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Northern Man - The Best

By Ashleylister @ashleylister

Northern Man  -  The Best

photo of my maternal grandparents

My first thoughts on Northern Man were of my grandfathers and my father. Northern, Manchester born and bred, all passed on now. My paternal grandfather was in the army during WW1. He was just old enough to get called up and went to France or Belgium in the summer of 1918. He married in 1922 and raised his family in Rusholme, which I used to joke to my dad, made him an original Rusholme Ruffian. The family moved to Wythenshawe when the new estate was built c.1930, then to Northenden, which is the first house I remember. Giant daisies lined the garden path. I’d like some in my garden and one day, I’ll sort it out. His wife, my Nanna Hetty, was the gardener, though Grandad looked after the cutting of the grass. I didn’t know him very well, which might sound sad, but he wasn’t the sort of grandfather, or father for that matter, who endeared himself to children and grandchildren. Anything to do with children was his wife’s department. After he was widowed, he moved in with us. He helped out in the pub and kept himself to himself. It turned out to be a short term arrangement. He moved into a flat, with a lady. He is laid to rest with Hetty and their daughter, Peggy in Manchester’s Southern Cemetery, amongst the great and the good.

Laurence Stephen Lowry, a northern man, described himself as a ‘simple man’, not uneducated but meaning that he was ordinary, unremarkable. Well, that’s a matter of opinion. I’ve studied him and his work and find him extraordinary and a unique artist.

“I am not an artist. I am a man who paints.” He said.

The first time I saw his work I wept, full of emotion for this special man and his art. It was such an overwhelming experience. His paintings were on display in Salford University and I sobbed my way through the galleries a couple of years after his death. I’m probably the only person to cry at Brian & Michael’s song, ‘Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs’. It gets me right in the heart. The Lowry Theatre and Gallery complex in Salford is a fabulous monument to him.

Alan Bennett, oh my word, no, his words, all of them. He renders me speechless. I can read his work over and over, finding something new each time, then I want to snap all my pencils because he is genius and I have no place writing anything except a shopping list. The truth of The Lady in the Van is emotional and very much a stand-alone work, a masterpiece.A quote from Untold Stories regarding his mother’s concern about Miss Shepherd taking up residence in her van on his driveway,

“I was a reluctant (and, of course, unpaid) landlord but what worried my mother on one of her rare visits to London was what the neighbours would think.

‘This isn’t Leeds,’ I told her. ‘They won’t think anything at all.’”

In Talking Heads he has been unafraid to tackle uncomfortable and taboo subjects. Food for thought, or if it’s too difficult, don’t read it and don’t watch the TV version. Sarah Lancashire played 'Gwen', a mother feeling attracted to her fifteen year old son, beyond motherhood. Alan Bennett takes us on a journey through her thoughts and emotions, edging towards sexual in feelings, but not stepping out of line. Exceptional from a very much alive Northern man.

My maternal grandfather was the direct opposite of my paternal one. When I was a child we played, we laughed, we got told off for being rowdy and too loud, and I don’t think we cared. He taught me Tiddlywinks and Snakes & Ladders. We played hide and seek in his pub, we moved furniture, anything. Times with him and my maternal grandmother were fun. Sometimes, he liked to be quiet and read a book for a little while. He’d been affected by WW1, though this didn’t become apparent until much later in his life. My aunt told me a story about him having a child, the result of a dalliance during his marriage. True or not, I’ll never know and it wouldn’t change anything. I loved my grandad. He cried his heart out at my mother’s funeral and now they share a grave.

Northern man, northern men, gritty like the women. The best.

My poem,

A Northern man, my grandad,
Reliable and always there.
I’m told he had his ‘moments’
But I loved him and didn’t care.
Nowt for me to fret about,
A serious ‘moment’ he had
Though he stayed put with my nan
And never set eyes on the lad.
I’d wear his precious Trilby
And put clips in his Brylcreemed hair.
My childhood, fun and laughter,
And a Jaffa orange to share.
Then the loss of his daughter,
Grandad’s heart broke when my mom died.
I sat with my Northern man,
To comfort him as we both cried.

PMW 2021
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