Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
A nice man
If my Dad’s name ever came up in conversation, if you were to mention my dad to anyone, they would, immediately respond “Johnny Reynolds”, a lovely man’.
Dad was a nice man, simple as that.
Dad worked hard. His work was his release and also his cage. It was his distraction, the only thing he had. His life. Dad (also) put up with mum.
Dad was in his 40’s when I was born. I was unexpected, unplanned (mum told me so).
Based upon mums and dads ‘passion’ schedule, Christmas and Birthdays only, I had been a mistake? Conceived in September (born May) I was a clearly the result of an improvisation, a steamy, Indian Summer, night?
Dad was a nice man but also a moderate man.
I can only ever remember him being, noticeably ‘intoxicated’ on one occasion. He (deliberately) limited his drinking so as he could keep an eye on mum, always ready, for when she would (inevitably) ‘kick-off’. As she did, regularly.
On the rare occasions he was bevvied, he was a fun, playful bevvied, the opposite of Nancy. I can remember one time. We were returning home from a family function at the Park Hotel, Netherton, localish, approximately three miles from Bootle, home.
It was after mum had died. He was driving, and he drove around a roundabout, full circle, missing our turnoff. He continued, going around once more and then again, a third time. Carol and I thought it hilarious, he was also laughing, making a joke of it, asking if he should go around once more?
He was usually a conscientious, responsible driver and it was unusual for him not to be. He enjoyed driving and he drove consistently and safely, never spooky, always in control and never (normally) intoxicated.
That said he drove fast, as in his normal driving style was not slow. He would accelerate quickly away from any standing start, for example traffic lights, reach a speed he ‘liked’ usually, ruffly near enough within the actual speed limit and then he would stop accelerating (not brake suddenly, but slow down safely, naturally), continuing within or marginally above the legal speed limit. He always seemed acutely aware, constantly looking ahead, behind and to the sides, especially as we approached and passed thru (quiet) junctions & traffic lights.
He once told me, in fact this was the only advice about driving he imparted to me ‘it’s not your own driving that you need to worry about, it’s the other fella you have to look out for’.
He was referring to a time when he was sided whilst passing thru a ‘clear’ junction, traffic lights on green. He clearly had right of way yet another driver, jumped the lights and drove straight into the side of his car.
Although a very good driver he was reluctant to and did not offer to teach me to drive. I suspect it was because his car was not his own, it was a ‘company’ car that he had use of. He had concerns about insurance implications, he didn’t like to disturb the equilibrium, despite me also working for the same firm he would have had to broach the subject of me driving with his boss, he wasn’t comfortable with any kind of ‘change’ and would not relish such interaction.
As a transport company, (eventually), they trained me to drive via their own driving school, an intensive two-week programme, long lessons every day. Outside of lessons, of an evening, he, suddenly allowed access to his company car, with ‘L’ plates and him accompanying me, of course.
We had our difficulties whilst sharing a car together, (myself still learning to drive). Truth? He was not a great passenger, he was impatient, and would become agitated, over-nervous, with my (early) inexperienced, learner-driving.
He liked to drive. I too love driving.
The ‘good‘ points he instilled into me about driving – Expect the unexpected, always look around you, develop an acute awareness of your surroundings? Obvious? Yes, but also useful, and important, driving principles that have remained with me to this day and that have probably saved my life.
He taught me how to understand ‘a car’, a car engine, torque & power, the correct time to change up and down a gearbox, how to double-de-clutch, a specific technique for changing gears in older vehicles. Invaluable, information especially in my later years when driving my many, classic cars.
Once I had passed my driving-test he became more chilled, he was now (more) confident of my driving and would even allow me to borrow the car, unsupervised. I found myself replicating his driving style, fast take-offs, then slowing down (a little)! I drove like my dad, replicating his driving. I drive like my dad.
Although he always had a car, a company car, he never owned his own car. Our family cars, were always company cars, provided by work. As he was on call, he had to be available 24/7 hence, they provided him with transportation.
Over the years he had the use of a variety of vehicles, Landrovers, small vans, large vans, then in later years, a couple of nice Mini’s and a couple of Austin 1300’s. Both Gail and I learned to drive, and passed our driving tests, in Dads. purple/blue, company, Austin 1300’s.
He told me once what his dream car was?
‘A British Leyland Rover 2000’, although the Rover 3500 was the go-to GP’s car of the day, he prefered the 2000, a less prestigious model? Another moderate choice for a moderate, man. I dream’t of buying him his dream car, as soon as I had achieved a successful musical career. Sadly, I never did.
