A storyteller to the end

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Dad was a great storyteller right to the end

Us Yorkshire folk have a reputation for being quite straightforward and even blunt on occasion, and many of us have an uncanny knack of describing things in a direct yet humorous way.

In his column from 16th December 1978, my dad highlights this reputed characteristic, declaring that the Yorkshireman or woman does not always see the humour in his or her words that others do, as to them it is just a logical reply or comment.

He recounts the tale of a local reporter interviewing a Dalesman in his cottage. The reporter asked: “Have you lived here all your life?” to which the man replied, “Not yet.”

He also included another tale which had me giggling, and I hope you don’t mind me including it here.

A couple of Yorkshire locals were discussing birth and death in the pub. “Was thoo born ‘ere?” asked one.

“Nay, I was born ower ‘t’ill in Rossdall. Mind I’ve lived in these parts for maist o’ me life.”

“Thoo’ll likely die here, then?” suggested his friend.

“Now I can’t be sure o’ that. If I knew where I was gahin ti die, I’d keep well clear o’ t’spot!”

My dad was a brilliant storyteller, not just in print, but in conversation too and possessed a seemingly endless mental library of good Yorkshire tales to share. He was one of those people that, should a new visitor come to the house, he would soon put them at ease with his chatter and anecdotes.

I’ve mentioned before how he continued to write until he was too sick to use a keyboard or pick up a pen. But even then he continued his storytelling to anyone with the time to listen.

When it was obvious the inevitable was not far away, one of the worst things for me was knowing that I would never again be able to listen to him telling his stories. I’d heard many of them a thousand times before, and yet would have given anything to hear them a thousand times again.

I very strongly wanted to preserve the sound of his voice and because I sat with him for long periods towards the end, I started to record what he was saying on my iPad. It gave me great comfort at a time of utmost difficulty knowing that I would have something to hold onto when he was no longer here.

Having said that, I am yet to pluck up the courage to listen back to those recordings as even though he’s been gone for 20 months, it still feels too soon and too raw. But at least I know they are there, and when I’m ready, I’ll play them back.

Not long before he died, Dad and I were working on a book together, rather ironically, all about death and he recalled some of the cases he’d come across while he was a bobby. It was a very ‘Heartbeat-esque’ collection, some funny, some mysterious, some moving and others just downright bizarre.

But one of my favourites was an oft-told local tale which we were going to include in the introduction, and it made me howl with laughter. It is so typical of my dad, and so I think it is right to share it with you:

When a Yorkshireman’s God-fearing wife died, he asked the undertaker for a special line on her gravestone. It was “God, she was thine.” Eventually the stone was installed upon her grave. But there was a mistake. The sentence read, “God, she was thin.”

The husband rang the undertaker to complain, saying, “You’ve missed off the ‘e’.”
The undertaker apologised and said his stonemason would correct the error immediately. A few days later, the husband went to inspect the new lettering. Now it read, “Ee, God, she was thin.”

On the subject of gravestones, we have discovered that deciding what to put on a loved one’s permanent memorial is no easy task. It’s only a few words, but when you know that it is going to be there forever, you really do have to think carefully about what you’re going to write. We decided to go with very simple wording to remember both Dad and my sister. Dad might be a bit disappointed that we couldn’t fit a typically humorous Yorkshire line on his gravestone, but I hope he’s happy with what we chose in the end.

Visit my blog at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug.

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 7th December & the Gazette & Herald on 5th December 2018

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