Why is it so?

Why is it so?

Barry Edge is an exiled Valiant from Australia. He exclusively shares his memories of Port Vale with onevalefan readers.


Why is it so?
Julius Sumner Miller (RIP) often asked that question. You know, the bloke who used to tell us that there was a glass and a half of dairy milk in every block of Cadbury’s chocolate.

Now there was a man who positively affected many generations of students and adults, including yours truly.

Long before he came to Australia I was one of large worldwide audience that would watch JSMs television series ‘Why Is It So?’. Later, when live from the Physics Laboratories of Sydney University, and along with a huge Australian television audience, I would be transfixed by his lectures.

‘Why Is It So’ was such an easy concept presented by an intriguing and delightful character. You would never know what household every-day experiment he would invite you to explore with him. But he always had me on the edge of my seat with anticipation.

His chalkboard would be littered with large handwriting, his arms were always waving, his eyebrows flashing faster than Groucho Marx. With that eloquent American drawl he brought the everyday kitchen and garden to a higher dimension that captivated his audiences.

Seemingly mundane questions such as: “Which weighs more – a pint of wet sand or a pint of dry sand?” or “What would happen if there were no friction in the world?” would be presented by this gifted man in ways that encouraged active audience participation. Simply unforgettable.

He’s gone now. But he remains forever indelible in my memory. And once in a while I find myself asking a JSM question. Such as: when watching Wales v Australia in the 1999 rugby union world cup, and during the singing of the Welsh national anthem, I began to ask myself the question ‘Why do I place such great emotional store in the hymn Abide With Me and the Welsh national anthem Land of My Fathers. Even more so when played by a brass band, or sung by male choir?’

By now you’re probably asking a different question ‘What has this got to do with Port Vale?’ Hang in there reader, all will be revealed.

When I was twelve I became a chorister in Bucknall St Mary’s Church of England and my all time favorite recessional hymn would be Abide With Me. Still is. And when I listen to the Welsh rugby union crowds sing Land of My Fathers emotional pride overtakes me.

Back in the ’50s on big sporting occasions there seemed to be the ubiquitous brass band playing a montage of the best marching and other music. At Wembley and the FA Cup, a ‘band would lead the crowd when singing Abide With Me; at Cardiff Arms Park a ‘band would lead the crowd singing passionately Land of My Fathers. For me personally, always very emotional.

Then ‘Why is it so?’ At what point in my life was my psyche indelibly stamped with a hymn and a national anthem? At least I can say that I was less than 12 years old.

As a chorister I visited Litchfield and St Paul’s cathedrals and Westminster Abbey – performing in each with Bucknall St Mary’s under the leadership of a Mr Donald Cartwright. And for many years my mum, dad, sister and myself spent many happy times camping in Wales either at Towyn, Prestatyn, Rhyl, Llandudno, Abergele, Colwyn Bay, Penmaemawr, Bangor and Anglesey – with my favorite being Bangor. On one occasion I went camping in Portmadoc with Bucknall 3rd City Scouts. But none of these sojourns influenced my emotional appreciation of a hymn and a national anthem.

So what did? What events and when positively affected me in ways similar to Julius Sumner Miller’s lectures.

In 1950 my eldest brother Thomas had already left England to explore new and different opportunities in the antipodes – particularly Australia, I had become a wolf cub in Bucknall 3rd City, and Port Vale had returned to its spiritual home of Burslem. I was just eight years old. Further, I take some pride in saying that I saw ‘Vale’s last game at the Old Recreation Ground, and their first at Vale Park. But only because my dad had a sense for me being part of important events that one day I could share with my children and grandchildren. It was dizzy stuff. It was unforgettable stuff.

So there I was with my dad at Vale Park, the new ‘Wembley of the North’. Now there was posh. And although it was going to be a huge crowd, it seemed mums had no problem with dads taking their sons of whatever age to Vale Park. Oh yes, there had been isolated incidents at the Old Rec of some disreputable character hurling verbal abuse at another spectator, or even at one of the ‘Lads. But it was nothing compared to those unmentionables of Stoke City. And as for Manchester United. Well, least said, soonest mended.

There were extra buses for the day, and we stood in the Hamil Road end of the ground. Crowd behavior was impeccable. Well, that’s what my dad said. We even clapped the opposition Newport County. And ‘Vale’s victory came through a ‘wally of a goal’ – another one of my dad’s expressions, although I never saw Walter Aveyard score it.

It was a big day. The brass band was good too. But wait a moment. Wasn’t Vale Park 1950 the first time I heard Abide With Me and Land of My Fathers played by a brass band and sung by a football crowd?

Yes, it was.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
March, 2000

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