A professional lorry driver, he had also been a driver during WW11 although he didn’t speak much about his ‘war’ other than, he was a driver for an officer, their main role, during the latter stages of the war, had been, the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
His regiment, The Royal (Liverpool-Scottish) Highland Fusiliers were officially barracked in Perth, Scotland. As a Highlander his dress uniform was full tartan including a spectacular Tartan kilt. Although I never seen in him in his uniform, only in photographs, he looked striking, both in combat and full dress-uniform. He also looked extremely ‘dapper’ in a suit. Another characteristic he passed onto myself. We could (can) both wear a suit.
He brought souvenirs home from the war; a small, inexpensive, German made watch, that he had bartered from a German soldier (prisoner) which, he wore right up until his death, a German officers Luger pistol that he says he disposed of when crossing the channel on the journey home. I own his german watch and his service medals.
Once back in the UK, he travel to Perth, Scotland to be officially demobbed before heading home to be reunited with his family in Liverpool. I don’t know whereabouts he and the Reynolds family lived then, I know that they had their own business; his father was a carter, known by everybody locally as Mr. Shell, as he distributed Shell Oil Products in and around Liverpool via his horse and cart.
He told me of one of (their) horses bolting and ending up in the River Mersey, the tide situation and steep dock walls prevented a timely rescue, the horse, was carried by the strong currents, further up river, heading South and was eventually, safely, rescued near Otterspool, some 3 miles from where it had bolted. Based on that account they must have lived in or near the town, (city centre), close to the docks and oil companies, with small stables for their horse(s).
Once, on one of our regular, Friday night drives to (town) the City Centre, dropping off his Littlewoods Football Pools Coupon at the Liverpool Echo buildings, we diverted from our normal route and drove via Everton Valley, high above the city, affording expansive views below, we passed an old School, dad pointed it out to me saying that it was his school, as a child. He added that he had left school aged 13.
He preferred to hand deliver his Footy Coupon ‘to make sure it gets there’, he would say, I think he just liked the drive, at night, a nice early evening diversion. Sometimes, Carol and I and sometimes, as Carol got older, just myself.
When I was younger, we would play a driving game, trying to catch (ALL) the green lights? Probably about twenty sets of traffic lights on-route, he would say that ‘if we ‘hit’ every set on green then we would Win the Pools’. We would never quite achieve it, often coming very close, missing only one or two sets. It took me until around aged twelve to work out it probably wasn’t true, that he would deliberately miss a couple to avoid failing with his promise of winning the football pools.
He grew up with, and loved horses, once saying to me horses are just like dogs, big dogs’. He loved dogs, although we were never allowed to have a family dog. I was told I was allergic to dog fur? More like, Mum didn’t like cats or dogs. Mum didn’t like dog hair?
It wasn’t until much later that he (we) got our first dog, Peggy. She belonged to Jeff’s sister, Pat, and for some reason she had to go? She looked like a young dog, a small, Alsatian Pup, she wasn’t. She was the image of Basil Brush, bushy tailed, fox like. She was actually much older than she looked. Dad was reluctant at first but he became very fond and close to her, she became his faithful companion right up until his stroke, after which he struggled to look after her properly.
I don’t know how and when dads Father died? Other than, it was way before my time. He never talked (to me) about it, in fact he never really mentioned his dad at all. Looking back, it seems likely that his father had died young? When dad was young.
Like many surviving WW2 soldiers he never said much about his active service experiences, I suspect that, like many others, he held scars from his war, things he was reluctant to talk about with anybody. I wonder if he ever talked with mum about his time during the war?
He was moderate with everything, his thoughts, his words, his feelings. His love.
A proud scouser, he enjoyed his football, supporting Liverpool, although he was always supportive (definitely, non-combatant), in regards to Everton. Unusual, for a Scouser, football being so important to scousers? The old Scouse Football ‘pride’ and Tribalism that brings with it a unique competitiveness between both sets of (rival) supporters, even within, often divided, families.
Not dad, he supported both Liverpool teams in (not quite) equal measure. If Everton’s result didn’t directly affect Liverpool’s he would route for Everton, referring to himself as a Merseyside Supporter.
He never went (out) drinking, alone or with friends. He would allow himself a small ‘quality’ Whiskey at Christmas (usually, Dimple) and sometimes a single cigar.
He told me that as a young man, he was a smoker but had quit aged 21 and never went back, however, he did still enjoyed a cigar on the odd, special occasion. Mum was a heavy smoker, but Dad never did, not in my presence anyway.
He became increasingly, unenthusiastic about socalising (drinking) something that become the core of mum and dads marital problems. He would sooner stay at home rather than accompany mum to the pub. When we were younger, (we) his children were the justification for his none-socalising. As we became older, able to fend for ourselves, those, valid, reasons became excuses and less potent. Mum deeply resented his, lack of enthusiasm for social engagement.
