Dennis Jarvis 1935-2018
My father Dennis Jarvis died today, April 18th 2018, aged 82, the last surviving Jarvis of his generation.
Dad was born on May 16th 1935 at 26 Pallister Avenue in Middlesbrough, the youngest of five children produced by my working-class grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis (1894-1969) and his wife Annie Elizabeth Sabina Cooper (1894-1998). We will never know why he was named Dennis - it was the first use of the name in the Jarvis family and I can't find any famous Dennis's of the time after whom he may have been named. Perhaps the simple answer is that in 1935 the name Dennis was the 19th most popular baby name in the UK but there was only one person in the whole of England who was given the name "Dennis Jarvis" in 1935 and that was my Dad.
Dad was born in the run up to the second world war so he experienced the hardships of the war first hand but remembers much of the war as being an exciting time to be a child. Pallister Avenue was part of the recently-built Brambles Farm council estate. The house had three bedrooms and an inside bathroom, plus a sitting room and kitchen downstairs and a decent sized garden at the back. Dad shared a bedroom with his sister Betty, seven years his senior. His parents Charles and Annie had their own bedroom and Dad’s two brothers Charles and Ken, who were 15 and 13 years old when Dad was born, shared the third bedroom.
Middlesbrough’s steel works were so critical to the war effort that it was the first town in England to be targetted for bombing raids by the German Luftwaffe. But the Germans were not only interested in Middlesbrough’s industrial factories - it was also the first town to experience civilian-targeted bombing raids and the first town to suffer civilian casualties as a result of aerial bombing. Nearby Billingham was the first town to successfully bring down a German aircraft using a barrage balloon.
Growing up in the war years, Dad remembers barrage balloons, ack-ack fire, air raids and plenty of destruction on the ground. The house at Pallister had an Anderson Shelter constructed in the garden and it was used regularly as the air raids proceeded from 1940 through till 1943. Funnily enough, we took Dad back to Pallister Avenue in 2016 (shown below) and he knocked on the door and asked the owner if he could have a look in the garden - he was looking for the remains of the Anderson Shelter! It wasn’t there.
During the war years, his father’s skills as a boilersmith was re-applied to the war effort. He worked at Head Wrightson, a heavy-industry steel company that had switched to producing bombs for the RAF (shown below). His Dad would leave the house at 4.30am for work and return home at 7.30pm after doing a shift and then taking on additional "piece work" in order to earn more money. Dad's father worked hard his entire life and suffered for his skills. As a boilersmith he would work inside vast steel welded vessels for use in the production of steel, checking welds and smoothing joints with a hammer. As a result of the intense noise associated with that activity, he spent most of his life deaf.
When his dad wasn’t working, he volunteered as a Firewatcher, responsible for raising the alarm and being a first responder after an air raid.
His father’s work as a Firewatcher only added to the exciting drama of the war years for Dad, and helped him get close to a lot of the drama first hand.
As a result of the strategic importance of the steel industry, Middlesbrough boasted two RAF airfields built to provide air defense support for the heavy industry in the area - one was a mile to the west at Acklam, the other less than a mile to the east at Thornaby. On 29th February 1940, a Wellington bomber from 99 Squadron based at Acklam was on routine air defense patrol 200 miles out in the North Sea when the port engine seized and later caught fire. The pilots cut the fuel to the engine and put out the fire but it rendered the plane hydraulics useless as they relied on the engine to power the pump. The pilot managed to reach the Yorkshire coast where an up-draft helped them make a crash landing at Thornaby airfield. Dad remembers watching the Wellington flying very low and clearly in desperate trouble as it cruised towards its crash landing (shown below).
All the aircraft activity in the area peaked Dad’s interest, of course, so he used to borrow his brother’s Airplane Spotter magazines (shown below) and learnt to identify every plane associated with the war effort.
On March 30th 1941, when Dad was merely five, he remembers a German Junkers JU88 shot down by two RAF spitfires during a photo reconnaissance exercise. The Junkers ended up crashing on Barnaby Moor in the Eston Hills, killing all four airmen onboard. The next day Dad remembers heading towards the crash site with his friend in order to inspect the wreckage (shown below), but scared of the prospect of German airman ghosts haunting him or shooting him!
On April 8th 1941 the Luftwaffe attacked Cargo Fleet Iron and Steel Works and after turning their planes to head home for Germany they dumped their remaining payload of two high-explosive bombs onto the corner of Pallister Avenue and Marshall Avenue at 12 minutes past midnight, destroying four houses. Dad's father jumped into action as a fire watcher and was hailed a hero for being the first into the wreckage to search for victims. Three people were trapped and rescued by 4.00am, one of them 20 year old Vera Morris who died of her injuries. Three of her family suffered only minor injuries despite the entire family all being in the same room of the house. The bombing raid had also injured a further ten people on the ground.
During the night raids, the family would all clamber into the Anderson Shelter in the back garden and if the bombs were close Dad would hear shrapnel hitting the wooden shed adjacent to the shelter. He recalls “All the children in the street collected shrapnel, laid out on cotton wool in a shoe box. We used to compare and boast. My brother Charles was a sergeant in the Home Guard. He used to stand outside the shelter in his uniform and tin hat. Several times he would let me out of the shelter when he judged the raid to be over and the German aircraft on their way back. It was very exciting for me. I would see the night sky lit up with ack ack gunfire and searchlights pinpointing the returning aircraft.”
Charles once took Dad to the anti-aircraft battery that was located near Brambles Farm (shown below), five minutes walk from the house, and let him stay when they defended Middlesbrough from another air attack. Dad remembers that day well - “They were in two banks of about ten units so you can imagine when twenty guns were firing repeated shots it was like a terrific firework display. I only remember the shells exploding below the German planes, not reaching the height. I was a regular cyclist through Brambles Farm taking a meal to Dad or brother who maybe had to work an extra shift.”.
On August 4th 1942, a lone German Dornier DO217 successfully picked it’s way through the barrage balloons protecting Middlesbroughnand dropped a stick of bombs on Middlesbrough Railway Station, one bomb causing serious damage to the victorian steel and glass roof (shown below)
Next day, Dad got on his Elswick Junior bike (shown below) and cycled with his Dad to go and survey the damage.
In 1943, Dad was sitting in the back garden at Pallister Avenue on a sunny and cloudless day when the sky was filled with the bright shiny aluminum bodies of US Airforce B-29 SuperFortresses flying low (shown below too) as they descended towards Thornaby airdrome. The planes were stopping to refuel as they continued their journey to central and southern England where they began a daylight bombing campaign that helped win the war. Dad described seeing them as “awesome and heartwarming” and I am sure he was right.
The presence of American Flying Fortresses also brought US airforce ground personnel to Middlesbrough. Dad remembers the day in his own words - “Mum and I were stood on the Middlesbrough rail platform one day, stood next to us was an American flying officer, really smart in his gabardine uniform, no rough serge for him! I asked mum, in a whisper, whether I could ask him a question. She gave me permission and although very shy, I said, “Hi chum, got any gum?”. He looked at me very disdainfully, pulled a flake out of his pocket and gave me it, not saying a word. I could have crawled into the nearest small hole. I’d heard from someone else that was what you should say, clearly not. I gave mum half and I had the other half and never ever asked again.”.
