The Father I Never Knew …
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The series is a journey of reflection and a final honour to laying the ghosts and demons that have been with me since l was five.
You may recall reading in the episode A Book Is Not Just For Christmas But For Life about my Father’s good fortune at finding a box full of Wisdens, whilst we were all living temporarily in North Wales, after returning from Australia in 1977, well this tale is that story.
What my Father doesn’t recount in this tale is the absolute bedlam that followed his purchase of those books.
1977 was an exceedingly trying time on every single member of our family. Three quarters of the family, had most assuredly NOT wished to leave Australia. The decision was made because of my Mother’s ‘missing of her England’, and my Father despite putting up excellent reasons for not leaving Oz were well placed. I know this, because all of us were involved in the talks concerning it in both 1976 and 77. As children, our pleas to remain were ignored by my Mother, and she then decided to adopt my Father’s credo of basically ‘children are not to be seen, let along listened to!‘ I have to be honest and say that this attitude and her decision did leave a sour taste in my mouth for quite a few years afterwards. I wanted to stay in the country l had grown up in. Just because l was born in London, meant Jack squat to me. I didn’t know England and for that matter l didn’t wish to know England.
My Sister is an Ozzie she was born in Sydney and didn’t know ‘Blighty’, and didn’t wish to leave either, but hey she wasn’t yet 10, so therefore as far as my Mother was concerned she didn’t know what she was talking about full stop. But l do know that my Sister held this against my Mother for a very long time indeed.
North Wales was unusual from my point of view and my Father’s observations of the weather are not false, it seemingly pissed down every day, was dark and gloomy. Welsh school was maddening, for starters l had to learn Welsh, not an easy language to learn at best and harder for me with my broad Australian accent. Making matters worse, because l was considered both an Ozzie and a Pommie l got a particularly hard time of it, and so too did my Sister, what ever we tried, how ever we tried, we were looked upon as outsiders.
Making matters even more miserable was my Mother’s appalling behaviour. Every day was the same, non stop complaints about Wales, how much she missed Australia and the life there! These comments of hers dug deep and hurt a lot, none of us needed to hear it. Dad was trying his best to find a job so as to improve the situation. Mum didn’t want to live in Wales for the rest of her life, and wanted to live in Surrey.
She became not just depressive but suicidal and this then added even more stress into an already stressful household. The amount of times l saw her threatening my Father with a knife was disturbing, as were the constant threats of overdosing herself and ending it all! The first month of living in North Wales was as much hell as were the months that followed!
I will tell you honestly now, that those scenes, arguments, suicide threats, constant crying, constant yelling, did nothing to improve the relationships of anyone in that house. If l had of thought we were remotely dysfunctional prior to our arrival in Wales 1n ’77, the time spent there, cemented it good and proper for the rest of our lives together as a family! A lot of damage was done by my parents at that time, so much so that forty years on … the trace still lingers.
Dad made the fatal error of buying three of his beloved Wisdens that day, and the arguments that followed were horrendous. “Unthinking, selfish bastard!” Rang through the house that night.
My Father as you will read did get a job, but in order to do so, he moved down to his Sister in Kent from Monday to Friday most weeks and came back up on alternative weekends, when he bought the rest of those books slowly and secretly. Whilst his move to Kent was seen as a betrayal by my Mother at the time, it was the better move. Those two did not need to be together in the early days of arriving back in the UK. My Sister and l agreed many a time being left with Mum in North Wales, that we wished she had moved out as well as it would have been more peaceful in his absence!!!
Bora Da To You Too
Reflection 1977/Penned 2015
It was a bizarre and frightening time; I was a stranger in my own country, a country that I scarcely knew. We had been away for nearly thirteen years, ten’ish in Australia, and two’ish in Malaysia. The Britain of 1977 had, or so it seemed to me, changed totally from that of 1965, which I had left. Harold Wilson had given way to Ted Heath and then to Jim Callaghan. England had won the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966 and then lost it four years later. The debacle of 1974 is best ignored. What was a P45? Where could I find my National Insurance number? What had happened to shillings and pence?
The music had changed, and I didn’t seem to know any of the stars of the day. I wasn’t even sure that I knew what disco was, and when I found out, I was sorry I had bothered. There was a deep pool of common knowledge of which I was ignorant, on all those matters which had happened in our missing twelve plus years. People’s voices were unfamiliar and I had difficulty with the accents, especially in North Wales, where we had rented a house from my brother’s mother in law.