He was not really a hands-on dad he was not the dad who would take me to the park for a kick around. He never had any active interest in my (playing) and supporting football, not even when, aged seven, I announced that I was changing my allegiances from Red to Blue. I am not sure if he ever played football as a boy, or a young man? I can only remember him taking me to a football match once, my first ever live game, Everton v Sunderland (reserves) at Goodison Park.
The pitch! How GREEN is that fucking pitch!
During the 1966 World Cup, some of the earlier group matches were hosted at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Tickets for the games were impossible to obtain however, at some times, Brazil (and other teams) trained in Sefton and Stanley Park, some of the other kids would accompany their dads to watch Brazil train in the park, not me and dad. Brazil? In Stanley Park? WTF!
Dad prefer activities like a Sunday drive to a country pub (The Punchbowl) or to Moreton Beach, collecting cockles, cockle picking. He enjoyed Seafood (another thing I have inherited). He loved cockleing, free Seafood.
He would literally get lost, he would be that engrossed in his cockleing, on a mission for hours and hours on end, He would continue long after we all had given up and returned to the car.
Eventually, usually around 5.30pm we would spot a ‘dot’ on the horizon, Dad. He would emerge, trousers rolled up past the knee, white ‘dad‘ open, sleeveless vest and white knotted handkerchief protecting his bald head. The stereotype personified. By now he was completely alone, the only person on the beach, carrying four buckets, full to the brim with cockles. He would return to find Carol, Mum and myself, huddled together in the car, freezing- shivering, waiting for him, desperate to go home for our ‘T’.
When home he would, immediately set about, preparing, (boiling) his prize catch and then sit, all night, eating enormous amounts of (then) huge, fat fresh cockles.
He didn’t really have any friends (outside of work) I remember visiting one friend with him, Johnny English, another ‘Johnny’ a previous work colleague, at a time when they both drove for the same company.
As a young child, Johnny had given me a stuffed toy that I instantly loved, a tiger designed to be placed on the rear parcel shelf of a car. He was dying of cancer, we visited him for the last time only a few days before he died, I was maybe, 6 or 7?
We would visit dads mum, sister Sally and younger brother Billy in Croxteth, Liverpool almost every Sunday or sometimes on a Thursday evening if we could not make Sunday. They would always give us sweets, chocolate and make a real fuss of us. As a young child I was fascinated by Billy’s Donald Duck impressions. Billy looked like a younger version of dad.
Outside of those weekly visits we did not mix with the Reynolds much, we never attended any of their family functions or events (not sure we were invited)? and when we did visit mum never accompanied us. I suspect, a consequence of the way mum treated dad, the Reynolds’s demonstrating their disapproval? Mum, clearly did not get on with dads family.
Looking back, I have no idea how dad endured mum for so long? He must have loved her (and us) to stay? Many a man would not.
He was close to a decade older and it is clear that this was at the route of their problems. In the end they very different people with very different needs and expectations of each other. They were always different? They just didn’t admit it, to themselves, or each-other.
During our mammoth reconnecting conversations in Australia, (I had travelled for Dads funeral, after he had died), Carol told me of her and mums birds and the bees, Mother – Daughter (sexual advice) pep talk.
Mum was, old fashioned, and definitely not an openly affectionate woman, Mum’s advice for Carol regarding sex was sad and basic. ‘Twice a year, but only if you really have to’, Christmas and Birthdays, ‘just lay there and try to think of something nice’.
It is not unfair to say that Mum was sexually disinterested, I suspect dad didn’t get very much in that department. Whether Mr. Moderate wanted much I wouldn’t have a clue? Although, most evenings, at a certain time, he would retreat to the (backyard) toilet and spend a bit longer than expected ‘reading the Echo’?
Until dad had his (serious accident), fracturing his skull, he was a professional driver, a HGV lorry driver. After his serious accident he worked exclusively in the yard, as a yard man, shunting the wagons/trailers, becoming foreman and eventually, transport manager for the company fleet. A grand title with a not so grand salary when compared with his previous role as a HGV driver. After his accident the DVLA prohibited him from (legally) driving professionally again. For life.
A transport manager is responsible for making the necessary plans and arrangements for the fleet to accomplish the various contracts. He worked long hours, often seven days per week, and not paid well. No overtime for working weekends, which he often did.
Under achieving? He considered himself the poor relative amongst his tradesman siblings.
His deep rooted feelings of resentment at not having achieved tradesman status had a profound and lifelong effect on him. He believed he (we) had missed out on many things because of it. Failure?
It affected his attitude to myself.
He was convinced that for me to have a successful career (life), I had to become a tradesman, preferably an electrician like his older, more successful brother, Georgie.
