Bert & The Butcher of Woodhouse
I’m sat with Bert today while he awaits his second radiotherapy session of week four. As I’d mentioned last week, Bert is an alias I utilise in blogs to hide the identity of my elderly family member. In the first week his alias was Bob, but I forgot I’d given him that nom de plume. My tardiness resulting in since week two of his treatment I’ve been calling him Bert.
Thankfully, Bert wasn’t too put out by my naming faux pas…… Although he did mention given the choice he’d have preferred the alias Arnold. However, I’m not having an old dodderer dictating my blog content so it’s staying as Bert.
He is currently sat next to me in his t-shirt that proclaims ‘I’m not really called Bert’, his favourite comfortable trousers and tanned slip on shoes that he last cleaned to celebrate the birth of my son in 1990.
Cleaning your shoes on the birth of the first male of a new generation is a long standiing family ritual. It’s been handed down through generations since its inception by my maverick great great granddad Robert Strachan.
Why Bert hasn’t cleaned them since is a bit of a mystery. Not to mention how the shoes have lasted a quarter of a century. I suspect they are the benefactor of the Trigger’s Broom paradox, ie they are now made up of their 10th set of soles and 12th pair of leather uppers.
Legend has it that, in the 19th century, Robert became the first Strachan on my branch of the family ever to wear shoes. Prior to that the family footwear of choice was old discarded copies of the Leeds Mercury newspaper.
He became somewhat of a celebrity in the family following his leather footwear acquisition. Although some of the kudos gained on his ‘achievement’ recently diminished, following a genealogist’s discovery he had misguidedly wore the shoes on his hands during the first week after purchase.
Great great granddad Robert was a butcher who plied his trade in the Woodhouse area of Leeds from around 1870. I’m told he was a man with a great work ethic, although unsurprisingly the week he had the shoes on his hands weren’t quite as productive.
According to the family folklore, he was the first butcher in Leeds to sell freasel. This was a cheap meat derived from a creature that was a cross between a frog and a weasel. It wasn’t in circulation long as the freasel soon went extinct due to the logistical problems of mating.
However, during its brief tenure in the larders of 1870’s butchers stores, it was a popular cheap meal option for poor families with many mouths to feed.
His son, John (my great grandfather) briefly joined him in the family business in the late 1800’s, but became disenchanted when his old man told him he couldn’t introduce a vegetarian sausage range into stock. Subsequently, John left to ply his trade as a carter in 1899.
I believe a carter was a Victorian removals man. Although, I was given that historical gem by the person who informed me Robert Strachan inadvertently wore shoes on his hands for a week, so I’d take its validity with a pinch of salt.
John’s eldest son (my granddad) shared the same Christian name as his father, but not his love of vegetarian food or moving peoples furniture. Instead he took a career as a carnivorous salesman, prior to ultimately owning shops in Armley, Beeston and Calverley in later working life.
Unlike his granddad Robert, his shops weren’t purveyors of the finest Yorkshire butchers fare. His stores sold a variety of products labelled at the time as Fancy Goods. They were like mini department stores, in that they sold a variety of products, such as bed linen, children’s toys, towels, ornaments and general bric a brac.
Bert is my granddad John’s son. So he didn’t take his dad and granddad’s Christian name. Although then again he didn’t take the name Bert either!…… I made that alias up remember.
He didn’t take his career path either, working instead as manager at a fellmongery.
A quiet, hard working and unassuming man, Bert utilised his fellmongery expertise to earn an honest bob, providing for his family, until his retirement around 20 years. Since then he has led a comfortable life avoiding cleaning his shoes and contemplating changing his name to Arnold.
It’s sad to see how much this rancid illness has taken out of the affable octogenarian recently. He soldiers on, though, with the minimum of fuss and maximum of nasal hair.
Bert has just finished his treatment, and is shuffling toward me, so I best bring my brief family history to a conclusion.