Tuesday, January 8, 2013

More Precious than Rubies

Ian Malcolm Mackintosh, 1927-2008

It’s been 5 years today since my father died. Though he was born in the 1920s, a time so distant that it seems almost prehistoric, his childhood is as vivid to me as my own. This is because both he and his mother – my grandmother Alice – were born storytellers, and I was lucky enough to be regaled with those stories as long as they both lived.  
My paternal grandparents, Roy and Alice Mackintosh, married very young - he was 19 and she 18 (they look like mere children in their wedding picture below) – but it was seven years before their longed-for firstborn, my dad Ian, came along. He was born in a little terraced house in Nottingham but the family moved three times before he was 10, eventually settling in the suburb of Sherwood three years before the Second World War.

Roy and Alice's wedding day, October 16, 1920

Roy was a lively, affectionate man, but he was somewhat feckless and highly strung, and found it a struggle to keep the various jobs he had over the years. On the other hand, Alice, while a happy-go-lucky young woman, had a streak of toughness and self-preservation that served herself and her children well but also took no prisoners. The family lived very much what we would call paycheck to paycheck, and that paycheck wasn’t always forthcoming. Roy tried his hand at various business ventures, but in 1934 he had a nervous breakdown. So Alice began working - first as a demonstrator of vacuum cleaners and washing machines at The Nottingham Electricity Showrooms and later as a life insurance inspector - and never stopped (even when she had her second son Allan in 1936) till she retired three decades later. But by then, the war had broken Roy and Alice apart as it did to so many families as couples tasted unfamiliar freedoms. 
But over the years, I heard many stories of the time before that happened, stories that my grandmother and my father almost always told as comic tales, even when the underlying subject matter wasn’t so funny. That was how they both coped with their pains and sorrows – by turning them into anecdotes offered for the amusement of others.

And amuse they did. I never tired of hearing my grandmother tell of not being able to find toddler Ian after putting him to bed up in the attic of his Uncle Jack’s house and eventually discovering him fast asleep underneath the bed. Or running with her sons to the public shelter during an air raid wearing saucepans on their heads because they couldn’t find their tin helmets. And seeing a packet of biscuits being drawn up past the dining room window on a string as the boys tried to gather provisions for a sneaky midnight feast.

Then there were my dad’s own memories – of his father building him a model farm and hutches for his rabbits. And taking him all round the Midlands countryside on his motorbike with young Ian strapped on the back in a makeshift child’s chair. Of making paper boats with his Uncle Jack, flushing them down the toilet and then rushing out to the cesspit in the garden see the boats emerge. And, when polishing the buttons of his father’s RAF uniform, finding a letter in the pocket from another woman and deciding not to tell his mother.

All of this family lore is a huge gift to a writer. Some of these stories will end up in Albion’s Millennium because they are far too good – and real – to go to waste. The ability to craft and pace a story clearly runs in my family, and if I’ve been lucky enough to have inherited even a hint of it, it will have been a gift more precious than rubies.

1 comment:

  1. It is irrefutable that you've inherited the gift of story-telling. Whatever genetic or familial pre-disposition you may have for story-telling has been amplified by your own prodigious gifts. Long may the stories be told! Beth