When mum died he (we) never made a point of sitting down and discussing my future, my thoughts, wishes, feelings and options. The possibility of staying on at school, further education, university? It was never a consideration (by myself or him). Dad wanted me to become a tradesman end of story.
I wanted just one thing, to be in a band.
I had discovered music, around about the same time as I became aware of the opposite sex, a lethal combination. It must have been dads worse nightmare? I had suddenly become his worse nightmare. We attended a (one-time-only) careers interview together, via the school but in a separate, Council, building, a formal meeting with a careers guidance counselor.
An empty (grey) suit of a man who laughed out loud when he asked, ‘what do you want to do as a career’ and I replied ‘be a musician, in a band’. For a micro-second I glanced towards dad (looking for approval)? Dad, pale faced, silent, stayed quiet with no comment. Moderate dad, if he was bothered, seething inside? Who knows, he didn’t react in any way.
The empty suit stopped short of saying the words ‘but what about your proper job’? Simply saying, ‘I shall put you down for Local Government or Hairdressing then?’ It wasn’t a question and yet, not quite, a statement either.
It was my future. Their version of ‘my’ future, for me.
Honestly? At the time? I couldn’t have cared less?
After the meeting Dad seemed to just let me get in with it. However, behind the scenes he was making plans, doing his best, reaching out to contacts, anybody and everybody in order to find me an electrical engineering apprenticeship.
I was becoming more and more consumed by music, my music, my band and less interested in anything and everything else. Music had become my new ‘bike’? My latest release, the focus for all my hopes and dreams, my best friend. School became even more of a distraction an inconvenience, I could not wait for it to be over.
Life went on with very few, if any paternal interventions. Not even complaints when he noticed my frequent school abscense. No obvious signs of disappointment even when I flunked my CSE/GCSE examinations.
Occasionally, he would give me that look, the look only a disappointed dad can give, the look that made me feel guilty for letting him down, the look I apparently now give Aubrey and Gail.
Even when I really fucked up he never hit me or laid into me or even shouted at me. I had become troubled, proceeding to and since, mums death and then troublesome, naughty, clearly heading towards delinquency, getting myself into more and more trouble within school and outside.
On one occasion, I had been up to no good, caught by Police and arrested.
Dad had to collect me from a local police station. The look, followed by a rare comment ‘Are you happy now’? Then the silent treatment, days of silence. We had several ‘Police’ support offices visit the house and interview me. Dad explained that my mum had, recently, died and they dropped any formal charges.
When he didn’t react I felt worse, more guilty, ashamed? I think I (must have)? wanted him to react, to punish me, like some of my friends dads did to them?
Apart from a few occasions, Mums death, Carol’s still-born baby and the discovery of Colin (Clare’s husband) infidelity, I cannot remember him ever being (overtly) emotional or angry with only one standout exception.
It was the school summer holidays, dinner (lunch) time. I had returned from playing out Mum and dad were sitting in the (back) kitchen, dad was upset, crying, I had never seen him this way before, openly weeping.
I was told to go away, I discovered, later on why he had been so upset. He had called home on his way to The Docks to check on a load (a shipping container) being dispatched, abroad, later that day.
As it was, August, school summer holidays he had called home, on the off chance he could collect myself and Carol to accompany him to the Docks. This was routine practice, he would often take Carol, myself and even Clare when she herself was young, to accompany him on such ‘adventures’. A welcome change to a boring, summer holidays, day.
On this occasion I was not home.
At the Docks, his car was in a serious collision with a huge industrial crane and almost completely crushed. The damage was mainly on one side, the passenger side. The drivers side was relatively unscathed.
Dad, miraculously, escaped with only minor injuries.
He was so upset as he realised that if he had collected me (us) as intended, chances are we would have been crushed and killed. I had never seen him so upset about anything, even when he told me of mums death it didn’t compare with the docks incident.
When we were very young – we would spend Friday nights, with dad, watching TV. Mum would be in the pub. Carol and I would play with his hair, pretending to be hairdressers. He would tolerate this for a few hours and then he would suddenly, break and tickle us ferociously until we cried (real tears) and begged for mercy.
When we became older dad was our taxi service. That was his main Dad role.
When it came to this duty he was by far the most proactive, compared with all of our friends parents. He would take us, and any of our friends everywhere. No limits. Myself, to every gig, rehearsal anything and everything, hiring vans if necessary. Carol to work, to her friends, to town on nights out.
He would drive myself, Jeff, Jimmy (my friends) to Southport Baths or Freshfields Nature Reserve every Sunday, usually with our dogs, Jake and Peggy, dropping us off and returning several hours later to collect us, every week for at least a year or two.
