I dedicate my song to five people who celebrate their birthday today. Happy birthday to Joanna Clarke. Joanna is a friend of the Forde family and who lives in West Yorkshire. We also wish a happy birthday to Gwen Hutton who lives in Carlow, Ireland: Peter Larkin who lives in Dundalk, Ireland: Brooke Randi who lives in Los Angeles, California: Martin Duggan who lives in Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary, Ireland. I hope that you all enjoy your special day and thank you for being my Facebook friend,
My song today is ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’. This song was written by Neil Diamond and Alan and Marilyn Bergman for the ill-fated daily TV sitcom ‘All That Glitters’. The song was intended to be the theme song for the sitcom, but Norman Lear, the show's creator, changed the concept of the show and the song was no longer appropriate. Diamond then expanded the track from 45 seconds to 3:17, adding instrumental sections and an additional verse. The Bergmans contributed to the song's lyrics, which tell the story of two lovers who have drifted apart while they ‘go through the motions' and heartache of life together.
In 1977, Diamond released the album “I’m Glad You’re Here with Me Tonight”, which included the track ‘You Don't Bring Me Flowers’ as a solo performance. Early in 1978, Barbara Streisand covered the song on her album ‘Songbird’. These two solo recordings were famously spliced together by different radio stations, creating unofficial duets, the success of which led to the studio bringing the two performers together for an official duet recording. The duet reached Number 1 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart.
My mother was a romantic all her life, and she was the very first female for whom I ever bought flowers. While mum’s dream was to one day own an old cottage with red roses growing around the front porch, my father had experienced too much abject poverty growing up in Kilkenny, Ireland to waste any of his spare time daydreaming. He would never allow himself the luxury of spare time to spend doing anything other than working extra to earn a bit more. Often dad said he would go from one day to the next without a bite of food. Whatever he ate, he ate heartedly, not knowing when the next time might be when he would taste food, or from what source food would be provided. He had a hard life but I never once heard him complain about the hand he had been dealt.
Mum had also had a hard upbringing, and as the oldest daughter of seven children, born to a father who had been blighted by a weak heart ever since his early twenties, she became the ‘little mum’ to the Fanning family. In short, that effectively meant her adolescent years were cancelled, and when her peers might be out courting boys up in the woods and having other teenage fun, my mother would spend three hours daily before starting school and after ending school for the day, doing housework and performing other chores to help her mother, and running errands.
In our council house in West Yorkshire, mum might have an odd plant here and there, as my father never allocated her space in the garden area for her to grow flowers, where potatoes and the odd cabbage could be grown instead to justify the ground space occupied. Dad’s favourite activity was mowing the lawn. He bought an old manual mower in Cleckheaton Market for five shillings. The mower was older than himself and he would spend two hours cutting the large grass area of our back garden, and then he would work a few hours cleaning, sharpening, and oiling the rotary blades before he put it away for the next occasion he used it. It was that sharp, I never went near it for fear of losing a finger end. I do not know what attracted dad to cutting grass unless it was its colour of green.
I am sure that it was the colour of the grass that attracted my father to the growing and the cutting of lawns. Dad was Irish through and through until the day he died, and he loved every shade of green there was in the world. He would paint everything constructed of wood inside and outside our house in different shades of green. Doors, windows, tables, chairs, shelves, walls, and bed ends would get a yearly coat of green paint. While he was undoubtedly a hard worker, he was no painter, and he did not possess the finesse of brushstroke not to paint other things that might stand close to the object of his attention. While houses had no televisions then, all families would gather around the wireless to listen to music, weekly mysteries and daily programmes like ‘The Archers’. When dad painted the wooden wireless green (the radio to you young whippersnappers) , he did not exercise sufficient care of hand and managed to splash the radio dial that found the stations. The splash paint never came off completely, and for the whole of my life prior to my marriage at the age of 26 years, we had to guess under which part of the splash-painted dial, Radio Luxemburg and the Home Service could be found.
Whatever horticultural skill dad may have secretly held; it was not in the possession of green fingers. Any green fingers he possessed was the result of his constant painting around the home. His horticultural skill never involved anything more intricate than throwing a few old seed potatoes in the ground and letting them grow where they fell or letting a handful of lawn seed drop from his hands to the ground, in his attempt to conceal a bald patch of grass. Dad also derived great satisfaction from weekly shearing a large perimeter of the green hedge which must have stretched forty yards around our large back garden. Our hedge was dad’s patchwork quilt made up from dozens of green private plant varieties taken from the cuttings of numerous hedges we would pass on our Sunday afternoon walks. The only uniformity in our garden hedge was that each interwoven planted specimen filling in the gaps comprised of some shade of green. My mother often jibed that the old hedge was made up of ‘forty shades of green’, in reference to some old Irish rebel song.
