All Stories, General Fiction

Jack o’ Diamonds by Michael Bloor

Most British towns and villages are ancient foundations with Roman remains, ruined castles, and the like. Not so Daleforge. Before the 1840s, there was just the forge and the smith’s cottage. Butthen, in quick order, came the pit, the rows and rows of workers’ cottages, the ironworks, and the railway. With the houses, came the football. Not at first the codifed game of eleven versus eleven,but the rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, pitched battle held every Shrovetide between those in the houses on one side of the Red Brook versus those on the other. But soon enough after the English Football Association was formed in the 1860s, Daleforge United FC emerged and eventually became a founder member of the Football League. And that was what my dirty old town became famous for: the foundries and the football.

Lives can turn on a single event. In my case it was a dolorous meeting in 1988, an event as desolate as a snowflake dissolving in a muddy puddle. But there’s nearly always a back-story to those turnings in the road, and this back-story stretches away ten years, to 1978.

I was twenty-two back then, living at home, drifting from job to job. Dad and I argued furiously about almost every damn thing – jobs, music, drinking, politics, clothes… hair. Jeez, the arguments we had about hair… Difficult to credit that now. Our rows were interminable. My then girlfriend, Susie (who deserved better and eventually found it), said that Dad and I were like a pair of rutting stags in Mum’s scullery kitchen.

We even fell out about football. In fact, that was maybe part of the trouble. I was one of that fortunate minority, a natural left-footer. So I was always in demand as a player for local youth teams, even though my right foot was just for standing on. All Daleforge was football-daft and Dad was no exception. He’d been a notable teenage footballer himself, but the war had intervened. I understood why he loved to come and see me and play. And why he was so disappointed when I lost interest in the game. I think we both understood the other guy’s point of view, but understanding
just didn’t help.

Do you know that lightbulb joke? How many psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. I was that awkward light bulb. Dad had grown up in the Hungry Thirties, then he’d gone off to the war and ended up in the Middle East, stuck there til early 1946. And he’d come back to 1940s post-war austerity. He’d landed a clerking job in the Purchasing Office at Stark’s Foundry and counted himself lucky to get it.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot more to him than that: for example, somewhere along the line, he’d learned to play the banjo, and though he couldn’t read music, he could hear a tune just once or twice on the radio and pick it out afterwards on that battered banjo. Yeah, there was definitely a lot more to Dad. But he didn’t like to let it show.

I’m glad now I didn’t storm out of the house, back in ’78. I just took a summer job in the Channel Islands – a Guernsey beach café – and, somehow, I never came back home. In ’88 I was working in Canada: there was good money working the Athabaska Tar Sands, if you didn’t mind freezing half to death in the winter time. That was when my cousin Sheila got in touch to tell me Mum was ill with cancer.

I got the first flight back that I could find and landed at Prestwick in Scotland. The guy in the next seat to me said Prestwick Airport was the only place in Britain that Elvis had ever visited. I could see how it might’ve put him off, but at least the airport had a train station. Two connections later, it was late afternoon by the time my train arrived back home. As I walked out of the station, a smartly dressed busker was playing to the passing crowd. I was so tired I was almost hallucinating, but I recognised the tune: it was ‘Jack o’ Diamonds.’ I went over, put a quid in his hat, and said: ‘Hiya Dad.’

It turned out that Stark’s Foundry had computerised their stock control and made him redundant. After forty-odd years. He hadn’t wanted to worry Mum, so he’d just leave the house as usual every morning, with the banjo in the boot of his car. He wasn’t thinking straight: some busybody would’ve been bound to recognise him eventually. But there weren’t any jobs for 62 year-olds in Daleforge in the 1980s. He didn’t know what else to do.

We both had a damn good cry.

Michael Bloor

Image by Alison Hedger from Pixabay 

16 thoughts on “Jack o’ Diamonds by Michael Bloor”

  1. Michael,
    This is touching and yet I must admire the father for still trying to earn. It is painfully obvious that the so called woke world does not extend its love to persons over sixty.

    Also, on my system, my view, the text is separated, yet still makes sense. I checked inside and it is perfect yet on my screen it is different. I am hoping that this aberration isn’t nowhere else and that no one will understand what I am talking about.

    Brilliant work, regardless.



    1. Steven,
      I thought the exact same thing, and would have continued to do so, but I remembered the original format.
      Thank you for consistently commenting on work, like Mick’s. It is greatly appreciated by more people than only the writers


    2. Thanks Steve, Diane and Leila. I saw it earlier but didn’t have time to comment then. Had the same thought as Steven: was going to claim it as ‘concrete poetry.’ Thanks Diane and Leila for sorting it out and for the excellent header.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Indeed, lives can turn on a single event, the backstory builds a complex and iconic picture of the generation gap of the day, (which I can relate to), and the relationship between the young man and his father, the young man trying to find his own identity, with all the changes of the day, and the father with different expectations of his son. I like the way the title is introduced at the end, in the song played by the busker dad, and we reflect back on its meaning…. an affecting story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks David. I wrote a first draft of this a couple of years ago, but abandoned it as too slight. Added in the ‘dirty old town’ and the football. Pleased that you thought it worked.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A fine vignette of economic displacement – a less revealing (pun inteneded) Full Monty. When I was in England long ago I was told of schemes (English sense not American) to keep people from going to the cities to become unemployed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Mick,
    You always write with intelligence.
    You let the story, well, tell the story.
    It is also apparent the love that you have for history and that adds another level or parallel to either the back story or the main focus.
    And many congratulations, I think this is your tenth story for us. You have now joined the under three percent club!!!
    All the very best my fine friend.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.