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About the Author
John Lowe is also the author of The Art of Darts.
Read an Excerpt
By John Lowe, Patrick Chaplin
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2009 John Lowe and Patrick Chaplin
All rights reserved.
From Birth to Work
It was Monday, 12 January 2004. The PDC Ladbroke.com World Darts Championship had finished a week earlier, on Sunday, 4 January. Once again, I had qualified to play – I always do – and I should have beaten Alan 'The Iceman' Warriner in the third round on New Year's Eve. After all, I was three sets up on him and the crowd was behind me. However, I lost concentration and Alan came back at me to win 4–3.
Some would point out, predictably, that Phil Taylor had won his eleventh world crown, although on this occasion he was lucky to do so. You bet. Like in my game against Warriner, Kevin Painter had Taylor dead and buried, but the magic let him down at the last moment and 'The Power' was world champion again. Meanwhile, Andy Fordham, the likeable giant from Dartford, had won the Lakeside World Championship title the previous night against an out-of-sorts Mervyn King.
I wasn't really in the mood for reflecting deeply on the outcomes of the two world darts championships – I was a little tired that morning and my brain wasn't up to full speed – so I turned on my computer and scanned through my e-mail messages. There was the usual selection of spam messages, half a dozen of which were asking if I would like to buy cheap Viagra. (Thankfully, at my time of life, the answer is no. Say no more.) A couple were from Nigeria, asking if I would accept $25,000,000 into my bank account, apparently because I'm such a friendly guy, while another four told me how I could lose 20lb in two weeks if I didn't eat any carbohydrates after five o'clock.
I pressed the 'Delete' button and concentrated on the more serious messages. There were a few asking if I'd watched the match with Andy Fordham against Mervyn King – all the usual stuff, like 'Do you think he would beat Taylor?' and 'Will he join the PDC?' Then I opened one and just stared at it, leaning back in my chair. That single message shone out like a beacon amongst the automated dross and brought me right up to speed.
The message was from a lady in Canada who was trying to trace the ancestry of her husband, who was apparently a part of the Lowe family tree. The lady was enquiring if, by chance, I happened to be the son of Frederick Lowe, whose father was John Lowe of New Tupton. 'Yes, I am,' I said aloud.
My computer keyboard was in action immediately. I've always wanted to know more about my family and my own ancestry but had never actually had the time or opportunity to do any research. Was this my chance?
The lady and I exchanged electronic messages over the next three days. I was able to help with the missing pieces of this aspect of her research, while in return she promised to send me the whole of her Lowe file within a couple of days.
True to her word, the complete file eventually arrived at my computer. I was absolutely amazed at the amount of research this lady had conducted. My first thoughts were for my son Adrian, at that time the last of my line of the Lowes, so I forwarded the file to Adrian at his office and then settled down to reflect on my forefathers.
The extract read:
Generation no. 4
Frederick Lowe (John, George, Joseph) was born October 24, 1904, and died January 6, 1987. He married Phyllis Turner, July 17, 1937.
Children of Frederick Lowe and Phyllis Turner are Margaret Lowe, b. 1939, John Lowe, b. July 21, 1945.
It was this exchange of emails that convinced me that I had to put the proud history of my family and my own success and achievements into a single autobiography. OK, so I've written some autobiographical books before, but they'd been selective memories and, in any event, are now at least twenty years out of date. They were also incomplete, as I'd held back on a lot of things. Besides, over recent years, my life had changed in so many ways that I knew the time had come to tell all.
Holly Hurst, my place of birth, was and remains to this day a semi-detached house on Ward Street in the village of New Tupton, Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, that most wonderful of English counties. Tupton isn't quite in the Peak District, where the Dales are plentiful, but it's only fifteen minutes' drive from the Duke of Devonshire's Chatsworth House estate. The village is split into 'New' and 'Old' parts, although I'm not quite sure why, because much of New Tupton is older than Old Tupton. When I was born, in the summer of 1945, Tupton was almost entirely a coal miners' village, with whole generations of families working down the six mines within walking distance of the village.
Perhaps surprisingly, although my father was a coal miner, his father, John George Lowe, hadn't been one. Instead, my grandfather had worked for the local council, repairing the roads. In those early days, mining work was plentiful and, unlike today, the workers went about their employment with a sense of pride and satisfaction. In order to support their large families, most put in long hours, and my father was no exception, even though there were only four of us in the family: himself; my mother, Phyllis; my sister, Margaret; and me.
Holly Hurst was a two-up/two-down semi-detached house that, in 1945, still had gas lighting and no bathroom. Being born in 1945 tends to indicate to ninety-eight out of every hundred people that you were a war baby – and yes, thankfully, I was part of the celebrations of winning the Second World War. My sister, Margaret, is six years older than me, and her entry into the world had been carefully planned by mother and father to fit the income and the size of the house, although my unplanned and unexpected arrival didn't cause any terrible problems. I was one of over 100 children born in that year in our small village alone, part of the baby boom, so I had no shortage of friends of the same age to play with.
