In those odd moments when your mind meanders into the other world; the world you knew but now seems so far in the past it may well be something you read about, certain faces pop into your head. They could be teachers, friends long gone, ex girlfriends or boyfriends and old bosses.
I’d rather not remember the nasty little people from my first job. Just think of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the snakes were crawling all over each other in that dark tomb.
I think my real working life began at The Gandy. Now let me talk about Bill; Bill Kennedy that is. I only worked under him for two months but at the tender age of seventeen he represented the hard side of life I was trying so desperately to avoid. When I say avoid, I mean it in the sort of permanent no way out stuck with a mortgage and children way. I was quite happy to sample it but I wanted other things.
Bill Kennedy was a hard working honourable man. He was a foreman. From what I can remember he oversaw all stages of the brake shoe part of the factory. From the mixing, pre-form, press, baking, trimming, drilling bonding and branding, he was your man. He made no bones about my dad on the pre-form:
“Work half as well as Joe and you’ll do well here lad,” he said on my first day.
I would see him flashing round the shop floor pointing and directing his troops. His main principles were cast in stone and broadcast around the great monument of a factory we both loved and feared: “Work hard and you’ll be fine.” Despite a stern front Bill carried a mean sense of humour. He knew what I was doing and he understood me. I was just a passing moment. It was a favour for my mum and dad. They had great respect too.
I can still picture Bill now with his chiselled accent and shiny brylcreemed hair. I often impersonate that accent. People may think I’m putting it on but it’s still so real. After only two months at the factory I left to do A levels. Bill didn’t make a fuss; he understood.
A year later I was back. This time I was over the road in the warehouse. Now the foreman was Bill Stanley. Bill was a proud man. He was ex-navy and very old school. I could hear his brisk approach. It was a quick march with the appropriate swinging arms. I think he imagined himself still on parade on the poop deck of some massive aircraft carrier. (Does an aircraft carrier have a poop deck? What is a poop deck?) Like Kennedy, Mr Stanley had time for me. He was so proud of his young son. Bill knew I was quite good on the piano and he was delighted to tell me about his lad taking his grade four piano. It was touching.
Bill took every single minute of overtime for his family. He also talked long and loud about his home brewing. A very seventies thing I suppose. When the time came for me to move on he was seemed almost humble:
“I hope you go on to better things than here,” he said.
The third face belongs to John Patrick Lynch; possibly the most genuine caring man I have ever met. His manner was sometimes brusque but his heart was stationed, floodlit on his sleeve. We knew him as Father Lynch, the priest at St Josephs in Wheatland Lane.
Father Lynch came to our house once a week to give communion to my nan. He was so gentle with her. It was clear he respected everybody. When I worked at the community centre, he sat on the youth club committee. He always added an extra edge of humour to proceedings.
The most enduring image I have of Father Lynch is of him sitting on the higher level of The Dale’s concert room having his lunch with a pint and a fag. Everyone spoke to him and he chatted happily. As a consequence, Father Lynch’s timekeeping was not a strength. But it didn’t matter. I’ve never known a better man walk the streets of Seacombe.
In 1987, he buried my Nanny Mac. That was the last I saw of him. Two years later I moved on.
Before I finish, let me mention Wilf Foster. I think he used to be a councillor but he was also involved with the community centre in Ferryview Road. Like the others I’ve mentioned, he is synonymous with my formative years.
Now I mention it, Seacombe Community Centre was full of local people, volunteering their time for the local cause.
What stars they were. I remember a quietly spoken, modest lady called Pauline Smith. It was like her second home. She worked tirelessly. Her three children, Jackie, Paula and Daniel were always in tow to provide some light hearted banter. Then there was a feisty lady called Jean Hickson. Someone else determined to make the whole thing work.
History is not just about kings, queens and battles. We all carry history; in our heads and in our hearts. Priceless.
Thank-you for reading.