With Britain at war, there was plenty of hardship for Dad and the rest of his family during the war years. Pallister Avenue didn’t have the luxury of central heating so the only warmth came from a fireplace in the living room, but there was no coal available to warm the house. Dad remembers the winters well - “It was very cold and there were icicles on the inside of the bedroom windows. One solution to the problem was walking to South Bank with an old pram repaired by my father to buy a hundredweight of coke on a Saturday morning from the gas works or coke ovens. This involved a walk along the Trunk Road over a railway bridge, which was a great struggle for me en route home. I was too small to go on my own so Billy Dixon, about 15 years old, our neighbours son, accompanied me. Billy was a step son of Mrs. Dixon and she used to slap him around the head regularly. Every errand he was on was done at double time. We both got to the gasworks and stood in the queue. There was no weighing. You just filled the sack you had from a man with a shovel. The springs on the pram used to go down, and I always thought it was going to collapse. We did this early morning every Saturday. We were not always successful. Sometimes we stood for a long time in the queue then got to the front to find no more coke left. Billy was afraid to go home with an empty sack so we used to go to the waste tip at South Bank to find any cinders that had not been fully burned. It was a horrible job; cold, wet and miserable. If we got nothing we were cold for the rest of the week. Billy was unfortunate - the Dixon’s had 6 children, more or less one a year so his need was greater than mine. If I came home with a full sack I was the hero of the household. “
As the youngest, Dad was the one who was always sent to run errands for his mum - “Another job was to go on the 4.30am bus with my cousin Audrey Roth to Middlesbrough on a Saturday to Meredith’s cake shop. We had to stand in the queue and were usually in the first three. The shop opened at 9am and the absolute prize was a cream sponge. Whilst in the queue the women behind would be saying I looked cold and should go home and get warm to get rid of me. Only about the first six in the queue would get any cakes at all.“.
The yuletide period was humble too. Every Christmas, Dad would wake on Christmas Day to find a sock had been filled with a Canadian Royal apple, a bag of nuts and a bar of chocolate. But his Aunt Elsie (Nana's sister) had no children of her own so she would spoil Dad and his siblings each with a carrier bag of presents.
When his father wasn’t working, the family would take day trips to Redcar to enjoy the beach (shown below), typically riding their bikes there and back, and occasionally taking the Middlesbrough and Redcar Railway. Back in the 1940s, Redcar was a thriving seaside resort with eight miles of sand beaches stretching from South Gare to Saltburn-On-Sea.
It was on one of those day’s out that Dad learnt to swim using the tried and trusted Jarvis method at the salt water pool in Redcar. His father simply threw him in the deep end and forced him to deal with it, assuring all passers-by that because it was a salt water pool he couldn’t sink. I say it was a tried and trusted method because I was subjected to the same experience by the same man (although my experience was in a fresh water pool).
Dad's dad was also a gifted billiards player and used his skill to supplement his income. His method was rather simple - he would enter a billiards hall and play unsuspecting players using his left arm while making bets about his ability. He would inevitably lose the initial games all the while attracting attention to himself as a man who would unwisely bet on his poor playing. When the stakes were finally big enough and the audience was betting against him, he'd make a huge bet and then switch to his right arm and wipe the floor with his competitor.
With the war over, Dad sat his 11 Plus exam at Brambles Farm Junior School in 1946. Those who passed it were sent to the local grammar school but those who didn’t ended up at an elementary school. Dad didn’t pass it, so he spent two years at Lawson Elementary School before sitting and passing a scholarship exam for the Technical School For Boys in Middlesbrough.
As a reward for getting into the Technical School For Boys, Dad was given a new Raleigh bike (shown below) to make his journeys to and from school easier.
In 1947, Dad became a choirboy at Saint Thomas’s Church of England on Pallister Avenue. The vicar, a Mr. Herdson, had only one leg, the other being a wooden peg that creaked with every step. He would remain a choirboy for the next three years before training to be a server.
By the summer of 1948, Pallister Avenue had become over-crowded. Dad had moved into the same bedroom as his two adult brothers so that his sister Betty could have her own privacy. As a result, Dad’s mum applied to the council for a bigger house and was given 29 Roworth Road, a mile and half away. The whole family’s possessions were moved by Dad using multiple journeys with a hand cart. Roworth Road was also part of the Brambles Farm council estate, with three bedrooms upstairs and a bathroom, kitchen and living room downstairs.
The start of Dad’s teenage years coincided with his sister Betty getting married to James (Jim) Crawford in 1949. Jim was in the Navy on a seven year draft, so Betty remained at home with her parents until he was discharged. Dad’s other brothers - Charles and Ken got married in September 1951 and March 1952 respectively and moved out of the house.
It was during Dad’s teenage years that the family started to take regular United bus trips to Blackpool (shown below) on the west coast, taking their rationing books with them plus a box of eggs. The journey was a five hour drive but it took the whole day because of a couple of bathroom stops that invariably included a drink in the local pub. On their arrival in Blackpool, all the bus passengers would break into a round of applause for the bus driver. The trips to Blackpool would last a week or two, with the family staying in one of the many guest houses that cater to visiting working class families. After breakfast each morning, the proprietor of the guest house would kick all the guests out, no matter what the weather, and only allow them back in in the evening when it was time to go to bed.
Dad started Middlesbrough Technical College for Boys on September 6th 1948. In his first year he came top of the class and was invited to plant a tree for the council at the newly opened Victoria Park outside the Town Hall in Middlesbrough. He got his name in the newspaper that day. Unfortunately, the tree was removed during renovation of the park in the 1960s.
In the second year at technical school he was third in the class and in his final year he came second. At the age of sixteen, the Technical School then split the class into two streams - the clever ones were sent to serve apprenticeships as engineers and those who hadn’t excelled academically were consigned to the less-skilled building trades.
Dad graduated from Middlesbrough Technical College For Boys at the age of 16 and immediately joined the Cargo Fleet Iron and Steel Works company as an apprentice electrical fitter.
His departure from Technical College coincided with him moving with his parents to another council house at 17 Homerton Road (shown below), just around the corner from Pallister Park, and two miles from Roworth Road.
I have my own recollection of Homerton Road. My sister and I stayed there in the sixties when my parents were in England in between jobs. I remember it as pretty basic - three bedrooms but with the luxury of an upstairs bathroom, a living room downstairs, a primitive kitchen and scullery and an old manual washing tub and wrangler in the small yard outside. Grandad had an overweight Sealyham Terrier called Pixie who we used to take for walks in Pallister Park. I remember always being in fear for my own safety whenever we were outdoors - the kids of the neighbourhood always seemed to pick on me. In truth, Middlesbrough in the sixties and seventies was industrial and rather depressing.
Dad’s five year apprenticeship at Cargo Fleet consisted of practical work experience and further classroom training, so every week he took half a day and two evenings to attend Constantine Technical College - it later became Teesside University. Every morning at 7am before heading to work, Dad would go to St. Thomas’s Church to have communion with Mr. Herdson the Vicar. He would continue that daily communion until he was 17 when he decided that he was no longer a believer and ended his relationship with the church, telling Mr. Herdson he wouldn’t be coming anymore.
But life wasn’t all work - Dad’s apprenticeship years were also spent enjoying the night life and indulging in his love of music and dance.
During his apprenticeship he learned to play the cornet in the Cargo Fleet Silver Prize Band and then graduated to the B-flat trumpet, playing the Durham Miners Gala twice. But as well as playing music, he also got into the popular music scene of the time.
The big fashion and music movement of the 1950s started out as the Teddy Boy subculture - a rebellious side-effect of the introduction of American Rock’n’Roll music and derived from the Edwardian era of fashion some 40 years earlier, when guards officers chose to wear tapered trousers and long jackets. By 1953, the New Edwardian look had emerged - a classier style that was a cut above that of the teddy boys. New Edwardians wore crepe-soled suede shoes with a wedge heel - known as brothel creepers - three piece suits with 16 inch flared bottoms and a barathea officers great coat. And that was what my Dad wore.
