Dave Whitehead April 21 1929 – 10th November 1998
I have a dream today that my Mom and Dad are sitting together, on a wall by the harbour in Brixham, Devon. There are no arguments, no bitterness, but just a contentment and reflection that their son has done just fine for himself and their grandchildren are happy and present. It will be dark soon, and the bus will be there to take them back to 11 Elm Bank Rd. Tea and toast and a warm fire.
In Sunnyside my Dad sits on his stool at the top of the garden by the front door, whistling and nodding to everyone passing by. My mom walks by and he smiles and waves. She looks at the old house and remembers the good. My cousin is playing football in the garden next door, Mr Oakley’s curtains are drawn upstairs as he sleeps to ready himself for the night shift. A few doors down my Grandma’s door is open, there are empty bottles to return to the shop for change. She’s making potted meat sandwiches, and there are no tears in the mirror yet, just a warm safe and proud home.
Happy 83rd birthday Mom. It took a long time coming, and there was so much confusion on my part..But your strength and courage are deeply missed. You still come to me, at times I can’t predict, but I realise that you’ll never leave me. You are part of me, and that part is where I gain much of my strength from. I will never forget.
School Winter Concert January 11th
Every year for the past 4 years we go to the school Winter Concert to see our son play in the school orchestra. Some of the kids on stage I’ve known since pre K, and its a bemused and wondrous feeling to me that here they are, now in 6th grade, soon to move on to middle school.
The concert starts with the 3rd graders, just learning their instruments, playing brief stanzas from well known songs. It moves through chorus, and finally on to the 6th grade orchestra who at the age of 11 are beginning to grasp nuance and expression.
Midway through the vocal part of the concert, Fenner from 5th grade stepped up to the mic to perform an Acapella version of The Beatles song, “Blackbird”. And from the moment she sang the first two lines, wonderful diction, holding her pitch and hitting the notes, I was washed over with feeling, and it struck me yet again why I love music. It was an emotionally symbolic moment where the connection between the melody and Fenner’s heart rocked her physical body along as she soared through the poetic lines of Lennon and McCartney. She had found her freedom, just like the lines hope for:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free
Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
©: Lennon/McCartney Northern Songs Ltd.
The song was actually written in response to the Civil Rights struggle in the US, but these are symbolic words for all the kids in school as they start to grow up and move on to middle school, the place where dreams should be built.
As Fenner was singing, I looked at all those kids up there on stage and wished and hoped that they get encouragement and support to find something they are inspired by and then follow that path into their working life, thus finding their own freedom. In Nick Hornby’s “Songbook” he writes about the response he sees from his autistic son Danny when he hears “Puff The Magic Dragon” by Gregory Issacs. This is the incredible power music has, to allow us to transcend and be inspired. This is what we want for all our kids. Magically I heard that in Fenner last night.
So go forward you youngsters, be inspired, and find your own voice.
I see you in the mark on my face, and I see you in the paleness of my skin. You’ve never been so close, but here we are, 13 years on today. The kids play upstairs and the noises in the house echo. The heat comes on, a low rumble, the wind outside picks up and makes itself heard through the fireplace, announcing the arrival of another winter.
December 21st Short thoughts
The catskills dec 21
The bright sunlight reflects off the frosting on the ground and in the trees. Turkey vultures circle above, squawking excitement over some sorry deceased animal. It’s the only sound I can hear. I’m wishing happiness for everyone, no matter how modest or brief.
Joe Henry at 92st y
Hunched over the piano singing his beautiful masterpiece, “Our Song”. “This was my country, this was my song, somewhere in the middle there though it started badly and it’s ending wrong”…”It’s my right if the worst of it might still somehow make me a better man”…It’s an optimistic cry. I hope your place feels safe, familiar, free of anger and disappointment. A position to build from, offering hope, and a chance. Make a CD compilation, call it “hope”, and give it as a gift.
Manchester December 2010
Cold, angry, drunk, beautiful city. Eastlands, place of dreams, stands to the east rising out of the perimeter city wastelands, the pennine moors sweep beyond, offering a dramatic backdrop to this city’s desperate glory. Be safe.
This mine has gone now. It opened at the turn of the 20th century and closed 23rd Dec 1994. The National Coal Board gave my dad work for 30 plus years before he accepted voluntary redundancy. It gave us a house (below) with free home maintenance and a pile of coal once a month for heat. It gave us a village to grow up in where everyone seemed to know each other. As a child, it all felt right.
