Alan tells these stories to his daughter, who is the primary caregiver for both he and his wife. As his short-term memory becomes increasingly troublesome, the following stories are repeated, many in extraordinary detail:
1. Despite coming from a working class background, Alan was a good student and earned a place at technical college by ranking third in his class. Education was highly valued by Alan’s father, and when Alan struggled at college and his grades slipped, his father took him on the bus to Leeds (some 30 km away) and purchased new math textbooks and insisted that he study and bring up his grades.
2. Alan finished technical college and his father spoke with the owner of the shipyard where he had worked his whole career. He represented his son as a responsible and diligent boy, and Alan was offered a job on the spot, on the strength of his father’s endorsement. As Alan stayed on at the shipyard, his skill and work ethic were recognized and he was offered more and more responsibility, with the attendant increase in salary and in status.
3. Alan often refers to the skill involved in his job at the shipyard, and to this day, can relate in considerable detail the intricacies of the work. He takes pride in his mastery of complex processes. As a symbol of this, he often refers to the slide-rule. He enjoys the opportunity to bring out the slide rule, and demonstrate the complexity of its operation, and the skill and knowledge required to use it. He considers the computer a poor substitute for proficiency with a manual tool.
4. During the war, Alan’s family took in an evacuee from London. This boy was a Cockney child, and arrived with lice, which the family caught before they could get it under control. The boy had uncultured speech and awkward habits, such as wiping his nose on his sleeve – something Alan knew better than to do. By the time laundry day came around, the boy’s sleeve was stiff from wiping his dripping nose.
5. There is also a mysterious story that Alan tells about a neighbour who was suspected of being gay, although no one talked about it. He threw parties in his home, and often invited boys in the neighbourhood to attend. The boys normally wriggled out of the invitation, but there was a young Asian boy in the neighbourhood who attended one night, and was found hanged on a beam in the morning, apparently having taken his own life. This story haunts Alan. It comes up at odd times and is associated with guilt – they should have known there was “something funny going on in there”.
6. Also during the war, Alan’s parents kept pigs to be butchered for food for the family. Alan had a cat that lived with the pigs, and shared the pigs’ food. That cat stayed with the pigs and never came up to the house. The dog was allowed in the house, but the cat stayed with the pigs. Even after the war, when the pig operation was sold, the cat stayed down at the barn and never came up to the house.
7. Alan met his sweetheart, Violet, during the war at the Selby Baths – a local swimming facility, where a dance floor was rolled out over the swimming pool on Saturday nights. With a reliable, well-paying job, Alan was considered quite a catch. He was educated and respected, and he had prospects for the future. To this day, Alan takes pride in being able to afford to give his wife whatever she might desire.
8. Following the war, Alan and Violet married, and moved in with his parents. It soon became apparent this arrangement was not going to work out in the long term. Through a contact at the shipyard, he found a room in a barn that they could rent. Using their own ingenuity, they renovated and decorated it, and made a cosy first home for themselves.
9. Alan and Violet were a fairly typical middle class couple, with traditional roles and expectations. Violet kept house, and did not go out to work. On Christmas Eve, she did her Christmas baking while Alan and his mates went to the pub. They returned at closing time, and Alan was proud to offer his pals a taste of Violet’s Christmas baking.
10. After the war, the shipbuilding industry slowed down, and aeronautics began to take off. Alan seized the opportunity to transfer his skills to this up-and-coming industry. He took a job with British Aerospace at about 25 years of age, where he participated in the development of Concord and other cutting edge airplanes.
All of Alan’s stories come from England in the 1940’s and 50’s, before he and his wife and children immigrated to Canada. Many of the stories begin with, “In England, …” and serve to make a distinction between the way things were done in the England of his youth, compared to how they are done in Canada today. His stories seek to propagate a value system that rewards hard work, and takes duty and responsibility seriously. Alan’s stories tell of a young man from a stable home, an only child, who was encouraged to make something of himself, and he did just that. Through cleverness and hard work, he provided first for his wife and eventually for his family. He exceeded expectations in terms of his social standing, and overcame extraordinary hardship to carve out a good life for his family. His stories confirm an identity as a self-made man.