I was walking down Leads Road with my dad just a few months before he died when one of his workmates shouted across to him, ‘Not doin’ bad, then, your Alan, is he?’
No replied my dad. ‘Not bad.’ Then he winked at me and smiled. ‘Considering he’s nobbut a lad.’
Not bad indeed for a man who would be vested as an MBE (a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) ‘…for services to horticulture…’ and take up the opportunity to create Madeba’s garden in the transkei.
Nobbut A Lad is as Alan Tichmarsh puts it, is the story of a Yorkshire childhood. The front cover is an old black & white image of Alan as a boy sitting on the front steps of his home, overlayed with a color image of an older him seated beside himself. It’s endearing to see and understand the man that that small boy became. The great feats that he would go on to accomplish.
It’s a simple account. I was surprised at his candour – and enjoyed it all the more. Grandpa Hardisty (his maternal grandfather) inspired his love of making things grow and Alan saw his gardening allotment as nothing but glamorous. From building his own green house to watching gardening shows that would only foster his urge for the outdoors; these are just some of the people, turns and events that would go on to define who he is today.
Above all, I leave astounded at the wisdom of his father. He hated gardening and didn’t see it as a proper trade, being himself a joiner. But as Alan puts it, “For one brief moment in the back garden of 34 Nelson Road, on a June day in 1964, my dad went against his better judgement.”
Mr. Braban, the school headmaster (a veritable stranger) gave voice to the insight that reassured his parents about the decision they were about to make concerning his future.
“He said said that there were plenty of joiners in the world but if you were keen on gardening, we should let you do that. There aren’t enough good gardeners, he said, and if you’re one of them, then you should be encouraged.”
Seeing little to no opportunity for his passion in future, Alan & Bessie Tichmarsh nonetheless allowed their son to follow his calling. They allowed him to leave school at 13 (rather than continue on with his O-Levels) and got him an apprenticeship as a gardener in their local council nursery. They didn’t stand in the way.
We live in a time and at an age where people live out their lives between walls of dull grey concrete along black tarmac roads. No matter how beautifully painted those walls or well developed the infrastructure, it cannot compare to the healing sight of green shrubbery pockmarked with bright flowers. His is an indispensable gift.
Alan had the gumption to follow through with the hard work and determination it would take. But his parents, they didn’t stand in the way, but rather they helped make a way for their son.
Nobbut A Lad: A Yorkshire Childhood by Alan Tichmarsh