Oh mine papa!

Throughout the first decade of this century Dee and I would quite often travel south from our new home/s in Wester-Ross to visit our families, sometimes separately and sometimes together. Although neither of us wished to live in our childrens' pockets we certainly wanted to keep well in touch with their lives and to ensure they had a good understanding of ours in return. But that was never easy for our lives had not been 'normal and it was certainly not normal to upsticks and migrate far away to a new life and a new lifestyle at our kind of age, (sixty eight in my case, fifty eight in Dee's) . It didn't matter. As an early nest vacater myself I knew all about flying out from under the wing of mummy and daddy, and this time hopefully without loss of parental love.

My step-mother, Julia, had died aged in her eighties whilst resident in a Hastings Care Home. At her funeral Liz, one of Julia's nurse / carers approached me. Don't worry about your father, Bryan, she told me, I'll make sure he won't be on his own. She wasn't kidding! Before long the two of them were taking sea cruises together and then when he could no longer travel in comfort, no problem, Liz went on taking the cruises solo or with her daughter, naturally at father's expense. Taking more than cruises, actually. Be that as it may, by around 2005 it became clear that my ninety four years old dad was heading in the same direction as had his second wife. He couldn't possibly sustain himself by himself for much longer in his seaside apartment. Several times he fell over, suffering hip and other bone damage as a result and having great difficulty in obtaining any help. Several times he was consigned to spells in hospital. Therefore with his agreement I spent some time looking for the best  place in or around Hastings in which he might in comfort end his days.

At this point I have to say that there had never been overmuch of the aforementioned parental love between father and I, although I must also add that we were probably closer together in the few years leading up to his death that at any time previously. Why should such disharmony have been? I think it went back to my boyhood perception of him as something of an ill-tempered tyrant. The days he returned to my mother, my three sisters and myself at home in Lancashire from his work in London - they were seldom if ever happy. And then I probably blamed father for the loss of the mother to whom I had been very close throughout the war years. I think my placement at age eleven in a public (boarding) school paid for by my wealthy Auntie Kay was not a happy time for me and a source of some scarcely concealed humiliation for father. All his life his brainy and equally good looking elder sister had outperformed him. But perhaps one reason above all was my failure to properly accept my step mother, his new partner Julia Wicksteed. Then again, at Abingdon School  I did OK but let the family down (his words) by my failure to shine either as Olympic class sportsman or acamedician summa cum laude. The final estrangement came a couple of years after leaving Abingdon when I was coming up seventeen and father shot off with Julia to a new civil service position in Singapore, leaving me to enlist in the R.A.F for an early-entry National Service - for want of anywhere else to go. And, by the way, leaving my sister Shirley to rush into an exceedingly bad, much premature marriage in Newmarket. Both of us had emphatically been labelled not wanted on voyage.

Whilst stationed in R.A.F. Full Sutton, not far outside York, I met and fell deeply, ragingly in love with my beautiful Joan Wood. In those days one needed to seek parental permission to marry if one was under the age of twenty one. Father of course was consumed from afar with rage or disappointment, probably both. I don't know whether he was expecting his son to marry into the aristocracy or something. At any rate he showed no sign of fatherly congratulations, much less interest in my hoped for bride to be. He wrote me a letter in reply to mine enclosing none of the possibly expected (although unasked for) money plus not a little condemnation and much advice (for advice read instruction) to the effect that, when I had finished a-serving of his her Majestry the new Queen in a couple of months time I should at once apply to join the police force. Advice which I chose to ignore, as those of you who may have been reading these episodes since November may already know.

Don't get me wrong, my father was a fine figure of a man who some had earlier compared to the film star Ronald Colman. He had, as they say, 'a way with him'. His main interests were, in descending order, sitting on his apartment balcony in the shortest of short shorts watching young ladies parading along the promenade or cavorting on the beach, betting on horse races and thirdly the incredibly, unbelievably boring ex-nurse, Liz. Oh, I almost forgot; and the three local housewives with part time jobs as 'chiropodists' who visited him in turn, once fortnightly, at a cost according to his post-death bank statements of fifty smackers a time.I had no problem with the latter; his life, his money.

Anyway I found father the perfect Care Home, fixed everything up and went back north. When came the day for his occupation I entrained again for Hastings and proceeded directly to the Home from the station, expecting to find him comfortably ensconced and holding court. It was not to be. The ninety five years old had arrived earlier that day, sure, but had excused himself and promptly 'disappeared' according to an offended and much panicky matron! I went straight back to his supposedly vacated apartment. He was there of course, acting as if nothing had happened.He told me he hadn't liked the place after all so had walked out through the kitchen door, flagged down a passing motorist and had been given a lift 'back home'. I once again did the rounds of Hastings and St Leonards Car Homes. This time he stayed in the one I found for him - and I stayed close by for three days to make sure he did. Some weeks later, on one of my regular phone calls he assured me that; this place is good, son. I get washed down naked every day by two Chinese ladies.

I organised father's funeral. It was sparsely attended by myself and my two surviving sisters plus Auntie Peggy and her daughter, (my cousin), plus lucky Liz and her daughter (each of whom enjoyed a share equal to my own in the tiny estate), and, touchingly, the two Chinese nurses. I wrote and delivered his eulogy. It was not easy but, strangely, I loved the man more as he lay in his coffin alongside me and then went on his way into the furnace than at any other time. Was he or was I the more responsible for our lifetime lack of mutual affection and that towards my siblings and our grand children? I shall never know. More is the pity.

To be or not to be may be the question, father, but every man surely must merit the memory. Or maybe not.

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