Dad was less into rock’n’roll and much more enamoured with the big band sounds of the time, plus he loved Dixieland - the traditional jazz music of New Orleans. In 1953, a Yorkshire-born big band leader and saxophonist Ken Mackintosh wrote a song The Creep and then invented a slow shuffle to go along with it. Dad saw Ken Mackintosh playing at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, mimicked The Creep’s dance moves and then introduced the dance to the Middlesbrough area at Stockton’s Palais De Dance (shown below). Just like the macarena, or gangnam style, The Creep dance took off.
Years later, Dad would teach my mum to do The Creep and her father caught her at it. “You’ll get pregnant!” was his cry, scaring my mother to death and sending her running to her sister to ask what pregnant meant. More about that later..
Dad’s haunts of the time included the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, the Palais De Danse in Stockton and the Coatham Hotel in Redcar (shown below), where he regularly saw his favourite big bands. It was at those places he saw the likes of George Melly, Mick Mulligan, Johnny Dankworth, Acker Bilk, Ted Heath, Ronnie Randall and Ronnie Scott with their respective bands, as well as famous singers of the time such as Cleo Laine, Dickie Valentine, Dennis Lotus and Lisa Rosa. During the interval of George Melly’s gig at the Palais De Danse, Dad bought George a drink. Many years later, he met George Melly again in Dubai.
Dad’s love of dancing, and his apparent skills at smooching, earned him a rather appropriate 21st birthday gift too - his best friend John Addison bought him a pewter beer mug and had Creep inscribed on it. It sits proudly in my parents hallway to this day.
In 1955 Dad decided it was time to get more mobility but first he needed to get a drivers licence. His friend Black Bob and his brother Ken gave him lessons in their own cars and once he felt he was nearly ready for the test he found a professional driving instructor in the Evening Gazette and took two lessons in his Ford Fiesta in order to learn the typical routes that the examiners used. Dad remembers the car well - “The car was terrible to drive, the clutch didn’t work until the pedal was at the last quarter of an inch so it was really easy to stall. I took the test and when I finished, my instructor went in the office to speak with the tester. The instructor came out five minutes later, no emotion on his face, gave me my licence then said ‘I don’t want you to be big headed but the tester said you handled the clutch better than anyone before’. He was now relaxed and more friendly to me and during the conversation that followed he told me he had been a Mosquito pilot in the RAF Pathfinders Squadron and that he now owned a pub in a village I can’t remember. I visited the pub and it was his night off, never saw him again.”.
Dad might not remember his name or the village but his driving instructor was a man named John Liddle and the pub he owned - the Pathfinders Arms still exists today although it has been renamed Chadwicks Inn. It stands close to Thornaby airfield which was used by the Mosquito pilots during the war. If you visit it today you will find a 19th century public house retains many of the original features. Original war memorabilia, including John Liddle’s portrait and commendations, are still on display in the pub today.
Dad completed his apprenticeship and was officially an electrical fitter in 1956. Britain still had National Service in 1956 so he made a pact with his friend Skipper Hardy to join the Navy. The two of them walked into the recruitment office just after Dad’s twenty-first birthday and filled out the relevant forms. Along with several others, they were then taken to a room and given a maths test paper. Dad found it easy but others in the room were clearly struggling. Eventually Dad stood up first and handed the officer his paper, stating that he had answered everything but couldn’t work out how to answer question 17. The officer went through his paper, stated that he had everything right and told him that he would be offered the position of Petty Officer after he passed his medical. He was then sent to the doctors with the promise that they would explain how to solve question 17 once he’d completed his medical. He failed the medical. The doctor found that he had otitis externa, also known as swimmers ear. Dad’s career in the navy was over before it began. And he never did learn the solution to question 17.
Dad recalls the medical as follows: “After the exam I went in for the medical, to face about six doctors, each one a specialist. The last one was an ear specialist and he was most apologetic when saying ‘we are sorry but, we won’t be needing you’. I had otitis externus (sic) - damage to the middle ear. I looked downcast but was secretly delighted, and left. Skipper went into the navy as an ordinary seaman. I went home to start earning a decent salary, yippee!”
Dad got his first car at the age of 21, in 1956 - a 1937 Wolseley 10/40 (shown below) in two shades of blue. It had a beautiful interior with leather upholstery and walnut trim, but the engine had a lot of mileage. Dad didn’t have a garage so he parked it in the back yard of a friend’s house and set to work re-building the engine while it snowed all around him. The rear springs on the suspension needed replacing so he removed them and took them to a blacksmith. When he got them back it was clear that the blacksmith had done a fabulous job of extending the springs but once he got them installed on the car, the rear end was significantly higher than the front end, giving the car a gangster look.
Two years later Dad sold the Wolseley 10/40 and bought black Austin A30 (shown below) with registration number TOC868. It had fewer miles on the engine but like all cars of the time, needed plenty of maintenance in order to keep it running. Dad's niece Vivian remembers the car well "My mum and Dad and me went out to see it and we all sat in it. He took us for a ride, but it was heavy snow and he made a tiny hole in the snow on the window at eye level so he could see out and my mum couldn’t believe he drove like that, but we were all laughing. My Dad then got a standard 8 because Den had bought a car. Nothing amazing I know, but he was funny.".
It was 1958 and in addition to working shifts at Cargo Fleet, Dad started working behind the bar at the Ship Inn in Eston in order to bring in a little more cash. It was there that he met a lade called Vera and her husband Jim who lived just down the road on Eston High Street. They had a daughter who was studying for her history and literature O-levels and needed a little help to catch up on her reading. Dad was well read and into literature, so he volunteered to help. A couple of days later, fifteen year-old Janet walked into the Ship Inn and handed Dad a copy of Alexander William Kinglake’s book Eothen - a memoir of the author’s travels in Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Dad read the book and gave her a bullet point summary of the content and suggested some probable questions that she would get in her exam. He was spot-on and she answered the questions without any problem, passing her literature O-level.
Dad remembers meeting Janet well - as he recalls “the moment she walked in, asking to speak with me, I decided she was the girl I was going to marry.” For Janet, “It was love at first sight but I was very restricted on being able to see him. If we went to the cinema he had to have me home before 10pm so we never saw the end of anything. He took me over the moors to Whitby on my (sixteenth) birthday to a dance and bought me a babysham (a brand of sparkling wine). It made me drunk and we had to stop on top of the moors and he walked me out in the fresh air for a bit to get me sober enough to go home! If I was a minute late getting home I was grounded and Dad would say I couldn’t see Dennis for three weeks and he would ignore me totally.”
Janet’s father Jim, for obvious reasons, didn’t approve of his fifteen year old daughter showing any interest in a twenty-three year old man and he certainly didn’t like Dad showing interest in his fifteen year old daughter either. So Janet’s parents got creative and put obstacles in the way of the relationship while severely restricting the time that Dad could have with Janet. It only made matters worse and the relationship got more serious and Janet and Dad became more determined to make the relationship work. Jim’s plan for his daughter was that she would marry a doctor. Janet reacted to that in typical Yorkshire form - “My father’s plan was my worst nightmare, I think! I HATE anything medical and have the utmost respect for engineering skills and a man who is practical and logical. How women get on with men who can't even change a light bulb just baffles me.“.
So the relationship blossomed. Showing a romantic side that I confess to rarely having seen for myself, Dad proceeded to woo an already besotted Janet, devoting all his spare time in pursuit of her. She remembers they spent a lot of time taking long walks and talking about literature. It must have been love because I cannot recall a single moment where I talked to Dad about literature. Dad introduced Janet to the Greek philosophers and the French writers, in particular the essays of Michel de Montaigne which were written between 1570 and 1592. Dad also used his love of music to woo Janet, taking her to see Dave Brubeck playing Take Five, Ella Fitzgerald and even Dizzie Gillespie at Newcastle Town Hall. They also went to see Sandie Shaw at the Marimba nightclub at Stockton but she failed to appear as she was suffering from morning sickness.
