David Tall : Life

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In September 1969, Sue, Rebecca (aged 3) and I, arrived at 21 Laburnum Avenue, Kenilworth, where Sue and I live to this day. It is an average-sized, semi-detached house (meaning it is joined to its neighbour) in a quiet road, less than ten minutes walk from the shops in Kenilworth town centre. Our plan was to stay here for a time and move to a bigger place later. However, the price of houses, which had stayed almost flat for the previous three years, suddenly tripled in a short time and any hope of a move became so expensive, we decided to stay where we were. It has been fortuitous. The primary school was just round the corner, the junior school at Park Hill and Kenilworth secondary school were ten minutes walk away. So everything was conveniently close.

In our second year at Kenilworth (September 18, 1970), Christopher was born and, as a baby, we took him and Rebecca for three months study leave at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in America for the spring of 1971. Nic was born on May 30, 1973 to complete the family.

The three children were quite different. Rebecca was mature at two years old. We tried to treat them all equally, but they were obviously different. For example, when they became difficult or did something that was considered anti-social, the consequence was to be sent to their bedroom with the instruction that they could “come down when they had sorted themselves out.” Rebecca would stay in her room for hours and when we could bear it no longer we would go to see her only to find her scowling angrily at us without any compromise. Christopher would never get to his room. Two or three steps up the stairs and he would turn with a huge smile on his face. “I’m sorry,” he would say and come back and resume his life where he left off. Nic on the other hand, would never reappear. However, unlike Rebecca, his attitude was totally different. When we went later to see him in his room, he was playing with his toys, oblivious of what had happened. He would smile and act as if nothing had happened, quite content to stay alone in his own company. How it is that three children, brought up in the same house, with the same rules, will develop so differently!

My first two children, though different, were easy to raise. Rebecca we could reason with and Christopher, though quite different, was keen to fit in with family life. I was convinced I was a fantastic father. Two different children, both of them well-balanced in different ways. Then Nic was born. He was unlike Christopher. If we were out of the house and we walked around a corner leaving Christopher two steps behind, he would cry out. He was dependent as a child. Nic, on the other hand might sit down on the floor in a shop and lose himself into oblivion. We could (but never did) walk away and leave him and he would simply amuse himself and not worry about being alone. He was quite independent. One Easter, we bought each of them Easter eggs. After scoffing his own, Nic ate half of Christopher's as well. As we did with Rebecca, we told him he must pay for what he did. He must come with his own money up to the town centre and buy a new easter egg for Christopher. Of course, when he got there, the Easter eggs were in a sale and he was able to buy one for half price. Then when he gave it to Christopher, his brother immediately shared it with him!

One day as he and I drove around in the car when he was about four or five, I told him we were going to see his Grandma in Leamington on Sunday. “I’m not,” he said, in a straightforward matter-of-fact way. I explained his grandma was an old lady and we should go to see her while we still had her around, but he wouldn’t change his mind.“You can’t make me do anything I don’t want to.” he explained. “You can only smack me and that will upset you more than it will hurt me.” He was absolutely right. I had no desire to hurt him and it would certainly trouble me to hit a child. I agreed with him, but said that he would learn, as he grew older, that it was kind to do things to please other people even when it was not something he really wanted to do himself. He never was naughty or difficult. But ... if he made his mind up, it could never be changed by persuasion, diversion or argument. This taught me once more that I was not able to achieve everything I wanted with my children simply by attempting to make a one-sided decision. It was a good lesson.

When the children were young, my activities in music grew very quickly. I spent much of my spare time playing the viola, conducting choirs and generally being involved in the music scene. At the university, my position as Lecturer in Mathematics with Special Interests in Education was split 50% in maths and 50% in education. In education I had virtually nothing to do, so I essentially had only half a job. I had a great deal of freedom to work on my music, prepare my half-a-lecturer’s quota of mathematics lectures and write a few books. I spent more and more time on music. I played in orchestras, conducted a choir at the university, an opera group in Leamington, another in Coventry and started working in local amateur theatres.

