I was born in Rastrick, in 1959, the fifth of nine children. Our family home, 68 Tofts Grove, was the house which brought my parents, John and Jean, from Huddersfield in 1950. My Dad, ‘a fitter’ at Thomas Broadbent’s, was looking at houses in Fartown but when the chance to buy number 68 arose, mum insisted. Our parents did a superb job raising us in difficult circumstances. Although things were not easy financially, they gave us the happiest of childhoods. We wanted for nothing.
Like all my siblings, I attended Carr Green School which had many wonderful teachers but Mrs Wood with her high expectations and gentle pursuit of excellence, had the biggest impact on me. She encouraged my love of learning and inspired me to strive for more. She was someone I did not want to disappoint.
The Methodist Chapel on Crowtrees Lane was a huge part of our childhood; our social lives revolved around it and almost everyone we knew was connected to the Methodist community. Our parents sent us to Sunday School from a young age: attendance was non-negotiable. We could not ‘play out’ on Sundays either but the roast beef dinners and salad teas more than compensated.
David aged one, with not a care in the world and no idea yet where his journey through life will take him.
The kids I ‘played out’ with lived within walking distance – on Crowtrees Lane or at Carr Green so, when not at school, we ‘lived’ in The Rec. We played football, endlessly; built dams across the stream and slid down quarried-out slopes on sheets of corrugated iron.
Crowtrees Methodist Church - almost a second home for the Kelly family.
I ran errands to Dowell’s for fish and chips and Addison’s for groceries; Mrs Byram’s for bread and the chemists for cough sweets. Growing up in Rastrick provided rich material for my poetry – Bonfire night; our back yard; walks with my dad; the quarries; dad’s funeral and the family ‘plot’. My formative memories are all there. The poem ‘Raw Meat’, published in The Forward Anthology of the best British Poetry 1993, recalls a poignant conversation between a neighbour and my mum.
Mum was proud of my poetry as she was of all our achievements. She was a fearless champion of our education and attended many parents’ meetings. Once she marched to the front of a crowded hall at Rastrick Grammar School, evidence in hand, to challenge Mr Johnstone, the head, on some point of information on which he was mistaken – no one ever did that! It was at RGS that Mr Howarth and Mr Greensmith developed my love of literature, but Mr Johnstone, changed the course of my life, steering me towards a degree in English when I wanted to ‘do’ History.
At Manchester University, where I did study English, the teaching was inspirational; Leah Scragg’s Shakespeare lectures drew standing ovations.
Don Scragg, the linguist, could pinpoint to within a few streets someone’s place of origin from the way they spoke. I studied Old English and found that the dialect words I used as a boy, (‘ligged’ and ‘laiking’) were pure Anglo-Saxon. Michael Schmidt, educationalist and founder of Carcanet Press attracted big names, like Ted Hughes, to our poetry readings. Seamus Heaney joined us one year for our annual reading weekend in the Lake District – a remarkable man; an unforgettable experience!
I returned each summer to my holiday job at Nu-Swift International, in Elland. I worked in every department connected with the production of fire-extinguishers. I learned a lot, met extra-ordinary people but could see why Dad was keen that we should be spared the factory work he had done all his working life!
After graduation, I fulfilled my boyhood dream of becoming an archaeologist! For two years I worked for the DoE Rescue Archaeology unit, excavating sites the length and breadth of Britain. Many of our fellow ‘diggers’ appeared on Tony Robinson’s TV show ‘Time Team’. I met my wife, Ros, through archaeology - on my first excavation in Colchester in 1980; we have been together ever since. Ros was brought up in Kenya and hoped to live ‘abroad’ again, so we studied for TEFL qualifications and found jobs in Brunei. I taught English at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin College, where the author Anthony Burgess had once taught.
This was my first time abroad and I adored it – the climate, the flora, the fauna, the lifestyle - I documented every new experience in letters home. When I re-read them after Mum’s death in 2013, it was clear I fancied myself as a cross between David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell. I was neither! When I left SOAS the students presented me with a tankard inscribed, “To Mr Kelly who teached us English”!
In 1984, we returned to the UK; Ros studied for a degree in archaeology and I qualified as a teacher. We never returned to Brunei as we intended; I took a teaching post in Derbyshire and Ros began a career with the civil service. We remained in the UK until 1990 when I was appointed by the Service Children’s Education Authority to a job, I tried very hard to reject! I had applied for posts in Hong Kong and Cyprus but was offered Germany. I wrote declining the offer, but we were on holiday and couldn’t find a post-box. Had I done so, we would have missed out on Germany and 23 of the happiest years of our lives!
David and his wife Roslyn whilst in Germany
We worked first in Gutersloh for 14 years before moving to Rheindahlen. Our son was born in Rinteln in 1993. We spent every holiday exploring Europe, rarely returning to the UK so that when Callum went to Oxford University to study History in 2012 he felt like an overseas student. He is still there, nearing completion of his doctorate.
From Germany, I continued my own professional and academic work. For 10 years I served on the ‘National Teacher Research Panel’, which helped shape educational policy in the UK. I gained qualifications for Headship, a Master’s degree and a Doctorate in Education at Sheffield University. Germany was near enough for me to return to the UK, when invited, to read my poetry in Leicester, Loughborough, Edinburgh and at The Dylan Thomas Theatre Swansea.
Life in Cyprus sun, sea, sand with a wonderful job as well'
We had the best of both worlds and would have gladly settled in Germany, but the closure of military bases changed all that. In 2013 I was offered the post in Cyprus and have been here ever since. “More by luck than management” education has taken me places I never imagined, growing up, but my true home, the place to which I feel umbilically linked, has always been Rastrick; sometimes it seems as if I never left at all.
Dr. David Kelly
St John’s School , Episkopi, Cyprus