Jim would keep up his campaign of preventing Dad and Janet from seeing each other for four years and it changed Janet’s opinion of her father. “I was watching TV once and there was a campaign on VD. I asked my Dad what it was and he said "Victory Day, get on with your homework!" so when I met up with Dennis I asked him. We spent most Saturdays, if his shift allowed, walking along the beach at Redcar at the Coatham end, going along towards the steel works, planning how we would buy a house, have children etc. “
In 1959 Dad gave an early glimpse of his knack for using his skills creatively when he told Janet to look out of her window at the Cargo Fleet blast furnaces at 10pm while he was on his night shift. And sure enough, Dad made the 1000 watt floodlights go off and on twice as a symbol of his love. The official records of Cargo Fleet even document the incident although it isn’t clear that they ever worked out the truth of what happened.
Janet’s plan was to finish school and then go to college in Durham for teacher training, but her life plan went out the window as soon as she met Dad. Instead she passed her O-Levels and then went to Cleveland Technical College in Redcar on a secretarial course.
In late spring of 1960, the situation between Jim and Dad came to a head when Janet’s sister Jean became pregnant. Jean’s boyfriend did the right thing and went round to see Jim to ask for Jean’s hand in marriage, taking Dad with him for moral support. After a lengthy argument, Jim conceded that Jean’s inevitable marriage was the best solution to the pregnancy and at that point, Dad mentioned that he also intended to marry Janet. Jim exploded, stating that it would never happen, backing up his position with a threat to make Janet a ward of court to prevent it. As a father of three girls I can totally understand where Jim was coming from - his aspirations and plans for his two daughters hadn’t come to fruition and he was no longer in control of the situation. It would create a stand-off between Dad and Jim that wouldn’t thaw for a number of years.
Also in 1960, Dad got promoted to shift electrical chargehand at Cargo Fleet, putting him in charge of every electrician working at Cargo Fleet during his shift. He was managing people, scheduling work, using his knowledge and skills to troubleshoot problems so that the steel works operated smoothly.
1962 would turn out to be a pivotal year. Jim ultimately conceded that his ability to prevent Dad and Janet's relationship from blossoming had failed. He started to realize that Mum was happy and that thawed the relationship between Jim and Dad. So Dad married Janet in March 1962 at Eston Church but Jim wouldn't attend of his own choice - he was forced to come to the wedding by his wife Vera, who had otherwise kept out of the battle between her husband and his daughter. Jim did make one final attempt to stop the marriage by telling her she didn’t have to go through with it just before she walked down the aisle. Having attended the wedding, Jim left the church and went straight home, put on his gardening clothes and went to tend to his tomatoes. It would be a number of years before he would declare himself a very proud father in law.
Having tied the knot, Dad and my future Mum then took a four night honeymoon at the Horseshoe Inn in Egton Bridge, enjoying the stepping stones across the river nearby and taking trips over the moors to view the spectacular carpentry of Robert “Mouseman” Thompson (1876-1955). He was a carpenter from Kilburn in North Yorkshire who would make oak furniture and always carve a trademark mouse into each piece. If you’re ever in Kilburn, make sure you stop at the Mouseman Visitor Centre to see his amazing work.
After the honeymoon, Mum and Dad moved into a rented front room and bedroom, with use of the kitchen, on Westbourne Grove in Teesville, paying weekly rent to a rather prudish demure old lady called Mrs. Muir.
Five months after their marriage, Mum and Dad were driving to Cornwall for a short holiday when they stopped at a guest house in Ashby de la Zouch for the night. After retiring to bed, a large moth started flying around the room dive-bombing Mum, so Dad did the chivalrous thing of disposing it out of the window and then pulled his new wife close to him to protect her. One thing led to another and by morning I had been conceived.
When they discovered that Mum was pregnant, Mum and Dad decided it was time to find a proper family home. After looking round Teesside, they settled on a new semi-detached house on Hollywalk Drive in Normanby where a new estate of houses was being built. The house they bought was still in construction - it was just a set of foundations but they were promised it would be finished before I was born. They paid 1,750 pounds for the house, putting down a small deposit and taking out a mortgage. All that they needed to complete the family was a dog, so they bought a yellow labrador from a breeder and named her Cindy.
In late 1962 Dad was promoted again, taking a staff position as the youngest shift electrical foreman in Cargo Fleet history. He was at the top of the tree at Cargo Fleet career-wise but the pay was still paltry.
In late February 1963, the completion date for the house they had purchased came and went without it being completed. Having given notice to Mrs. Muir to leave their rented rooms in Teesville, Mum and Dad moved in with Mum’s parents for a couple of months while they awaited the house completion. There had been a thaw in the frosty relations between my Dad and his father-in-law due to my impending birth. It was after they had moved out of Mrs. Muir’s home that they discovered she wasn’t as prudish and demure as they thought - she was running a brothel with her daughter at a home nearby.
On March 16th 1963 Dad was on the 6am-2pm shift at Cargo Fleet and after work went to play snooker with his pals at the Conservative Club in South Bank. He arrived home late after a few beers to discover that his seven-month pregnant wife had cooked his favourite dinner - Pork Fillet - to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Mum was mad and lost it, picking up his dinner plate and dumping the entire lot in the kitchen bin. Fifty-five years later, Mum can still remember the look on Dad’s face as he desperately scrambled to retrieve it from the bin and feed it to Cindy the dog. Dad was never any good at remembering anniversaries or birthdays.
On April 30th 1963, Mum and Dad were at the pub in Eston playing darts when Mum’s waters broke. She gingerly left the bathroom and went up to the people she was playing with and told them that she needed to go home because she was having a baby. Her pregnancy wasn’t obvious to the naked eye so one of the players asked her “when?” To which she replied “right now!”.
Mum went into labour later that night and told Dad that she needed taking to the hospital. Unfortunately, the Austin A30 wasn’t working because it needed its big end bearings changing and Dad was holding back on fixing it because he couldn’t afford it. Plenty of men would have got themselves into a panic or sought help from the neighbors, but Dad went into the garage, hoisted the engine out of the car using a pulley, changed the bearings and then re-installed the engine while occasionally going into the house to check on his wife in labour. With Mum’s contractions becoming more frequent he then started the car and headed off up the road in the snow towards Guisborough Maternity Hospital. The nurses would not allow him to stay with Mum, so he then turned round and drove home, making a number of agonizing walks up to the phone box to make calls inquiring as to the status. I was born at 4am on May 1st.
Following my birth, Dad’s father asked if he would name me Charles after him. Dad said no and I was christened Mark instead. Dad had no idea that the name Charles was significant in the Jarvis family. There had been four generations of boys named Charles, all in honour of my great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis (1832-1887) who you can read about elsewhere on this website. Ironically, not a single Jarvis child of my generation was named Charles - the name disappeared from the Jarvis family with the death of my Dad's brother.
Two weeks after I was born, Mum and Dad moved into the brand new house on Hollywalk Drive.
Settled into their new house in Hollywalk Drive, the monthly 15 pound mortgage proved hard for Mum and Dad. He got paid weekly on a Thursday and with the mortgage and a family to feed, it was always tough by the following Wednesday. Mum used to say they would have to decide between a quarter of mince or a pint at the pub. That must have been a tough decision.