In their own way, both mum and dad had been brought up to work hard and expect a little reward for their earnest efforts. They were a part of the mend and make do generation that got Great Britain through the tough times of the Second World War years. These were years when a woman’s sowing skills were essential to darn holes in socks, stitch tears in worn shirts, and to patch trousers and dresses with invisible stitches. As for the fathers in this land of mend and make do, no family shed was without its last that cobblers use to hammer out the nails in footwear. There were very few days between the years of five and fifteen when nothing more than the thickness of a cut of cardboard separated my feet from the stony ground beneath them. Where my mum was good with the needle and thread darning and patching up our clothes to extend their lifetime’s use beyond their sartorial grave, dad could patch up the gaps in our large hedge, so that over time, one could hardly notice the many different types of green growth which were wedded there.
Not being a man for pretty flowers or floral display, dad would never buy them or grow them. What few flowers mum ever acquired, she either planted herself or won as a gift at the local Bingo Hall. The only floral arrangement I can ever recall adorning our front garden was a hydrangea that my mother had planted beneath the window as a small cutting. The hydrangea remained there for most of my teenage years. My father eventually cut it back savagely after the hydrangea had started shaking hands with the small green hedge that bordered the front lawn. As far as dad was concerned, my mother was taking liberties invading his horticultural territory.
I started work at 15 years of age in a Cleckheaton mill, and as was customary at the time, the only wage any person never had to tip up to either one’s wife or one’s mother was the first wage they ever earned. One’s first wage was the only wage that a new worker could keep entirely for themselves. After that, from week two onward, whether son or daughter, family member or lodger, once you started working for a living, you tipped up your unopened weekly wage packet to the woman of the house. If you were unmarried, you gave your wage to your mother until the day you left home and paid rent elsewhere with your own wife and family. Mum would allocate you some spending money from your weekly earnings.
Men were usually the sole earners in the home as their families grew up, and this role of breadwinner enabled them to consider themselves as being the undisputed head of the household in all important matters of consideration. However, it was the wives and children’s mother who managed the smooth running of every household in the land. It was the woman of the house who arranged for all the weekly provisions, and it was she only who was held responsible that the rent gas, electricity, and all other household bills were paid from her husband’s wage. She would have gladly paid her way in all things had her husband ever earned enough to have made this task possible.
While it was the man of the house who was the breadwinner, the only loser in this customary marital and family transaction his wife. To accomplish all this was an achievement of such magnificent order and household management, that only a woman was capable of ‘appearing to make it work’. Her greatest skill at household management did not prove to be making little stretch far but making nothing seem like something in the eyes of her husband and family. Her greatest skill was her talent as an illusionist.
When I first learned that even my dad handed over every one of his wage packets unopened to my mother every payday until the day he retired, I marvelled at such freedom and trust he placed in my mother’s hands. I know at the time how little my mother was given in weekly income, and how much she was expected to acquire with the weekly income at her disposal.
Neither was I aware of how ‘marital blame’ was unequally apportioned between any husband and wife in the land or the defined areas of parental responsibilities between every mother and father in the land. Just as it was the father’s task to put in his two-penny worth when any child in the family was conceived, it was my mother’s ultimate responsibility to give it a start in the world. Roles between a man and wife, and a father and mother were clearly defined, and having been passed down the generations in tablets of stone since the days of Moses, they would stay unchanged until the latter part of the twentieth century heralded a new dawn of more equal redistribution.
It was the responsibility of the husband and father to ‘provide’ all he could for his family, and most men did to the best of their ability. If, like my father, the man of the house neither drank alcohol nor smoked tobacco, no wife could complain about the good man she had been lucky enough to walk her down the aisle. Husbands would work as often, as long, and as hard as they could to provide for their families. That was all they could do. That was all that could ever be expected of them.
But the responsibility of the wife and mother was of a much different ilk to that of her husband, and the father of her children. If her husband had worked as hard as he could, he had maintained his side of the marriage contract and could not be held to blame by his wife, his children, his neighbour, or his community; nor would he be. It mattered not if his total income never once equalled the family’s total expenditure to provide the mere essentials of maintaining life and limb, as that was outside his ‘area of responsibility.
Whether a wife and mother had less coming into the house than going out of it every week of their first twenty years of married life, mattered not one jot when it came to determining who was held to account when overall affairs could not be managed. Whenever there was insufficient provision of any kind, it was the man’s wife and the children’s mother who bore this responsibility. She was to blame.
To be a good husband and father, all a man had to do was to be a good worker. But to be a good wife and mother, a woman had to perform the impossible. The mother would become a food magician when she was expected to provide nourishing meals for a family of six, whether she had money in her purse or not. The wife would be looked at unfavourably by her husband if he ever arrived home from work and was offered a meatless meal. Whenever the rent could not be paid or a tally man’s weekly payments had to be carried over from one week to the next, this news would be deliberately kept from the ears of the husband. His ears remained closed as this was the only way he could get less stress from the situation by not having to worry about what his wife had to do to escape the creditors she never spoke to him about.
