My old man, not that I ever called him that – he was dad from as far back as I remember – was a quiet and gentle soul. In all the years I was lucky enough to have him I only ever saw him and mum having a proper row once, and his ire was rarely raised. Twice I caused him physical pain. Once when I wrapped a comb so tightly in his hair that it had to be cut out and once when I was sat on his shoulders pretending to be a TV cameraman and I twisted his ears until they bled. Both times I got a slap round the back of my legs…..by mum!
I guess I caused him emotional pain too but he never complained. Not about my drinking, my financial problems, my unemployment, nothing! He supported me, silently and solidly throughout.
He caused me some emotional pain too. I was a worrier and young me would start to fret if he was so much as 10 minutes late home from work. He left Brent Cross at 5pm and would always be home at 6pm. If it got to 6.10pm I would be standing in the street waiting and if I heard the wail of a siren in the distance, my tummy would melt. I preferred it when he cycled from Websters in Waltham Cross and I would go and meet him in the alleyway. It was weird when he left a bottle-washing machinery factory for a swimwear one!
You could really set your watch by my dad. He had a discipline too ingrained to have been put there by his seven years in the navy; he must have been born with it. It was most notable on a Sunday when he left the house at 11.50 to walk down to the Wheelwrights to arrive a minute after the doors opened. To be waiting for the door to be unlocked would be uncouth (I did it a million times) and to arrive too late would throw out his schedule. Two pints then leave for home arriving at 1.15pm as Sunday lunch was served. I inherited his time-keeping – much to Hazel’s chagrin – but not his discipline, not an ounce of it!
His navy career was one we were all proud off. Being too young for the Second World War, he signed up in 1947 and did a seven year stretch that saw him fighting in Korea. He travelled the world, the Far East mostly, and crossed the line several times. We grew up looking at countless photos he took whilst travelling and handled countless objects he brought back, mostly from Hong Kong. A beautiful puzzle box and a set of carved Chinese figures remain favourites to this day. He spoke of his time in the navy and in later years he joined the HMS Kenya reunion group and travelled to events in Derby to meet his old shipmates. We heard how he acquired a new suitcase when the Swiftsure collided with another ship. I’m sure he blamed the yanks for that but Wikipedia tells me it was HMS Diamond. It was in 1953 shortly after the Fleet Review which my dad was proud to have taken part in. So, yes he talked about his navy days but it was always positive and glamorous. When he died we found some simple diaries he had kept. There were no long entries, he was as taciturn in his writing as he was in his speech but they showed us another side of his navy days. He counted the number of shells the ship fired each night onto Inchon, and made it clear he would rather be somewhere else entirely. We never heard him talk like that but seeing his fears exposed like that made him all the more human to me.
And he was a most human man. Sure, when I was growing up he was superhuman. He was my dad who could do anything. He made stuff, he fixed stuff, he superimposed me playing golf with Dougal in his darkroom ‘photoshop’, he taught me, he took me places and he loved me unconditionally. It was sad to see how the modern world frustrated him in later years. He moved from film cameras to digital cameras but my attempts to teach him to use the PC to manipulate them failed. In this case, child was not father to the man.
Thank heavens though for his photography. This blog and my facebook page would not be nearly so interesting without his countless photographs to illuminate my words. Through them he lives on though he would live on in my heart if there was nothing physical left to remind me. I miss him every day but it’s only on days like his birthday and father’s day that I stop and reflect like this but I promise you dad, not a single day goes by where your influence doesn’t influence my actions. Love you xx