The title comes from Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi‘. The line is ‘don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. This line says something about how I feel about the loss of my Uncle Alan. He’s very much on my mind just now as we have his funeral in the morning.
I like the song, but I really doubt Alan would have thought much of Joni’s rendition. I can well imagine him casting a disparaging eye and ear and quietly intoning “we had a much better singer on at the club last weekend” before turning back to the sports page of the E & S. That was Alan; he always had his own views.
Alan? Not ‘Uncle’ Alan? Oh no, Alan and his brother Colin decided when we kids were of ’an age’ we should just call them by their first names. I honestly can’t remember how old I was but I’ll guess 13 or so. Whatever the age, I see it as one of life’s rites of passage as they sat us down and told us we were old enough now to call them by their first names. Although I can’t remember exactly when it was, I do remember that feeling of being a little bit more grown up.
I’m really proud that my family trusted me to organise the Order of Service for Alan. I opted to use RW Print in Pelsall. We’d used them for the Orders of Service for my Mom and Dad and they’re just great. I’m always one to support local companies, and a family concern like this is hard to beat.
So anyway, here’s what I put together about Alan.
The life of a simple man; our Titch
Alan was a man of few needs or wants. He lived a simple life with just one priority; selfless love for his family. For those of us lucky enough to have been part of his family, that’s the main thing we’ll always remember about him.
Alan came into the world on 3 July 1937. He was a second son, following Brian, for Harry and Gwen, and was quickly followed by Jean, Colin and Joan. Harry and Gwen first raised their growing family in Blue Lane, Walsall, in an old terraced house that eventually made space for the police station. Back then, when Alan and the others were growing up, Walsall town centre was a very different place. During the second World War, the Betts kids had great fun exploring bomb sites, canals and locks and green fields – all on their doorstep.
The Bettsy kids all had nicknames from an early age that stay with them forever. Brian is Bronco. Alan was Titchy. Jean was Polly. Colin is Chubba. Joan is Pony. Its news in this family if you marry in and you’re given a nickname.
As Britain recovered from the war, new housing estates started springing up and this saw Harry and Gwen move their family to a new house in Darwin Road, Beechdale. This was where Alan and his brothers and sisters became adults. It was from here that Alan left his family behind to do his National Service, including the much talked about time he had in Malta. When he returned, his very deep tan was the talk of the estate, since he looked like Beechdale’s first black resident!
After his National Service, Alan settled down to a working life with the Co-op. He spent many happy years as a milkman, before being promoted to inspector. Some of his family still have the Dairy Diary cookbook, circa 1978! Through late afternoon naps and trademark dogged perseverance, he managed both the 3am starts and a very active social life.
His sister Jean’s diary of this time is full of entries about hers and her sister Joan’s forthcoming weddings, with Alan being the number one chauffeur to all the dress fittings and so on. Added to that, Alan was always up for getting on the dance floor, which was great for two girls who needed a dance partner when their soon to be husbands weren’t around. Alan was always there, for any family member.
In the early 70s, the family bought their own house in Birchover Road, Reedswood. This welcoming home was usually teeming with family at weekends, with kids having to wee in the drain outside as Alan and Colin took over the bathroom for hours getting ready to go out!
For the majority of Alan’s life, he spent his social time in two places; the Birchills Liberal Club and the Cheslyn Hay Community and Sports Club. At the Birchills Club, Alan was often to be found in the snooker room, where he enjoyed snooker, dominoes and the camaraderie of family and friends. He was always very quick to buy pop and crisps for his clamouring nephew and nieces and always made time to play penny knock with them, sometimes including Harry, when he’d wandered in from the concert room. Said nephew and nieces were in awe when Alan became the first person they knew to own both a calculator and a digital watch! It really was all happening in Birchover Road.
Alan, along with Colin, enjoyed so many family holidays from the 1960s to the 1980s. Pontins, Butlins, Hoseasons – the extended Betts clan ruled them all. Alan, along with the rest of the family, didn’t need much to be entertained. Bingo, a few acts, a visit to the amusement arcade and chips to take back to the chalet made for a lovely time. Then in the day time, playing with the kids on the beach, maybe some beach cricket, and certainly listening to the cricket on the radio, a nap then getting ready for the night out.
Following the move of Harry, Gwen, Alan and Colin to Cheslyn Hay, the Cheslyn Hay club soon became the new place to be. The anticipation and joy in the move was short-lived though, with first Harry in 1984, then Gwen in 1985, passing away and leaving a huge void. Alan though, with the support of Colin and the rest of the family, resolutely got on with life; that was the way he’d been brought up. With Colin soon easing into being the Club’s Entertainment Secretary, Alan always enjoyed seeing the acts every weekend. He became quite the accomplished chef having watched his Mom for years and was soon trotting out Sunday roasts that Colin couldn’t get down fast enough.
In time, Alan left the Co-op and some years later Colin retired. Their lives didn’t change too much; they still enjoyed meeting their mates at the club and simple pleasures such as watching the birds at play in the garden. Possibly without knowing it, Alan and Colin shifted from just being brothers, to being the best of friends. There are all sorts of loving friendships, but living your whole life with your brother gives you an unbreakable bond.
Alan liked to do a bit of keep fit in the garage, but what he really liked was watching pretty much any sport going on TV, whilst simultaneously reading the Express and Star from back to front. Alan was also quietly interested in current affairs and happy to tell anyone who’d listen what he thought about the state of the world and enjoy any debate that ensued. Once he’d ignited the fire and fanned the flames, he was happy to sit back, enjoy the warmth and throw in the occasional rocket.
With an obstinacy particular to the Betts clan, Alan knew he wasn’t right at the end of last Summer, but decided against seeking medical attention for a long time. Too long a time, as it transpired. Whilst very weak in hospital during his final weeks, he retained his quirky sense of humour and, despite suffering numerous surgical and other medical procedures, never once complained. That was the lad Harry and Gwen brought up. A simple, much loved, and loving, man.
I do regret not seeing more of Alan over the last few years. Maybe he regretted not seeing more of me too. Selfishly, perhaps, I knew he’d always be there for me. I hope he felt I’d be there for him too.
It’s going to take some time adjusting to the fact that Alan’s not here any more; he was more reliable than the sun.