WILF KELLEHER JONES MINI BIOG
little Wilfred Jones,
sittin’ on a brick,
waiting for his daddy
comin’ home from Pit
What is your first memory? Mine is a matter of some dispute. According to my brothers there is absolutely no chance I could possibly remember The Tricycle Incident. I’m just remembering a story I was told, they say: the trike that Tony got for Christmas, that David ‘borrowed’ and then left at the bottom of the street to get stolen by local tearaways within just four hours of taking off the wrapping paper. When these terrible events took place I was still a little shy of two years old, and surely nobody can remember anything that happened to them before they were two.
Without question such a traumatic story must have been chewed over time and again, in filial argument, for several years to come, but you see it isn’t actually the story I remember. The memory is a simple image, like a photograph or mini-clip: the red trike, sitting on a table, no movement. Whether this was before the abandonment and theft, or after some hard won recovery I can’t say. Were there giggles and cuddles on either side of that table, or just tears, recriminations, hard words? I cannot know. There is no narrative to the moment, no sound, no smell. Just wheels and handlebars on a table and nothing else.
What I don’t understand is why the picture pops up in my head occasionally when I least expect it. That and the fact that the tricycle was in reality a scooter!
Memories can be unreliable. I know this event, with scooter or trike, took place in the house on Guest Street, Leigh - two rows of terraces facing each other, two-up, two down. A tiny house, an unremarkable street - its sole claim to fame being that the jazz singer Georgie Fame once lived there as a boy.
Or did he?
This is where the faulty memories come in. We left the street, not long after the trauma of the trike, for a nice new house in the ever expanding ‘village’ of Culcheth. We still went to Leigh quite often of course on visits to relatives or shopping and it was on one such visit that my dad had delivered this precious nugget of information. We were walking past the street. I can still hear him saying: “You used to live down there - at number two.” I can’t still hear him saying: “Georgie Fame lived here too” but it was certainly on this day that the idea became fixed in my head. When Georgie was riding high in the charts with The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde I had a good story to tell my mates: “Me and Georgie Fame lived in the same street.”
The problem is, Georgie Fame actually lived a couple of terraces away from Guest St. It seems I’d added two closely seeded pieces of information together, and come up with a story that best suited me.
This sort of thing should make me suspicious about my other memories of childhood but I am not prepared to abandon them. Together they are the foundation stones of that rambling construction I like to think of as The House of Wilf.
When you don’t really believe in the existence of “the soul” you have to come up with something to describe what it is that is you, that has become you, that will have been you, through however many years you end up walking the good Earth. The House of Wilf is me and none other.
So all the images, the snapshots and cinematographs of my youth must be kept securely in place - for fear that one day everything might fall down.
I remember a gypsy woman in the front garden of the house in Severn Road talking to my mum, me snuggled in Mum’s arms. Again no sound. The woman had a small face, a sharp nose. Was this the gypsy of the prediction? “He looks a bright ‘un,” she’s supposed to have said, “He’ll be off to college when he’s grown.” My mum was so thrilled by the idea. She told me all about it on the day I was given a place at Leeds. I know: it doesn’t sound much of a prediction by today’s standards, but back at the start of the 60’s miners’ sons from Leigh became miners, and that was that. I’m supposed to have been two-and-half years-old.
Being Catholic I was sent to St Louis’s Nursery. Four now and the memories have more depth. I can remember the old schoolhouse alongside the church, across the road from the newly built RC junior. The windows ran high along the walls so there was no looking through them. The plaster was yellow - was that paint or age or both? It was often cold in there: we kept our jackets on right up until milk time. There was a shelf... Ah now this is the memory: THE memory of the old schoolhouse nursery.
We had blown eggs and then painted them for Easter. In my eyes they were pretty and clever, like the ornaments Mum tried to keep out of our reach. I doubt our painting skills would have been up to much but I thought they were wonderful - better than foil-wrapped treats. The best of them were to be displayed on a shelf that ran along the back of the room. My egg would be on that shelf, I was sure - I couldn’t wait to get back in next day to see it. Look, that’s me: standing on tiptoe, studying all the pretty, painted Easter eggs on a white shelf in the St Louis’s nursery - little Wilfred Jones, moving along the line, tracing the patterns with his finger, trying to find the egg he’d painted so carefully. Not one of them matched. I have no image of the smashed remains of the three eggs thrown at the floor by that sad troubled child just before I arrived - the mess had been cleared away. I have no real memory of being told the tale. No memory of tears, and yet whenever I think of that loss, that blow to my enthusiasm, the emptiest feeling still claws at my gut.
At the school bus stop there was a hedge, mostly hawthorn. I picture a cold autumn morning, all the cobwebs silvered with dew drops, mysterious fairy nets, our breath in long grey plumes making the nets quiver, and glowing bright among the leaves: berries, ruby red and jet black. Enticing; entrancing. I wanted to pick them all and keep them in my pocket. “Don’t touch the black ones!” I was told, “They’re poison!” But how could they be poison and so beautiful?
The hedge is gone now - together with the deadly nightshade that ran through it.
Of course it was cold that year, no wonder we wore jackets indoors: it was 1962. Britain endured its coldest, snowiest winter since Victorian times. As I think of that long cold season, it throws up one last dazzling memory I can give you:
We had been to Leigh, Christmas shopping. There was slush under foot in town, the snow no match for the hordes of present seekers, and turkey buyers and afternoon revellers. Coming home to Culcheth though, the walk from the bus stop was joyous: a stamping march along frozen paths, a gleeful kicking through drifts. I ran ahead to push open our gate, forcing it through the latest inch of snow, hinges squealing in protest and underfoot the crackling ice of an earlier melt and freeze. “Look up, Wilfred. Look up!” And I did look up. And was transfixed. Not a single cloud and the air so clear, all of heaven was there for me - all the heart-aching stars and the tumbling depths between.
At that moment Wilf Jones added to his bedrock of memory the shining glory of infinity.
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