My name is Stephen Dufton. I’m the tall bald bloke who stands at the back in the second tenors, usually next to Rod. I’ve been in the choir off and on for over four years – there have been a couple of gaps of around 6 or 9 months. My joining the choir coincided with the start of a turbulent period in my working life: years of continuous reorganisation and redundancies. Suddenly it was my turn – with a couple of days notice I was a retired man.
I was born in St Lukes in Crosland Moor on a wintry February day. My mother walked to the hospital through the slush, and sent a message to my father in David Brown’s that I was on the way. He came up later at the end of his shift. For the first few years of my life, in the 1950s, we lived in a back-2-back with an outside toilet and a tin bath hung up behind the cellar door for Friday night family bath night. Dad was always in first, then me, then mum. The water was heated in pans on the stove. The outside loo was a great excitement, especially going out in the dark with a paraffin lamp. We shared the loo with one of our neighbours. They were rich and had toilet paper, whilst we had torn sheets of newspaper. I was under very strict orders not to use their paper, but at night, when no one could see, I did sneak the occasional piece. My secret, until now!
Those were the days of the eleven-plus and to everyone’s surprise, I passed. This made me a family celebrity, and from then on it was “Es off t’college tha’ knows”. After time at attending Huddersfield New College as the “detention king” , I went to Sheffield University. This was a great challenge,New College was male only, so meeting women everyday was a remarkable novelty. I’m still not used to it.
At university I became politically active in the Anarchist party. We almost won the student union presidency. Our campaign was based on two things: when we won we would spend all the union funds on a massive free drinks party, and our presidential candidate could produce a white …. ( censored by wife) after eight pints of bitter.
Next stop, London, and I began work in Westminster, in the then dynamic Department of the Environment, led by Secretary of State, Anthony Crossland . I was only person in my section with a northern accent, who hadn’t been to public school, and who hadn’t been to either Oxford or Cambridge University. This was the start of many years of being greeted each morning by a chorus of “Eh up lad, trouble at t’mill”. Our clerical officer was a very friendly lady who one day invited us all to dinner at her flat. She was the wife of the Constable of the Tower. We passed through several sets of guards to get to their flat, all of whom came to attention as we passed ( I liked that). After dinner we went down to have a look at the crown jewels. I wasn’t allowed to try them on, but I asked.
Thatcherism caught up with us in the public sector and as I needed money I swapped Whitehall for Whitechapel, getting a job as a computer programmer. I was one of 250 computer staff, all male, and the only one in a regular relationship with a female. This made me a celebrity. Blokes would approach me in the corridor and, in a whisper, ask me what “IT” was like. The location just south of Brick Lane was very convenient. When the lads staggered in after a night on the tiles, we took them up the lane and bought them a new and un-smelly set of clothes.
After a couple or three years we were moved up to Suffolk where the company had a research centre. I was here that I produced my greatest software. It was a CAD system into which an engineer entered the floor plan of a building and the number of telephones required. Out would come detailed floor by floor plans showing what equipment should be put where, and how it should be wired together. As with all computer projects, there was a fixed deadline and a tight budget. No one seemed to know exactly what some of the equipment was and how it should be wired. Time was pressing, so I had to invent some. I called it fred1, fred2, fred3… and when I got to fred99, switched to jim1, jim2, jim3. I expected to go back later and sort it out. I delivered on time, and heard nothing again for 18 months. Then telephone calls began to come through from all over the country. “thank goodness I’ve found you” they would say. “I’ve been to the stores and got a fred89, but no one seems to have heard of a jim21. What is it and where to I get one?”. I didn’t know what to say, but was proud that someone had built fred89 .
Our children were born in Suffolk and when I started to take our eldest to school, I realised that she would be a southerner. It’s a cruel thing, and I know someone has to do it, but not my own. So we moved back home, home to me anyway, if not to the rest of the family. My eldest still complains: “If you’re not born in the hospital bed next to each other in Yorkshire, you never get accepted”.
This has brought me back to the beginning of this story and back to the point. What do I make of being in a choir? It’s been a big challenge. I have no musical experience and play no musical instruments. I joined on my own, encouraged by a few drinks with Len, who left almost immediately afterwards. I’ve found the choir complex socially. For example, buying someone a drink is not easy. Some of the guys in the choir have been in the same round since before I was born, and some of the rounds they inherited from their fathers. If you attempt to buy someone a drink you are asking them to betray their round-buddies, and if you accept a drink you are committing yourself, and your descendants, to a round for the next several hundred years. What do you do?
Slowly, so very slowly, I have begun to get to grips with it all. The rush of new people in the choir recently has helped a lot. At last, I am no longer the “new boy”. I’ve also found the choir changing under Elisabeth’s direction. We have much more focus, work harder, and I find myself feeling satisfied, after each concert, in a job well done. Who knows, soon I might reach a reasonable standard, and then I will be proud! I’ve also begin to realise, more and more, that being in the choir is not a hobby; it’s a way of life. I am also grateful to Rod who has patiently stood next to me rehearsal after rehearsal.