Dad hated school and left aged 14 and was immediately employed in a local garage in 1924. He acquired a working knowledge of cars. Our second car was a DAB 36. When it broke down he stripped out the starter motor and delved into the guts of the engine. I marvelled at his skill. He taught me how to replace the brushes on the starter motor, even though I was a child.
Dads skills in dry stone wall building, blacksmithing, metal working, carpentry, plumbing, even plastering and painting and decorating amazed me and my two brothers. He taught me the importance of looking after tools and how to maintain them. He had to be resilient as employing tradesmen was very expensive and we were poor.
We could only afford an open coal fire in our living room. If we let the heat out by being slow closing the door he would explode, “Shut that bloody door”.
Me and my brothers sat on the living room table, for our wash before going to bed. Dad would point to parts of our body and ask, “What’s that bone called?” Over the years we became expert in naming bones. He taught us the Latin names, Femur, Tibia, Fibula etc. It was a really fun game. The two who weren’t being washed, stood behind Dad. When he pointed to a place on the body the two behind him would silently ‘mouth’ complete nonsense. Even he would laugh, when he pointed to an elbow, and us two were hinting by mouthing ‘Tibia’. He had medical reference books on his bookshelf like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ that he’d read for pleasure. Young as we were, he gave us knowledge very few of our age possessed. I’m sure his ‘lessons’ prompted Peter, my elder brother into joining the St. Johns Ambulance service as an adult.
Our main entertainment was the wireless, or as we say nowadays, ‘radio’. We listened alongside Mum and Dad to programmes like ‘Our Foreign Correspondent’, ‘Animal, Vegetable or Mineral’, ‘The Brains Trust’ and other highbrow programmes. We didn’t really understand, but occasionally ask questions. More importantly I listened to our programmes, ‘Journey into Space’, ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’, ‘Educating Archie’, and ‘The Clitheroe Kid’ were my favourites.
Every Sunday after lunch, we boys cleared the table. Sometimes we were trusted to wash up as well. Usually Dad volunteered. Immediately after the kettle boiled (we didn’t have a hot water tap) and poured into the bowl Dad would start singing. Dads favourite songs were by Joseph Locke’s lovely old ballads like ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’, ‘Macushla’, ‘Bless this house’, and ‘The Rose of Tralee’. Although we mocked him, the truth was he was gifted. Very occasionally I hear one of these old songs on TV or radio and instantly feel that old warm comfort of how life was good in those days and how I wished I could hear Dad singing just once more.
Mum had bought Dad a second hand piano in 1942 in the middle of the war. It took pride of place in our living room. Dad taught himself to play the piano and read music he could even sight read. He also played the violin. When I was seven, I asked him if he’d teach me the piano.
“Yes but you have to promise to get beyond the point where you want to give up, when you’re tempted to say it’s too hard. If you think you will give up then there’s no point in teaching you. Be clear it will mean hours and hours of practice and it won’t be easy.”
I promised him and the next day Mum bought, ‘EZRA READS EASY PIANO TUTOR’. He wasn’t wrong. It was hard but every time I said, “I can’t do it,” Dad reminded me of my promise. So I stuck at it.
Mum would often say “Dad give us a tune”. I can’t describe the fun we had. Mostly the Victorian music book would be brought out, ‘SONGS THAT WILL LIVE FOR EVER’. Songs that live with me as the happiest of memories are ‘My Grandfather Clock’, ‘Darling I am growing old’ and ‘Shenandoah’. All these and many other songs were made so much better by Dad’s ability to play the piano and sing softly. Other times he was so powerful it could make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I suppose every small boy thinks his Father is a genius. I truly believe my Dad was so gifted he could well have been a genius. Unfortunately, coming from a poor background he never had the opportunities in life, which were his due.