Richard's Roots & Recollections

Post date: Jun 21, 2009 8:18:41 AM

I emerged into the world a Yorkshire man on 18 March 1953 at St James's Hospital Leeds – since made famous as “Jimmies” on the telly. Proud parents, Stan & Betty, marked me out as a potential opening bat for Yorkshire - 'cos in them days’ you had to be born in God's own county to qualify! Sadly, as I grew up, willow frequently failed to make contact with leather and so I failed to follow in the great Sir Geoffrey of Boycott’s famous footsteps.

On the way to not becoming a great cricketer, I headed south aged two with Sister Pam and parents to spend the next six years or so in Bournemouth of all places! No back-to-backs, spoil heaps, smoky chimneys or rickets here; only avenues, bungalows, "chines" (whatever they are?) and blue rinses. Despite the somewhat genteel surroundings of those balmy days on the south coast, I managed to accomplish many and varied dangerous boy-type activities; adding considerably to Mother's greying hair. High speed roller skating on our newly-surfaced road, scrambling my bike over the dirt mounds in the local building site, and most disastrously, coming second in a stone-throwing contest with my pal and being rewarded with a fractured skull! So February 1961 found me in hospital where a friendly Dr Banji from India managed to reconstruct the boy Jones's forehead. Truly every cloud has a silver lining and mine had two; stacks of presents (particularly from the thrower's Mum and Dad) and a really big scar to show off at school – adding considerably to my “street cred”.

Dad's promotion to Valuation Officer in the Inland Revenue meant moving to the Home Counties. High Wycombe, of chair-making fame, was to be the Jones’s new home, nestled in the beech woods of the Chilterns. Much to my and others’ surprise, I rose to be "Top Dog” of the local C of E primary school (School Captain with 4 stars! - whatever that meant). The Headmaster, the wonderfully Welsh Anglican lay preacher JW Blanch, clearly took a shine and personally coached me in many skills including reading the lesson; for which I’m forever grateful - God bless him. Having passed the eleven plus but not yet entered secondary education, I lost another stone-throwing contest resulting in more motherly trauma and permanent partial sight loss in my right peeper. This ruled-out becoming an airline pilot, or indeed any remaining hopes of slip-fielding for Yorkshire - bearing in mind my proven inability to catch or even dodge objects thrown in my direction! Still, “sliver linings” again prevailed with more presents plus the ability to boast at school of being one of the first people in the world (after the Duke of Windsor no less!) to receive laser eye surgery. In those days small boys thought of lasers as sci-fi death rays - so my “street cred” was again enhanced.

Sir William Borlase School Marlow was dreadful. A fading educational establishment with an over-inflated opinion of itself matched only by my mother's; who thought it a cut above the Royal Grammar School! Fagging, gowns and a Victorian gothic chapel with perfect lawn; trodden only by masters and prefects on pain of flogging. Dark cloisters lined with suitably attired Edwardian "rugger" teams and those long school photos with the same faces at either end. All these bygone bolsterers of the English class system were somewhat bizarrely wrapped-up in a state grammar school during Harold Wilson's 1960s "white heat of technology" era! Still, I did just enough to manage a university entry and, along the way, acquired some useful extra-curricular skills like: leadership (and pyromania) from the Scouts, debating from the Church Youth Group (gorgeous girl members being the other attraction), acting from the Fourways Drama Group (also well stocked with young lovelies) and driving, riding, mending, falling off or crashing a wide range of motorised transport (by this time Mum had resorted to hair dye!).

Brunel University proved more suited to my educational and social needs. This West London establishment was a genuine product of Harold's "White Heat" vision; although sadly cloaked in a "brutalist" architect's bad hair day - howling gales whipping around monolithic rain-streaked concrete structures. I thrived on the freedom and friendships; and managed to persuade the Ford Motor Company to take me on as a salaried undergraduate apprentice - much to Father's delight as he no longer had to stump-up his parental contribution. Four years of a sandwich course in metallurgy introduced me to heavy industry: a huge foundry in Essex, shift work in Rotherham's steel works and mind-numbing quality control sampling in the tractor factory were all formative (bravo Ford it was great training!) Motorsport and drama absorbed me at Uni. We of the Brunel University Motor Club organised barely legal twelve car rallies which involved Minis and Escorts tearing around the leafy lanes of the Chilterns and beyond. As motor club chairman, I made club history by being the first such post-holder to achieve higher than a third class degree; admittedly by the skin of my teeth! Sadly my father didn't live to attend my graduation, having died too young from a brain tumour during my final year.

Now a qualified metallurgist, Ford employed me full-time as a financial analyst - yes I thought that a bit odd too! My new job gave me the exclusive and heavy responsibility for saving costs in the manufacture of a truck half-shaft. Mmmmm - maybe not my life’s work thought I. Nevertheless, I stuck with Ford for a few months whilst scanning the pages of the Telegraph in search of fulfilment. My future happiness flowed from answering an advertisement placed by the newly formed Health and Safety Executive, who were frantically recruiting HM Factory Inspectors. So two interviews and a few months later found me in the Croydon District office of the Factory Inspectorate, clutching my leather bound warrant card with the grand title of HM Inspector of Factories. It was 1st March 1976 and I was a long-haired 22 year old in a new suit. In that office on that auspicious day I first laid eyes on the gorgeous Barbara!

