Frank Watson – father, businessman, Parish Council leader. Demands respect, earning it most of the time. On his way out of the Community Centre, Frank finds another victim.
‘Jeremy – there you are!’
‘Oh, Frank, nice to see you. I was just on my way to see Nick about… something.’
‘Never mind, I need a quick word. Could you run the Tombola at the fête this year?’
‘Who’s run it in the past?’
‘So, you’ve not had a Tombola before?’
‘No, Jeremy, we’ve never had a fête before.’
‘I see. Anyway, when is it?’
‘The fête sub-committee will finalize the date. Can I press-gang you onto the committee? We meet here on the fourteenth next month.’
‘Doctor, I know you’re a busy man. All those patients to see and looking after your lovely wife. Tell you what, just take on one of the roles. What do you say, Tombola or Committee?’
‘Let’s make it easier - I’ll put you down for the Tombola. Less responsibility. Can’t have our esteemed GP burning out, can we.’
‘That’s settled then. Have a word with Nick – he’s got all the Tombola stuff. The W.I. run one at their Bring ‘N Buy.’
‘I’m very busy…’
‘That’s why I picked you - you know, give a job to a busy man, woman, er, person.’
‘Ok, I give in.’
‘Good man. Knew you wouldn’t let me down.’
‘Goodbye Frank, I’ll get back to you.’
‘See you Doc… oh, by the way, have you decided when you’re herding the sheep through the village?’
‘It’s your right. You are the first person since the Millennium to have the Freedom of Leeford bestowed upon your person. It’s an ancient right, back to when Leeford was just a church and six houses. The old river Lee, now just a stream really, except when we had the flood, George and all – but of course you know that – ‘
‘I must get on. There will be no sheep-herding, no committee, but I will do your damn Tombola if it will keep you happy. Now I must go in and see Nick.’
Must be under a lot of pressure, Frank thinks to himself.
‘Come on Frank, it has to be your round sometime,’ suggests Jack Simmons.
‘Listen, Shakespeare, when I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it!’ Frank fires back.
‘Opinion, a sovereign mistress of effects - now that’s Shakespeare. Othello, Act One, Scene Three.’
‘Good God, it wasn’t like this when I first came to the Cross,’ says Frank.
It was the summer of 1972 when Frank first walked into the Cross. As far as he was aware it had always been called ‘The Cross’ and he has often considered doing some research at the Black Country Museum to find out. The sixty-three-year-old Frank Watson doesn’t really ‘do’ the internet, apart from business emails and his daily check on his Santander 1-2-3 account. Social Media is definitely a no-go area.
Barely seventeen years old, looking like a tired twenty-one-year-old, he drank alone. Successful in his ‘O’ levels the previous year - three grade A and five grade B – he was the only pupil at Banfield Grammar passing more than five ‘O’ levels who left at the age of sixteen.
‘Help me in the business, Francis,’ his Dad pleaded.
‘Dad, I told you, I don’t want to work in asbestos.’
‘It’s not dangerous - it’s all treated stuff anyway.’
‘It’s not that, Dad, but I’ve had five years being pushed around, people telling me what to do. I want to do my own thing.’
‘Son, do what you like, but it’s your mother. She wants the best for you.’
Doreen Watson, a well-meaning and loving mother, had not prepared her son for the perils of Grammar school life. As the only successful ‘eleven-plus’ entrant from East Banfield Junior, Frank arrived at Banfield Grammar on a dismal morning in September 1966. Alone, clad in worsted shorts, while ankle socks and a school cap. Doreen insisted.
‘Do I have to wear the cap, Mom?’
‘It’s part of the set uniform.’
‘Bet I’m the only one.’
He was right. Not the only student issued with a cap, but the only boy actually wearing one as he arrived at the school entrance. It triggered Frank’s first experience of bullying and it was not to be his last. The shorts and ankle socks didn’t help either.
He started life in a two-bed terraced in East Banfield. His Mom and Dad owned the house; unusual in those days, but Cecil was doing quite well in the business, cutting and supplying seals and gaskets for the motor industry. As the business expanded, the family moved to a three-bed detached in Spring Hill, Leeford, one of four houses sited directly opposite the shopping precinct and market area; Frank’s first experience of Leeford Village. However, schooldays had a lasting effect on young Francis. Nobody calls him that these days.
