Roy Rogers, by Jude

Dad and Jude

I’ve had enough of writing about my dad’s death. It’s time to write about his life.

Dad was Roy, born to Vera and Theo on 17 February, 1950. He had a much older brother, Donald, although his parents weren’t married when he came along; Donald was brought up by his grandmother, and his surname was Sweeney. Dad lived in Craigcefnparc, and Gorseinon, but beyond that I don’t know very much. The details of that side of the family are sketchy. Time makes them sketchier.

Mam has a black-and-white picture of Dad as a toddler, though, wearing a cowboy costume. It’s not clear if Dad was named after Trigger’s owner, or if the family were just having fun. Dad has chubby cheeks, and dark eyes with a glint in them.

Dad loved Craigcefnparc. I know this from a secondary school friend of his, Myron. I found Myron online, or rather a poem Myron had written dedicated to Dad; it talked about “time’s torrents” and how casually they dealt with things. I e-mailed Myron a few years ago, and went round his house, where we talked about Dad over milky tea and thick rounds of sandwiches. Myron’s memory was patchy. He remembered Dad crashing his bike into a wall as a teenager, and going into hospital for treatment. Dad was good at science too, he said, but I knew that; he’d taught at the comprehensive school I’d go to years later. I was in the intermediate class and awful at physics. Sorry, Dad.

Dad was handsome as well. He had heavy, blue-black hair, as thick as strong wool, and proper Welsh melancholy swimming underneath his heavy brows. My mother first saw them, and him, at a bus stop in Fforestfach, as she set off for her first day at Swansea’s teacher training college with a friend. This boy got on the same bus. He got off at the same stop. He climbed the same hill as them, and turned off when they did. She told me this recently, her eyes still alive at the memory. He wore a red V-neck. They got talking in the common room, she said, just because everybody did.

The first time he came home to Borough Road, Grandma’s friend, Merle, went, bloody hell, he’s a bit of alright. Mam and Dad married four years later, on a hot July afternoon. I arrived five years later in 1978, seconds after Swansea got promoted to the third division under their new manager, John Toshack. My brother Jonathan arrived on Guy Fawkes’ Day four-and-half years after that, and fireworks were let off at the roundabout at the end of our cul-de-sac.

Dad nearly got roughed up once, at a Swansea-Cardiff derby with Uncle Huw (Uncle Huw’s not my real uncle, but he was my dad’s best friend, so he is). They were in the gents’, at the urinals, Huw told me, as deadpan as ever, on a Facebook thread out of the blue a few years ago. Dad had my mother’s school scarf on – I’ve always loved him even more for that. They were down Swansea’s end, Dad and Huw, and two Cardiff fans appeared out of nowhere, rough and ready for a fight. My mother’s school scarf was in Cardiff colours, so Dad fibbed about his allegiances. A clever bugger, my father. Just don’t tell John Toshack.

Dad kept getting mistaken for people who weren’t as Welsh as him, too. Once, for some reason, George Best at another Swans’ match, with my mother. Another time, in Sidoli’s ice cream parlour in town, someone Italian. Swansea was full of Italians, so that wasn’t unusual. Senor Sidoli himself came up to Dad, rabbiting away in full lingua madre; Dad shook his head softly and answered in lilting Swansea English. I still remember Dad’s voice, because I have a tape with him on it from 1983; he’s encouraging my baby brother and I to talk into the microphone on it. His voice sounds deep, rich, soupy, like so many voices I know, but stiller somehow, and stronger. It remains as familiar to me as water.

My own memories of Dad are captured in round-cornered photographs in faded browns, oranges and greens. It’s hard to know if I invented memories to fit those frames, or if those recollections lingered properly in my mind. Him reading to me – I’m not sure if that’s from my own head. Him teaching me how to write programs on his Spectrum 48K computer – that has to be. I remember being a bit older, 8 or 9, making a tune on the rubber keys in that way on my own, then writing a one-armed bandit game from one of Dad’s ZX magazines. God knows what he’d make of the world now. 10 PRINT “JUDE”. 20 GO TO 10. RUN.

I also remember going to Dad’s last school, a primary, just before he stopped teaching, and meeting his infant class, who were around the same age as me. Dad told me to get his keys from the staff room from a white box, so I did, and there was a chocolate bar next to his keys with my name on it. The sweetness, the fun, in that gesture, is what breaks my heart, really. But it shouldn’t break it, should it? It should make it swoop and sing.

Six months ago, I gave birth to my first child, a son. He arrived in an operating theatre, the same environment as the one where Dad died. After I numbly felt the doctor’s tug, pull and wrench, there were a few minutes when mine and Dan’s baby didn’t cry. They were the longest minutes of my life. And then Evan did.

My son has chubby cheeks, and dark eyes with a glint in them. He also carries the surname of his mother, and her father. When things get hard, I must remember that I was given life, and that I have given life. Life passes on through us. It has to. It always will.

IMG_8361

Jude Rogers is a writer and broadcaster for The Guardian, The Observer, Q, Marie Claire, In-Style and Radio 4.

