5 November 2010

My uncle Gerald, 1937-2010

My uncle Gerald died suddenly today. He wasn't my actual uncle, but was as much an avuncular figure to me as any real uncle. He was actually my dad's cousin and this morning he passed away, a couple of weeks or so before his 73rd birthday.

Gerald represented to me a classic example of the man from one era trying to move into another. He was resolutely old-fashioned and had a lack of world wisdom and education, but he had the best ever excuse for this: he was a farmer. He was born into it, was doing jobs on the land not long after learning to stand up straight and was running the place on his own pretty much from his own coming of age.

We all know, even if it's just from passing interest, that farming is relentless. The mornings are early, the hours are long and the days off are non-existent. The plusses seem to come in the form of physical fitness, considerable fearlessness, a handiness with any outdoor task that happens upon you and a steely work ethic. Gerald epitomised the lot.

His farm was in East Yorkshire, in a village just outside Beverley, and my dad was a frequent visitor there as a child for playtime purposes. Every member of the family got their Sunday roast meat from Gerald as well as their Christmas geese and turkeys but, Gerald being a farmer, they all had to pay up, without family discount. He had a living to earn and saw no reason, quite rightly, why accident of bloodline should mean he earned less from rearing one chicken than from the next.

When my dad qualified as a motor mechanic at the end of the 1950s, Gerald would give him stuff from the farm in return for suitable odd jobs. There were semi-regular visits to the farm to collect poultry or vegetables or dairy products and Dad, sleeves rolled up, would wind up fixing a tractor or plough instead of handing over the money.

There was an occasion that my mum still brings up now - and will almost certainly be given as an anecdote to whoever provides next week's eulogy - when Gerald had set aside a goose for the Rudd family Christmas one year in return for something skilled my Dad had done, but by the time they turned up at the farm on Christmas Eve morning to collect, he'd sold it because someone had made a better offer than the financial equivalent of replacing the wheel on a trailer or something. Mum was livid and had to start making last-ditch trips around village butchers to have something for the oven the next day.

For me, it was all about the fun of having a distant but friendly relative with a farm. When I was a kid, the trips at weekends and in the summer were quite regular, with my brother and I jumping about on the straw while Mum and Dad had a cup of tea and caught up with Gerald. By now he had built a proper house on the farmland, with his ageing mother - my Dad's auntie - staying in the original farm shack with a rocking chair and the biggest coal fire I have ever seen. Gerald married late in life and had a baby daughter by this time and so needed his own space. His second child, a boy, came along when he was nearly 50.

Whenever there was a family get-together for weddings or birthdays, Gerald would tell stories of the hard life in farming and would get the odd crocodile tear from those of us who felt he was laying it on thick. He was easy to tease and he knew it but he had gone through far more tough times on a physical level to get worried in semi-retirement about how he was perceived by the townie side of his family. I just found him fascinating, straight, decent and funny - he could tell a great joke - and his lifelong interest in Hull City also gave us something in common. The Tigers were the only consistent reason he had to go into the city of Hull at all.

At Dad's 70th birthday do earlier this year, I asked Gerald when he had last been to London. "1951, Festival of Britain" was his matter-of-fact reply. The maths show he was 13 at the time. I wish I'd known this when the Tigers got to Wembley because I'd have bought him a ticket and taken him to the game. Otherwise, he had barely travelled out of East Yorkshire and if he did manage to get farmhands to look after the land, he'd take his family to Bridlington or Scarborough for breaks, both only half an hour from home to allow him to nip back each day while the rest of them ate ice creams on the prom.

He retired a few years ago but maintained his financial interest in the farm and bought a house nearby. He couldn't stop himself from working though and still, on a part-time basis, dragged machinery around and fed chickens and herded sheep. The last time I visited his house, a new home on a smart estate, there was an enormous bag of sheep feed in the driveway and wellingtons on the doormat.

He was born into farming and died half a mile from it, and I'm in little doubt that he'd have been doing something farm-related today if fate hadn't stepped in. But all the hard work and thriftiness will benefit his family substantially, especially as his eldest has a child on the way. And thank goodness he took the bollocking my dad gave him a while back on the chin and made a will, because at the age of 70 he hadn't sorted one out. That was Gerald all over.

He'll be missed.


Mondo said...

Sorry to hear your news, they really were a different generation and built from stronger stuff back then..

Valentine Suicide said...

Sounds like a thouroughly excellent fellow Matt, I'm sorry for your loss.

Matthew Rudd said...

Thanks chaps.