However, my upbringing was slightly different to most in Tupton. My mother and father were deeply religious members of the Pentecostal Church. They were very open about their religion and had no problems in letting people know about their beliefs, although they weren't the kind to preach to others in the street or knock on doors, proclaiming, 'The end is nigh!' or similar. Instead, they both led by example, living good Christian lives, attending church on a regular basis and standing rock-fast by the rules of their religion – which, incidentally, meant that they couldn't spend any money on the Sabbath. And so, every Sunday, the whole family had to walk to the church – four miles away, in North Wingfield – in all kinds of weather. And I don't mean just once on a Sunday; I mean three times: holy communion in the morning, Sunday school in the afternoon and then back for the evening service after tea.
Yes, my life as part of the Lowe household was different from that of most of my pals. While they were out on the street on a Sunday, kicking a football about or riding their bikes, my big sister and I would be off to church, dressed in our Sunday best. Even as I grew up and learned to understand more about my parents' faith, I still remember enviously my friends playing on their doorstep on Sundays. I remember desperately wanting to join in, but I never did – not for many years, anyway. Sundays apart, of course, I was free to do all the things the other kids did, with one restriction: I had to be in by nightfall.
Memories of my early youth aren't hard to recall. For instance, I remember, at the age of four, the introduction of some wonderful new invention almost every month. When we eventually had electricity installed in Holly Hurst, you could at last see in every corner. Now, I'm not suggesting that my mother didn't keep a clean house, but due to the brighter illumination the old whitewash was replaced with paint or wallpaper.
I also remember when the Price family, who lived next door, purchased a television set. It had only a 9-in screen and was, of course, a black-and-white set, but to them and us it was unbelievable, a miracle of science. The Prices were so proud of being the first family in the street to have a television that they would invite everyone in to watch the news.
Then there was the old tin bath – the symbol of all miners' homes for years and years – that hung on the wall, either outside the back door or in the wash room. This was later replaced by a bathroom containing a vitreous-enamel bath, spouting hot and cold running water, and a washbasin standing proudly beside it. However, we couldn't have everything; the toilet was still outside and remained there for a few years, although the bucket we'd previously used was replaced by a proper flushing toilet.
One part of the year that I remember fondly is Christmas. Of course, this was a special time for everyone. Just like today, there were families who would provide their kids with more than others were able to, but in those days it didn't seem to matter as much. After a day or so, when their newness and some of their novelty had worn off, my friends and I would all share each other's new toys. In those days, presents would consist of one special gift (usually a game that all the family could join in with), some chocolates, sweets and, of course, an apple and orange. I would be up at five o'clock on Christmas morning to unwrap my presents. I think that, because we didn't get gifts every week like a lot of kids do today, it was a very special time, and father had to put extra hours in at work to provide us with all the trappings of the season.
I remember my fourth Christmas particularly well and often mention it at the dinner table when we have guests around. Everyone I knew that year was having a scooter for Christmas, and I'd pestered my parents to buy me one, too – a red one. Every year, about a week before Christmas, my sister and I would search the house for hidden packages. If we found any, we'd have a good feel to see if we could identify them. Usually we couldn't; they'd be for someone else, grandad or grandmother maybe. This particular Christmas, however, when undertaking our search, I discovered that my parents hadn't made a very good job of hiding my scooter – or had they? Behind the wardrobe in their bedroom, I found a bright-red scooter. But, instead of feeling ecstatic, I was horrified. The scooter was made of WOOD!
Whenever Margaret and I found hidden Christmas gifts, we would never tell our mother or father; we would pretend we hadn't even looked and act innocent if questioned. However, on this occasion, I went straight up to my father and without any hesitation blurted out, 'I do not want the wooden scooter. It's horrible. My friends will laugh at me if I go out with that.' A few tears followed and then I ran off. Nothing was said to me for a few days and I was in a right sulk.
After about a week my mother came up to me one morning and said, 'How do you know that scooter is for you? We might be keeping it hidden for someone else down the road.' I was still in a sulk – not a nice mood at all – and replied, 'Good! That means I won't have to be seen on it.'
Christmas Day arrived and I was up at the usual time. The presents for my sister were all neatly stacked in one pile. By comparison, mine looked quite lonely – just a couple of wrapped gifts that could easily be identified as books and a game. But then I saw it: there, standing against the wall, was a scooter. Mum and Dad had tried to disguise it with wrapping paper, and I remember that, at that moment, I didn't want to take the paper off, frightened that it might be the wooden one.
Then I approached the scooter and very gently began to pull away some of the paper, which immediately revealed steel handlebars and the black rubber grips. The rest of the paper came off in seconds and there stood a red steel-framed scooter, complete with foot brake and a bell! I hugged my mother for at least five minutes. I was the happiest kid on the street.