Stuart Wilson, by Leah

Stuart Wilson

I used to think the first memory I had of my Dad was when he took me and my brother to the park and told us that he and my mother were going to live apart, that they were getting divorced. We were sat on a bench in Debdale Park in Manchester, right next to the enclosure where they kept all the rabbits and the birds, my favourite place. For most of my life I thought that was the first time I remembered my Dad. But it wasn’t.

There’s fleeting images of him returning home from a work trip laden with gifts – American Airlines teddies, gumballs, t-shirts with wolves on them, carved Elephants from India. There’s the memory of gleefully trying to help him fix his rally car, wearing my red overalls (they matched his,) him rubbing swarfiga on my tiny hands. His moustache. The trips to the woods, standing by the muddy track to watch him race. The blurred glimpse of his car flying past. They’re barely there memories, almost like I heard someone recount them one day, imagined them in my head and think they belong to me. Because most of my memories of my Dad are from the Wednesday evenings or the weekends that he was allowed to look after us.

Growing up, I lived between two homes. I had two bedrooms. Two wardrobes. Two Christmases and two summer holidays. Two Dads and two mums – but only one Dad I loved. These two lives barely touched. My Dad would pull up outside my mother’s house, beep the horn. Or he’d call ahead while he was two streets away so I’d be at the door by the time he arrived. On my 8th birthday he knocked on my mother’s door and handed me my birthday present: my first Manchester City football shirt. I remember being disappointed because I’d wanted the full kit. I asked him to come inside to the party but he kissed me on the cheek and he left.

Without fail he would be outside her house every Wednesday at 6pm, and every Saturday at 6pm. Without fail he would always turn up, always want to see his kids.

My dad is a workaholic. I guess that’s where I get it from. Along with the rallying, his job in aerospace engineering really took off. He travelled for work a lot, and I regularly spent a few hours at weekends in his office, playing with his staplers and drawing unicorns and drinking hot chocolate from the vending machine while he wrapped up some urgent work. I spent summers abroad with him while he worked in America, me and my brother and my step-mum would live in the hotel while he worked, we’d watch Lamb Chop’s Play-Along in our pyjamas and swim the pool until he came back. I remember staying with work friends of his, eating cookies and watching Indiana Jones. I used to get sent Christmas presents from them and the staff in the hotel.

Teenage years. Uncommunicative. I left home at 17. We didn’t speak very often after that. I wanted to forget I had a family. Too much unspoken emotion. Pain. Depression. Anger. He came to visit me once, when I was 17, living in Newcastle with a bunch of 25 year old BMXers. He came to visit me and he gave me money. He bought me lunch and let me make my own mistakes, even though at the time he didn’t know why I was making them. Even though every bone in his body was telling him to throw me in the car and drive me home. He didn’t. Maybe he should have.

For years, my Dad had a teddy doberman in his car. It was from my beanie baby collection. He took a shine to it. I asked him why he kept it in his car. “For protection,” he said.

November 2009. 7am. Morning. Bright, cold. Today’s the day. Out of bed. Cold floor. Mum’s spare room in the house you grew up in. Formal clothes. Downstairs, and your brother and your mother are sitting and looking at you. You look at them and you realise you can’t do this without your Dad there. You only told him yesterday. You didn’t even want to tell him because he would beat himself up about it. It would hurt him immeasurably, knowing that he had failed to protect his daughter. But you can’t do this alone, without his help. The strongest man you’ve ever known, the one you judge all other men against, and they are always found wanting. That morning, stood in the kitchen, feeling powerless and pathetic again, you call your Dad. You call him and you tell him you need him. For the first time since you could remember him, you absolutely need him there beside you. You need to see him, hold his hand, you need his steady eyes and his hugs that makes all insecurities disappear for a split second. He asks which court. You tell him Crown. He says I’ll meet you at the doors in an hour.

I wear my Dad’s watch every day. My Dad’s 1990’s Gucci watch, the first expensive watch he ever bought. He gave it to me – had it repaired, the strap shortened.

I wear my Dad’s sunglasses every day. They’re Ray Ban aviators. Proper Top Gun style sunnies. Top Gun is the reason he bought them. I remember them from holidays with him in Portugal, Spain, America with him on his work trips. Those glasses, and that moustache.

On the wall in the bathroom of my apartment is a photo of a rally car. The car is mid-air, flying over some dirt track. It’s not my Dad driving. It’s his hero Herni Toivonen. When you look closely, the picture has a crease down the middle. It’s been pulled out of a magazine. Years ago, he used to have it on the wall of his office. We found it in his shed last weekend. He wondered what to do with it. I told him I’d have it on my wall at home.

Leah Wilson: music publicist, DxH CEO and international big dog.

Tony Kay, by Jez

mum_and_dad_15_8_2014

I’ve never written anything about someone I love longer than a Tweet or Status Update. Certainly not a blog.

But when I think that it might, just might, help those who are trying to understand or come to terms with something, either regarding themselves or those around them, I give it a little extra thought. And in this case I’m driven to write about something I do happen to have some direct experience of. The subject of mental illness.