Through either accidents or respiratory problems caused by coal dust, Silverwood Colliery also took the life of both my Grandad’s and two of my Uncle’s, one at the age of 18 on his very first day. It also contributed enormously to my dad’s own health issues. After school when dad was working day shifts I would go over to meet him coming out of the mine at the pit head so I could walk over the road to shower with the men and eat in the canteen. In the 1960’s there was very little protection for the miners from coal dust, and my enduring memory is of standing at the pit head with all those black faces coming through the exit – a dark corridor with brick walls – only being able to recognize my dad when he was about 20 feet away. He never quite managed to get out all that dust from his face. When he died in November 1998 , as I was saying my goodbyes looking down at him in his casket, I could see those dotted black marks around his face that betrayed how he had spent most of his working life.
My dad was a quiet man who had a hard upbringing. He rarely complained, despised going to the doctors, and generally displayed that stoic English manner common in his generation. Emotions were not for sharing. Both his parents died young, he was largely raised by his older sister Doreen, to whom he was devoted throughout his lifetime. She remains the sole sibling from a family of nine children. For his entire adult life he lived 300 yards away from Doreen, and she in turn still lives in the same house in Sunnyside, Rotherham. After his death, Doreen told me he would try and stop by every day to say hello and look in on her.
I moved to London in 1978 but when visiting home I would go with my dad to the grave of my Grandma on my mother’s side, who I had lived with for a couple of years just after leaving school. She lived on the same street as my family growing up. After 10 years of these visits, my dad one day casually mentioned that both his parents lay in one of the graves a stone’s throw away. When I asked him how they had died he quickly said “ I can’t remember”, and afterwards that response made me realize that his inability to talk about feelings and his emotions was his way of dealing with pain. He died without me really knowing who he was. Had he led the life he wanted? Did he have dreams? (surely).. Were they realized? Had he found a place in life he could live happily? When I became a Father I vowed to break the cycle. My kids would grow up knowing who I was and where part of their heritage lies.
Yorkshire was a raw place to grow up in. Cold and damp much of the time, but surrounded by incredible beauty with the Yorkshire Dales (http://www.yorkshire-dales.com/) The Moors (http://www.yorkshiremoorsandcoast.com/ ) and The Pennines. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennines
Thanks to Petr Kratochvil for use of the above photo .And here’s where you can see more.
The typical Yorkshire landscape in the photo above is the kind of setting that inspired Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. Haworth and The Bronte Parsonage and Museum is a worthwhile trip whether you like the book or not. The winding cobble street of Main St (below) with it’s small family owned shops makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the 19th century.
© Bronte Parsonage Museum
In the industrial region of South Yorkshire fists were preferable to words when it came to settling differences or if someone tabbed you for the “wrong look”. Alcohol was popular. Luckily I could play football, and by and large that excluded me from many school beatings and bullying. The early days were about a yearly holiday in Devon ( http://www.visitdevon.co.uk/) The Beatles, pop music, and the England football team that won the World Cup in 1966. In the early 1970’s for me and my friends it became about Rod Stewart and The Faces, the live music experience, the haircut and clothes, drinking cider in my friend Mick Bannon’s parents living room Friday night listening to “A Nods As Good As a Wink” on repeat. For me personally it also became about Manchester City Football Club. I don’t recall one particular game or moment when I fell in love with City. Growing up in Rotherham, I supported my small Third Division home town team but everyone interested in Football had a favourite First Division team. The City kit had a great deal to do with it, the sky blue, claret and white combination looked stylish and dignified. The Red and Black stripes of the away kit looked continental and therefore menacing at the same time. But City also had Colin Bell, who looked like the perfect football player. Long blond hair, lean and graceful, he could run all day and displayed both class and style.
MAINE ROAD MANAGEMENT
One of the very few things I was able to share with my dad was a passion for Football. I timed my home visits around Manchester City’s fixture schedule. We developed a ritual. I would drive over to his house for 12.30pm, he would make sandwiches and soup in a flask, and we would drive over the Moors to Maine Road Manchester to watch City. We arrived at 2pm, parked in one of the side streets, paid a kid some money to ostensibly “look after the car”, ie not damage it, have our pre match Bovril drink in the ground, then take our seats in the North Stand. He would have to leave the game 7 minutes or so from the end because he walked slowly due to his coal mining related knee injury. I’d run and catch up with him closer to the final whistle and try to get a jump on the traffic. Countless times he would miss a goal as a result.
In deciding to name my Company Maine Road Management, it was as much about the common bond I found with my dad as it was about the Football Club. The name helps keep the memory of him alive for me today.
David Whitehead 1928-1998.
MAINE ROAD MOSS SIDE MANCHESTER
The low lying North Stand can be seen in the foreground. Like many Football grounds in England it was built in a residential neighbourhood and you can clearly see the terraced houses surrounding the ground. I’ve not been back here since the ground was pulled down in 2003.
After 6 years of wasteland, here’s what looks like will happen on the site: