Discovery – Dad’s Ellis worksheet

dad's card

This looks like the top page of a longer file. Dated August 1949. Courtesy of Richard Ellis from a local furniture company (Ellis link). We discussed dad at a recent Almondbury Casuals CC meet and thanks to Richard for this worksheet.

Family history suggests that dad did not return to his pre-war job and this is clearly not true. This sheet is some sort of final statement, prior to leaving for the Yorkshire Electricity Board where he worked until his retirement. He talked mostly about his war years in India – the pay corps. He was pensioned off with duodenitis, an illness which dogged him. I think it was an ulcer – he would spend days in bed during a flare. We don’t know why he didn’t have surgery. Possibly mixed up with recurring depression. It ran it’s course and his health as an older person was good.

He was a wood-carver and attended night school in retirement. Possibly a legacy of working for a furniture company.




For many years, this shield hung on a wall down at Mill Hill hospital in Huddersfield.

Strange but true – we have another piece published in a learned journal

It’s another light-hearted look at continuous improvement.


Don Valley Festival Champions

Two things have happened since the adjudicator. First, he’s not been invited back. Some choristers took his feedback personally. Others felt our musical director had been undermined. Those who enjoyed it and wanted more were in the minority.

Second, we won The Don Valley Festival, a week-long annual music and arts shindig near Barnsley. A large audience, a big cup, a slightly less big cheque and a massive barrel of Eastwood’s bitter. It is just the best way of getting feedback: we sounded great, for one performance at least.

Where do we go from here? We don’t have a set of targets, which is a relief. We have a hard working committee and a charity mission statement that says something about promoting choral music in the community. A prior informal understanding that we didn’t do competitions has now gone. As a mixed ability choir, our auditions assess basic skills only. Selection could be one way forward, though not without its problems. My pal Big Dave, twenty stone bass with Cadenza, an Edinburgh Choir, tells me their MD holds strict auditions. She specifically looks for balance, thus excluding, heaven forbid, the rogue distinctive single voice. The confident and consistent outfit we have become is very good for new members, but the new guys do change the balance until they are bedded in.

We are a strong team headed by a first rate musical director and pianist. Over sixty singers attend a two hour rehearsal once weekly, with extra sectionals once a month. Most turn out for our annual away weekend, currently held in Scarborough. Voice coaching remains a gap. Gordon Shepherd, Ark Occupational Health, tells me that he and some of his Barber Shop pals go for professional residential singing lessons; expensive but excellent value. Learning occurs in formal sessions and during the afterglow in the bar. Their sections also submit CD recordings to the MD and voice coaches within the choir. Gordon is okay with this, but he admits it is softly, softly at the moment.

In addition to that one performance, what is the evidence for improvement? We are still being invited to appear with other musical ensembles, CD sales are steady, bums on seats at our own concerts are satisfactory to good, small profits are being made and newspaper reviews are favourable. Having great guests is a good tip. Since the adjudicator we’ve had Aled Jones and Morriston Male Orpheus. Our normal fan base of wives, partners and friends was boosted. The reviews got rosier too.

Can individuals make a difference? Voice coaching is an anatomy lecture, a demonstration, and practice, practice, practice. So the answer is yes. But it needs paying for and you get feedback a plenty: good and bad. The evidence for keeping up or getting better? The top choirs have a regular voice test and very few singers look forward to it.

The adjudicator left some bruised egos and a crumb of confidence. We can only get better.

Strange but true – we have been published in a learned journal

The Adjudicator

This appears by kind permission of ‘The Journal of Occupational Medicine’. It’s a tongue in cheek approach to medical relicensing and revalidation. It’s a ‘filler’. For the empty bits at the bottom of pages.


I sing in a choir. Sixty mature males, many technically sound, some in various stages of development. Formed in a public house fifteen years ago following an overture to a retired opera singer by a Friday night regular who thought he could sing. Whilst the maestro got it going, it needed a committee. Good men in tune with the detail and in harmony with the bank manager. But the maestro eventually stretched beyond what was feasible and affordable and the resulting dissonance was intolerable.

His replacement more than filled his shoes. Two experienced ladies with musical staves for backbones. Change through consent. Improvement through pleasure and fellowship. Then one day someone wondered how good the choir was. What were the ways to measure progress?

Invitations were still coming in, though we rarely had a full house. Not a popular choir in the sense of a regular following. A rock band has thousands of fans and they can’t wait to hear the same songs over and over again. With a male voice choir you’re praying they’ll sing something different, something you know perhaps. Even singing the same thing differently would be a welcome change.

We entered a competition once under the maestro, came last and had no wish to repeat the experience. So we employed an adjudicator instead. He was well known and respected around the town. A popular conductor with his own choir, an accomplished singer in the ‘choral’ and a regular adjudicator at competitions. He sat in for one rehearsal and returned two weeks later to deliver judgement. A panning. The acid test was singing quietly, which he said the choir couldn’t. And singing normally was too harsh. He delivered bad news skilfully by smiling and chuckling with each broadside.

He then turned into a trainer. He sang everyone’s notes and demonstrated how he did it with a series of exercises which we copied. He was mustard keen and many of us lapped him up, and his banter.

‘You’re flat tenors, see if you can ruin this?’

‘Are you joining in this time basses? Try and keep up.’

‘That was quite nice baritones. Now sing it.’

For his finale he told us we were quite capable of making a good sound. I left the rehearsal with a sore mouth, chest pain and a buzzing somewhere behind my nose. I’d discovered palate and tongue shapes and cranial cavities I didn’t know I had.

We’ve had other voice coaches. Good in their way but not followed by sustained change, as few of us took personal responsibility to maintain improvement or develop skills further. ‘And why should we?’ asked a fellow baritone. ‘Its a hobby after all.’ Not easy to learn new stuff when you are knocking on. What if we can’t keep up? Will we be asked to leave? Will real singers be drafted in? What about auditions, mandatory lessons, competitions, reviews in The Telegraph? There’s no telling where it might go.‘

Keeping the core stuff good or improving it, learning new stuff, measuring, coaching, testing.

Everybody’s doing it.

Stay well – friendship and summer holidays

This is a piece which I have deleted twice. Don’t know how but it’s a senior moment. Two senior moments. If I lose this I shall feel a right twerp.

Very interesting articles recently in the Times (July 25th). Ysenda Maxtone Graham (Lazy days with nothing in the diary) and Sheridan Voysey (Friendship). Arguably the same thing, certainly lots of overlap.

One of the things that has got people thinking during the pandemic is just how we spend our time. Talk of learning a language, doing a Phd, writing a novel. Then, for those with family, especially up against it in the towns and cities, the amount of time spent keeping children occupied. Another connected thought comes from how we spent our summer holidays back in the 1950s. We entertained ourselves and didn’t  cost anything. Indeed back then rationing and austerity were still around. Being careful and thoughtful with money was a virtue, particularly when food and eating were involved. Somewhat different to buying loads at the supermarket at the start of the pandemic.

These reflections resonate with today’s 60 and 70 somethings. My mum worked and granny supervised. I was out roaming the spaces near where we lived. Freedom. Waste ground next to the railway and an abandoned quarry were parts of our territory, so free and risky as well. And then there were hills, hedgerows, fields and streams. ‘Our territory’ meant we had a gang. 10 year olds. Wandered and played football and cricket together until we went our separate ways after the eleven plus. This was the time before housing estates, before traffic jams and paedophiles, before the attraction of youth clubs and girls. Before ipads.

Did we go away on holiday? The family had a week on the east coast. Went on a Hanson’s bus and stopped half way for refreshments. One large battered suitcase which took all Friday night to pack. A caravan or a chalet. Teenagers didn’t with parents. Camping and walking as part of school or youth club parties. Butlins and the Norfolk Broads for others. Even went abroad – Yugoslavia and Austria. Long tiring trips on trains. We were part of another gang.

Our holidays since have been more frequent and shorter. Regular visitors to Gower, Cornwall, the Lakes, Ireland, Northumbria and an assortment of canals. Yes and abroad – Brittany, Italy, Spain. With friends and now more with family. Friends from sport and work with whom touch is lost when moving about.

We have never been regular restaurant visitors. A legacy from the 1950s? Value for money surely comes into it. Even if food is good I fail to see why I should spend ninety odd quid on two meals. Similarly I baulk at a pub meal  advertising a pie which is clearly stew with a crusty hat. The finer points of cuisine, red wine and classical music have passed me by .

So, lots of references to pals and friends. Last Thursday was National Friendship Day. People with whom you share interests and values. Some are listeners. Others tell you how their day was. Consoling. People to check out your thoughts and feelings with and not simply rely on Radio4 and the Times newspaper. The childbride is never off the phone. I’m never on it.

I do have friends. Pete and I played junior rugby league for Dalton St Pauls in Huddersfield. I went off to seek fame and fortune. Pete stayed in the local business world, finishing in the publishing section of the Examiner – and a revealing scepticism about the press. When the family moved back to the W Riding, I tried to play squash at Honley. Met Pete again (and Geoff) and so began a saga of walking in the Dales. We also share mid life stories of health and retirement. I saved Geoff’s bacon in Hawes with a Mrs Doubtfire skill.

Big Dave and I played veterans and blind pimply faced youth rugby in N Yorkshire. A Barnsley lad, he went down the pit, then a musician in the army and eventually a BT lineman in the dales. Over 20 stone and shinning up telegraph poles – phew. We share a love of high lonely places and spent time walking, camping and caravanning in Scotland and N Yorkshire. I am not aware he had a mid life thing, but he was certainly there for me.

Then there’s Eric. Psychiatrist and serious. Walking again: White Peak, Coast-to-Coast and Hadrian’s Wall. He’s move near Portsmouth. A good pal.

Others along the way – Liverpool, Cardiff, Saddleworth, N Yorkshire – colleagues, cricket and a rugby. More recently the old farts from the residue of Almondbury Casuals CC, stiff pilates mates, out of tune New Mill Male choristers.

My bestest pal is my childbride. Rubbing along all these years. What does she see?

So 1950s brought-up-to-date summer holidays and friendship. We remain fairly close to those early beliefs and values. I now vote for the economy and a occasionally wear a waistcoat with pocket watch. Bigger houses. Keen on self-reliance – 1950s plus parental expectations and being from Yorkshire. Some difficulty taking advice maybe. Our friends accept who we are.


Let Me Die a Young Man’s Death?

Trying to keep the above piece safe I came across something from 1997 I think. About old age. Before adopting one space after commas and full stops. And getting it’s right.

‘Old age has a great sense of calm and freedom. When the passions have relaxed their hold you have escaped, not from one master, but from many.’ (Plato:  The Republic)

I’m not sure where the phrase ageing gracefully comes from, but Plato’s quotation is one among several suggesting that aging might have its benefits. There are others, with Lear leading the way, which support the opposite view. 

‘You see me here, you gods, a poor old man, As full of grief as age; wretched in both:’ (Shakespeare: King Lear)

My problem is I just get more puzzled. Each room in our house has a television – why? I can spend up to two hours in a car and go nowhere – pointless. An old lady gets mugged for pence – an outrage. Events I don’t understand are happening everyday: locally, nationally and internationally.  The Twin Towers atrocity beggars belief. What is going on?  I don’t know, so sod aging gracefully, I’m aging angrily.

I enrolled at the local university yesterday. It’s freshers week. I’m a second year trying to complete the first year – a slow old hand with a swagger. I cycled in – we smugly only own the one car which the childbride uses for work.  Student  registration is all done on computer. It doesn’t recognise my number or password so I fill in a form. Takes me thirty seconds.  I cycle home.

Its my second spell at college. The first was thirty years ago, and today I’m trying to book bed and breakfast so we can go to the reunion. The local tourist board have put me on hold, all their operators are busy. The hold tells me it values my custom. After five minutes the hold asks me to leave a message, “We’ll call you back”. I’m still waiting.

We might have booked earlier, but the phone’s been off for a week. No one rang, I was in heaven. I’ve heard it said that some people carry a phone around with them all the time. Fancy that.

So I’m a crosspatch. And, when something daft happens, I’m cross twice-over because I accept that’s the way things are. What kind of attitude is that? In the sixties, when we first went away to college, Roger McGough was one of the local poets. He’s done well. ‘The Way Things Are’ and ‘Let Me Die a Young Man’s Death’ neatly capture learning to accept on the one hand, and challenging the ‘norm’ on the other. A father’s advice, to soften a child’s growing sense of disappointment, and an enraged geriatric.

‘Do not become a prison-officer unless you know what you’re letting someone else in for. The thrill of being a shower curtain will soon pall. No trusting hand awaits a falling star,

I am your father, and I am sorry, but this is the way things are.’ (Extract from ‘The Way Things Are’ McGough) 

They say more of us are going to live longer and still be fit. More and more ‘greys’ remaining healthy enough to be angry. Angry health. Is that an oxymoron? My inherited 1901 Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary (strange place for the apostrophe) defines oxymoron as,

‘n. a figure of speech, by means of which contradictory terms are combined, so as to form an expressive phrase or epithet, as cruel kindness, falsley true, &c.  [Gr. neut. of oxymoros, lit. pointedly foolish-oxys, sharp, moros, foolish.]’

‘Or when I’m 104 and banned from the Cavern, may my mistress, catching me in bed with her daughter and fearing for her son, cut me up into little pieces and throw away every piece but one.

Let me die a young man’s death, not a free from sin tiptoe in candle wax and waning death

not a curtains drawn by angels borne ‘what a nice way to go’ death’. (Extract from ‘Let Me Die a Young Man’s Death’ McGough)

Yes, the world and my life are often contradictory and foolish. 

And nothing dele