That first day, he tried to engage the other lads in conversation about Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Geoff Hurst et al, but to no effect. The cap had to go and when they knew his name was Francis, the screaming and gurgling ‘it’s Frank, actually’ didn’t cut it. The screaming you might expect and understand; the gurgling, well, that was just cruel. Frank could not fight off two burly fifth-formers who had decided that his head would fit inside the toilet bowl.
Retribution for the two burly fifth-formers never came. Within two years, one was off to Oxford to eventually become a lawyer of some repute, the other sent up to Cambridge and trained to be ‘something in the city’. Frank, however, did what a proportion of victims were tempted to do, he became a bully himself. By the end of his third year at Banfield Grammar, he had his own gang and meted out a variety of punishments to the unwary, the unaware and, in his opinion, the underclass. He wasn’t being completely truthful with his Dad when claiming to have been ‘pushed around for five years’. Maybe the first year, but you have to give him some credit – he survived.
Many people in the village look at Frank today – his military bearing, his officer-style approach to meetings or indeed any discussion and they don’t realise that the nearest he got to the military was two years in the Boys’ Brigade, but boy could he march. Toughened up at school, he eventually did join Cecil in the business. Even his Dad started to call him Frank.
Frank often relives the significant events in his life. Childhood, school, of course, but the true pattern of his life was formed when he joined the business. He had no idea that the partnership with his Dad would be short-lived. In less than two years working alongside Cecil he had proved to be a quick learner, as adept at sizing and cutting a head gasket as he was drafting a set of accounts. His Dad insisted that he start a business studies course at Banfield, but on his eighteenth birthday, the potential struggles of the next few years were brought sharply into focus.
‘Francis, it’s your Mom.’
‘You never call me at work.’
‘Your Dad stopped at home today. He probably didn’t tell you, but he hasn’t been well lately.’
‘What’s happened Mom?’
‘Dad’s in hospital. Oh, Francis.’ Doreen started to cry.
‘It’s ok, Mom. Is he in Banfield General?’
‘Yes, Darling. Ward C4, the Cancer Unit.’
‘I had no idea – shall I pick you up from home?’
‘No, I’m already here love. They let me use their phone.’
Cecil had reduced the hours he worked at the office, sometimes only doing two days a week. ‘I’ll do the accounts at home over the next few days, Frank, I can keep your Mom company at the same time - alright?’ Not that he needed Frank’s approval, but he was the first adult to truly respect the young man and demonstrate that respect on a daily basis. He will never forget that.
Frank had coped remarkably well and Cecil had developed a good team around him. Only Doreen knew that her husband had been undergoing chemotherapy as an out-patient. The treatment on the prostate cancer had not worked. It had spread to the pancreas and he had become anaemic. Cecil died at 4.00 a.m. the following morning.
Eighteen years of age and effectively in control of the business. He was lucky that Cecil had carefully selected and trained his team to cope without him. His manager, Steve Coplan, was fond of Frank and knew the only chance the business had of survival was for Frank to develop and succeed personally. He made it his mission to support the young man who was now grieving the loss of his father.
Frank met Sally at college. They went out a few times and grew close very quickly. Engaged within the year as he was taking his final exams, Sally had some news for him.
‘This is going to come as a bit of a shock - I’m pregnant.’
They hadn’t planned a short engagement, but he needed to review his objectives. Doreen felt she could not stay in the house. After a few months she went to live with a cousin in North Banfield. Doreen died ten years later after a long battle with breast cancer. The business was ticking over, but not thriving and he would not be able to afford to keep his parents’ house. He decided to move into the middle of the village. A smaller three bed roomed house became available in Green Crescent, with a significant difference in value between the two houses. Mature beyond his years, Frank put an offer in for the house and the deposit was paid before he and Sally had a beautiful baby girl – Megan.
‘Dad, can I ask you something?’
‘What’s that love?’
‘Did Mom ever get to see me when I was born?’
‘For a few minutes, Megan, just a few minutes.’
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