As 1965 approached, Mum became pregnant again and Dad realized he needed to bring in more money for his growing family. He was already at the pinnacle of his career at Cargo Fleet and promotion prospects were slim. I think he’d watched his father and his grandfather spend their entire lives tirelessly working the same job just to make ends meet and he wanted more than that. After looking around at the prospects, he ended up interviewing for BP for a position of electrical engineer in Abu Dhabi on Das Island off the coast of Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf. The job meant more money plus the excitement of working abroad in a new industry but it also meant leaving Mum and his family in England. Dad wasn’t keen but Mum told him that he needed to do it so that they could escape from the rat race of Middlesbrough. He got the job and made plans to depart in the summer of 1965. My contribution to this time in my parents life was to insist that we never bought anything other than BP petrol for the car.
In May 1965, Dad got his one and only daughter when Deborah Anne was born in the master bedroom at 32 Hollywalk Drive. I was two at the time and would stand up in my cot and rattle the railings when I was ready to get out of bed. Dad helped me out and then took me to meet my new sister, then I promptly went downstairs to get her a bowl of cereal for her breakfast.
It was just after Debbie was born that Dad had to leave for Abu Dhabi but before that he needed to get all the vaccinations that were required at the time - Cholera, Typhoid, Smallpox, etc. Dad got all his shots in one visit to the doctors office and with the clock ticking until Dad left England, Mum and Dad decided to take me and my ten day old sister to Scarborough. Once we got there, the vaccinations took effect and rendered Dad unable to drive home. Mum had never driven a car and certainly had no drivers license, but she had no choice and drove home.
Dad spent the next two years travelling back and forth between England and Das Island, working five months at a time and then getting three weeks off back in England. Das Island had been built in the 1930s to accommodate the burgeoning oil industry of Abu Dhabi - it housed the workers as well as acted as a staging post for much of the facilities needed for oil production. Dad spent most of his working time on an oil rig called the Enterprise (shown below), working two weeks onboard before spending a week back on Das Island, which had an 18 hole golf course (made of oiled sand), sports clubs and cinemas.
Abu Dhabi at the time was ruled by Sheikh Shakhbut, a man that BP needed to keep happy, so Dad witnessed a ceremony where Shakhbut was presented with a 1 Million Pound cheque by the BP board of directors. Shakhbut rejected the money, insisting that he wanted to be paid in gold, forcing BP to search the world to buy 1 Million pounds of gold reserves.
Sheikh Shakhbut was a divisive figure among his people. Oil had made Abu Dhabi rich but Shakhbut was accused by many of not using the oil revenues for the benefit of his people. Shakhbut was once waiting with his entourage at Abu Dhabi airport for a flight to Bahrain when a man pulled out a curved dagger and attempted to assassinate him. One man intervened - a man named Hamdan - and wrestled the attacker to the ground, this saving Shakhbut's life. As a reward, Hamdan was crowned the Sheikh Of Das Island and Dad got to meet him one day when his residence had a persistent electrical fault that four other electricians had failed to resolve. Hamden reported that every night the lights would all go out after a fuse blew, but when the fuse was fixed the next day, the following night the lights would all blow the fuse again. Dad entered Hamdan's house and Hamdan introduced him to his pet goat, pure white with a silver mane, and then showed Dad his goat's party trick - Hamdan flicked a lit cigarette to the floor and the goat ran to stamp on it and then immediately ate the butt. After this bizarre show, Dad focused on the electrical problem and climbed into the eves of the house to take a look. There he found an open junction box that was filled with pigeon poop. At night, the pigeons would roost in the loft and drop wet poop into the junction box, blowing the fuse. The next day, the poop would dry and thereby turn into an insulator so replacing the fuse would seemingly solve the problem until the pigeons came to roost and pooped again. Dad seal the junction box and Hamdan's lights never blew a fuse again.
In 1966, Dad sold the Austin A30 and bought a black Humber Super Snipe from the BP garage in Normanby. The Humber had been used for weddings so it was very nicely upholstered and maintained. I remember it well, including the excruciating effort needed to hand crank it to get it started. Unless you are at least fifty years old, and perhaps more, you will have no idea what I am talking about.
In 1966, World Cup fever spread across England and Middlesbrough hosted some of the group games. Dad got to see North Korea beat Italy 1-0 at Ayresome Park in Middlesbrough on July 19 1966, securing their place in the quarter finals. North Korea then lost the quarter final to Portugal 5-3 despite being 3-0 up in the first half hour, and were eliminated from the competition. Dad and Mum watched the final on TV between Germany and England on the couch in Hollywalk Drive. Dad remembers that the North Koreans were made very welcome by Middlesbrough which presented a very friendly atmosphere for all the teams.
Two days after the world cup final, Dad returned to Das Island and a white Jaguar greeted his plane on arrival, indicating that a VIP was on the flight. He watched as a couple of BP executives got in the car and later that day saw them at the BP Guest house bar and started chatting to them. Dad had heard that BP were considering allowing "family status" for BP workers so he pressed them, but they didn't want to engage in conversation. He then met a number of British Trucial Oman scout soldiers, all desert warfare experts, dressed in smart military uniforms but wearing arab headdresses. Days later Shakhbut‘ s reign came to an abrupt end on August 6th 1966 when he was replaced by his brother in a bloodless coup engineered by the British in order to protect their oil interests. The BP executives and the Trucial Oman scouts had been there for the coup.
In 1968, after a couple of years of Dad commuting between Abu Dhabi and England, BP allowed "family status" and Dad was given permission to bring his family to the Middle East. We left England on a BOAC VC-10 (shown below, still my favourite jet liner), arriving in Bahrain where we settled into a villa in Awali, a small municipality that was founded by BP for its foreign oil workers in the 1930s. Dad would fly out to Das Island and work for two weeks and then return home for a week.
I have very fond memories of Bahrain. Due to the heat, school finished at noon, so we became members of the British Club which was just around the corner from our house and we spent most afternoons there swimming in the pool.
Bahrain had a significant British military presence at the time so we would regularly go to the British Army base to get English food or to stop by the Fish and Chip shop for a takeaway.
While in Bahrain Dad bought a Fiat 500 to get us around in but one evening it got hit by a gust of wind while going round a roundabout and rolled over twice before hitting a palm tree and throwing Mum out of the sun roof. Mum was wearing a white mini-skirt dress at the time and it was covered in blood. Dad was driving but Mum told the police that she was driving and they promptly charged her with dangerous driving. I remember the night of the crash very well, having woken up to a commotion at home when Mum arrived home covered in blood. A few days later she dyed the dress red in order to try and hide the bloodstains.
After the Fiat incident, Dad decided to get a car which wasn’t liable to roll over and went to the extreme of buying an enormous white 1958 Cadillac 60 Special with fabulous tail fins. It was a treat to sit in a enormous back seat but it was horribly unreliable and spent much of its time at the garage being repaired. One day Dad was reversing the car out of the driveway and he squashed my bike.
While Dad continued his work on Das Island, Mum found work as the private secretary to the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa. In 1969 after the moon landings, she used a sheet of $500 gold-leaf paper to type the letter of congratulations from the Sheikh of Bahrain to President Nixon. That letter still remains in the archives of the US Department of State. When Neil Armstrong took that giant leap for mankind, Dad was away on Das Island so he missed it. Mum and my sister and I watched it unfold on a tiny black-and-white TV at a friends house.
A couple of weeks after the moon landing, Dad's brother Ken called to inform Dad that his father had died. He was cremated a few days later, but Dad didn't go to the ceremony. A few months after that, Dad's mum, Nana, came to spend a few months with us in Bahrain.
