Now then, my Dad! An occasional cause for concern and subject of my writing, my Dad comes from a different era – an era when terms such as ‘Working Men’s Club’ (WMC) did not sound so anachronistic, an era when the term ‘job for life’ did not sound so implausible, an era when three-part lists were not so overused. I have written previously of my Dad’s sibling relationships, such that they were. I would also have mentioned that I know little of his parents (deceased) and the home-life of his childhood. Where there have been brief anecdotes from his early years, they hint at him being surrounded by roguish pals, with the backdrop of a put-upon mother and an alcohol-soaked father. Some years ago, in the heat of an argument, my mother was brave enough - or perhaps foolish enough - to make some comparison between my Dad and his father. Whilst shocking, direct and possibly useful, that juxtapose also struck me as being a little below the belt. Still, it caused no long term harm. The nature of my Dad’s background meant that in adulthood, he seemed to have implicitly forged a new kind of familial foundation amidst a group of people who came together as companionable drinkers in our local WMC – of different generations, these people often struck me as being closer to my Dad than maybe his real family (including wife and children) were. Through my childhood, I regarded this as something of a problem – the kind that I could do nothing about. Hop, step and tripping into my adult years, I began to wonder whether those relations were more complex than I’d originally understood. Where am I going with this - maybe somewhere, maybe nowhere.
Recently, the decline of clubs and pubs has been well-documented, as a nation’s drinking habits and licensing laws shift. There is no longer smoking in public places, and it seems that to run a successful pub or club, then a more diverse (possibly foody) enterprise must unfold. Where supermarket prices of beers and spirits hugely undercut those of ‘the local’, it becomes clear that there will be losers (closures) – and so there have been. And thus, I worry a bit – what would be the response of my father to his second ‘family home’ closing – no more opening hours, no more after hours. For working class men of the north, there will be none of the touchy-feely, none of the dropping round for a coffee and a chat. There will be grunts and gruffness and the eschewing of concern, there will be unarticulated feelings and a sense of ennui. I find myself, over the course of a quarter of a century, having done a complete u-turn in how I feel about ‘the club’. I want it to stay – ugly and unchanging and locked in the past as it has forever been, giving men with responsibilities reasons to stay out longer then they should, providing ‘second homes’ where maybe they are more needed than it is easy to accept.
I remember puzzling at the upset that my Dad showed when an old old man, John, from across the road – a club regular and good friend – died. John and his wife, Agnes, would deliver Christmas and birthday presents for my siblings and I, and they’d be lumped with boxes of imagination-free chocolates too. As pleasant as all that was, I didn’t really get it. Several years after the death of John, I realised that he’d been a bit of a Dad to my Dad, with Agnes adding a quiet grand/motherly touch – club people, family people.