John's first book is a candid exploration of his own life and the way he has capitalised on his skills to enjoy living. It is a combination manual on, how to paint, how to write poetry, how to articulate how you feel, how to enjoy the world you live in, all rolled up into what constantly comes through as someone who says "I am not going to lie down and roll over because I am retired, there is a lot more I can do and so much more to enjoy so share it with me and let me show you how."
John Ledgerton definitely 'did it his way' and if you pick up this refreshing book and let John guide you in what you may feel is a lonely and uncertain path into retirement I can assure you ... you will never walk alone.
Good luck with the book John... It gave me tremendous inspiration - Rog
Arts and Learning Coordinator
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About the Author
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The Poetry and Art of Retirement
By John Ledgerton
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2015 John Ledgerton
All rights reserved.
Today is the 5th of January 2003. On that same day 61 years earlier a young girl of 18 released her first son from the warmth and safety of her womb. She released him to a world at war. Her son John was born to a working class family that lived 200 yards from the busy Liverpool docks and on the 5th of January 1942 the sounds most likely to greet the new-born were the chaotic din of a city dockland at war.
Number 9, Aspinall Street, the home of our young girl, ran at right angles up from the thriving bustling River Mersey. For the majority of men living near the river, the docks and warehouses provided almost all of the employment available. Most young men followed their dads on to the docks or chose a life at sea with the Merchant Navy. The head of the family I was born into was John Parsons, "Jack" to all that knew him, a "Blocker Man" on the docks; a powerful man indeed. John Parsons went to work in a suit, starched white collar attached to his shirt, boots you could see your face in, and a bowler hat. He was a big man with a huge walrus moustache. He was a man to be afraid of, and a man to court the favour of. My first and lasting memory of his huge stature was seeing him emerge from the darkness of his long lobby to appear on the doorstep of number 47 Aspinall Street. I was afraid of him. To me he was always stern. He never smiled, or if he did, I did not witness it. I can safely say I never ever remember getting a kiss, a cuddle, or an affectionate word from this man. He ruled his family as so many men did then, with an iron fist. I remember on one occasion when the sun shone brightly, I decided to walk up to my great granddad's home situated half way up the street. Because the sun was so bright and warm that day, the front door was left open. As I climbed the first step of three, the long lobby appeared even darker than normal. It was here I began to have my doubts. I was half way down the lobby just passing the front parlour door when he emerged from the kitchen. I can still see him today. His thick bull-like neck and head, above his broad muscular shoulders that seemed as wide as a Liverpool ferry boat's back end. His shirt was without a collar and he was in his waistcoat. However, the thing I remember most was the huge buckle on his broad belt.
To me, it was a fearsome weapon. "What do you want?" He almost growled as I stood in the middle of this dark lobby. I immediately forgot why I was there. I do however remember he let me no further into the gloom of his home and chased me back to number nine. Something had seriously gone wrong in the family and of course nobody had told the child to stay away from number 47. I recall it was out of bounds for some time. When he died in 1951 he lay in state in the front parlour for all to see. The heavy curtains were drawn to darken the room and the coffin lid stood upright against the wall. Even though he lay dead in front of me he still looked the fearsome man he most certainly was. While I was looking at him I kept expecting him to sit up and I was petrified. All the time he lay in state neighbours, friends, and family continued to occupy the two back rooms of the house, the kitchen and the back kitchen. In these terraced houses the kitchen was the main family room with what appeared to me a huge black, iron fire grate and oven that was called the range. I remember the metal handles of this giant piece of heating equipment (that took up almost all of one wall), were so well polished you could see your face in them. In the back kitchen there was a door that led out into the back yard. At the bottom of the yard was the bin that fitted neatly into a hole in the wall. When the bin man had taken the bin away, there was literally a hole in the wall. Actually, it was quite a good idea and it worked, as the lid of the bin faced inward and the bin itself sat on what I think was some form of hinge or hook on either side. The bin men simply walked down the back entries, unhooked the bins onto their shoulder and took them away to the wagon, starting at the bottom of the street and finishing at the top. When I see the problems of this modern wheelie bin system for terraced houses today I am sure there must be something to be learned from those days. The clutter of wheelie bins that gather at the end of each street today is awful. I would rather have a gang of wild teenagers outside my door than an army of green plastic, ugly looking containers that I cannot shift. On one side of our bin in the wall was the outside toilet. This was not the most awful thing that it seems today. You must remember this was the norm for the majority of people who lived within shouting distance of the Liverpool docks. In fact, these were the standard toilet facilities for almost all working class people in the country. In our house at 9 Aspinall Street, I recall stories like my mother cutting the Liverpool Echo into squares and putting a hole in each corner for the string to hang behind the toilet door.
