My song today is ‘Money That’s What I Want’. This is a rhythm and blues song that was written by ‘Tamla’ founder Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. This also represented the first hit record for Gordy's Motown enterprise. Barrett Strong recorded it in 1959 as a single for the ‘Tamla’ label and distributed it nationally on ‘Anna Records’. Many artists later recorded the tune, including the Beatles in 1963 and the ‘Flying Lizards’ in 1979. According to the music staff of ‘Time Out London’ ranked ‘Money (That's What I Want)’ at Number 24 on their list of the ‘Best Beatles Songs Ever’.
When this song was first released, I was planning to go to live and work in Canada and America for two years.
I was the firstborn of seven children born to Irish Catholic parents who emigrated to West Yorkshire towards the end of the Second World War’ years in 1946 with myself and my next two sisters down the family tree, our Mary and Eileen. Upon landing in West Yorkshire, we did not have two pennies to rub together and we occupied a one-room property where we lived. The house was a tied-property of my father’s mining employers. Dad worked at the coal face and the house we first lived in was no larger than a four-yards x three-yards single room where we lived, ate, slept, and did everything else. We had to go outside to use a compost toilet.
Mum, like most Catholic wives of the time, was a continuous baby machine. Every time I went into the hospital with appendicitis or a broken arm or leg, I would be met on my hospital discharge by another brother or sister who’d been born during my absence and delivered at home by my mum.
To get a firm foot in our new country, mum quickly made friends with the grocer, Harry Hodgeson and his wife Marion, who had a shop across the road from where we lived in Hightown. Harry kindly ‘ticked’ my mother sufficient family groceries for the first week after our arrival in our tied-property, and this relationship was to be the start of what proved to be the most important of any financial arrangement and relationship my mother was to make with anyone on English soil before she died at the age of 64 years in 1986.
From that first week when the friendly family grocer allowed my mum to pay for the food we ate out of the first wages my father would receive ‘the following week’, an unspoken understanding had been mutually agreed which remained in existence for the next fifteen years. Whatever food and household items my mother got from the grocer this week, Harry would ‘tick’ us until the following week. The ‘tick’ limit that Harry would extend would be determined by the amount that mum had repaid the following week. Thus, paying Harry Hodgeson what we owed (always one week behind) made him mum’s most important creditor. The grocer even took precedence over the rent man and all other creditors.
By the time that the Forde family had increased in size to seven children, we had been allocated a brand new council house on ‘Windybank Estate’, where naturally our weekly debt with our friendly greengrocer correspondingly increased in ratio to the new offspring in our household that required feeding.
I still smile whenever I recall the vast amounts of basic foodstuff we would daily consume as a family. Being the oldest and most responsible child, it was my job to do my mother’s shopping as Harry Hodgeson’s grocer shop was now half a mile away and was no longer a hop, skip and a jump across the main road from the miner’s tied-cottage we formerly lived at. I recall being puzzled at the looks I got if ever another customer was also in the shop at the same time as I was placing our daily order, especially as the large food order of six loaves and three bags of sugar and three stones of potatoes were placed on the counter. I had no sense of embarrassment then and would often wonder why a stranger would be gawping at our daily shopping list?
Mum always gave me a note with the items daily required ‘clearly written out’, but I was a ten-year-old boy full of pride, and I refused to be seen handing a note over to the grocer like a little child. I would learn by heart all the items needed as I walked to the grocers, and once satisfied that I knew, I would discard the note and physically ask the grocer for each item in turn. After receiving the daily list of provisions bagged up, I would quietly whisper, “Mum said, could you put it in the little red book, Mr. Hodgeson?”
This feature of always being one week in debt to our family grocer was to become a standard pattern for the majority of large and poorer families in the Hightown area. When poor Harry died (I was in my late teens), it was rumoured by those in the know that he went to his grave, buried with his little red book inside his pocket, and all the names of his creditors and the amounts of money they owed Harry died with him. I have often wondered if any of the good people who still owed him money when he died ever owned up to their outstanding debt with the executors of his will? It was later rumoured that it had been one of Harry’s largest creditors who had managed to spot the grocer’s ‘little red book’ on the sideboard on the night of Harry’s wake and surreptitiously stuffed it inside the coffin while most of the gathering was highly inebriated. The ‘little red book’ containing its long list of creditors and amounts outstanding was subsequently buried with the deceased!
