Sunday, November 11, 2007

Its his birthday today

Apart from the obvious Rememberance Day today, today is or would have been, the birthday of my dad, had he not died in 1998 of course.

So a few words for him.
Because I never got to say a few words to him when he was alive.

We just never did, it wasn't done for men to talk openly and express soppy things like love and respect to each other, so we didn't.

In his later years after he had retired to live in Benidorm I used to get feedback from my auntie, his sister, to whom he would go to for his sunday dinners when he was back in the UK for a few months every summer, she'd ring me and tell me that he'd mentioned again how proud he was of what I was doing with his old business, and then the next day he'd come down to the office and spend an hour criticising everything we'd done and telling me how we'd be going bust if I didn't pull my socks up - eventually he was nearly right.

But thats good enough as an expression of love and respect for me, caring criticism is fine, it shows that he cared and of course I knew what he really thought thanks to my auntie Doris.

He had inherited the business from his father in 1946 when he returned from a war spent in Africa and India with an attitude born of experience that all foreigners were lazy and stupid and Italians could not cook to save their lives, for the rest of his life he banned "foreign" food from the house, me and our Ned had to sit on the doorstep to eat the takeaways that we brought home from the pub after a night out, he wouldn't even allow you to put the empty cartons in the kitchen waste bin, you had to taint his bin outside with the smell - even when he moved to Spain and mixed with a crowd of Spanish showbiz people he would order "English" sounding food off the menus in the restaurants that they took him to and spoke his own English version of Spanish, refusing to adopt an accent at all.

He ran the small clock business for a short while but my grandad had not worked in it for a couple of years while he died a long, painful and lingering death from lung cancer and it wasn't really viable anymore so sometime in the late 1940's he closed the shop and took up a job with a national company selling and servicing time recorders ("clocking on" clocks) - he became their Northern office.

When he left that company in 1978 there was no-one more suprised than me, he had risen to be their manager for the whole of the north of England, in charge of four sales offices, a nice company car changed every couple of years
, a nice bungalow in a "good" area of the city, and a good salary although his Yorkshire thrift prevented him from throwing it around too much we always had good holidays, were the first people I knew to holiday abroad despite his loathing of foreigners, and were inundated at christmas and birthdays, in short we were "comfortable".

But he had plans to do the same job for himself and keep the cash rather than send it to a head office somewhere, and thats exactly what he did building a business that still dominates our trade in the North East of this country, despite my best efforts to ruin it later.

When I joined him in 1983 there was no doubt that I was his pension scheme and within five years he had announced his retirement and told me exactly how much I would be paying him every month until he died in order to buy the business off him - fait acomplis sucker.

But even when he'd retired he did not retire, he'd come and work full days in the workshop for free just because he wouldn't sit at home and retire like all retirees should do, maybe he would have done if he'd known that within two years of him retiring my mother would die of the breast cancer that she'd fought against without a word of complaint for seven years, I always had the feeling that they both expected to spend their retirement years "sometime later", putting off the day when they'd sit at home and behave like proper grandparents until it was too late - its a lesson that has not passed me by, I'm out of here as soon as I can afford to and I'll live a disgracefully long, lazy retirement painting and wearing out a chair in front of a tv set.

His life became aimless after my mother died, until then they had been visiting Benidorm for increasingly longer periods several times a year but he wouldn't go there on his own even though we all knew that that is where his heart lay, the centre of Europe where all retirees go to die and be royally entertained while they do so.

Eventually he paired up with an old friend Brian, the salesman who was the big name on the Northern club circuit and they rented and shared an apartment in the Spanish quarter in Benidorm, "The Odd Couple" as their friends out there called them after the Jack Lemmon/Walter Mathou partnership in the film of the same name, for eight years they lived out there travelling home for two months each summer with our dad driving his uninsured, untaxed Renault all the way there and back, Brian navigating all the way with an A4 sized map of the whole of Spain that he'd ripped out of a page in The Sun one day, as Brian often said, he'd navigated a British Army tank all over Korea in the 1950's so Leeds to Benidorm was a piece of piss, oh how we laughed the year that he navigated them off the main Madrid/Alicante motorway into a quarry and had to get a man on a moped to guide them back to the road.

