He was one of 10 children and was born and raised in Hartlepool, Durham. All of his family were miners or quarry workers, as were his forefathers before him. He had also worked down the mines for a while before he decided to leave his family in Durham and look for work elsewhere. He came to London in 1959. He had a sister who had already made a life ‘down south’ a few years earlier, so he just woke up one morning and decided to go to London to look for work.
The journey took two weeks and he had to walk all the way, even though it was the middle of winter at the time. I remember my aunty telling us that when he arrived he looked like a scarecrow and was all dirty. He had eaten turnips from the frozen ground to survive when the little money he took with him had run out.
A couple of weeks after his arrival in Fulham he found employment and worked as a builder’s labourer. He met my mum shortly after that. My mum’s family were living on the same road as my aunty, whom he was living with at the time.
My mum & dad were married on the 25th March 1961 at the local register office and all of my dad’s family came to London for the wedding. Most of them had never been out of Durham before, so it was a big thing to my dad that they were all attending and meeting his bride for the first time.
My mum died very suddenly at home on 25th March 1972 when I was 9 years old and my younger brother was 7. From the day my mum died things changed a lot; he gave up his job as a night watchman so he could look after us both, and money was very tight, as Mum had also worked during the day, as well as Dad, whilst we were at school.
Bringing up two small children was a very big shock to him; he was in bed during the day when he was a night watchman and had left the daily running of the house to my mum.
He had to learn everything from scratch. He learned pretty quickly to cook, but there were quite a few disasters in the kitchen. He would say, “practice makes perfect”, a lot in the early days. He learned to bake bread, make cakes and jam, budget, shop, and even taught himself to use a sewing machine, making my first school bag out of an old patient coat. I was so proud of it when he gave it to me.
He grew vegetables in our little garden and never wasted anything. To get by, he used to occasionally decorate, paint and do odd jobs for the neighbours when they needed something mending. He would have a go at anything if he thought that he could do a good job.
We were happy, although Dad went without sometimes as we were always put first. We didn’t have fancy things like bikes and lots of toys. Although I think I could wire a plug by the age of 10, and my dad taught us all sorts of things from hanging wallpaper to how to unblock a sink. He would show us how to do everything and made sure that we knew the names of the tools which were needed for a job.
Dad was a very quiet man, one of not many words. I think it stems from his broad accent which he never lost, and lots of people had trouble understanding him in London – my husband being one of them! I used to have to translate for my husband because he could never quite make out what Dad was saying.
He never remarried or dated after Mum died. I realise now that it must have been quite lonely for him, as most of his family lived up north except his sister, and she used to visit us every two weeks after moving to another area of London. So he just had to get on with things.
Dad loved a bit of wood and couldn’t resist a rummage through a skip, and it still makes me smile and think of him whenever I see one to this day. He would come home with a piece of wood and say, “that’s a good bit of wood, I’ll use that sometime”. He built his own garden shed out of wood which he had found, and loved to spend his afternoons tinkering about in there, as well as in the garden, making or fixing all sorts of things.
One of the funniest things I can remember about him was the time I was about 15 years old and found a pot with lots of pieces of wax from Edam cheese inside. I asked him why he was keeping them and he replied, “I’m going to have a go at making some candles”. I thought that was so funny, and just like him. He didn’t like getting rid of anything that he thought could come in useful.
When Dad got sick, we found out that he had kidney failure. He was offered dialysis but refused the treatment point blank, as he didn’t want to rely on a machine which would cramp his lifestyle. He spent the last 5 weeks of his life in hospital, and the day he went in said out of the blue, “I’d love to taste the water from ‘up north’ again”.
So the next morning I took a round trip to one of my cousins in Hartlepool, to fill up two 2 litre bottles with the local water. I knew it was his way of telling me that it was his last wish and he wouldn’t be coming home.
I miss my dad so much. I loved him to bits. He was and always will be my hero.
© Rosi Glow 2009