Barry has been asked several times why he lives in Australia. In this letter from ‘Downunder he hopes to clarify matters. But more importantly, he gives us a rare insight of two very special people in his life.
Looking back it seems to me that Bridget Edge nee McMahon was the decision taker for our family. Such as: holidays in Blackpool, plus north and west Wales; which secondary schools her children would attend; what household goods to buy and when; buying the family home; and moving to Western Australia – to mention just a few. These and many other decisions taken were hers. And the tougher the decision to take, the more comfortable she was in taking it. In addition, she took those decisions with amazing simplicity.
But she would never take any decision without giving due consideration as to how it would impact on the rest of her family. Even years later when, following the death of my dad, she had decided to move into a retirement village, she did so only after talking to her children.
It is true to say that issues and events that were initially beyond mum’s control influenced several of those decisions taken. But she would always seize the moment – such as when we came to Oz.
My dad’s health could no longer sustain the northern mid winters with each year being more desperate than before. By January 1960 he had suffered a longer than usual period off work due to chest and other infections. As a teenager he had suffered from pneumonia which had been compounded by years working in coalmines. It was early January when mum informed him that they would be taking the short journey down Werrington Road to visit Drs McGee & McGarrity. He was simply too weak to argue.
Whatever was said in those doctors’ rooms on that cold winter’s day must have been the darkest of all personal and marital storms experienced by my parents. For a brief moment their world was spinning out of control. My dad was clearly shaken by it all. But my mum, Smallthorne born and bred, began to fire off questions to the doctor. It was quickly revealed that whilst the medical prognosis for staying in the British climate was one of my dad being dead within five years, there was every chance that by moving to a dry climate he could add twenty plus years to his life. And whilst the doctor was asking whether, or not our family had relatives in South Africa, my mum was already taking the next family decision.
My sister and yours truly duly arrived home from work on that same January day and without ceremony mum announced that we were going to Australia. Our eldest brother was already living in Mount Magnet in Western Australia – having migrated to Oz in 1950. And for the first time that I can remember there was no debate. Mum calmly explained the reasons why. Dad just nodded his agreement. This was much more than a brave, courageous or bold decision because my mum was fifty-nine years old at the time, dad was fifty-seven. My sister was nearly twenty, and yours truly just eighteen.
Arrangements were made with such rapidity for by April 1960 we were in Western Australia.
Was it just a doctor’s best guess. A coincidence perhaps. Still, following on from mum’s decision that we would move Oz, my dad lived another twenty two years. In fact, he regained good health, gained full employment, and retired in 1971 at age sixty-eight.
An article on onevalefan titled Tommy Cheadle’s Bootlaces best describes the essence of what it is to be a true blue ‘Valiant when saying…”…to me Vale’s story is hopelessly romantic and stirring. It was and is to do with where you’re from. Your friends, your family, your past, your town”.
When you had a dad like mine whose language was salient, succinct and finely nuanced you paid attention because he was not fond of repeating himself. If you didn’t understand he would simply state that you had not been paying attention, or that the subject topic was not important to you. Dad rarely displayed anger of any sort, preferring instead to remind us that if it was important to us, then next time we would pay attention. And if we did ask questions for clarification, we made doubly sure they were not ‘silly’ ones.
But mention Port Vale and he’d have my undivided attention and complete understanding for a subject topic that was always very important to me. Sometimes he would whisper, with the occasional furtive glance over his shoulder for dramatic effect, when sharing his view of the ‘great players of Port Vale’s past and present. He was like a master passing down to his apprentice the sacred secrets from some safe repository.
In addition to the above, my dad’s philosophy about all things Port Vale included the belief that some players took time to find ‘home’, or perhaps needed a holiday to ‘freshen up a little’. Such as: Albert Leake’s and Reg Potts’ journey to Port Vale via Stoke City; or Wilf Kirkham’s stint with Stoke City between 1927/32. My dad said that Wilf had simply been on holidays. But the prodigal son was immediately forgiven upon his return ‘home’.
My dad’s philosophy also included the knowing of who and what you are, for being aware of your capabilities, and never getting ‘big headed’. Anyone who did get big headed would need to ‘brought back to earth’. This was especially true for football players. Those who didn’t heed the warning were said to be on ‘Fullers earth’, with managers and coaches being publicly encouraged not to give them a game – in subtle and not so subtle ways. Both mum and dad constantly placed great store in never forgetting ‘one’s beginnings’. To them, it was the only way you could ‘grow into a better human being’.
Like others of my parents’ generation, who had witnessed two world wars and The Great Depression, plus working in pots and pits, looking on the bright side of life would have been difficult at the best of times. But to my parents’ credit focusing on the good times, past and present, was an important part of their worldview. And dad would remind us that if we couldn’t say well about anything or anyone, then it was best to say nothing at all.
In addition to the above, timing was of the essence when sharing news and other information. This was particularly so for my dad. He would mention the ‘important’ parts only when his audience was well and truly attentive. Back then it seemed the ‘best snippets’ were shared when everyone was sitting down comfortable, cups of tea in hand, and not distracted by other matters. A sensible approach really. A classic example of his style of communicating has been recounted many times by my mum – and to this day she still laughs at the way dad delivered the news.
Europe had celebrated VE Day in May 1945. But there were still other theatres of war to end. It was late August when my second eldest brother persuaded mum and dad to take him, my sister and myself to go camping on the banks of the River Churnet near Cheddleton. That they agreed to do so was remarkable to say the least because at that point in time my brother was just nine and a half years old, my sister five and yours truly three and a half. Still, the suggestion was taken on board and after several days of preparation by mum we set of by bus for Cheddleton. The weather was said to be unusually fine. But the walk to the camping spot seemed never ending. By nightfall our tents were up and mum had conjured up dinner, or tea as she referred to it, on several small Primus stoves.
The story tells of several sunny days and warm nights with a mum and dad well pleased that we were on the banks of the River Churnet – near the Cheddleton Flint Mill. According to mum, the Churnet seemed to babble lazily along over it’s bed of small rocks and pebbles whilst glistening in the sun. But she also remembers, with a tad frustration, that its idyllic journey was rudely interrupted and impounded by a weir next to the flint mill.
On September 2nd dad was required to go back to the Michelin in Stoke to collect his wages and, according to a prearranged plan, would leave early in the morning so as to be back with his family before dark. But on the evening of September 1st the rain came down, and down, and down. It was taking mum and dad, and my brother, the best of efforts to keep us all dry. During this episode mum and dad determined we were to pack up in the morning and go home.
The morning came, and so did the sun – bright, warm and beautiful. A quick conference between mum and dad resulted in a reversal of the decision taken when the rain had been flooding us out. During dad’s absence mum set about drying our gear whilst my second eldest brother was given temporary charge of his younger siblings.
By nightfall dad was indeed well and truly ‘back in camp’. He had asked how our day had been, talked generally about other matters, and spent time with his offspring before they succumbed to a night of blissful sleep. It was just mum and dad, sitting under stars that seemed to bathe the earth in a soft and peaceful light. And, of course, she had made the usual cup of tea. Picking this moment, according to mum, dad then said in his calm and succinct way…”Guess what, the war is over”. Mum said they just sat there looking at the stars. She also says she knew exactly what both of them were thinking – that life was being especially good to them and their brood.
Bridget McMahon and Thomas Edge – inseparable and true blue Valiants.
See you later…
March 3, 2003