(This is a high-definition video. It will take time to load, as seamless HD streaming is still rare, even with good broadband speeds. I suggest you get it going and put it on pause to load up, while you read (and hopefully enjoy) this post.
My Dad was a slight lad, who suffered from rickets, which was not surprising as he went to work down 'the pit' when he was around 12 years old. I can remember him telling me about the 'pit ponies' he helped to take care of underground. Coal-mining was the main industry in the North-East of England in the early 1900's and children regularly worked in dark and dangerous conditions. I find it remarkable that the world has changed so much in 100 years - but not only for the better. Every family bonded together in those days - they had to in order to survive.
I wrote the following in a story about Dad which I called "The Nous" (an ancient word for instinctive wisdom) back in March 07 in the Almanack.
"Dad knew and respected his ‘place’; the second eldest of four sisters and two brothers: Ruth, (Harry-my Dad), younger brother Harold, Ada, Florrie, Esther and Lily; my father knew he was to be the ‘breadwinner’ of the family. At the end of each week, he would bring his pay packet home unopened to give to his ‘Ma’, whose place in turn was to balance the family accounts. In those days, each family unit was a factory-like business enterprise; the eldest daughter would be ‘mother’ to the new offspring of ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ and the sons in turn would become the breadwinners. Naturally, given the mutual interdependence of each family member, marriage was taken most seriously. An unsuitable choice of outsider could possibly threaten the family structure and stability. My mother was considered a ‘flighty’ piece of work (she was) and that she would no doubt, lead my father astray (she didn’t – she freed him) Just after they married, my father brought his wage-packet home, unopened and presented it to her. My mother simply handed it back and asked for her housekeeping"…(click here for more)
When I was around 10 yrs old, Dad showed me a photograph of himself as a boy. I was fascinated to see him not much older than myself, so with the help of a makeshift projector, he enlarged it (above) and subsequently gave it to me. I thought (and still do) that he had the most loving, direct eyes I had ever seen. I see the picture in my mind whenever I think of him. I like to think that we would have been best friends if we had been boys together.
Dad taught me to develop and print my own photographs. Together we would commandeer the kitchen for an hour (Mam didn't seem to mind going to our outside 'Lav' via the front-door), whilst I stood in the dark and 'see-sawed' a long roll of 120 film through a pudding-basin of 'developer'. My skinny arms used to ache as I held the film in a loop between my hands and ran the film through the solution for around twenty minutes. Dad was a good teacher and I well remember his instructions through the ache. And his soap and tobacco smell.
He was my hero - yet I was shy of him. I think a sense of isolation and distance was something we both shared. I never cried when he passed away, but the ache in my shoulders is now a gentle ache in my heart.
One Sunday at Spiritualist Church, the visiting medium turned to me and said "Your father is here to tell you he loves you very much and to say sorry for the distance between you both when he was alive." The congregation fell about laughing when I stood up and blurted out "It wasn't his fault...It was mine!"
It was this sense of melancholy and gentle sadness, which I find so often goes together with love and beauty, that first attracted me to "Old Friends" and "Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon's poetic lyrics and music had reached a zenith with their "Bookends" album. Like night and day, happiness and sadness are an inseperable part of our lives.
Sunlight through teardrops can create rainbows
So this video is for Dad, who taught me so much.