Today, at 11 am, my father died.
The news was not unexpected. He’d been very unwell for some time. Over the last few years we got to say goodbye to him slowly, as he progressively lost his mobility, then his speech. For a while, all he could do to acknowledge us with a hand movement, but even this simple connection was lost towards the end.
I’ve been preparing for this day, thinking about how it will feel, and what sort of emotions it will stir. But nothing can really prepare you for that final loss – the moment when someone is gone forever. I feel a jumble of emotions. Deeply sorrowful, on the one hand. Relieved that his suffering is over. And grateful for his life well lived. It’s hard, though. Very hard.
The last year or so has brought those of us left much closer together. My mum, Jane, is a remarkable person, and it has been great for my silblings – Anne (twin), Hester (two years younger) and Arthur (four years younger) – and I to have spent more time with her and with each other. I hope that Dad, when he thought about us kids, was proud of us. A lot of what we’ve achieved and become has been down to him.
So, Dad. So many memories. I’ve just been looking through old photographs, and pulled a few up. A time of loss is often a time of looking back. He gave us what he never had: a happy childhood. He grew up in Longsight, Manchester. His mother died when he was 12, and his father, who worked for the local council, was an alcoholic. He must have relied heavily on his older sister as a young teenager. His father died when he was 18. Dad hardly ever talked about his childhood, and we know very little about his parents, and virtually nothing about his family roots. He married my mum in 1967, and shortly after, Anne and I arrived. Two for the price of one: they weren’t expecting twins until very close to the birth date.
The family relocated south for his work: he was a sales manager with Bristol-Myers. We settled in Tylers Green/Penn, two adjoined villages in Buckinghamshire, where the family – now four children – was to grow up.
Cars. Cars were one of Dad’s passions. He loved them, and he loved changing them. Initially, he had company cars: I remember a stream of Ford Consuls. One was white, and it was a 3000 GT, running on five-star petrol. Another was a Burgundy colour, with a beige trim on the roof. Things really took off when he left Bristol Myers to become a self-employed manufacturers agent. This would have been in about 1979, when he was 40. [Aside, I went freelance at the age of 40, too – genetics?] Initially, he sold shop signage called Bramstow (the lettering that adheres to glass windows), and then a sunglass range called Linda Farrow. His greatest success, though, was with toys and beauty products for girls called Tinkerbell. Being freelance and on the road meant cars were a tax-deductible expense, and he began buying and selling them at regular intervals. So many different ones! I remember learning to drive in a Citroen BX with non-cancelling indicators. Then there were a couple of Peugeot 205s that I enjoyed driving. He was very generous with his cars: once I’d passed my test, I could drive them more or less when I wanted (he had two at a time). Even though he had an eye for a deal, I’m sure the constant switching of cars must have cost quite a bit of money, though. But he loved it.
Camping. Dad loved holidays. In fact, I think this was probably one of the things that led him to become self-employed. When Anne and I were age four, Hester 2 and Arthur fresh out, my parents began camping abroad for their summer holidays. They started off in France, on the west coast, but after a couple of wash-outs, realized that to get guaranteed sun, it had to be the Mediterranean coast. A campsite in Cavalaire, near St Tropez, became a favourite. Then Camping Marius, near Tarragona. Then they found what was to become their go-to – a site on the coast just above Valencia. So many memories, not least of the epic two or three day journeys to get there and back, with four kids sitting in the back seat. [As I grew taller I bagged the front seat, and mum moved back, in part to break up the inevitable fights.] Dad seemed very happy on holiday, soaking up the sun on the beach, drinking cheap wine (and the famous sundowners my parents enjoyed before dinner, long drinks taken out of tall ceramic glasses), and then cooking for the family. He loved his tents: we had all the tents. From frame tents, to trailer tents, to smaller tents for shorter camping trips to Cornwall, to a couple of Toyota Hiace motor caravans. After we kids flew the next, mum and dad took to Caravans for their regular forays to France and Spain. I think I get my love of being on the road from Dad. A wanderer.
Cooking. At the weekends and on holidays Dad loved to cook. Come 6 pm on a Saturday, he’d put jazz record requests on and take over the kitchen. He cooked two genres of food: Chinese or Indian, and he did everything from scratch. I’ve no idea where this love for cooking came from, but he loved to feed people. The curry recipe varied greatly in heat, and sometimes was too much (I used regularly to develop heat-induced hiccups). One of his specialities was potato cakes, which were thin onion-containing patties fried in a pan. These were gulped down to offset the hotter of the curries. On holiday, he’d cook every night, on small portable barbecues and a two-ring burner. The food was always good.
Cameras. Dad loved taking pictures. It must have been in about 1980 that he bought himself a Pentax MV SLR camera, with a few lenses: 28mm, 50 mm and a 70-210 mm zoom. He also got an enlarger and turned the downstairs toilet into a temporary darkroom. Most of the time he shot slide film. He took me to get my own camera when I was 13: a Ricoh rangefinder with a 35 mm lens. I got the photography hobby from him, and I started working in the dark room, with black and white. But Dad was adventurous, and decided he’d like to do color dark room work. Working with colour in the darkroom is insanely difficult, because you can’t use a safelight (pitch black conditions), and temperature of developing solutions has to be carefully controlled. But I worked with him, and the results – both developing slide film, and then printing from slide film, were pretty good. He also liked shooting cine film, and we have quite a few rolls of these. A typical family gathering would involve a slide show followed by some cine films.
So many more memories. Dad was a deeply honest man. He wasn’t demonstrative with his affections, but I know he loved us. His family was his focus. Often quite private, he was also capable of injected social energy into a situation, especially at family gatherings. He was free of ego, hard working, and had no side to him.
I will miss him very much. I’m a jumble of emotions at the moment. But I wanted to write something about him, to share a bit about his life, and what he meant to me. He ran well, he passed the baton on, and it’s down to me and my siblings to do the same.