Our dad loved those days in Benidorm, living the life of a single man, albeit a single man in his 70's, out every night drinking and singing and telling jokes in his favourite bars, they populated one bar in particular so often that the visiting holidaymakers thought that he and Brian owned the place, a belief compounded when they heard the two of them speaking their own version of Spanish, "Beni-Spanish" as Brian explained, to the real bar owner who acted with servitude to them both as if they really did own his bar, I'm convinced that the bar owner came to believe that he was just an employee in the end.

When he came home unexpectedly in December 1998 complaining of pains in his lower back I knew secretly that it was far more serious than he was intimating and yet still we did not speak like father and son, our relationship had been forged by the business and so our chats were stilted with silences when neither of us could speak our true feelings, I knew he had liver cancer, he knew he had liver cancer, the fekking consultant who charged a royal fee for private consultations (for our dad wanted to get back to Benidorm for christmas) dragged his heels with a diagnosis then fucked off on holiday with still not a word on what those expensive CAT scans had revealed, three days later in the week before christmas our dad was admitted to the LGI as the pain had become acute and it was left to a young Chinese doctor to explain to me in a small office that my father would not last more than a few more days as his liver had stopped functioning some time ago - you'll be glad to know that despite petering us for the money we did not pay the consultants bill from the estate and after a while even his level of care-nought bastard-ness gave up trying to extract the money.

In the week that he spent on a ward for the dying in the LGI he was doped up on morphine so that he slept most of the time, waking only for a few minutes and muttering incoherent things to whoever was sat by the bed. I didn't go to the hospital very much and when I did it was only for a few minutes, it just seemed such a waste of time to me and I admire those people (ie my wife at the bedside of both her parents when they died) who can sit for days and weeks on end at the bedside of a dying relative, its not something that I could do, and so I didn't.

On Christmas Day I even unplugged the phone for a couple of hours so that our christmas lunch with some members of our family would not be disturbed byt he hospital ringing, the day before our Ned had been sat at his bedside when he'd opened his eyes and told him "I'm going ashore tomorrow" we hadn't a clue what he meant by this as he had never been a one for sailing but we took it to mean that he was on his way - I visited him on Christmas Eve,stood at the end of the bed for a few minutes until he opened one eye and said his last words to me, "Are you still here ?" is what he said, then closed his eyes and went to sleep again - I took that as my prompt to fekk off, so I did.

I found out later that our Ned had spent the afternoon sat at his bedside and he obviously thought that I was him, we look very much the same to someone in a semi-coma.

The call from the hospital came on Boxing Day morning and that was that, 75 years of laughing, singing, trading (sometimes even declaring the income for tax) came to a close.

I don't miss him because I talk to him most days, on the day this year when we sold the business the people who had bought the majority of shares shook my hand and asked if I was at all sad that I'd just sold the family business, my answer was no, not at all - I didn't tell them that that was also my fathers opinion because they'd think I was mad if they knew I'd been talking to him about it for months beforehand.

About a week after his funeral I had a dream, it was a dream that seemed to last all night long and I never wanted it to end and when I awoke I cannot explain the feeling of relief and happiness that I felt, in the dream I visited him in Benidorm and we walked and talked, and talked and walked, up and down the two mile long promenade of that resort town, I don't know what we talked about, I didn't hear the words but we walked and talked all night and the feeling that I had in the morning was that we'd said everything that should have been said years ago, I wish I could have that dream again.


Whit said...

This is my favorite post that I've read of yours.

I hope you have that dream again too.

Zoe's Dad said...


I've got nothing else to add. Just, beautiful.

Gary said...

Thanks to both of you - we still keep his overall hanging up behind the workshop door - and we have a million and one stories to tell !!!

Anonymous said...

This is my favourite post anywhere. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Oh what a lucky day when I clicked on that 'next blog' flag at the top of blogger, and found your blog. And now JerryChicken and Mr. Honey are friends.

Gary said...

Am - Why thank you, and now for yours to come back online ?