I was allowed out at nine o'clock that morning to meet my mates and, yes, they all had identical red scooters, so we had to put tape on the handlebars so that they wouldn't get mixed up. Unfortunately, as Christmas Day that year had fallen on a Sunday, I was allowed out for only an hour; then it was back in for breakfast before we made our long walk to church.
As time has gone by, I've thought about that Christmas more than any other. Looking back, I feel sure that, with all the other gifts they had to find, plus food on the table for the holiday weekend, my parents couldn't really have afforded the steel scooter. I reckon they bought the wooden one and purposely put it where I would find it in order to gauge my reaction. If I hadn't said anything, they would have wrapped it up. And as for their explanation that they might have been keeping it for someone else in the street – well, I knew on Christmas Day that no lad in Tupton had had a wooden scooter for Christmas. Seeing my distress, they had clearly taken the wooden one back and part-exchanged it for a steel-framed model.
Another of my most vivid memories of my childhood is that of my father sending me to Charlie Crampton's, the local barbers, to fetch a new battery for the radio. I can hear you laughing now, but it's true: our radio used to run on acid batteries, and the barber was the only man in the village who had the chargers. His shop was only two doors down from Holly Hurst, so it wasn't a hardship for me – although, with hindsight, it was probably very dangerous for a young child to be carrying an acid battery even that short distance.
We had two batteries, one that we used at home while the other was under the seat at Crampton's, where it would charge up for a couple of days. Twice a week, I would go to the barbershop, where it seemed to me that there were hundreds of batteries. They would bubble and gurgle as they charged, giving off a putrid, acrid smell. Then Ever Ready ruined Mr Crampton's trade when they introduced the dry battery, although thankfully he didn't suffer much as the battery-charging part of his business was only a sideline. His barbershop was always full of people waiting to have their hair cut, and the order of the time was invariably short back and sides. I don't think Mr Crampton's customers missed the smell of the batteries either.
One thing my father always made sure happened each year was the family holiday. He was adamant that we should all visit the seaside for one week. It would do us good, he said, and he clearly needed the break himself. I've already said this often enough but I'll continue to repeat the fact – probably for the rest of my life – that mining was very hard work. Although there was a great deal of camaraderie between the miners, the pressure of such a tough and demanding daily routine, as well as being subject to all kinds of dangers, took its toll. Many of the men would quench their doubts and fears at the local Miners' Welfare Club on Queen Victoria Road, while those like my father, who didn't drink or smoke, would save a little each week so that they could afford to take their family to the coast once a year.
Each year, therefore, my parents would take Margaret and me to either the Lincolnshire resort of Skegness, on the east coast of England, or Blackpool, Lancashire, on the west coast; the latter at the time being a major holiday destination for the working class. I preferred Blackpool, particularly for its massive funfair, but going there could prove a little costly for my father. When we visited Blackpool, we would always stay at the same guest house, The Claremont on Bloomfield Road, very close to the football ground. Indeed, I believe my father booked us into that particular guest house so that he could walk past the football ground on his way to the sea. Stanley Matthews was one of his heroes, and I think it made him feel good to know that he'd walked very close to where Stanley trained and played.
The journey to Blackpool was always exciting, as we ventured outside our village only rarely, and my father never went to London in his whole life. As we approached Blackpool, he would say, 'Whoever can spot the tower first wins a sweet.' I would sit looking through the window as soon as the train left Chesterfield station, although my sister – who, at six years older than me, wasn't so silly – would wait until we'd left Manchester before scanning the horizon for the Tower. I can't remember ever winning one sweet.
Excerpted from Old Stoneface by John Lowe, Patrick Chaplin. Copyright © 2009 John Lowe and Patrick Chaplin. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 From Birth to Work,
2 Bikes, Girls and Sudden Death,
3 Marriage, Children, Sadness and Success,
4 Perfect Darts, Perfect Kids, Imperfect Marriage,
5 Cloud Nine,
6 No Blame, No Regrets, Moving On,
7 My Quest to Be the Best,
8 The Champions and the Greats,
9 The Greatest of all Sportsmen,
10 How to Lose Friends, Faith and Your Money: The First Lesson,
11 How to Lose Friends, Faith and Your Money: The Second Lesson (and the Third),
12 The Five-Year War,
13 The Most Delicate of Satisfactory Outcomes,
14 The Bread-and-Butter Trail,
15 Relentless Darts: The North American Open Darts Tournament,
16 Socialite Lowe,
17 Two and a Half Minutes of Magic,
18 Support and Loyalty,
19 Thirty Years on the Toe Line,
20 Where Do I Go From Here?,
21 The Legend – The Stats,
22 Tribute to Barry Twomlow, 'The Man Who Taught The World to Play Darts',
Appendix 1: The Leighton Rees Interview,
About the Author,