I was out of a job, but looking, and my children were at school in Welsh Wales where they were taught Welsh, a language less useful as Serbo-Croat. My wife, who had spent most of the missing years nagging me for a return to Britain, was now actively complaining about our new life, and nagging vigorously for a return to Oz. I needed a job, a car and a house of our own, but first and foremost, I needed a job, a proper job. On my father’s advice, I signed on the dole, and they were willing, but I had no expectation they would find me a job. My expectations were met; they didn’t find me a job.
About three months into our return, matters were at their lowest. There was still no job, just plenty of interviews, bafflement from the children who couldn’t understand their playmates, even when they spoke English, and a campaign from my wife which was dragging me down. She spent her time complaining about Wales and the Welsh, the weather, the rented house, but mostly about me. She threatened suicide, waving a knife in front of her throat, or mine. On reflection, she was right about the weather; it was always cold and never seemed to stop raining. Although I had signed on, and faithfully trudged the two miles into Llanrwst each Wednesday to repeat the ritual, I had received not a penny, and we were eating into our capital.
It was then I discovered Daffyd Hughes’ bookshop, and it became a small corner of peace in the midst of the typhoon swirling around my head and threatening to engulf me. I don’t know where my wife was, and I suppose the children were at school. I was in Llandudno trying to persuade a suspicious Halifax Building Society manager to lend me, an unemployed, non-customer, enough money to buy a house in Surrey. I wandered around the shops, and in Maddock Street, away from the big shops and Principal Street, I found a small, cowed looking bookshop. There were several large racks in the street into which a dog-eared jumble of paperbacks had been tossed. They were marked at 20p each.
I pushed open the door, and above my head a bell tinkled, sounding like a sweet shop of the early 1950’s. A man of about sixty, with thinning white hair was standing behind the counter at the far end of the shop, reading a book. He looked over his glasses and said “Bora da”, before resuming his reading. I mumbled a “Bora da” in return. It was one of the few Welsh expressions I had learned, and it meant ‘Hello’.
The shop was more a rabbit warren than a shop, with seven or eight rooms of different sizes on three floors. Books were everywhere, on shelves, on tables, on the stairs, on windowsills and growing, it seemed, out of the floor. There had, at one time, been some attempt at labelling and categorising the contents of the warren, but the system had simply been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material. I expected cobwebs and dust and was not disappointed. I spent an interesting half-hour browsing, without finding anything I really wanted and was preparing to leave when the white haired one looked up again and said something in Welsh. I supposed it was Welsh, although it could just as easily been Inuit.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Welsh.”
“Anything in particular you are looking for?” he enquired in English in a not unpleasant accent.
“Do you have any cricket books?”
Daffyd, for such he was, came from behind the counter and pointed out half a dozen or so fairly undistinguished items, which I politely flicked through. He watched me. “Are you interested in Wisdens?”
Well, is the Pope a Catholic? Wisden’s Cricketer’s Almanac was first published in 1864 and covers, in great detail, the previous year’s cricket throughout the world. My parents had given me my first copy, that of 1954, and I had faithfully bought every subsequent issue.
“Yes,” I replied, trying not to be too enthusiastic.
He went upstairs and returned with a small cardboard box, blowing away the spiders’ webs and dust of many years. The familiar yellow books nestled there like a clutch of golden eggs. There were fifteen in all, from 1938 to 1953, and missing only 1942. They slotted in perfectly with my own collection, starting, as I said, in 1954.
“How much?” I gulped.
“Three pounds each” he said quizzically.
I could hardly get my agreement out in time. I didn’t have the funds, but my, by now, friend, Daffyd Hughes, agreed to keep them for me and I could pick them up as I had the money. This unique purchase provided the basis for my collection, which is now complete. The books for which I paid £45 in 1977 are now catalogued, in 2004 at £1865, and when I got round to buying the missing 1942 copy, not from Mr Hughes, it cost me £225.
I did get a job, we did buy a house, my employers gave me a car and the kids went back to speaking English. My wife and I divorced in 1988. I still go back to North Wales, perhaps three or four times a year. For many years I enjoyed my ritual exchange in Welsh with Daffyd. In addition to ‘Bora da’, I learned how to say, thank you. Dioch an var. Daffyd always offered to buy back my Wisdens at double the price I paid, and as part of the ritual, I pretended to consider his offer, before reluctantly refusing.
Mr Hughes died four or five years ago of a heart attack, undoubtedly contributed to by his cigarette smoking, and my visits are less frequent now. His little shop was my haven at a time when I needed it.
Dioch an var, Daffyd.
Written by my Father B.M