Mum was still only a very young girl herself and she made it her job to keep the toilet clean, and by God she did. You must remember that there was no rise and fall toilet seats then. It was - to put it bluntly - a wide piece of wood that stretched from one side of the toilet cubicle to the other with a hole cut in the middle that you sat over. I seem to remember it was quite high too, and I have recollections of having to climb up onto the seat by putting my hand in the ring of the hole for a grip. This situation must have bothered my mum because she had that wooden toilet seat bleached white, and "You could eat your dinner off it".
Let us return to the back kitchen, which was really the domain of the woman. If I remember rightly this room had no plaster on the walls, and was just distempered brick, and out there it seemed it was always a cold place with the tin bath hanging on the wall and I a stepladder against the wall. There was a window that faced out to the yard with a huge sink below it and one cold brass tap. This was of course the washhouse. In one corner there was a large barrel type steel fluted container. In this you placed the washboard and run the clothes up and down into the water until they were clean. Later on I remember a big iron, green and cream coloured gas cooker being installed in that back kitchen and I assume that the range then became redundant for cooking purposes. By the way, I used a washboard for another reason many years later when I played in a group, but that is not a story for this book. Where were we? Yes, there was no way of heating the water other than a huge kettle or pot that sat on top of the black oven. This big copper kettle was forever on the boil.
We had lots of people in great-granddad's house for his wake and they were coming in day and night to pay their respects and enjoy the continuous flow of food and drink supplied by the insurance man. Strangely, I do not remember anything of his funeral, as I do not think I was there and my mother must have left me with someone that day. I do remember though, people talking saying it was a large affair. Mrs Parsons (Lizzy) his wife played an important role in the management of the clan. In the community she was a highly respected woman that I had a lot to do with the power and authority of her husband, for as a blocker man he could hire and fire. Men would doff their caps as they walked by, for they knew one day they may need to catch his eye at the dock gate looking for a day's work.
Families in Aspinall Street and the surrounding area had other routes to Jack Parsons. Firstly - they came through his wife Lizzy. My great grandmother would put in a good word for anybody she felt needed some help "Jack, that Mrs So an' So, you know the one - from 34 Hankin Street. Well her feller hasn't worked for two weeks. D'yer think yer could help 'im?", or words to that effect. There were of course other ways men would court favour from my great granddad and one was to make sure he had a pint - or the offer of one - in his local. The pub was called The Cat. It was an odd affair between my great grandparents. Jack would drink in The Cat at the top of the street every night, and Lizzy would drink in the pub at the bottom of the street. They never went out together. Jack however, who could obviously drink for Britain, would like a carry out of beer every night, but would not lower himself to ask for his jug to be filled in his local. No, he would make Lizzy ask for the carryout jug to be filled from her pub. She would have to carry it home. From what I know of him now, he would think bringing home his carry out jug of ale to be woman's work. As I have said, he was a stern disciplinarian. A better word I suppose would be bully. From what I have heard he was a bully in work and a bully at home. I think most of the men and women in our family were scared of him. My mum, his Granddaughter, tells a tale of when she first found out the power of the man. She was at a dance one night when she met, what she describes as "a lovely feller". Anyway, they spent the evening dancing. They began to see more of each other and one day my mum mentioned John Parsons, her Granddad. The young man said: "That's not Jack Parsons is it, the blocker man?" "Yes", she said, thinking the young man knew him. The lad made some excuse and left. She did not see him again. He clearly did not want to be caught trying his hand with Jack Parsons Granddaughter.
Lizzy his wife had died in 1937. It was then the turn of my Nan to pander to the great man's needs. Even when good food was scarce during the war, he had to have his bacon and eggs every morning, his liver and chops, and the best sausage in the evening, and let's not forget a joint for Sunday. How she managed I am not quite sure, but to achieve this it certainly meant dealing in the Black Market. She would need some leverage to negotiate getting the extra food. Again, I think his high position in dock society would be a great help. This man would not jeopardize his position on the docks by stealing food himself. He would however, make sure he was on the receiving end of any goodies going round.
I have thought about writing a book for years. I suppose everyone has. The thought first crossed my mind when I was in my mid to late forties, and it was always something I would do soon or next year. Excuses were always easy to find. When I retired however, the idea began to fester in a more serious way. The major stumbling block I faced was that of my catholic education, or should I say my lack of education. They amount to the same thing. I can assure you that at the age of 15 when they sent me into the working world of adults I was very ill equipped indeed.
