By Alan James
Key Themes: alzheimers, effect on carers and family, hoemlessness, personal strength, autobiography
“Lost Highway” is the case study and story of my grandparent’s journey from clarity to confusion and the inevitable fallout that affected those who tried to care for someone with “Alzheimer’s”.
About the Author
James was born and bought up in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear. He left grammar school in 1969 with 6 'O' Levels and two 'A' Levels. In the same year he went to Peterlee Jazz Club, Co Durham, to see 'Ten Years After', just after their legendary appearance at Woodstock. A memory that has stayed with him to this day and that inspired him for the title of this book.
Alan attended teacher training college in 1971, but dropped out to sell paintings door to door. He dropped back in again in 1980 and got a second class honours degree in Humanities at Sunderland Poly in 1983. Alan has only ever used this degree to get a job once, in Greece from 1991-93, where he taught English in Athens. Then, after surviving a nervous breakdown, he came back to England where he has been selling the 'Big Issue' all around the UK and for most of the last ten years.
This is his second book with Chipmunka.
I was born in 1951 and my parents divorced in '55. Back in the 1950's divorce was unusual as well as traumatic. Initially I went to live with my mother and grandmother, but when my mother took ill an arrangement was made for me to go and live with my father's parents on the other side of town.
My father used to work away from home for long spells at a time as a welder on the newly constructed oil rigs, so effectively my grandparents became my parents and guardians who looked after me and brought me up.
When I went to live with them, around 1955, my grandfather was still working, as he had done all of his life since leaving school at the age of 14 to go down the pit. My grandmother had worked professionally as a dressmaker earlier in life, and though now retired she would still use the sewing machine to mend clothes as virtually nothing was ever thrown away – a harsh reminder of earlier times.
While working down the pit my grandfather caught the "miners' disease" - pneumoconiosis of the lungs, through regular inhaling of coal dust, and was transferred to the surface to work in the telephone exchange cabin, and also because of his previous experience of industrial disease he was given the prestigious job of compensation secretary to represent miners with similar industrial injuries at regional level at compensation tribunals in Newcastle.
This was a job my grandfather carried out with distinction. The miners he represented in our village all knew and respected him because of his work. This manifested itself in the late sixties when I first started drinking with him in our village. Ryhope, about 2 miles south of Sunderland, had many pubs including the "Prince of Wales" my grandfather's local, and it was virtually impossible to pay for a pint there or any other pub in the village when the locals found out you were Billy James' grandson, such was the high esteem in which he was held.
My grandfather continued to work in the telephone exchange cabin until he was 65 in 1964, shortly before the pit itself closed down. Working all his life had given my grandfather an active and productive mind. We had relations in New Zealand, and he would regularly write to them and I would read his letters before they were sent. If I had any writing skill at all I think I have inherited it from my grandfather. I went to grammar school while my grandfather at that age was going down the pit, but his letters had a long-standing effect on me as they were so beautifully written. He was a naturally gifted writer who just happened to be a miner as well.
Everything was stacked against social mobility among the working class of my grandfather's generation and my father's as well. I got into grammar school because I passed my 11 plus, so did my father but in his day he also had to be interviewed for entry into the local grammar school and when it came to the crucial interview they asked him questions on Greek mythology! In those days it wasn't what you knew it was who you knew, and that was it, my father's fate was sealed in the same way as my grandfather's.
OTHER WORKS BY THIS AUTHOR
This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 21 November, 2007.