Thursday, 12 May 2011


Howard John Armstrong
27th July 1938 - 8th May 2011
It's not been the greatest week. My dad died suddenly on Sunday morning, at home, from a heart attack. Whilst not in the best of health after a couple of strokes over the past few years, this was certainly unexpected.
Early memories of him relate almost exclusively to railways - his father was a signalman, and Dad loved railways and everything to do with them. He'd take me on day trips with the North Manchester Railway Society to railyards in places as far afield as Eastfield in Glasgow and Eastliegh in Southampton. I might not have been the trendiest of teenagers, going train spotting with my Dad, but his knowledge of the subject was amazing to behold. On the night that Arsenal beat Liverpool 0-2 at Anfield to win the Division One title in 1989, Dad and I spent all night on Preston railway station (there is no such thing as a "train station"), watching the royal mail trains load up - in the days when a first class letter would arrive the next day, I was shown how it could happen. I saw more of the country on those trips than many of the kids I was at school with.
We built a large model railway in the loft at home, it took years. It started on a table, and grew until we had no choice but to move it up there. I remember waiting anxiously each night for Dad to come home from working in the bank to see if he'd brought a new piece of track, or a new engine or coach.
As I got older and my hobbies moved from train spotting to sports, Dad would come and watch. Perhaps not as often as I would have liked, but what that meant was that when he did come and watch, it meant all the more. I was playing so much sport when I was between 16 and 18 that I doubt he could have come and watched it all! He came to a basketball final we played at the YMCA in Manchester, and to the main local derby football match when Bury Grammar School's 3rd XI - with me as captain - took on Bolton School. I like to think we won that one. It wasn't all victorious - he watched me play cricket for Littlewick Green 2nd XI against Little Kingshill when I first started playing down here, around 1999, and I bowled a 12-ball over (not a good thing, for you non-cricket buffs). I was embarrassed for myself, but also for him, as he was sat near the Little Kingshill players, and I can only imagine the laugh they were having at my expense that he had to listen to, but he never mentioned it to me.
After his strokes he lost his mobility, and became a great supporter of Sky Sports. There was always a game to watch, be it Manchester City in the football season or any cricket at all in Summer. Cricket was a great love of his, and why not, when Gary Sobers lived across the road from you when you were a young teenager, and you worked in the scorebox while he was the professional player at Radcliffe. It's fitting that we'll be having a "do" after the funeral on Tuesday at Radcliffe Cricket Club, I think he'd like that.

Dad could be a man of few words sometimes, but every one of those was always a kind one.

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