My Dad and I have a new joint project – family tree building. Not immediately exciting and entertaining I'll admit, but interesting and maybe even fascinating.
Ok. It may just be a sad guy thing, but then…
Since I can do a passable impersonation of a certified tree hugging, home-knitted jumper wearing, weekend-unshaven, web-literate, Johnny-no-mates social scientist type, I did the initial research. Records of births, deaths and marriages, 1901 census records and all that. All pretty dry mechanical stuff really but someone's gotta do it.
With a few serious strokes of luck I think I've managed to trace the paternal line back to about 1750 in the space of a week. Not bad eh? But that only really gives a baseline for the really interesting stuff – which is peoples lives. In particular my Dad's immediate family.
He was always good at telling entertaining stories of his childhood. I loved them. But I always treated them as somewhat allegorical and perhaps even legendary, rather than literal truth. Too many of the details were outside of my relatively sheltered experience and therefore seemed too fantastic.
Growing up next to Winson Green prison, and the crowds waiting outside the main door to cheer when the death notice was posted – signifying the sentence has been carried out. Being sent by his Dad to buy three fags from the corner shop lucky dip cigarette jar, and getting a slap round the ear if he didn't come back with at least two Woodbines.
Fighting the gypsie gang from across Black Patch Park. Chasing around as cowboys hunting red indians. Capturing enemies and hanging them by their thumbs from a tree. Black Patch Park! It's gotta be a made up name. It's like Peter Pan.
Well I thought so, until yesterday – when I looked it up on the web. And yea verily did I find a site with personal recollections similar to my Dad's, from hundreds of people. A person in Australia reminiscing about Murdoch Road where my Dad grew up, and a campaign to stop Black Patch Park in Smethwick, being zoned for industrial development.
So maybe it's all true.
Now I'm beginning to think I should try to track down the equally legendary family celebrity. The only female coal barge operator in the Midlands, "Fireshovel" Annie Vaughan.
Watch this space.