My older brother was born four years before me and I can’t imagine what a shock to his system I must have been. December 1954 was obviously a good year for me, as I arrived on the scene, apparently a few weeks early, and like everyone else, I have no memory of the event. Four years between each of the three of us is interesting and we are certainly quite different in personalities and yet, similar in so many ways. I am sure that my mother was hoping for a daughter at some point, but alas that was not to be. It appears that boys run in the family and I have four of my own and my brothers have predominantly boys.
As I grew, like most children, I idolised my older brother. He always seemed to be doing things that I wanted to, had toys that I wanted, and most of all, he was allowed to stay up later than me. I used to tag along after him, and to be honest, he was very patient with and forgiving of me. I can’t say that I treated my younger brother with similar generosity and was happy to leave him alone and follow the oldest.
It didn’t take me too long to notice one or two characteristics in Andrew’s personality that I didn’t want to copy. He was accident prone, and I have mentioned some of the incidents in earlier blogs, but these include: the garden fork thrust through his foot, riding his bike into a parked lorry whilst I rode alongside him, smashing his head on the ice whilst sledging in Gipton Wood. But there were others, such as riding his bike down the flight of steps in Gipton Wood and going head over the handlebars and almost knocking himself out. I don’t know if it was just luck or whether I learnt from his experience, but I seemed to avoid his brushes with death and injury. In later life, I have had my fair share, but at the time, if anyone was going to catch an illness, German Measles, Scarlet Fever, Chicken Pox etc then it was always Andrew. Andrew was the one who got the tricycle, the scooter, the roller skates, the sledge, and the bogey first, and therefore he was the first to test his mortality by coming a cropper. It was Andrew who was the one to ‘torture’ a friend by rubbing red mastic in the boy’s hair and causing a rift with the boy’s family, as his blond hair was dyed red. The colour could not be removed despite several attempts by multiple shampooing. Another neighbour and life-long friend of my mother’s, Mrs Flathers, would mention the time that Andrew threw a large rock that hit Mrs Flathers’ daughter on the head, for the whole of their friendship. This would rankle my mother, as she said Andrew was only a toddler at the time. It is funny how people never forget hurt to their family, and how mothers, especially ours, will defend their child.
You would think that I would have learnt that maybe there were aspects of my older brother that I shouldn’t emulate, but in truth he was everything I wanted to be. Andrew became a teenager and started the change to manhood and I wanted to be him. He started liking music, bought records, clothes and started going to youth club at St Wilfrid’s church. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and would listen to his music when he was out. Like many younger siblings, I was probably advanced because of my older brother’s experiences. He had a job delivering papers, and so as soon as I could, I followed his lead. He had taken me to school on two buses to Stainbeck Preparatory and after he left primary school I made the trip on my own. He did his O’Levels and then went to Allerton Grange and on to Durham University. He did everything that I wanted to, he even had girl friends.
The one thing that the two of us did do, was play together. Cricket was our favourite game and we would play on the driveway between our house and Mrs Winn’s, in Gipton Wood Crescent. Like most kids, we had our local rules. Wickets were the central area where the garage doors joined. It was a four if it went into Mrs Winn’s, a six if it passed the end of the drive without landing. You could be caught off the wall one-handed, and if it went into Miss Ellis’s across the road, you had to fetch the ball, or it was game over. The reason for this was that if she caught you in her garden there would be hell to pay, and she wouldn’t give the ball back. She was a feisty lady and the only hope, and it was a vain one more often than not, was that she hadn’t seen the ball enter her domain. You had a slim chance of sneaking in, getting the ball and sneaking out, but it was a rare occurrence, and the best that you could hope for was a loud knock on the window, and you knew you had to walk back out of her garden without the ball. She even reported a girl neighbour who was at Roundhay Girls School, for eating in public when in uniform. The girl, Kirsty, was hauled in front of the head for such a grievous offence. As my younger brother got a bit older, he was allowed to field. Batting was the best, bowling second best, and fielding no one wanted to do. Stuart was allowed this role and he did it stoically, only ever allowed to bat or bowl on rare occasions.
