by David Rhodes
A look back at happy times with my grandfather. Northern England, 1970s.
|My maternal grandfather, Fred Richard Taylor, was born in Bradford, England, on the 26th day of November, 1912. We shared the same birthday. |
It took quite a few years for me to realise his name was actually Fred because everyone called him Dick - a short form of his middle name with the first letter swapped for a D. I don't understand the reasoning, but in England, apparently, this type of name shortening and first-letter swapping has been practiced for hundreds of years, and in the early 1900s a person named Richard would almost certainly be called Dick. Whether Fred became known as Dick at birth or at school or later in life I'm not sure. And whether he liked it or not, as with so many other things that now seem important, I never asked him.
I do know that his wife - my grandma - never called him Fred and never Richard, only Dick.
His father worked as a typesetter for the Bradford Observer, and the story goes that he could read a newspaper backwards, upside-down, and back-to-front even on the printing press. This occupation, while still planting the family firmly in working-class ground, meant that Dick, and his little sister Annie, always had food in their stomachs, clothes on their backs, and went to school with shoes on their feet.
He went to Usher Street School, about a mile away from the terrace house in Quill Street where he was born and lived. The school, built in 1879 and now known as Bowling Park Primary, still stands, its slightly foreboding Yorkshire-sandstone buildings, typical of the working-class community-architecture of the era, are now at odds with the newly-painted bright blue doors and welcome signs. Its surroundings must have altered somewhat since his feet clattered across the yard, as just across the street from the main gates you'll now find a glass-works, a fitness centre, and a sikh temple.
I remember fondly his stories and his nonsensical sayings
If it takes a man a week to walk a fortnight…
"Is that true, Grandad?" I would ask of some tale or other, but this would bring just a shrug of his shoulders, or a smile and a nod.
I remember that one of his school-favourites was how the Master once stood in front of the class and, hovering one chalk-dusted hand over a map of the world showing England's empire highlighted in pink, brought the hand down in a long sweeping arc from Canada to Australia and asked, "Now, Children, d'ye see all that pink on there?"
"Yes, Sir," came the children's rote reply.
"That all belongs to us, that does!" The Teacher declared proudly, breathing in loudly through his nose and puffing out his chest as if he believed every word.
But somehow the wealth of the colonies hadn't filtered down to home level yet, as most of the kids in his class were in threadbare clothes with their "arses hangin' out o' their britches," and no proper shoes to go home in - only wooden clogs if they were lucky, and nothing at all on their feet if they weren't.
Besides Colonial Affairs and Geography, the backbone of learning at Usher Street was the Three Rs: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic, and as far as I remember, my grandad was good at all three, but although his parents were relatively well-off, the thought of University or further education (if he even entertained such dreams) would have been out of the question, and he left school at fifteen.
He played football at school, and then later for Bradford Boys' Football Club. He would tell me how this coveted achievement meant you were headed for a career as a professional footballer as soon as you were noticed by a scout from one of the town's two professional clubs: Bradford City or Bradford Park Avenue; the scouts must have missed his best games, though, because Bradford Boys' was as far as it went.
By the time I was born, Dick and my Grandma Olive, were living in a new house they had bought before the Second World War in Fenby Avenue - less than two miles from Quill Street. As I got older, I would spend most weekends with them and, when the weather was fine, he and I would often go for long walks around Bradford on Saturday afternoons. The roads we walked must have been totally familiar to him - he played in these same streets and fields as a child - and we always found our way back home no matter where we were. We would walk past rows of silent sand-blasted terrace houses with tiny cemented or paved front yards, their gates closed, front doors locked, and curtains drawn across their bay-windows. "Shhh!" he would warn, "they're all on nights!" Just why everyone in this particular neighbourhood were all working nightshift at the same time puzzled me - perhaps they all worked for the same company.
"Are they really all on nights, Grandad?" I would ask.
"Aye, lad. They must be." But I just smiled to myself, taking comfort in the familiarity of the ritual.
Mostly we would take a football with us on these walks - in a Sandmartin's carrier bag that also held the cheese teacakes that my grandma had carefully wrapped in tinfoil - and kick it around on any open field that we found along the way. I clearly remember one Sunday afternoon - I would have been around eight or nine - I wanted to show him how my goalkeeping skills were coming along, but somehow we had forgotten the ball. So we walked for hours looking for a shop that was still open and had a ball to sell us - a combination not easily found in sub-urban Bradford on a Sunday afternoon in the 1970s. Eventually we found a corner shop that sold cheap plastic lightweight balls that swerve unpredictably if kicked with anything resembling force. He bought one, though, and we played together on the brick-strewn barren landscape that was once Hepworths' Mill. The wind had come up now, playing havoc with the lightweight ball, howling across the wasteland and through our hair; both of us without a care in the world and laughing like we'd just discovered the secret to eternal life.
Sometimes I would eagerly ask him to explain how football had changed over the years and what it used to be like so long ago. He would describe how modern-day footballers like Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan would have been no good at all in his day. For a start, they just weren't tough enough; they would have been too soft to kick a ball from yesteryear, never mind head one. A real ball made of heavy brown leather, sewn together with something resembling a shoelace, was so heavy when it got wet that you needed steel-toed boots to be able to kick it. And God help you if you went up for a header and the wet shoelace had come loose and whipped you across t' for'ead, or, even worse, your cheek or your eye.
Of course, he knew as well as I that modern footballers didn't use their toes to kick a ball, but he loved telling the story as much as I loved hearing it...