He was clearly actively involved in my life but somehow always remained in the background? Always there to lend (give) me money for a new guitar or to finance a recording session, even a record release for the band. Always there to give me a lift.
He never really interfered with anything I wanted to do, never advised me one way or the other or preached at me. His one and only stance was for me to become a tradesman ‘get a trade behind you and you will be set for life’. Followed by; then you can do what you want, you can do your band? Remember, ‘if you have a trade you have it for life, it will always be there, to go back to’?
Dad was popular at work.
Essentially, his main role was managing the drivers workload, deciding where, when and who did what jobs, ‘runs’. As with most jobs some work is more preferable, in this case the routes, the runs for the various deliveries, some were more appealing to the drivers than others. There was constant competition amongst the drivers, for who would get the best jobs? Thus, it was difficult to keep (all) the men happy all of the time whilst also keeping the owners (management) happy.
He seemed to be able do manage this well, and still remain ‘nice’ Johnny Reynolds.
He was not able to find me a direct route into a trade so he persuaded me to apply for a government industry partnership engineering training programme.
After completing a first year of broad-based industrial training, a recognised, certified first year, engineering apprenticeship, he had still not found me a company to continue an apprenticeship with. I had been applying myself, but with a only a few interviews and no offers.
As a last resort, he secured an apprenticeship for me as an HGV fitter at the company he worked for, Ritsons Haulage, Limited, Kirkby, Liverpool. He had tried his best to get me an electrical engineering apprenticeship elsewhere but had been unsuccessful. It was not what he ideally wanted, working with him but it was the best he could find for me.
I seen a very different side of him at work. Not so moderate dad.
He was harder, louder, he swore!
It was the first time I had ever heard him swear in a casual, (not angry) manner.
The very first time, he cursed at a driver, I was literally gob-smacked, shocked!
It took me some time to get used to dad as not dad but as Johnny Reynolds. We shared the same name, as he was (already) Johnny Reynolds, I became YJ, ‘young John’, (pronounced WYGE).
I took to the ruff and ready working environment (job) quickly, I liked the busy workshop environment, especially the people, the continuous, ruthless banter, the characters I worked with. It was fun. I did not mind the hard, dirty work. I worked hard. I realized how much I enjoyed people whilst working at Ritsons? Working with real people. I also lean’t that things are not always what they seem?
People are not always what they seem?
Dad was a different person (in work). I made a mental note, when my time comes, I will not be a person different with my son? I will be the same with him as I am with everybody, my friends, work colleagues even my enemies. Boy, didn’t that one bite me on the arse in years to come.
I still managed to maintain my band, my music it just meant stepping up, working even harder, after all there are twenty four hours in every day?
When he was made redundant at work he was destroyed, broken, mainly as he had not seen it coming. He was more devastated about myself being made redundant. He pleaded for them to keep me on, to no avail.
They knew I was not really interested in the job, that I was only really committed to becoming a professional musician. They could do better than me and fair enough they were not wrong. Redundancy for me was a blessing, I was finally free? Free to be who I wanted to be, all of the time, not just part-time.
For dad it felt like the end of the world.
The timing was terrible. His redundancy came at a time when, for the first time in his life, he was earning a decent wage. They chose a younger man over him, the younger guy who dad had trained up, shown the ropes to who fucked him up the arse. They fucked Dad off. They might as well have signed his death certificate.
Dad had made the schoolboy error of thinking that he was indispensable, and that, a friend, someone you trusted, would not stab you in the back to get what they wanted.
My new-found freedom was short-lived. I was only free for a single weekend. Dad had found me another job! I was made redundant on Friday and started a new job 8.00am the following Monday.
Although he was more than anything, relieved for me, that (he) had found me a replacement job. It was Chrystal clear that he felt bitterly betrayed so much so that only weeks afterwards he had a series stroke.
He had nothing else, his work, his job was his life. It had been even before mum died but much more so after. His life was over. The stoke only confirmed what he already believed to be true.
After the stroke he was left partially disabled with a withered arm and a gimp-limp, he had lost his speech but that came back quite quickly. Carol was living in Australia, and with just dad and I at home it was a struggle. He required day to day care, there were many things he could not do, including, preparing food an feeding himself, easily.
I was working full time, a new, demanding job (that I didn’t even want), I was struggling in the job, trying my best to keep up, to establish myself, for his sake.
Honestly? I was out of my depth, given time, without additional pressures I would have come to terms with it, but I was under pressure from the very start, juggling Dads needs alongside my own and trying too hard. Even though I did not want him to find me this gig, I desperately didn’t want to let him down either, he had stuck his neck out to get me the opportunity.
