My song today is’ You Are the Sunshine of My Life’. This was a 1973 single released by Stevie Wonder. The song became Wonder's third number-one single on the 'Billboard Hot 100’ chart and his first Number 1 hit on the ‘Easy Listening’ chart. It won Wonder a ‘Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance’, and was nominated for both ‘Record of the Year’ and ‘Song of the Year.’
This song was the second single (following ‘Superstition’) released from the 1972 album entitled ‘Talking Book’, which stayed at number one on the R&B charts for three weeks. Rolling Stone ranked the song Number 287 on their list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.
I was 31 years old when this song was first released. I had just trained to become a Probation Officer and was serving my probationary year in my post in Huddersfield. I had married five years earlier and we had not yet started a family.
At the time, I and my wife (both of whom} occupied an almost mortgage-free, modern three bedroomed detached house in Mirfield and we held two well-paid professional jobs as a Probation Officer and an Infant’s Teacher. We were essentially living the ‘high life’ before we started a family.
I had always been a person with a positive attitude to life and I was essentially determined to make a mark in my profession in helping to change the world for the better. Having been brought up by Irish parents who’d migrated to West Yorkshire during the mid-forties, and who later went on to parent seven children (of whom I was the oldest), my roots were distinctly ‘working class’, of which I was immensely proud. My working-class credentials, however, did not sit as easily with my wife’s middle-class aspirations, plus the middle-class aspirations of our six newly married neighbours with whom we were to become close friends for the following thirteen years.
In my Probation Officer job, I was also surrounded by largely middle-class colleagues who had been brought up in a widely different world of privilege than the clients they were charged with assisting, befriending and helping to change their criminal behaviour. Most of my colleagues had been educated to degree standard and this new recruit (me) who had entered their midst during 1971 must have appeared the roughest of diamonds at best and poacher turned gamekeeper at worst who’s snuck in by back-door means.
In the prime areas of marital home life, my social life and my occupational life, I was the working-class rebel who had infiltrated their ranks when they hadn’t been looking, and I was constantly disturbing the consciences of too many in my presence. Indeed, when I and my wife attended any of the numerous parties we frequented weekly during our first five years of marriage, she would constantly apologise to our guests on my behalf in advance, before I would say something politically too extreme for the sensitivities of present company.
While many of my marital friends or work colleagues would be beefing about one thing/one person/ one situation or another, I held attitudes and values which made me happy in myself. I rarely felt uncomfortable or superior whenever working with clients, as I truly saw them as being my type of people who said it as they saw it and whose present unacceptable behaviour often had good cause and some understandable and mitigating reason behind it. I would frequently get angry listening to the opinions of some colleagues about the foolish things that our clients would invariably spend their money on and subsequently get into greater debt. It was as though my working colleagues (who had been protected from all manner of material deprivation throughout their lives) would never start to appreciate that almost all of their clients were born into debt and that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find it impossible to manage the accounts and stay in the black if total income for necessities was infinitely less than total expenditure.
Having been reared the oldest of seven children on a council estate until I was 26 years old, my mother would get our weekly food and household provisions on tick from a friendly grocer called Harry Hodgeson and his wife, Marion. The food our family would eat one week would be paid for out of the following week’s wage of my father weekly earnings. Most of our neighbours did the same.
About my marital mate’s circle, (all of whom were basically good people), it was their 1970s attempt to ‘keep up with the Jones’s in obtaining the latest gadget or stylish piece of furniture’ that I truly resented and objected to. I didn’t mind the dances, the meals out, the political discussions, or the diner evenings that we would host in monthly rotation. I could stomach these luxuraries, but I could never reconcile my conscience to visiting a friend’s house for a slap-up meal, just to celebrate the installation of their new kitchen or the decoration of their lounge with the latest Laura Ashley wallpaper that cost over £20 a roll, during a time when a working man’s weekly wage was often less than £20 for his family to live on until their next payday!
I make no apology of then making the common man the 'sunshine of my life’. It was their overall honesty in the way they expressed their feelings and the manner in which they maintained their dignity under the most pressing of circumstances that led me to want to identify with them more than with my middle-class working colleagues.
It was for them (the working class) I daily rose. It was they who made my sunshine warmer during the day and my life more pleasant to live and society's injustices more bearable to work with.
I dedicate my song today to my niece, Amanda Forde. Amanda lives in Batley and is married to my nephew, Michael. They have four children, Darcy, Jack, Kennedy Rose and Kelvyn. It is Amanda’s birthday today. Have a nice day, Amanda, and we hope that your special day is filled with much happiness, love…and…lots of cake and wine. Uncle Billy and Sheila x
Love and peace Bill xxx