Another area of concern about starting such a project was whether I could make an autobiography of a working class man interesting. Could the highs and lows of my life generate excitement in the masses? I didn't think so. Then in the summer of 2002, I read the best-selling biography of Billy Connolly, penned by his wife Pamela Stephenson. Now I would have thought this would make a great read, but as I ploughed through these dull and uninteresting pages I realised that if someone like Billy Connolly, or his wife, can make his biography a bit of a bore, then maybe I should have a go! The man suffered in his early life from poverty and abuse, but in some ways this terrible misfortune produced the most interesting parts of the book. We all have our pet hates, and one of mine is name-dropping. I do find people who are obsessed with telling you who they know on the fame ladder a bit of a bore. I usually try to get away as soon as possible. Yet in this book of Billy Connolly they continue to name drop throughout the pages, so much so, it became a Who's Who of show business personalities with no real story around these so called famous names. I was really disappointed by this book, however, I did learn a lesson from this read, in that what you find interesting in your life may not have the same appeal to others. Could the opposite also be true? Could what I was doing and what interested me be appealing to others?
It was here I began to think seriously about writing a book, and what areas of interest to include. It took me some time to find a subject, but eventually one emerged and that was what I was up to my neck in ... retirement. One of the golden rules of writing, it is said, is never write about something you know little of, well, my retirement passes that test. I was forced to retire through ill health and I have been through the experience and know first-hand of the problems we come across. So here was my kick starter for "Retirement".
I recall once in my youth, that my wife Lily and I were about to buy our first home. The salesman at one stage in the negotiations stressed how important this purchase was: "This will probably be the largest purchase you will ever make". He then went on to say "It is a massive responsibility" and I suppose in those days (the early sixties) it was not the norm for a young couple to go out and buy a new house. I remember wondering if he was trying to put me off buying a house! I was not earning a great deal of money on my basic wage, however, I had worked like a sod for six months solid, working all the hours God sends, and then worked in the evenings as well, and here I was, about to place the deposit down on a new house. The way this salesman was performing, he almost talked me out of it as he made me so afraid for the future. Could I handle it? In many ways that was how I felt when I knew I was to finish my working life, and retire.
Like most people, I still have a mortgage, I have to pay my rates, and I have the upkeep of our home, all without a regular income. These are the practical problems you have to address when you first retire. With hindsight what I found most difficult was facing up to the psychological problems that obsessed my thinking at that time. After all these years I can assure you there are times you think you are going off the rails. I will hopefully, if my word power is capable, clarify and elaborate upon this as I go through the book.
The main thrust of this book will be Retirement. Or will it? From here on retirement will take us to (hopefully) new pastures for subject matter, and whilst I will write from my own perspective as a married man on a pension, it will hopefully benefit anyone that finds themselves with time on their hands. Early retirement is not easy; as a matter of fact it is bloody hard work! You have to be very careful about how you approach this new and latter segment of life, and for someone like me who had not been out of work for more than two months in a lifetime, it is a difficult period initially. I did consider other work and applied for many jobs, but for a man turned 50 with a chronic incurable disease, I had no chance. I will return to the topic of further employment later, but this left me at home encroaching in my wife's territory ... not good. If you are to be successful in retirement you cannot succeed without the assistance of your wife or partner.
The expectation grew within me
I knew she would give herself
She was full of love
She needed to release herself
she wanted me
To lay beside her
To touch her
To feel her soft flesh
Was such a moment for me
Will never forget
The first tender love of
A single man's retirement is a different set of circumstances, as he has problems that go beyond, and in some ways worse than, that of a couple. A single man may not have the worry of upsetting a partner, but conversely he has nobody with whom to talk things through. I feel sure it is better to have a row with your partner than a brick wall. As I have said. I can now see a little bit ahead of myself.
This book has an ambition to assist you through the minefield of retirement and the considerable problems of surviving retirement for any decent length of time. In many ways I can see this manuscript as a book of learning. We will touch the world of literature (poetry, prose and short stories) and fine art (painting and history). What I do find nice about putting these words together is that I am in fact, entering into conversation with the reader. I suppose by spilling my thoughts onto the page and taking the reader into my confidence about how I should go about writing this book is a bit odd, but it does help me to continue to move forward, and helping others along the way.
I mentioned briefly above the importance of one's partner when coping with retirement and I cannot under-estimate the role of the wife in this massive change in a man's life. Now before any reader thinks I am some sort of sexist because I am only referring to the male of the species, I will explain. I do not know (and cannot know) how it feels for a woman when she retires. Conversely I cannot know how she feels when her man retires, but I can through the efforts of my wife and our experience together pass on some helpful information about living together in retirement.
Excerpted from The Poetry and Art of Retirement by John Ledgerton. Copyright © 2015 John Ledgerton. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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