It was in Bahrain that I experienced the one and only time where my Dad showed disapproval of me. Despite being in a foreign land and being very young, Mum and Dad pretty much allowed me to play and wander about outside on my own all day. On one fateful day, I foolishly picked fruit off a neighbour’s tree by leaning over his fence and the neighbour was not happy about it at all. Knowing that I was in trouble, I ran off and hid and remember sneaking out occasionally to find Dad walking the street looking for me. Eventually it was getting dark and I decided I needed to be home to face the consequences. I don’t remember if I was punished, but I certainly remember Dad not being too happy about the incident.
After two years in Bahrain, we returned to England by way of a mediterranean cruise on the SS Ausonia from Beirut to Venice via Istanbul, Rhodes, Athens and Bari and spent a few weeks visiting family. I have great memories of the cruise and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It was during our stopover in Istanbul that I witnessed Dad's first act of kindness to strangers - a pattern that he would display throughout his life. A Swiss lady approached him and explained that she had been robbed and had no money to get back to Switzerland and asked if she could borrow money which she would pay back when she got home. The average person would have dismissed the woman immediately but Dad listened and ultimately gave her $500 so that she could get home.
Once we got to Venice we took the Venice-Simplon express train and stayed in Obergurgl in Austria where we hiked up the mountain in search of snow. We then visited Lucerne in Switzerland where we stayed at Chateau Gutsch, a gloriously fabulous hotel overlooking the city. The hotel had its own telepherique that took us down to the city centre where we enjoyed walked across the wooden bridges over the fast-flowing river Reuss.
The Swiss lady that Dad had met in Istanbul was good to her word and insisted we visit her at her home in Engelberg, a small alpine town in central Switzerland. There she treated us to a tour of her town and repaid the money that Dad had lent her.
We then flew to London from Zurich. Dad got great pleasure from taking us to exotic places.
During our time in Bahrain, Dad had bought a Super-8 movie camera and had made a number of short films of our life in Bahrain and our cruise. When we got to England Dad edited them into one long film and we had a movie night where we showed them to our family. It was all very exciting and I remember at the time feeling very proud that we were living such a great life.
Prior to leaving Bahrain, Dad had got a job working for Yusuf Alghanim in Kuwait so after our brief holiday in England we packed up and headed to Kuwait. Yusuf Alghanim was an extremely rich man who had played a pivotal role in negotiating Kuwait’s agreements for oil exploration with BP. After the war he also signed a key agreement with General Motors and ran the Kuwaiti franchises for Caterpillar and numerous car companies. Dad called him Am-Yusuf.
Dad continued his work as an electrician and general manager but he developed a deep relationship with Am-Yusuf and became his go-to man for problem solving. As a result, we had frequent trips to Beirut where Am-Yusuf had an expansive estate in the hills overlooking the city. Dad would maintain and service Am-Yusuf's electrical generator while we got to walk around Am-Yusuf's lovely gardens.
One of the most significant projects Dad implemented for Am-Yusuf was a plan to establish the world’s largest gravel plant at Sabiyah in the north of Kuwait near the Iraqi border. I used to accompany Dad on some of his excursions into the desert during construction of the gravel plant - we would sleep in Am-Yusuf’s little house on a waterfront looking out towards Bubiyan Island and drop by to see the local Bedouin who would feed us sweet tea and bread that had been baked on camel dung in the sand. One day Dad decided to take a short cut back to the gravel plant in our Chevrolet Impala and we ended up hitting a sand dune. I was eating a juicy plum at the time in the front seat without a seat belt on and was propelled towards the windscreen, covering myself in sweet and sticky plum. I was uninjured but a little shocked and remember Dad consoling me as I cried my eyes out.
Dad's kindness to strangers continued with another episode while we were in the desert near Sabiyah. A local bedouin tribe sought Dad out and asked him for their help. He entered their tent to discover the patriarch's young daughter had knocked over a tea urn and was suffering from scalding burns. Dad drove to pick up medical supplies and then returned to treat the little girl's injuries. He repeated the treatments until the girl was much improved. The bedouin were so grateful that they offered to make Dad a carpet which he politely declined, much to the chagrin of Mum.
The opening of the Sabiyah Gravel Plant was quite the event, with Am-Yusuf present and lots of Kuwaiti Press (shown below - with Dad in the background and that little boy is me). We have a home movie of that day which I watch frequently. It was the first time I had ever felt proud of my Dad because I knew from our frequent trips to the plant how much the employees respected him but I also had first hand experience of watching him build the gravel plant.
Kuwait was a time of great happiness for me. I loved Kuwait very much - the people were friendly and my sister and I really enjoyed going to the British School of Kuwait. Dad was home from work every night so we did lots of things together as a family. We would play board or card games in the evening, or walk around the neighbourhood of Salmiya where we lived and get an ice cream. There was an English book shop close by where I indulged my lifetime love of books. And we developed a lot of friendships through school as well as at Dad's work. Just like in Bahrain, school was in the mornings on account of the heat so we spent almost every afternoon down at the beach club.
In order to get to work and give us mobility, Dad initially bought an Open Record car from an Indian Alghanim employee but Am-Yusuf sold Dad a discounted Chevrolet Impala in 1971.
Kuwait was a dry-state - alcohol consumption was illegal - so Dad started brewing his own beer and invested, with a couple of friends, in a still so that they could make a hard spirit that was known as flash - similar to vodka. He then built himself an impressive bar at our flat and Mum and Dad would host the most amazing parties. In the week prior to each party Mum would work slavishly in the kitchen making delicious food and Dad would make sure his bar was fully stocked with beer and black-market spirits. I would invariably wake up half way through the parties and sneak out to steal a cream cake.
One of my favorite memories of Kuwait was our regular trips to a remote beach where we would barbecue meat skewers on a grill that Dad had fashioned out of an old oil drum. We would walk along the beach, play frisbee in the sand or play hide and seek in the sand dunes. It was very blissful.
It was during our time in Kuwait that Mum’s mum died (August 1972). Mum was actually on a flight back from England at the time, having gone home for a couple of weeks to see her ailing mother. The next day Dad got a call while he was at work and came home to inform Mum of her death.
Just like in Bahrain, Dad's mother Nana came to live with us for a few months and loved Kuwait as much as we did. Arabian culture pours great respect on elders, so Nana was extremely popular at the beach club and she had a number of younger arab male admirers.
Looking back, our time in Kuwait was the pinnacle of my childhood happiness - I had my Dad home every night and we were truly a happy family. The three years in Kuwait was the only time in my entire childhood and teenage years when Dad was actually with us on a daily basis rather than somewhere else earning money.
After three years in Kuwait, it was time to return to England again so Dad planned another european holiday stopover trip. We left Kuwait and flew to Cyprus where we stayed at the Dome Hotel in Kyrenia. The hotel was to become a shelter for greek cypriots after the Turkish invasion in 1974, but during our stay it seemed to mainly be occupied by old age pensioners on holiday. Dad didn't like the atmosphere at all so promptly booked us flights on Polish Airlines to Copenhagen with a stopover for the night in Warsaw. It was going to be our first experience of being behind the Iron Curtain and it didn't get off to a good start. Once the plane took off, Dad got out of his seat to go to the toilet and an enormous Polish Airlines stewardess who was dressed in some form of grey military-like outfit pushed him back into his seat and said "sit down!". The woman was so enormous that she could have snapped Dad in half.
