Man of Mystery part 1

March 10, 2014  •  4 Comments


Having no connection to the rest of the post whatsoever - "How many artists does it take to change a light bulb?"

"Just one - they reach upwards, striking a pose, and firmly clutch the light-bulb. Then they wait for the world to revolve round them!" but I liked it!


The "Man of Mystery" is circled in the photograph of him, his brothers and their father.



I wrote most of the following some time ago, when I was still an “angry old man” and it shows – I perhaps haven’t been too friendly towards my father. There weren’t too many terms of endearment in our household. No manly hugs or displays of emotion, no use for the “L” word. So I’ll use it now – I love you dad (and you too, Mum, of course!). But they were difficult!



Man of Mystery - part 1


I had always fondly imagined that they would play the Shadow’s ”Man of Mystery“ at my father’s funeral but they didn’t. The title would have summed him up far more neatly & quickly than the words written by my mother and spoken by a minister who had never met him. I had of course met him, and worried at times that I had wandered into the wrong funeral as I didn’t recognise the paragon of virtue and devoted father being described. Just my mother getting the last laugh I suppose. No, on reflection, her real last laugh was when she decided that she couldn’t live without him after 50+ years of a stormy marriage, and promptly died herself just six months later. He would not have been too pleased to see her, so soon.


During my childhood, he spent much of the time out of the house. If anyone, such as my mother, was foolish enough to ask “where he was off to?” or, on his return, “where had he been?” then his two stock replies were “There & back to see how far it is” and “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies”. It did not lead to a harmonious marriage nor were his hours away from home reflected in the money brought in, which was little. I’m sure that the neighbours found their rows, conducted at some volume, were far more entertaining than the limited television that was available then.


My father was born into a poor family, the last of six surviving brothers and two younger sisters. Although the family hailed from the London area, and all of his siblings were born in and around London, my father somehow contrived to be born in Yorkshire on 8th December 1914. I do not know how or why they removed to Leeds, but they were all back in London by May 1917 for the next birth. My grandfather was a pipe-maker, making hand-made briar smoking pipes. His thumbs were both bent backwards at the joint from continually polishing & finishing the bowls. He was a competent boxer, and earned a little extra money I am told, boxing all-comers in the fairground booths, as did a few of his sons. At some point in the 30s, I know not when, they returned to the north of England and “settled” near to Greenfields in the Manchester area. My father once made a list of all the schools that he had attended. There were many and, as a result, he received little formal education.

I did not meet his parents until I was 7 or 8. I do not know where they had been hidden away until then, and I did not like to ask. They were not the most jolly couple and would have probably told me “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies”.

He and my mother met and were married in the late 30s. It was not a “love match” as my father had intended to marry another, but she went off with another man who, as the family story has it, later killed her. A photograph of her was found in my father’s wallet after his death. He carried another photo too, a blurred & hastily-taken snapshot of a teenage boy or young man. It wasn’t me.


My mother’s mother owned a corner shop in Manchester and did quite well. My maternal grandfather was a brewery drayman, a handy position for a man with a thirst, and had a black patch over the empty socket of an eye sacrificed in the killing fields of The Great War where he was gassed, too. He was a broken man, and my oldest sister remembers him coming home some nights after slaking his thirst and they all had to hide behind the sofa and pretend they were “going over the top” as he relived his battlefield experiences.


The second world-war duly arrived, and my father became an aircraft designer at Avros in Manchester, working on the Lancaster bombers and the “bouncing bomb” modifications. This was some progress for a man of little education but, despite all the fabricated family stories, I actually believe this one as there is no doubt that he was a good engineer. He had an uncanny knack for spotting when you had fixed a shelf one degree off level, or pointing out that a wall-light was ½” higher than its companion in the next alcove, some 9 feet away.


He once had a Mini Clubman car that was provided by the company that employed him. He left their employment and they wanted the vehicle back. My father refused, claiming to have paid for it from his salary. The company kept all the registration papers for the Mini and my father kept the car. Impasse. He couldn’t put it on the road and they couldn’t get it back. It sat in a succession of lock-up garages for some 20 years. When I returned to my home town, my father had run out of luck & money again, and could not afford to repair whatever car it was that he driving at the time. He had, therefore, decided to “restore” the Mini. The company that had employed him had long since ceased trading, so he was able to get new documents and was happily driving it around. He gave me a lift one day and, once inside the car, I light a cigarette.

“I wouldn’t do that” he said. On enquiring why, I was calmly informed that, just behind my seat was a gallon petrol can with a plastic tube running therefrom, under the floor of the car to the carburettor. The car’s petrol tank had defeated him. It was blocked solid so he had “improvised” and was thus driving what amounted to a motorised bomb. If you are wondering, then I too have no idea as to how he arranged the MoT for this death-trap – or perhaps I have. My father knew a lot of people.







Mal O'Neil(non-registered)
I’m in my 60’s( and reflecting a lot) now and I thought I knew my dad but after he died I thought of all 100’s of questions I should have asked that would have allowed me to understand what made him tick. I realise now I knew very little about him and his life experiences. He has now turned into my man of mystery!

veronica stocker(non-registered)
The man of mystery blog came across as sad, but also if we all look deep enough, typical of any large family. I think you are lucky to know so much about your history, even if its not all happy families.

By the way your dad has the same birthday as Edward!!

Hope you all well

veronica xxx
David Barton(non-registered)
I remember your mum & dad fondly.
Each Christmas they both came over on Boxing Day I think where after dinner your dad would make his excuses or not as the case may be and dissapear, we thought nothing of it as kids (or am I just speaking for myself) and to your sisters credit I don't remember anything derogatory being said as to why. I'll not divuldge what I learn't many years later as I don't wish to get ahead of myself, suffice to say back then children were allowed to be children and didn't get too many distractions.
Looking fwd to learning more as this blog progresses Grahame.
Carol Lanyon(non-registered)
I remember the Mini with the hand pump petrol can! I also remember going to Stalmine to visit Great Grandpop and Nan (the pipe maker who's drawings of a clay pipe, I still have!) They lived in the smallest cottage EVER, the tiny living room dominated by a pipe display cabinet.
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