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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Growing up - haphazardly

 During WW2 my parents moved to the Bradford suburb of Idle. I was ashamed to admit I lived in Idle, fearing I'd be teased, and pretended our house was in nearby Thackley. These days I regret being born so sensitive.

We had a telephone and that was rare - the number Idle 540. Neighbours who lacked phones entered our living room to receive calls, standing around looking uncertain. I don't think we left the room while they used the phone; we were doing them a favour and this was the West Riding, one took the rough with the smooth.

Aged between seven and ten I answered the phone a lot and this proved useful when I took up journalism. Many incoming calls concerned the Airedale Beagles, of which my father was Hon. Sec. I have since wondered whether any came from the woman my father was having an affair with since she was a whipper-in with the Beagles. This lurid detail became an inevitable source of wordplay later on in my life.

When my mother left my father we briefly stayed on with him under chaotic conditions. It was his job to drive us to school on the far side of Bradford but he lingered, sitting on the toilet reading The Daily Mail. We had no clock and to urge him off the toilet I used to pick up the dial-less phone and ask the operator the time. The operator read it out to me from the clock on his office wall. We were often late for school.

Because my father was absent a good deal I used the phone routinely, as if I were a kid in a US movie. Received wisdom said this was an expensive practice while trunk calls (ie, long-distance) could hardly to be contemplated. As far as I can remember this was one of the few failings my father didn't punish me for.


  1. What different telephone experiences we had. I hated ours and it still takes me a while to work up courage for some calls. I am convinced that I would never had had any sort of career if emails had not been invented.

  2. What a delicious tale! Airedale Beagles! I can't decide if this is fiction or reality. More, more!

  3. I must admit to being rather taken with the Airedale Beagles too, imagining what kind of a bizarre and bloody minded canine that combination would produce. Beagling and the Mail is a somewhat surprising combination, I'd have thought beaglers would be staunch Telegraph folk. Glad you finally had some vengeful laughter out of the fact of the whipper-in anyway. Fun as it is, it's a tale which evokes angry compassion.

    I too can remember a three digit number, and, just about, a black bakerlite-ish, phone, which later was replaced by one of a particularly horrid shade of 1960s pus-yellow, situated in 'the lobby' a chilly and scruffy, though private, room at the end of the hall. There was a wall of rough and flaky plaster which we wrote numbers and doodled on.

    I never grew to like the phone even as a teenager, and felt ashamed of this aversion until I realised how many other, otherwise normally functioning adults, share it. It wasn't so bad in a work context, though supply teaching brought a new level of dread to it.

  4. Blonde Two: VR is often strangely reluctant. Using the mobile in France is rather more demanding but it was far worse before we bought the house there and used to take touring holidays. I can confirm that French phone boxes smell the same as those in the UK, and for the same reason.

    Stella: All true but no doubt it could stand a little elaboration. In the UK packs of beagles hunt hare, and the chasing is done on foot. My father who was cast more in the businessman mould used to lean on stone walls rather a lot, surveying the action from afar. Airedale is a river valley which passes partly through the Yorkshire Dales.

    My father's mistress, later his wife, was an athletic lady who qualified for the descripton "gel" when she was among her peers. I never checked the definition of "whipper-in" but I always assumed there were two of them and they operated to the left and right of the huntsman and helped focus the hounds' attention, preventing them from going freelance.

    Lucy: During all these years I never noticed that seeming contradiction. In fact Airedale is a purely geographical designation relating to the River Aire which rises (I think) in the Yorkshire Dales and flows east through Skipton, Ilkley and eventually to the Humber.

    I was weaned on the Mail. Later, as a mark of the gravitas which my father assumed in business, he switched to The Times and The Financial Times. He held The Guardian in great contempt ("Never been right on anything.")

    As to the mistress who replaced my mother, I made a vow never to meet her or speak to her. Quite difficult since one of my reporting tasks when I was based in Bingley was to cover the AGM of the Airedale Beagles where she proposed a vote of thanks to the farmers who allowed the hunt to pass over their fields.

    It was VR who interceded, encouraged me to break my vow of silence and eventually I grew to like her. Alas she died comparatively young leaving my father with all sorts of companionate compromises based on who would cook his evening meals.

  5. I am ashamed to say I was dragged off by Father on his Airedale Beagle outings and quite enjoyed the physical aspect of running across fields, but had secret misgivings about the objective, but then Father was a forceful type and I was far too young and naive to stand up for myself. I was actually "blooded" which involved being daubed with some of the victim's blood across my forehead, a ritual inflicted on the young (or others) at their first "kill". Father, who was hopeless at giving presents or compliments must have been secretly proud and had the hare's foot silver mounted for me which I still have with the inscription:

    Airedale Beagles
    Hawksworth Crossroads
    15th November 1950

    I would have been 11 years old.

    I have similar recollections of the mistress/second wife.