Because of the size of the Forde family, all my six brothers and sisters were dressed in jumble sale garments and wore ‘hand-me-down’ clothes for our first ten years of life. Many were the time when I was obliged to wear shoes that had holed soles which shook hands with the pebbles and dirt whenever my feet walked across stony ground.
At the age of 11 years, I was the victim of an horrific road accident when a large wagon knocked me down and ran over me; twisting the trunk of my body around the main drive shift as it did so. I was left with life-threatening injuries and was discharged from the hospital nine months later with the medical prognosis that I would never walk again. I did walk again three years later; by which time a solicitor had obtained a large amount of financial compensation that I would receive when I reached the age of majority; twenty-one years old.
By today’s standard, the amount of compensation I received enabled me to fulfill my dream of travelling to America. I never needed much of this money to spend when I lived in Canada as I worked for my living. Instead, simply knowing that I had it and could readily access it if ever required represented a form of financial/psychological security that meant I would never be financially stuck. Having my compensation money ‘on the side’ enabled me to occasionally make large gestures.
I once recall my first date with Jenny Downton. Jenny was the eldest daughter of the then ‘British Trade Commissioner’ based in Toronto, and being a small person of big gesture, I wanted to make our first date ‘special’. I wanted to give Jenny one night in her life that she would always fondly remember. So, after seeking out and finding a lovely small restaurant that had a romantic ambiance about it, I learned which midweek evening that the restaurant was the least busy, and then paid the owner $600 (around £300) to close the establishment all that evening between, 7: 00 pm and 10:00pm while me and Jenny ate alone. At the time, I earned around $60 per week working at my hotel employment as a reception clerk, and my romantic gesture equated with three months of basic wages. Jenny and I courted for six months before I returned home to England. She was my first real love; someone who had circumstances been different and she a few years older, I would have married.
On other occasions, I used some of my reserve money to travel to different parts of the States, as my weekly wages from the hotel where I worked barely covered my lodgings, food, and basic maintenance. So whenever any special event arose that cost a bit more than my income allowed, or I wanted to travel elsewhere for a weekend, I would dig into my money reserve.
When I arrived back in England. I got married at the age of twenty-six years. Marriage provided the impetus I needed to change my life’s direction. I gave up my job as Mill Manager in Cleckheaton and over a three-year period, I obtained the educational qualifications I needed to gain university entrance at night-school classes. Initially, I planned to go to Bath University to take an honours degree in British History and become a History teacher. Then, at the last moment, I decided to become a Probation Officer and I attended a course of study and training at ‘Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnical College’ instead.
When I was first married, we each had £2000 in compensation awards that we had previously received (she for her father’s industrial death from asbestosis, and me for my road accident as a child). At that time, our combined total of £4000 enabled us to buy a £4000 three-bedroomed modern detached house outright (Our matrimonial abode would be valued at £250,000 today)
We started our married life with every favourable advantage of no mortgage and two professional salaried jobs as an infant teacher and probation officer. As we did not have any children until 1974, we lived a rich lifestyle for the first six years of our marriage. Our marriage subsequently failed after thirteen years, and the upshot was I left my wife with all the assets of our marriage including sole ownership of the marital abode, and I started rebuilding my life from a penniless position.
The moral of my story today is that I needed to be left penniless before I started to appreciate the real worth of what really matters in life. It was only when I stopped being a person of acquisition that I discovered how to become a better, more purposeful, and happier person. Instead of making my primary goal one of acquiring things, I gradually became a person who was learning to automatically ‘give away’. Only then did I become a much more fulfilled and happier person. I had discovered that if one does not humble oneself, life does it for you!
I am neither poor nor rich in money terms today and probably have no more than a few hundred pounds in my bank balance between one pension cheque and the next. Sheila and I do possess a lovely home though in Howarth that is mortgage-free, and like all old properties, constantly needs something replacing.
Despite having three different body cancers (including incurable blood cancer), I have never been happier in my life. I am married to the most beautiful wife in the world (inside and out); I enjoy close and loving relationships with my children, siblings, and all my family members. I have many close friends and good neighbours. Every day, somewhere in the world, daily prayers are said for me, candles are lit, and frequently a mass is offered on my behalf by good people whom I have never met in person or will probably never will. I feel a much-blessed and much-loved man. With such assets and happiness, ‘WHO NEEDS MONEY?’
Love and peace Billxxx