and crash blindly on getting deeper in the shit. Wall of death management can come to this if there is no control at all.
Then Janet and Harry announced the plan. They financed my move out of Greave Farm right away. After a long talk with them about what I wanted to do we decided I would move back to Barlick. They told me to find a flat and look for a house that could be done up. This would be an investment for them and I could pay them rent which would be a better return and more secure than interest. I came away from London with support, a plan, a job at REW and a way out of the mire. Everything started to get better from that point on. I hadn’t thought it through but there was a definite feeling at the back of my mind that this was a new start, the end of a process and that the light levels were going up. I wasn’t happy, there was too much negotiation and work to be done. I wasn’t out of the wood but I had a map. It was to be much later when I started to put all this together and come to some sort of conclusion about what had been going on.
I got back to Bacup, sat down with Christine and told her what I was going to do and what I expected from her. I didn’t get all I expected of course but what I did get was use of the barn to store my workshop and effects until I could move them. Thus armed, I went to Barlick and on the off chance called in to see Ted Lawson’s widow, Joyce. I told her what a mess I was in and what I was doing about it and she said she knew of a flat in Albert Road which was owned by Katherine Stansfield as was, Her father Jack had lived in Hilltop Farm opposite us when we were at the Hey. I rang Kath and got the flat. It wasn’t a big job to get flitted over there and settled in.
In truth it wasn’t a good flat but compared with my previous circumstance, it was heaven! I could do what I wanted, when I wanted without any criticism. I soon settled into the routine of work at Rochdale, visits to Margaret at Clitheroe to see her and Mick and Katie and Laura and things started to look up. I started the house hunt straight away and found 10 East Hill Street. Janet and Harry were stars, supported everything I did, gave me all the room and financial support I needed to find what suited me and by June 1994 No. 10 was fully refurbished to the highest standard and Eigg and I were installed together with my workshop and all my worldly goods. This is where I am and this is where I stay. I am as happy as I have ever been in my life and I soon started to get feedback from lots of different sources to the effect that I was a changed man and far easier to get on with. I’m not sure whether there had been so much improvement but that was the message I was getting.
One word about East Hill Street which gives an idea of how I was looking at things when I chose it. There was bloke next door at No. 8, George Swift, he was very badly disabled but went out every day in his electric wheelchair and he could get anywhere in Barlick from here. It’s 100 yds to the Co-op and all on the level. My thinking when I saw it was that I could live here without any help until I was so bad I needed shooting!
Right, you can relax now. We’ve reached the end of the nasties. It was the start of a long climb but I was motivated again, relaxed, busy and really enjoying being back in Barlick where I knew every stone and person in the place. Well, nearly, the point was that I was back on my own ground, in the town where I had done all my research and it felt like a fit. This change in mental attitude gave me the space to come to some preliminary conclusions about what had been going on in my life since 1978. I didn’t have all the answers, some of them have clarified while I have been writing this memoir, but I was recognising some things about myself that were a start, and very helpful.
I decided that essentially, what I had been doing since 1978 was pure ‘wall of death management’. I’m sure you remember me mentioning this before but just to remind you, it’s the style of management where you don’t worry too much about consequence, you just keep going like hell and as long as you can maintain speed, you are all right, you won’t fall off. In October 1993 I fell off and had to have a rethink! Since leaving the Hey I had simply kept going. Some good things had come out of it; university, Ellenroad, the good years with Mary but they were all the product of energy that was being generated just to keep me occupied and busy. I was burying what I really ought to be addressing under a pile of achievement and hard work. As I say, it led to some good things but in the end a price had to be paid. There were lots of peripheral matters that still nagged at me but I had enough sense to realise that this was enough introspection for the time being, what was needed was a period of consolidation and progress. The story of that belongs to another chapter.
The last thing I want to try to describe here is my gratitude to my kids, especially of course, Harry and Janet. None of them ever gave up on me. Susan in particular recognised what I was going through because of her experience with Paul. She helped me by understanding and that’s the main thing you need when you get into a hole. You need someone to tell you that they actually understand what is going on. Not sympathise or condone or tell you that you’re right. These can all be part of whatever the healing process is but the main thing is understanding.
Harry and Janet hadn’t the same life experience so their frame of reference was different but no less caring and supportive. They hate me to say anything about it but if you want to find out how good a job you have made of rearing your kids, get into trouble when they are about thirty years old and see what they do to help you. On that measurement, Vera and I must have done a bloody good job on the quiet. I know that if she ever reads this she will be surprised to hear me say this but the way Janet and Harry and the rest of the kids treated me when I was in trouble is just as much a product of the way she reared those kids as anything else. Think about it, if she hadn’t been an effective partner in the rearing, the kid’s attitudes would be completely different and things would have been a lot worse for me. The evil that men do lives after them, the good they do may be interred with their bones but it can have some useful results while they are alive! I look back and think about my mother. Janet and Harry did for me exactly what I did for her and I was influenced just as much by my regard for my father and what he would have wanted as I was by my love and concern for her. I hope that the kids get as much comfort from what they have done as I did. Treasures in heaven.
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