Andrew and I would go for long bike rides as we got older, but I don’t remember Stuart ever coming with us. This was probably as he didn’t have a big enough bike to keep up with us. We would cycle in the ‘Fairy Woods’, Gipton Wood, the Soldiers’ Fields, Roundhay Park and beyond to Shadwell and Wike. This was particularly so in conker season. We would go in search of good Horse Chestnut trees and hope that other children hadn’t beaten us to it. If lucky, we would find the dark green spiky seed balls lying amongst the leaves around the trees and just have to collect them, but too often the windfalls had already been taken and we resorted in heaving large sticks into the tree branches, hoping to knock the conkers down. There was nothing more gratifying than opening a conker case and a reddy-brown, shiny conker would appear. The big ones were the best, but we could sometimes gather hundreds. We would take them home, divvy them out and then bore holes carefully through the conkers and thread a shoelace through them. Kudos would be going to school with a good collection.
Now, this brotherly love was also to be challenged by my fiery temperament. The coming of puberty saw me become a relative monster, quick to flare up in anger. I even managed to stir Andrew’s usually calm nature, and fights between us would follow which were often just verbal, but on a number of occasions, physical. My younger brother, Stuart, often reminds me of ‘tomato sauce-gate’. As mentioned recently, we added large amounts of tomato sauce on everything. The incident started when the three of us were on school holiday. Mum worked full-time, I remember, and so we had to look after ourselves.
I was probably about 12 or 13 at the time, Andrew about 16 and Stuart probably 7 or 8. It shouldn’t have been too hard, and for most of the time, it wasn’t, but on this day we were having lunch. It could well have been Heinz Beans on toast. Andrew probably did most of the preparation and we were sitting down in the living room to eat. Out came the sauce and Andrew or I started dolloping sauce onto the beans. The issue was that one of us started to get upset as the bottle was far from full. Hostilities began with requests to go easy on the sauce as others would like some, but this fell on deaf ears. Soon one of us physically tried to get the bottle off the other and a savage tug of war ensued. It got pretty nasty and a sudden removal of the bottle from the other led to a large amount of now well-shaken sauce flying up and hitting the white ceiling. For some reason, probably because no one could agree who was to blame, the sauce was not removedg. Neither of us would admit blame and therefore wouldn’t remove it. Silly really, as both of us got in trouble, but by this time the sauce had solidified and wasn’t able to be totally removed. I loved sauce so much that I would put copious amounts between two Jacob’s Cream Crackers in a cracker sandwich.
My older brother was remarkably generous in inviting me along to St Wilfrid’s Youth Club. I must have been about twelve and despite being a bit overawed, by teenagers who seemed so grown up, I quite enjoyed it. Soon afterwards, I started going to St Edmund’s near Roundhay as friends from school had started. We later joined the Lidget Lane Methodist youth club. When Andrew left for Durham, he left some of his mod gear behind, and some of his albums. This was fabulous for me and I started borrowing his clothes and music. Fancy shirts, black PVC coat and anything else I took a fancy to, I wore. This only became a problem when he returned and he caught me trying to sneak out in his clothes. A wrestling match would follow, but luckily mum would intervene and a compromise was found. I can’t say that I ever remember my younger brother Stuart taking my things. He may have, and either I didn’t know, or I didn’t mind. We certainly used to listen to each other’s albums.
My older brother Andrew married at nineteen and I don’t remember seeing a lot of him for a while. I revelled in being a teenager, and I don’t think I was a particularly pleasant one for my parents. Andrew had been scrutinised each step of the way, and I think they were too worn out to worry about me, or maybe they just thought that I was OK. Stuart, being the youngest, didn’t enjoy quite the same freedom. When I was about sixteen, my parents asked if I wanted to go on the family holiday or not. I decided to remain at home on my own, and Stuart went with just our parents. He did go to Spain with them, which I did feel was an opportunity missed, but then I had the house to myself. Home alone meant party time and I would have friends around and have a good time. I only ever had one real party and that was a bit of a nightmare. I think there might have been some complaints from Miss Ellis about noise, hordes of revellers and other immoral behaviour when my parents returned, but I didn’t care. The broken bedroom door handle did take a bit of explaining. Thanks John L, or was it Nick!
A few years later, I went down to London to study and Stuart was left on his own. For the next three years I had a grant, holiday jobs and money to buy my clothes and music, and when I finished, I moved to Sheffield. My younger brother went to Sheffield Poly to study and we met up quite a bit there, but we then met our future wives and saw less of each other. We were poor at keeping in touch, apart from Christmas parties and similar, and I moved to Papua New Guinea and later Australia, Andrew went to Cyprus and Stuart remained in Leeds. It was when our mother became seriously ill that the three of us met back up and rekindled our bond. I regret the large gap in keeping in contact, but since we have, we are as close as we have ever been. Despite the odd disagreement, it was a great pleasure growing up with them, in Leeds.