My car mending skills soon paid off. I was able to offer my services to persuade Barbara’s ailing Hillman Imp to complete a few more miles. One thing led to the next, as they do, and before long we were an item – a fact necessarily kept hidden from our bosses for some years because of Civil Service rules. Marriage followed in July 1980 at St John’s Parish Church Old Coulsdon Surrey, at which point I became stepfather to Barbara’s lovely daughters Sharon & Samantha. On 20th March 1982 we were blessed with the arrival of a future Mellor Rose Queen. Victoria was born at home in Coulsdon and immediately brightened all our lives.

In the mid-eighties we ‘raced rats’ pretty conventionally for thirty something London dwellers: careers, childminders, London Transport, three daughters (including two teenagers), good friends, good food, trips to France, etc. My career led me, via fatal accident investigations and court cases in the construction industry, to playing my part in the aftermath of the Piper Alpha disaster. Barbara ended up, amongst other things, extracting large sums of money from Sellafield and other nuclear sites to pay for visits by HSEs Nuclear Inspectors. Both our roles involved daily commuting into central London which drove us up the wall. In 1988, during an extended spell off work due to illness, a few notable things happened. My culinary skills developed, partly during a whole week spent preparing an elaborate dinner party for Barbara’s 40th. Barbara got the chance to choose to move to another part of the country to take up a new post. I spent an hour or so doing sums on a fag packet in the pub and discovered that, if we sold our Surrey house and moved somewhere cheaper “up-North”, I could give up my job and buy a catering business of some sort to exploit my new skills. So that’s what we did - except for the catering thing.

We discovered Mellor partly by chance. Having viewed some unimpressive properties in Preston, we extended our search as far as Clitheroe. On the brink of heading south again after a tiring weekend house-hunting, I recalled a colleague mentioning Mellor favourably. So we turned off the A59, up Abbott Brow through the village and down Church Lane where we spotted a “for sale” sign outside No. 11; then home to the Gowthorpes, now of Albatross Villa. So on June the second 1989, having sadly said farewell to Sharon and Samantha who couldn’t be drawn from the bright lights of Croydon, Barbara, Victoria and I became residents of this fine Lancashire village.

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! A short walk from the house that first weekend took me to the sunny uplands of Mellor Moor with views for miles in all directions; next stop the Millstone for frothy beer at 80p a pint – bliss. On the work front, thoughts of catering soon receded on discovering that oil companies were willing to pay decent money for me to explain the regulations I’d just written whilst in government service. So by this unexpected route I became a consultant and have since travelled the world (but mainly to Aberdeen) plying my trade.

The Jones family’s arrival in Mellor was not met with universal joy and celebration. On one memorable occasion, I was bearded on Church Lane by that formidable and now sadly missed “Mellor Poot” Dorothy Whalley. She told me quite bluntly that it was “yuppies” like us moving to Mellor that were putting house prices beyond the reach of local folk. This was the first and only time I’ve been called a yuppie but, from this distance of time, “young” and “upwardly mobile” seem quite attractive, and she was probably right about the housing market!

In those early days, I would normally collect Victoria from St Mary’s after school. She would often be accompanied by a posse of curious seven year olds for whom tea was to be provided. Being a self-employed man working from home in Mellor in 1989 was, I think, a little unsettling for the Mums at the school gate, and after a few months one of them was heard to ask “has he got a job yet?”

Motorsport, in the form of professional rally team organising, was another source of income at that time. I would plan service schedules and routes for the Ford works team on the UK International Open Rally Championship and Barbara would diligently type them up. She would then wave goodbye as I disappeared around the UK and abroad co-ordinating the servicing on international rallies for the likes of Mark Lovell, Malcolm Wilson and Gwyndaf Evans. Eventually, weekends tearing around the country’s forests and weekdays away in Aberdeen proved too demanding, and so the glamorous motorsport lifestyle was binned for good.

As with many young(ish) village parents, church and school played a large part in our integration. However, before we even moved here, the then Head Teacher of St Mary’s, Mr Dickenson, made it quite clear that we shouldn’t think that buying a house within 200 yards of the school would guarantee our daughter a place in his over-subscribed school! This didn’t seem to be the warmest of welcomes to the village but fortunately the Vicar, Peter Hudson, took a different view and Victoria’s admission became a formality. The school proved to be a blessing. Victoria thrived under the care and patience of the likes of Rita, Margaret, Christine and others, and she ended up at Bradford University via Clitheroe Grammar and Blackburn College. Meanwhile I rediscovered the enjoyment of church life through choir singing, friendships, lesson reading, Peter’s spiritual guidance, etc. and Barbara put her considerable administrative talents to good use as PCC secretary for many years. Along the way, daughter Samantha and husband Sergio made the move North with their young and increasing family - all of whom have, or are, happily making their way through St Mary’s school and on to St Winfred’s.

So now in 2009 I’m still a consultant who groans out a bass line in the church choir, occasionally reads the lesson, can sometimes be seen making very slow progress up our village approaches on a bike, likes to cook and eat well, loves wine (too much), music (from Elbow to Elgar), life, our children and their children but most of all Barbara!

Richard Jones