I was also actively working with my band and that was all I really wanted to do, working a full-time job and a part-time job, simultaneously, the band of an evening and weekends and a full-time day job. I was up at 6.00am and would go to dads every lunch hour (30 minutes only) to feed him and then return to work until around 6-7.00 pm followed by band rehearsals until 12.00 midnight. Most nights not getting to bed until 1.00 am and 2-3 hours later if we had been gigging.
During my first week I sustained a deep, nasty burn to my right hand from a blow torch, tired and careless. That led to difficulties performing even basic, manual work, It did not heal, it had no time to heal, I could not rest it, allow it time to recover. I was too embarrassed to tell any of my new employers. The work, my work took longer than expected, unaware of my injury they just assumed I wasn’t good enough, or worse, taking the piss.
I had some time of a weekend (afternoons), weekend evenings would be dedicated to the band. Dad, desperately trying to be normal again would find things for ‘us’ to do. We would argue over the smallest of things. I tried to help him decorate the living room, wall papering, which led to a huge row and a very large ball of expensive, now scrap, wallpaper in the middle of the floor. Due to his disabilities, he was hopeless, I was just hopeless at DIY. Dad could not cope with it (me), my ineptness matched by his frustration with his own incapacity.
When I was, inevitably ‘let go’ by my new employers I was relieved but also felt guilty, feeling I had let him down (again). He was concerned for my future. His physical health was deteriorating as was his mental health and this led to a decision that he should move to Australia? A warmer climate with Carol there to support him, support him more effectively than I could.
He had visited Carol in Australia before, just the once, traveling to Oz for her wedding. He was still employed at the time but he negotiated extra time off work and stayed for six weeks (maybe to his detriment)? On his return, he talked about his trip for weeks and weeks he had clearly enjoyed his time, with Carol, in Oz.
It was decided, Carol made the offer, saying they would build an extension, he would have his own space, allowing him (and them) some independence. She did not have to ask him twice. He agreed, with the proviso that he would pay (contribute) to the cost of the new extension, which he did. When I went to Perth for his funeral I stayed in ‘his’ extension, his room, his bed, that still had his Johnny Reynolds, smell.
I (the band) had finally signed the elusive record deal with EMI Records, the dust had settled on Dads redundancy dad actually became very excited about the record deal and the prospect of my achieving something from music, a career in music.
He was that disillusioned with being assigned to the scrap heap, the injustice he felt at losing his job, he actually came full circle with the possibility of genuine alternatives to mainstream occupations?
He was extremely proud at what I had achieved so far and was still trying to achieve. He felt that if he was to leave then he was leaving me in pretty good shape. For me? He had actually got it, and for the first time, I believe, he, finally, got it, what I was trying to do, to be, had had finally got me?
I always thought it ‘fitting’ that he ended his days in Perth? His Army regiment had been based in Perth, Scotland. He also found it strange that he ended up there as he had sent hundreds of refrigerated containers to the port of Perth (Freemantle), on a daily basis, without a second thought, little did he know he would end up living out his life there.
When it was time for him to go I was living and working in London recording our debut album. I negotiated some time-off and travelled home for a modest leaving ‘doo’ for a moderate man which was hosted by Claire at her ‘posh’ house in Leigh.
None of the Reynolds family were present (not sure if dad had even invited them)? All of mums remaining siblings, their partners and many of their children were there. It was a decent, if low-key send-off , Dad was popular with all of mums family. She would often say ‘more popular the she, the black sheep of the familly’.
Clare was upset. She wasn’t gutted about him leaving, she could hardly conceal her disappointment. As was Clara (Little Ant). She and dad were close, close in age, and brought closer together mainly by circumstance, mums health issues and our close geographical proximity, they were often together, it was unavoidable.
I never ever seen even a hint to suggest that there was anything more between them other than friendship, but I often thought that Dad and Ant would have been more suited to each other than Mum and Dad.
A few days later he traveled to London for his flight to Perth.
He stayed at Erics’ (Carols husband) parents for one night and they, also held a modest, going away party, that I, taking a one night break from our recording schedule, attended. He had met Eric’s parents before, in Australia, at the time of the wedding.
They had stayed on in Oz, for a couple of months afterwards. Eric’s dad, older and very set in his ways, did not endear himself with Carol, they did not get on, dad became the diplomat the man in the middle, trying to keep the peace.
The following day, Myself, both of Erics’ parents and dad travelled to Heathrow Airport together. We didn’t hang around, I remember hugging him, I cannot remember what, (if anything?) we said to each other. I was crying he was not.
I heard Eric’s dad say, ‘come on son, be a man and do your duty’.
Dad turned and shuffled, slowly towards the gate, holding his withered arm with his other, good hand, dragging his leg slightly behind him and slowly, made his way, alone disappearing down the passage to the plane. He looked so frail, vulnerable but I swear he had an excited twinkle in his, blue eyes.