Dad was the man of the house. Like a general, he gave my mother broad instructions of needing to beat the enemy at the door, without providing her with the means of ever winning the battle. He did not need to know the details of what his wife did, so long as his name was kept out of any unsavoury transaction or gossip between neighbour and neighbour. Like all the women on the estate, mum would raid the gas metre and borrow a few shillings which she would get the gas man to discount her divvy every three months when he reckoned up what should be in the metre and what was. Like all women on the estate, mum ticked the food we ate from the grocer, ticked the clothes we wore from the clothing clubs, and used two sets of accounts in her double bookkeeping methods to keep the family afloat while preserving the methods she ever needed to apply.
As previously stated, dad role was that of being the breadwinner, and there it ended, whereas my mum was much more than dad’s wife. She was also the mother to seven hungry children, the cook, chief cleaner, sower, stitcher and darner, ironer and floor scrubber, chief clothes and the bottle washer. Dad would work hard ten hours most days and sleep eight hours each night before a new day dawned, whereas mum would work hard eighteen hours every day, and sleep six hours if she was lucky any night she went to bed.
Of course, the financial books never once balanced in the first twenty years of my life, or within the homes of any of my friends I grew up alongside. How could they, when whatever came into the household weekly in earnings was always significantly less than what went out in expenditure? I grew up the clothes either worn first by others or purchased second hand from jumble sales as a bargain item. Most children from working-class households grew up, as did my six brothers and sisters, in hand-me-down clothes, and being the oldest of seven children, the clothes were never as new on my younger siblings as they had been on me before passing along the family chain to the next brother in line.
When I eventually discovered why all the wives in the land were given the sole responsibility of managing household expenditure, I looked at the survival skills of mum and dad entirely differently. I began to realise that by relinquishing the total responsibility of all financial matters to his wife, the man of the house had only one concern; to stay fit enough to work, to work, even when ill, and to work as much overtime and as many Saturday mornings as was humanly possible. Providing every married man in the world did their bit, if mattered not what difficulties the woman of the house experienced. Common judgement of her was easier to make and blame apportioned. She was either a good housekeeper or a bad one! And when a woman was charged with being a bad housekeeper, this was synonymous in the community as having been considered a poor wife and a bad mother! As one of our Windybank neighbours would frequently say to my mother whenever she was gossiping about another woman, “If she is bad in that area of her marriage, Maureen, she’ll be bad in a few more also!”
Whenever the children went to bed hungry, it was their mother’s fault for not making the weekly money stretch far enough. When the house was too cold on a winter’s night to stay up and listen to the wireless, it was mum’s fault that we all had to go to bed early to keep warm. In fact, come to think of it, the only thing which worked in the favour of being a member of a large family was having to sleep three in a bed or even sleep top to tail. This was a boon when the weather was cold but was no picnic waking up in a puddle when a sibling wet the bed.
Every working-class mum in the land was given the same weekly impossible task by their husbands and the fathers to their large families. Each mum was expected to be a money magician and a financial wizard to pull at least one rabbit out of the hat every week to provide a family stew. The mothers of the land also needed the persuasive tongue of the Irish to be able to convince the friendly grocer to allow her to pay for this week’s family provisions with money (not yet earned by dad) from my father’s next week’s wage packet. In short, no man wanted to be saddled with the financial pressure of meeting household expenditure that could never be met! When his wife could not provide enough food for the table, enough shoe leather for the family’s feet, nor sufficient clothes for their backs, or heat for the family home, the man of the house was able to throw his arms up in the air of despair asking where all the money he had earned by the sweat of his brow had gone?
Dad always had an extra thing to throw mum’s way if he needed to complain. Like all the stressful women of the time, mum smoked cigarettes in greater number than was good for her health or the family purse. That was why working-class men were prepared to tip up their unopened wage packet to their wives and to expect miracles from the weekly management of their earnings. Young men and woman could not complain about tipping up their unopened weekly wage packet when they had witnessed their father do the same all of their working lives.
The very first thing I bought with my very first wage packet from the mill was a present for my mother. Nearby, was located a small garden centre. Before I arrived home on my first wage night, I called into the nursery and bought my mum a bunch of flowers. It brought such pleasure to her face to receive them, I can still see her smile of appreciation accepting them. Mum had told all her children so often in my youth, “Flowers are the for the living. Put no cut flowers on my grave, Billy Forde. Any flowers you ever buy me, I want you to give them to me while I can still smell them when you hand them over.”
Ever since that first wage day, until I went to Canada for a few years at the age of 21 years, There was never a wage night I can recall when I did not buy my mum a bunch of flowers. I visit her grave occasionally these days, but I let my siblings place their flowers there. Even in death, mum lies buried beneath my father, having died before him. As for me, I have planted as many red roses for my mother since the day she died (thirty-five years ago) as there have been Christmases and anniversaries of her birth and death. Almost all the roses in our allotment (well over one hundred) are roses I have bought in my dear mother’s memory; the vast majority of them red in colour.
Love and peace Bill xxx