Who I am.
I was born on September 4 1959 at 4 Mafeking Street in Featherstone, a small town in West Yorkshire famous then for its pits and its rugby team Featherstone Rovers. My Dad had been a waltzer spinner on the fairgrounds, but when he got married he went from job to job, variously packing Swiss rolls at Lyons cake factory, labouring at wool mills and driving cranes at engineering works. My mother kept a spotlessly clean house and once took a job as a dinner lady when she wanted to treat herself to a fur coat. She never got taken anywhere nice in that coat, my Dad thought buying a big telly with a BBC 2 aerial was a charming thing to do.
My ancestors had come up from the rural midlands to work in the coal mines in Victorian times, my Dad’s dad had worked in pits near Wakefield, but he died when my Dad was a boy. My mam’s Dad, Granddad and Great Granddad all worked in the pits in Featherstone. My Granddad Edward Fletcher was a great inspiration, he was leading ponies down the pit at 14, fought at El Alamein during the war and then spent another thirty odd years at Sharlston pit, he was still tail gate ripping in his sixties. He liked taking me for walks in the countryside at the weekend and described birds, tree leaves and wild flowers to me. He bought me my first pint of Tetley bitter, told me never to vote Tory and took me to watch my first rugby league match on his big shoulders. He had been a boxer in his youth and had hands like shovels. I was with him on the night he died in Pontefract General Infirmary, he was lying coughing with his lungs full of dust. The nurse had left a bowl full of pink blancmange and a teaspoon on his bedside cabinet, he hadn’t touched it. He touched the side of my hand ever so gently. My Gran Hilda his wife was a marvellous story teller, she created beautiful imagery through the use of metaphor and simile, yet wouldn’t know what a metaphor was if you served her one on toast for her breakfast. She had been in charge of pumping well water and feeding the geese on her Grandmother’s farm on the other side of York. She met and fell in love with my Granddad on a bus near Tadcaster after he had said to her “You have got eyes that could fetch the ducks off the water.”
My mam sang “Love is a many splendoured thing” when she did the ironing. My Dad dug his allotment, kept hens for their eggs and rabbits for the pot and showed me how to milk a goat. He had a vicious dog called “Rip” chained to a post in our backyard. I enjoyed a good education at George Street Junior Mixed. In the 1960’s when I was there it fell under the auspices of the old West Riding Education Board and it’s visionary leader Sir Alec Clegg who believed that even the scruffiest of working class kids had creative potential that just needed unlocking. My parents parted in 1974 after an attempt to make a fresh start in Kingston upon Hull didn’t work out. I went on to be a Grammar School lad, but left at sixteen when my granddad got hurt by a fall of stone at the pit.
I have worked as an engineering apprentice, a hotel barman and kitchen porter, a malt roaster, a fettler in an iron foundry, a building site labourer, a time clerk in a factory that made cutting machines for coalmines and for the past twenty years as a writer and broadcaster.
My partner Heather Parkinson and me have shared a home for thirty years, we have a son Edward who plays Boogie - Woogie like Meade Lux Lewis and is built like a coalminer. I have a brother called Tony who is a brilliant gardener and heavy metal fan. Another brother called Andrew and a half sister called Heidi.