That was last time I ever saw him (alive).
I stared at ‘his shadow’, that empty space for some time then turned around to face Eric’s parents, crying. Eric’s dad stepped forward and held out his hand for me to shake, He said come on John, ‘you have done your duty as a son, well done’. Proper old school.
I never though any less of him for choosing to leave me (us). I never resented it. Yes, I was sad at the thought that it might be the last time I would ever see him but I was determined that it would not be. I convinced myself that it would not be. It was (just) another incentive for why I had to become successful so that I could afford to travel to see him whenever I chose to bring him home whenever he wanted to, to buy him his Dream, Rover 2000 car.
Above all I wanted to make him proud of me.
When Aubrey was born we were living in a small one-bed flat not with dad at Downing Road. The flat was on the third floor, with no lift, not the easiest situation for a young mum with a pram/pushchair. There were issues with damp and mold and we had to move out, temporarily, we went to Dads in Downing road, whilst they completed essential repairs.
Dad was overjoyed we were with him, especially with Aubrey, his first Grandchild, his first (and only) grandson. He was ecstatic to have us move in with him. Gail was less pleased and I did, really know why.
Dad and Aubrey had bonded and us staying with him was the icing on dads cake. We did move back to the little flat but then moved again, very soon after, to a much more suitable property, a small, 3 bed-house in Kensington. We would visit dad as much as possible but we were now closer to Gail’s mum and dads, and her brother and sisters houses, in and around Halewood and Woolton.
Despite his disabilities dad tried his best to maintain contact with us after we had moved to Kensington, he would travel via bus, several busses in fact, to visit us and his Grandson. Once, he arrived, unannounced and unexpectedly as it was a foul day, on this occasion, he was soaked thru to the skin but truly overjoyed to see and spend some time with Aubrey. I recently found a photograph, taken that day of him with Aubrey. It is my favourite photograph of my dad.
Gail had mixed feelings about dad. For some time I couldn’t understand why? He was a bit odd, set in his ways, but generally, kind to her (us)? She, eventually explained; she had overheard a conversation between him and his sister Sally and she never felt the same about him afterwards.
Once I heard why I was devastated, more for her than anything else. I fully understood her, prior-unexplained coolness towards him. If I had been her, I am not sure I would have been ‘as’ accepting and tolerant of him ever again. I never got the opportunity to ask dad how he could have said, even though such a thing? I still hate even thinking about it?
He had just heard the sad news that carol had another miscarriage, Carol had been trying for some time and this was not their first disappointment. Gail was heavily pregnant herself. Dad was telling Aunt Sally the news about Carol, Gail heard him say ‘God forgive me but why couldn’t it have been her (Gail) and not Carol who had miscarried. Although absolutely and justifiably devastated Gail chose not to tell me for many many years.
At just four years old when dad left for Oz, I thought Aubrey too young to be that affected by his leaving. Many years later, on a visit to Australia Aubrey, revealed to Carol that he had been really distressed by it?
He (hadn’t) couldn’t understand why his Grandad would (want) to leave him?
Had he been naughty?
Did he not like (love) him any longer?
Looking back, I wish we had spent more time reassuring him, listening to him at the time?
Sadly, my musical career did not run as smoothly and successfully as hoped.
I was having a difficult time recording, working with an inexperienced, and difficult, producer. Our then manager, Paul once told me ‘getting the record deal is the easy part, the hard part is getting a hit, and another and another’. Wise words.
We had all worked so hard to get our deal, we had wanted it so much, part of me believed that the rest would be plain sailing. Everything would just ‘fall into place’.
Not a chance, more people become involved, more people with more opinions, some who were not good at the jobs. The complexities of a high pressure music career took a toll on me I developed a crippling stomach ulcer and the beginnings of my now chronic psoriasis, such was the pressure.
I did maintain regular contact with dad though. He would write, taking 5-6 hours for him to write a short letter with his left hand, the priority in his letter was always Aubrey, he always expressed how much he loved, and missed Aubrey.
During the evenings I was able to sneak upstairs to the record company offices and telephone dad in Australia. Calling Australia was expensive in 1984, I spent many an hour talking things thru with him in great detail and, for the first time in my life, I felt that I knew him and he knew me?
I have always struggled with feelings of letting him down, disappointing him? By me not working harder at school, by me being spoilt and a difficult child, by not wanting to be a tradesman, by not being good at being a tradesman, by not being able to wall paper, by not being good at many (any) of the things he was good at, by ‘just’ wanting to be in a band. I think, in the end, before his death, he understood, at least some of this before he died.
Despite his previous stoke, his age. His death came as a huge shock.