We arrived in Warsaw and despite only being there on a stopover for the night, we were subjected to lots of questions and security searches. After hours of waiting we were taken to the airport hotel but on arrival discovered that it had no restaurant. So Dad got us all onto a tram and we headed into the centre of Warsaw on a sightseeing and restaurant search. Everything in Warsaw was depressing and grey. The people all seemed miserable and eyed foreigners with suspicion. We found a restaurant but all it had was some form of black-coloured soup. When we returned to our hotel, the reception staff took us to our rooms and then promptly locked our doors so we couldn't get out. The next day we flew to Copenhagen and enjoyed the Tivoli Gardens immensely and took a tour of the city by boat, stopping to see the Little Mermaid. Dad's holidays were always fun and eventful.
Once back in England we spent six months living with Mum’s dad before Dad got a job working for a company called Offshore in Iran on an oil rig called the Jubilee. Dad was back to working three weeks on an oil rig and then spending a week at home again, so we all moved to Tehran. Iran at the time was very pro-American on account of the Shah of Iran’s pro-western views so we ended up getting lots of American friends and neighbours. My sister and I were enrolled in the British School of Tehran. Iran was very different from our experiences in Bahrain and Kuwait - for a start Tehran had four distinct seasons so we experienced the heat of summer as well as snow in the winter. It was also a beautiful country with an amazing history although we did find the people a little less welcoming than the arabians.
It was in Iran that we learned to ski - in those days it was a rather exclusive and expensive sport but we got by with second hand equipment and leather ski boots that would be a huge source of amusement today.
Our time in Iran was focused on building a nest egg of cash so that Mum and Dad could buy a house somewhere in England outside of Middlesbrough.
Dad's good samaritan brushes with complete strangers re-appeared one night when he was at a business function at the Bristol Hotel in the city centre of Tehran. He was dressed in his best suit and tie, having a beer next to the swimming pool, when a lady accidentally tripped and fell in. Unable to swim, she started thrashing while onlookers stood frozen wondering what to do. Dad came to the rescue, jumping into the pool fully clothed and pulled her out. He saved the women but in the process completely ruined his suit.
We spent a couple of years in Iran but options for my continued education became slim and I ultimately ended up at a boarding school in England. While Dad remained working in Iran, Mum returned to Middlesbrough and started looking for a permanent place to settle in England. As a family we toured various parts of the country and looked at some lovely houses but Dad always had his eye on finding a place where my sister and I could get a good education. After six months based at 32 Hollywalk Drive, Mum and Dad bought a beautiful seven bedroom house with a large garden in Harrogate, marking the point in time where we left behind all our physical connections to Middlesbrough.
Mum and Dad immediately set forth to establish a working vegetable garden right at the highest point of the garden. To make the ground extra fertile, they ordered a tractor-load of manure from a local farm. On the day Dad headed back to the oil rig for a month, the manure got dumped in front of the garage, blocking access to the car, and Mum spent the next month ferrying it to the top of the garden in the wheelbarrow.
Throughout my teenage years Dad continued working abroad, mainly working a month away and then spending a couple of weeks at home. As far as we were all concerned our family was complete but one snowy day in the spring of 1977, Mum told my sister and I that she was pregnant. Dad was away at the time so I knew he had a big surprise coming when he arrived home. My brother Andrew arrived December 1977 when I was 14. Dad arrived home the day before he was born and after the birth he drove to my school on Saturday night to inform me that I now had a brother.
Although my brother was not planned, he was a breath of fresh air for Mum and Dad. It gave Mum a totally new lease on life and allowed her to experience being a mother all over again. And the same happened to Dad - as my sister and I became teenagers, Dad suddenly had a little child to rear. Both Mum and Dad would go on to spend a lot of quality family time with my brother, long after my sister and I had left home, and I think it was very beneficial to all of them.
With another child to feed, Dad spent a couple of weeks at home and then packed his suitcase and was off to work again Throughout his life, Dad’s work would take him to far off places, many of them unpleasant where he typically worked in awful conditions with people who were not his intellectual match, but he never complained. Over the years, the conditions and people that he worked with changed Dad to be a lot less social - something that he expressed regret for in his last few weeks of life.
It wouldn't be till later in my life that I understood how Dad coped with his tough work situation. Dad quickly developed the attitude that he needed to adapt to any situation, accept it for what it was, and then work out how to thrive in that environment in order to keep his sanity. He would mentally block out his home sickness, deprive himself of the typical mental stimulation he was used to having, and then just get on with it. Dad worked out how to adapt to anything.
Dad's entire life's focus was on unselfishly working hard so that his children could get a good education at private schools and his family could live prosperously. We had many a Christmas when Dad would be away on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean, unable to even call us on the phone. There were countless holidays without Dad where we enjoyed ourselves and spent Dad’s earnings while he languished afar on a dirty oil rig. It was, in many respects, cruel. We all got used to the routine of Dad disappearing for a month without any communication other than the odd letter in the mail and then he would arrive home and be around for two weeks before disappearing again. There was the life we had when Dad was around and a totally different life when Dad was not there. As a result Dad missed many of the key milestones in our lives and as a father myself, I honestly cannot imagine how hard that must have been for him.
I think there was only one holiday during my teenage years when Dad accompanied us - we went to Malta and Dad and I spent the week getting scuba certified while Mum and my sister enjoyed the beach and the pool. The photo below was taken during that holiday.
The one advantage of Dad's hard work was that the family no longer lived paycheck to paycheck, so one day Dad decided to buy the one car that he had always coveted - a maroon Daimler Vanden Plas with cream leather seats. Dad said the seats were so comfortable that he would like to have them removed from the car and installed in the living room. It was truly a beautifully luxurious car, but like all cars of the time, had reliability issues. We still own that car now - Dad couldn't part with it, despite its unreliability, and eventually agreed to have it stored in a barn. We have no idea what ultimately happened to it or where it is now, but Dad still owns it!
In February 1979 Dad was working on an oil rig off Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf when the Shah of Iran was deposed. While the Army, Air Force and Navy remained loyal to the Shah, the government fell to an uprising on the streets and Ayatollah Khomeini took power. The Iranian government immediately moved to nationalise all the oil rigs working in Iranian waters. Dad ended up working on a skeleton crew that was tasked with securing the oil rig by welding all the doors of control rooms shut. Iranian navy boats circled the rig to protect it during the effort to secure it and once complete, Dad evacuated the rig by helicopter. Arriving back in Tehran, the streets were in chaos and Dad had trouble finding a hotel to stay in while awaiting a flight back to the UK. Standing on a balcony, he witnessed an airforce helicopter gunship shoot students in the streets. Dad’s oil rig was ultimately released by Iranian officials after $100,000 in bribes were paid and then it was towed to the safety of Bahrain.
It was in my late teens that Dad sat down with me and made clear his expectations of me. He told me that one day I would be responsible for making the decisions of the family. He told me that he expected me to be more successful than him and to stand up and be a man. He told me of his sacrifices and didn’t want the same to happen to me. I took his words to heart and understood what was expected of me. I carry those responsibilities and obligations to this day.
But Dad did more than set expectations. He was a great engineer and electrician because he was never daunted by a technical task no matter how complex or large. It was something that he instilled into me too. When I was 10 he taught me the basics of electrical circuits and I never looked back. It ultimately led to my own career in technology. By my teens, I would habitually dismantle any electronic device given to me so that I could understand its inner workings. Dad taught me the skill of fixing things and it has served me well. Even in his seventies, Dad was always up to the task of improving things. I spent two weeks with him in London upgrading the heating and electrics and installing a new kitchen in our apartment and he got on with it like it was no big deal at all. Last week I stripped down a malfunctioning pool heater, determined what the problem was and then fixed it myself, all the while thinking about how much Dad would have enjoyed the job. When I told him about it he said that I was "a chip off the old block".