In 1976, on a Tuesday in the summer, I remember Sue telling Christopher, then nearly six, that she would be going out that evening. “Who’s going to babysit?” he asked. “Daddy,” said Sue. “Daddy?” responded Chris, incredulously. I realised that I had been so busy doing so many things, it was time to devote much more time to the family. I stopped doing my major musical activity and had so much time to spare, I spent a whole year brewing wine. I made 120 gallons of wine, with grapes, tinned fruits, dandelions, hips, parsnips, and anything else that would react with yeast to produce alcohol. Sue spent sixpence on a packet of parsnip seeds. The vegetables were first boiled and the liquid used to make a potent wine, whilst the remaining vegetables were used for food. We collected dandelions, to make wine with the petals, and a kind of coffee with the roots. It was a special time.

Chris began playing football for the Cub Pack in a Saturday morning league. I became a travelling supporter. On one occasion I was a little late and the team were already 6-0 down at half time. Chris was not a dominant agressive player. He was always moving “into space” and pointing to where the ball should be passed, although he rarely touched it himself. I regret that I was disappointed he did not have the aggression in football that characterised my rugby. But we on the touchline were vociferous supporters, and when Chris was kicked on his shin, suddenly he went beserk, charging all over the place, tackling anyone left standing. His side didn't win, but they didn’t lose any more goals. We got an extra point in the peculiar point-scoring system in the league for our ‘quality of support’.

As an eleven-year-old, Chris ran well in cross-country races and we really enjoyed the socialising on a Saturday morning at various school cross-country events. Then, in his last year in middle school, Chris became captain of cricket. There were five middle schools (eight to twelve years) in Kenilworth and they played each year for a knockout cricket cup. This was a six aside affair in which the five players apart from the wicket keeper bowled two overs each, giving ten overs a side. Chris's Park Hill Team got into the final and played away against Priorsfield who batted first. Chris, as captain, did not bring himself to bowl early, and when he did, Priorsfield were already scoring well. In the end they made about sixty runs. Park Hill then batted and were soon three wickets down when Chris came in at about 15 for 3. Soon two more wickets fell and Chris was the only one not out with only twenty or so runs on the board. In this form of cricket however, there was a special rule in which ‘last man stands’. Thus Chris was allowed to play with a runner until the innings ended. Steadily he knocked off the remaining runs on his own, and Park Hill won.

Nic also did a little cub-football, cross-country and cricket, but his forte was being a wit rather than an athlete. Both he and Chris, however, continued their love of cricket into their mature years.

Rebecca wasn’t an athlete at all, but she did about everything else. She played piano, double bass and taught herself a dozen other instruments, making some of them herself, including an Irish harp. She taught herself to make lace, then attended a lace school in Honiton during her holidays, eventually constructing a lace version of the Kenilworth School Badge which was reproduced as the picture on the official school Christmas card.

Each child developed talents in his or her individual way. Rebecca was multi-talented and could do almost anything, including a range of musical and artistic activities. She was first out of the nest, going to Chester College to study for a degree. After graduating she did a bit of this and a bit of that before going back to Chester to get a PGCE and become a teacher. Then she married in Phil and eventually settled in Christleton where she is taking time out from teaching to bring up her sons Lawrence and Zachary.

Chris had a year out working in Leamington, then was off to Derby College to study Geography. After various adventures, living in a variety of digs with Ruth, he settled in Newark and worked at the local technical college in computing.

Nic studied at York, eventually settling on a degree in Psychology. After Uni he decided to marry Janet, get a job, buy a house and settle down. He did it all by Christmas after he graduated.

He worked for a time supervising the finance of several Health Practices, then worked for the Local Authority on planning and communication, before several years working for the Exeter Dioceses, being, amongst other things, the Web Servant of the Diocesan web-site.

Now he and Janet have paid for their house and he has taken to working at home as a house-husband looking after daughter Emily, who was born in March 2004, and doing a little selling books on the internet.

Being a parent has been very rewarding. Becoming a grandparent is even better...

Rebecca’s Lace work.

The story continues here ...

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