Carol had been holding back, in the way that we all would hold back when dealing with situations that are complicated by great distances, us living so far apart. She was trying to protect me as much as possible as, ultimately, she knew there was very little I could do to change anything? I was never fully aware of the extent of his, continuingly, worsening health. Although he loved Australia he missed the UK, and he was worried about me.
The circumstances of his death were difficult.
At the time I was already in a bad place.
The record deal had gone, along with the band. It became every man for himself. I ended starting legal proceedings against the band members (business partners) in order to force them to ‘formally dissolve’ our legal partnership so I could gain access to my share of all partnership (band) assets.
We (Gail and I) were skint, I wasn’t earning and I was becoming increasingly depressed. At one point we actually applied to emigrate to Australia but were refused as we had no ‘capital’ to take with us. I had written several times to dad about a possible move and he was aware of our situation and was clearly, worried about us.
In retrospect, this probably contributed to his poor health, his heart attacks.
He was recovering from a minor heart attack and had just had a pacemaker fitted. The prognosis was cautious-optimistic, his death, from a second, massive heart attack was unexpected and a huge shock.
We had only just finalised arrangements, booked to visit him, we were due to travel within only a couple of weeks. His death came only days after Perri was born. We posted a photograph of baby Perri to him, thankfully, it arrived before he died. He got to see a photograph of her at least. After the first heart attack he asked Carol to arrange for us to visit him? He realized that he might not have that much time left and he wanted us all to share some time together, my family together with dad and Carols, family in Australia.
The trip was booked, then he just died.
I remember feeling deep uncontrollable physical pain at the news.
Carol called me at home, I heard the words but I couldn’t talk, I dropped the phone and ran upstairs and lay on my bed, my head in my pillow crying, sobbing. Gail must have rang her dad, Arthur who turned up at the house. He opened his arms and I ran to him and he held me while I sobbed, Arthur was (already) like a dad to me. A very special person (dad).
We cancelled the full-family trip but I travelled, alone for Dads funeral in Perth, leaving Gail, Aubrey alone with, a few weeks old baby. The journey was long, complicated, lonely and surreal. I had to take what I could get to get there in time, which was not straight forward and involved multiple stops and delays, Including travelling via Harare, Africa with a long (10 hour) stopover.
48 hours later I arrived in Perth with only, the clothes on my back, and a small overnight bag, (no suitcase) and just £20 in my pocket.
Carol and Eric met me at the Airport with their young daughter, Emma.
Carol and I had a lot of time to make up for. We were both very emotional. Carol was desperate to tell me ‘she had done her best’, that ‘she was sorry’? We stayed awake, talking thru the night, way into the following day, talking about mum, our childhood, dad, little ant, re-connecting in a way that only grief can dictate.
Skip back 50 years.
I was around six, seven, we had to write an essay (a story) in school. The title was something like, ‘If you could chose anyone in the world to be your dad who would you chose’? I did enjoy writing stories. I chose to write about dad. He was my choice of ‘best dad’. It was not the best, my best, story, rambling and repetitive simply stating over and over ‘my dad was the best dad in the world’ why would I want to choose another?
It didn’t really explain or justify why he was the best dad in the world and ended with the statement … ‘but if I had to choose another dad it would be Keith Newton’, the Everton and England fullback! I had a boy-crush on Keith Newton.
I know that my teacher had passed my story to mum. I can recall mum reading it, sitting in her chair, her foot bobbing up and down. After she had finished she mentioned she had read it but said nothing else about it? At the time I remember, wondering what all the fuss was about? Why had this story attracted so much attention? Surely every kid would have written the same thing about their dads?
I assumed dad knew about his story? Mum must have mentioned it? If he did he never said. 55 years on I now wonder what mum actually thought about it? Had it hurt her in some way? Was she jealous of such a visible, (totally innocent), display of affection but to him and not her?
28th February 2018 would have been Johnny Reynolds 100th Birthday. I usually make a point of having a tot of expensive whiskey on dads birthday, coincidently, the same birthday as his dear friend little Ant, Clara Lafferty.
I raise a glass then, I raise a glass now, here’s to a nice man, Johnny Reynolds, my dad.
Time for one, final funny dad story, I had arrived home from a gig, later than usual, around 7.00am. He was leaving for work as I was arriving, we met at the front door. He opened the door and was greeted by me, face to face with my, dyed blue hair that had ran all down my face onto my clothes. I would normally wash the dye from my hair before work, before he got a chance to see me. I must have looked like a pantomime dame who had being dragged thru a fence backwards.
He actually jumped when he saw me, we almost, physically, bumped into each other, we passed and I heard him mutter, more to himself than anyone else, ‘I’ve fucking seen everything now’.
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