San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.
Three days off the bike in a lovely little seaside town in Nicaragua. Time to recover a bit and relax after the stresses of hard riding days and border crossings. Also, a chance to try to organise some maintenance on the bike in Panama before the beginning of the South American leg.
Mostly though this morning, I’m thinking about my Father. Were he still alive have he would have been 93 this week. There’s so much I never got round to saying to him. So…
Dear Howard (We didn’t really bother with that Dad thing, did we?)
You would have been 93 earlier this week, but there wasn’t really much chance of you making that was there? What with the 20 a day Woodbine habit from when you were young, the injury to your leg in the Second World War (No, but men of your generation didn’t talk about it much did they?) and the hard manual labour and bitter disappointment you felt about my mother.
I don’t think I really knew you all that well, and but for Judith’s extraordinary talent for bringing you out of yourself, probably never would have. You were never really one for all that parenting stuff, but you did it in your own way and there’s a jumble of memories in my head that tell me who you were, and how it helped to shape me.
The Saturday mornings come rain or shine when you would be the only parent standing on the touchline watching me play rugby for the Grammar School with the sons of doctors, solicitors and bank managers. It was hard for you, I know, getting up early on Saturday having been up till who knows what time the night before, running the pub. But you were always there weren’t you? I never really worked out why I got into the Grammar School, but I recall the rugby coach coming to see me play at the Secondary Modern on a couple of occasions and you talking with him.
There was the time we were playing away at some minor public school and you got ‘sent off’ for shouting at the referee ‘you’ve got no chance here boys, you’re playing 16 men’. I never said it but I was really proud of you for sticking up for us.
When you drove me to the County trials and then berated the selectors in their blazers (you, as ever, in your flat cap with that welsh accent you never lost). In the end they did give me a go behind the much stronger pack and I got picked to play for the County. I got injured the week before the big game, and had to play through it (no substitutes in those days, three points for a try and two for a conversion. What on earth would you make of the modern game I wonder?) Coming off the pitch in tears knowing I’d lost my one chance and you trying your best to console me.
The time we got tickets to see England Wales at Twickenham from the school and seeing to my horror that we were sat next to the Oxbridge educated Headmaster and his daughter. I’m ashamed to say I worried you would say something out of order but you didn’t, did you?
You finding me crying in the garage when my mother said she was leaving you and taking me with her (you only had to ask me, I would have stayed)
Losing the pub and you getting the hardest job you could find in the abattoir, to prove to her you were capable of hard work. Dad, you were the hardest working man I knew, getting up at 4.30 every morning all those years and going on doing so into your 70’s.
You leaving me the mobile home you ended up living in in your will and telling me you’d had it bricked in to add some value to it.
You paying cash for everything, often from a wad of notes fresh from the abattoir often bloodied round the edges. The time we tried to buy you a new television on interest free credit and you couldn’t because you had no financial history. Lending, not giving, me the money to buy a flight to New York so I could run in the marathon. I paid you back didn’t I. You taught me so much about working hard and not being in debt to anyone. I never told you how much were into the bank for on the properties, you would have collapsed.
Making you a Director of Touchstone Training so we could take you and Judith’s father off on jollies dressed up as Board meetings. The time in Dublin when all you had to do was sign the accounts but you started giving me grief about how much we had spent on business travel the year before.
When the local dope dealer called round and you smoked cannabis for the first and only time. You said it was ‘bloody rubbish’ and had no effect on you, but insisted I came over to the window to look at how big the moon was.
Then as you got older and, in your words, ‘the head and the legs’ started to go; trying my best with Judith to take care of you. You got stuck in the bath once, way too proud to call to tell me, we arrived and you hadn’t eaten for three days. We went to the local Little Chef. You bellowing across the restaurant to the waitress ‘Come on love, where’s the bloody grub’. How often have I sat in stupidly overpriced restaurants and wanted to say the same to some stuck up waiter.
The trips to the doctors about the ‘head and the legs’. As your memory started to go answering the questions as best you could: ‘Who is the Prime Minister, Mr Ford?’ ‘That bloody woman, wassername?’ It was Major, Dad, but we got the idea.
You managing to stick around to see the Labour win in 97 – sitting in the club in Camden that night as the results came in and the look of happiness on your face after all those years of ‘that bloody woman, wassername’ and her bunch. I sat in all those interminable Labour Party Branch meetings partly because of you, you know.
And finally the night you died suddenly. I was in the middle of a two day conference and there were going to be 70 odd people waiting for me in Milton Keynes at 9.00 the next morning. We both knew I was going to go and finish the job didn’t we because, well, that’s what you would have done.
So, I’m sorry I didn’t know you any better than that. I don’t think the fathering thing was your natural milieu, but you gave it a go and tried your best. And I don’t think anyone can ask for much more than that.
I wonder what you would make of ‘this bloody caper’ as you would call what I’m doing now. I think frankly it would baffle you; but I also hope you might be just a little bit proud of me.
Your son, Kevin.