Have you seen Trainwreck? There’s a scene in the film where Amy Schumer’s character is giving a eulogy to her father at his funeral. I watched it on a plane and laughed so hard when she said ‘raise your hand if our Dad ever offended you’ and everyone put their hand up. This would literally be me at my Dad’s funeral, I thought. Haha. You never imagine it actually happening though, do you? But then yesterday, at 10.30 am on New Year’s Day 2018, he died, peacefully, with his wife Allison holding his hand. This huge, larger than life character, such a force in my life, is no more. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone…
True to form, when he was admitted to hospital he gave all the nurses a hard time. The first day, we went to see him and he was massively annoyed at being in there – trying to coerce the boys into an escape plot (‘what could they do if you just wheeled me straight out of here? Nothing!) and yelling ‘I don’t see why I have to be in here with all these old boys!‘ while gesticulating at the people in the beds opposite him (he was 82). Also, my favourite: ‘they wanted to help me have a wash! I told them I can do it myself. I said I’m not being FELT UP in the shower, thank you very much’ (this is the version that I can print – the original was much, much more x-rated).
This is how I want to remember him: a feisty, force of nature. He was no doting, yes-man Dad. If he thought we were wrong, he’d be pretty vocal about it. We had times when we argued, and we didn’t talk for a while after he left my Mum. He’d be the first to admit, I think (well, I can’t check now), that he was probably a better Grandad than he was a Dad. Not particularly affectionate when I was a kid, he ‘warmed up’ as a bit as he got older, and his relationship with his grandchildren was truly special.
I’ll hold on to all the memories – so many belly laughs and happy times: a totally inappropriate cherry pip spitting competition off a bridge in Copenhagen; the Royal Tournament (remember that?), Christmas concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, a game of hide the pound coin that got ridiculously loud in a seaside restaurant in Gran Canaria (he cheated); asking the boys to be his Best Man and Chief Usher at his second wedding, arriving so early to the airport that there was literally enough time to drive all the way home when he realised he’d brought the wrong passport; delicious lunches of fresh tomatoes, a chunk of local cheese and some bread on the beach in Spain; nuts and tangerines at Christmas; pouring soy sauce instead of milk into his coffee in a Chinese restaurant, and trying so hard to pinch Charlie’s chocolate cake in another restaurant that the disgruntled little chap picked it up and moved to another table; and – with typical old-fashioned stiff upper lip, never, ever, saying I love you back (he would always look embarrassed and just say ‘thanks’).
I’ll miss his emails (always in capitals) and phone calls, updating me on his latest tumble, his never ending battle against the bloody pigeons, or where I’d ask him what he’d been up to and he’d say ‘I’ve just had a quick nap’ – ‘erm Dad, it’s 11am!’. I even wrote about him in The Sun.
I’ll never be feisty, but I hope he’ll inspire me to fight harder for what I believe in and not care if my opinion isn’t the popular one, never take no for an answer, and of course, see the silly in every situation. I’m similar to him in many ways (all the bad ones, my Mum would say) and I have him to thank for so many things in my life: sunny holidays and summers down the cricket club, keeping us entertained with his awful sock/sandal scenario, bonfires, donkey rides, Christmas lights, scribbled postcards and newspaper clippings in the post, and still always calling me Titch, even when I wasn’t remotely titchy any more.
And now, with two heartbroken boys, we face 2018 without him (he would have chuckled that he managed to hang on and ruin the start to the year for everyone – we’ll never forget to raise a glass to him, will we?). I wonder if he’ll actually get ‘I told you I was ill’ written on his headstone like he always wanted?
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
W H Auden.