When I was sixteen, Dad bought me a 50CC Yamaha motorbike which gave me enormous mobility prior to me taking my driving test. In early 1980 Dad was teaching me to drive his Mazda 939 Estate car one Sunday morning. We took an odd route, different than we had ever gone before, and promptly stopped at a house where he bought me my first car - a yellow Triumph Spitfire (shown below). Dad and I spent many hours in the garage together working on that car - it was horribly unreliable but it served me well.
The downfall of the Shah and the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini turned Iran from a western-friendly power in the Person Gulf into an enemy of the west. But Dad soon found work in Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia working for Aramco, the Saudi oil company where he remained for five years, traveling back and forth to England to see us every month. In 1984 he worked in Karachi in Pakistan and then returned to the gulf again and worked in Dubai and Sharjah.
In 1985, Dad got a five year consultancy contract working for the Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC) of India in Bombay where he took 17 engineers of varying skill levels under his wing. On his second day at work, he visited a brand new oil rig that had just been completed and reacquainted himself with a long lost friend - Slim Thompson - who was in charge of it. I remember Slim, and his wife Pam, as they would look after my sister and I in Bahrain when Mum and Dad had to go to Kuwait for a couple of days. After inspecting the rig, Dad said he could smell burning electrics and after a search they found an alternator in the engine room with a smoking bearing. The alternator weighed six tons so the Engineering Superintendant said they would have it taken ashore to be fixed but Dad insisted on fixing it in situ, much to the amazement of the management who all flew out to the rig via helicopter to witness the feat.
In the late 1980s, Dad switched to working in the oil fields of the North Sea, drilling for British Gas on the Interocean II rig (shown below). During his time on board, he witnessed the death of his closest colleague (who had just relieved him after Dad worked a 24 hour shift) in a freak crane accident. Three months later a Board of Trade representative visited Dad at home in Harrogate to ask a number of questions about the accident and Dad used a scale model of an oil rig that I had built for my Art O-Level to illustrate what happened.
Shortly afterwards, Interocean II was refitted in Sunderland before heading to a new gas drilling position off the East Anglia coast. Dad was on leave at home when it put to sea on a stormy November 8th 1989, against the advice of the barge engineer responsible for towing it, and sank in 34 metres of water after losing one of two anchor chains in force 10 gales. There were 51 crew onboard of which 43 were immediately evacuated by ship. The remaining 8 crew fought to save it for twelve hours but were then airlifted by the coast guard minutes before it toppled over and sank.
Dad found himself in Andhra Pradesh in India in 1990 working on the assembly of another land rig in an area that worshipped snakes. He distinctly remembers watching in amazement as a king cobra climb a tree and then dived to catch a white dove, coiling around it in the air before landing on the ground with a thud.
The Gulf War on 1992 brought lots of work Dad’s way too as the allied bombing campaign damaged a lot of the oil pipelines in the area. After that, he was back working in the North Sea out of Yarmouth drilling for Natural Gas.
Dad’s last job was in Nigeria working for Chief Idesi in Sapele on a contract with Lonestar Drilling. The chief had bought a land rig from Shell and wanted Dad to operate it. But getting to the rig was arduous - after a long flight to Lagos, Dad would have to endure a six hour car journey into the jungle during which there were repeated attempts to stop the car by angry mobs throwing boulders so that the occupants could be robbed. He spent two and half years going back and forth to Nigeria, enduring constant threats to his own safety.
Another kindness to strangers episode happened while Dad was in Nigeria. He noticed that all the women who lived near the drilling rig possessed few clothes so during one of his trips back to England he went out and bought clothing for the women and loads of sweets for their children. The women were delighted with their new clothes but a few days later, they were all back to walking around scantily dressed because they had bartered their new clothes for food.
In January 1998, Dad's mum Nana died in hospital aged 103. Dad had been to see her on the day she died but he had left to return to Harrogate and arrived home to the news from his sister Betty that Nana had died. She was cremated a few days later, with Mum, Dad and my sister attending the ceremony. Nana was an amazing lady - lovely to be around and always funny and quite the most amazing domino player. She obviously came from good genetic stock because her sisters also lived to 101 and 102 respectively.
Dad finally retired later in 1998 and settled in Harrogate in the flat that they had bought specifically for retirement. They celebrated their retirement by going to the Full Moon hotel in the Maldives over Christmas in 1998. They took Debbie and Andy along with them, and enjoyed diving and snorkeling. One night, they attended the karaoke night, and in true Jarvis spirit, not only participated but went all in. They won the competition, with Andy singing “These Boots are Made for Walking”, Debbie achieving full audience participation for “Hey Jude”, and a full rendition by all Jarvis’s of “We are Family”. They gave the brand new music stereo prize to their favourite Sri Lankan waiter who they had befriended during the week. Later that night, Dad epically grabbed Mum’s hand and they ran and jumped into the swimming pool, fully clothed. Upon returning to the bar, dripping wet, they were subsequently banned from any more exploits that night. Nothing made Dad happier than seeing his family enjoying themselves.
Mum and Dad returned to a cold and wintry Britain and it was only a matter of weeks before Dad announced that the weather and temperatures in England were not to his liking - he said his blood was too thin for the climate!
Mum and Dad had always been adventurous and had no fear of foreign parts so they took a grand tour of various countries looking for possible places to retire to, ultimately settling for a little fishing village just outside Bodrum in Turkey. There they bought a little house on a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea and then got themselves a yacht (shown below) to sail to the Greek Islands. Life was idyllic and they spent a number of happy years there.
I have an observation about my Dad which he actually disputes, but as he is no longer here, I get the final say. I call it the “three emails of disillusion”, and this is how it goes:
In my experience, Mum and Dad always settled in a new country with gusto and relish - they turned into locals and enjoyed the way of life enormously. I would always get an effusive first email filled with the excitement of what they were doing. But eventually, a second email would arrive in which Mum and Dad would explain how frustrating some of the local bureaucracies were - the electric would go off regularly and need a trip to town to get them reconnected, or local builders would ignore property lines and erect illegal structures that destroyed their view. Once I had the email about their frustrations, I knew that the third email was inevitable, and it would state that Dad had announced that he didn’t want to die there. It was after that email that they inevitably moved on to a new country.
After Turkey’s bureaucracy got too much and Dad decided he didn’t want to die there, they moved to the city of Cali in Colombia in South America after visiting my brother Andy who also happened to live there. There they followed the usual template of buying a house and enjoying their new country, with effusive emails about the glory of living in Colombia. They got themselves a dog and a parrot and were very happy.
Once Dad got established in Colombia he joined Andy in the Cali Cricket Team. The team played Bogota on an annual basis, and had been on a losing streak which stretched as far back as any of the players could remember. Dad took it upon himself to coach the team to glory. He started organizing the practice sessions, creating structure to the training and took on the challenge to have Cali Cricket Club win the next Bogota game. The team exemplified the concept of amateur – a few die-hard cricket fans, a few who barely knew the rules, and a handful for which the after-cricket activities was by far the highest priority. Dad would prepare each practice in his notebook, and had them whipped into shape in no time. A bad back from decades of hard physical work prevented him from playing, but he’d sit on a seat at the fielders end of the crease barking out orders and shouting “rubbish” at regular intervals. At one point, a hard forward drive whizzed at him, hitting the chair he was sat on and breaking the leg. Dad proudly responded “Good one”.
When it came to the big game, Dad had an elaborate and cunning plan. Beyond the batting order and fielding strategy, Dad instigated no sex and no alcohol orders on all Cali cricket team members, and proceeded in the social event the night before the game to distribute beer to Bogota at a rapid rate. The next morning, the Bogota team could barely open their eyes, and the Cali team batted and bowled heroically. It was a white wash, and to this day remains the only time Cali beat Bogota.