My Dad used to call them quacks: doctors in general, but in particular psychiatrists. I don’t think he had a particularly high regard of them. His science was a particularly exacting one. I remember him saying that, in all his time as an electronics engineer, he’d never actually got anything wrong. That’s presumably because he made damned sure he always got it right.

Then again, he wasn’t quite so confident when it came to matters not quite so definite or definitive. Like ambition. Or the prospect of managing others. Or his own mind.

He believed in meritocracy. He was on the side who believed that those that know probably should be in charge of those that don’t.

The trouble was, his was the losing side. Because usually the ignorant egoists were put in charge of him. And he hated that. And it drove him mad.

That’s “mad” in old speak of course. Now we say “mentally ill”, don’t we.

I’ve read quite a few articles by those who seem to know what they’re talking about in the last few days. Each attempts to give a cast-iron explanation for why people become depressed or unhinged, excessively moody or morose.

I used to have a very clear view myself, when Dad was ill. I used to think he’d be driven to it. Years of various forms of mistreatment, misunderstanding, lack of communication. Years of intense frustration, pain, disappointment.

Not only was Dad extremely intelligent. He was also charming and extremely funny, the kind of man who could quite frequently make people hurt with laughter. He was a magical mimic and could create a caricature of just about anyone, from Mum’s relatives – “Ey-oop, here’s Ann and Arthur!” – to pompous schoolmasters who’d taught him at Oundle. Germans and the French were particular favourites of his.

He was very kind too. He’d always be on call to pick up a stray teenage daughter or son from parties miles away or be there with a comforting wise word, most usually with reference to the difference between Northerners (good) and Southerners (bad). He was, naturally, a blue-blooded Southerner.

He’d sometimes lose it – that was a bit of a sign I suppose. I remember him kicking me when we were on a beach in France. I’m sure I was being annoying but I’m also sure he was, even then, quite a troubled man.

Troubled became out of control. Again, my clear, young mind thought it was all work-related. A succession of depressing workplaces, with even more wearisome bosses, had eaten away at him to such an extent that he started to take it out on himself, then Mum. When it all became too difficult for anyone to handle he checked himself into a clinic in Northampton, funded as it was by our Uncle Peter, Dad’s cousin. Another ounce of shame for Dad to endure.

Dad had Electric Shock Treatment more than once. It used to frighten me. He’d make friends with the psychiatric nurses – they seemed particularly caring if not particularly effective. The consultants, though, all seemed either useless, rarely available or both.

He went to another hospital – this one seemed no more than a way to keep him out of the house or at the very least to keep him relatively safe from himself.

He stabilised in the last couple of years of his life. But then, as far as I remember, he began to suffer from the early stages of Parkinson’s. In any case, he’d completely lost the vigour, charm and beautiful humour that he’d once had, barely a decade before. In 10 years he’d degenerated steadily but nonetheless shockingly.

He died of an aerobic embolism at the age of 67. He almost certainly wouldn’t have made it past his mid seventies with the heart he had but it’s still my view that his depression and severe anxiety (I think they called it schizophrenia back then – this was the mid-eighties) cut his life short by nearly a decade.

Familiar, eh? A man bordering genius, extremely funny, extremely troubled. Oh – and he could improvise Bach too. So, I remember Dad’s illness well. Something like that is difficult to forget. But I’m no clearer as to what might have been done to help the situation.

When Dad was ill I got to speak to him more than I’d ever spoken to him in my life. I was able to be the grown-up now, chivvying him on and giving him a bit of advice, most of which probably seemed no more than cold comfort. I’m pretty sure it brought me closer. It certainly coincided with a stable and happy time in my own life, so I think there’s just a chance it helped him, on the whole. It seems to me now that just talking and listening were the best things I could have done, no matter how powerless I felt or how pointless I remember it being.

The fact is, the more I think about it now, depressed people need love. They need selfless, unstinting love. It’s a love that makes the tea, that tidies up, that listens and doesn’t talk too much. It’s a love that sympathises and empathises, as appropriate. It’s a love that believes that it’s all going to get better, even if it doesn’t.

I wish I could have got on with Dad more, could have helped him more. Maybe he could have saved himself a little. Maybe he could have opened up more. Whatever.

What I do know now is that it’s a better thing for you to do what’s best when people are around – that’s share the love – than diagnose, pass judgement, feel bad, guilty or proselytise when they’re gone. Because all that stuff, whether it’s regarding a celebrity or a relative, all that stuff is truly pointless.

Jez Kay is a videographer and sound designer who lives in Greenwich, South East London with his wife and daughter. 

Norman Sydney Owen, by Jim

Norman Owen pic

When I began to think about this I felt it was a shame that it would incorporate his death, so I considered not including it. Then I remembered that a friend once said to me, when I reported the death of a mutual friend to her: “Well, that was his life then”. So, it’s an unavoidable end to a complete story.

In the last year of his life, my dad’s health was on the wane; he found it difficult to eat and was uncomfortable around food. He obliquely referred to himself as depressed and self-diagnosed to his GP who treated him accordingly, with anti-depressants. Actually he had diverticular disease and died after his stomach perforated, causing septicaemia. He died four days after collapsing. In the week before his death I visited him and was shocked that his stomach was so bloated; I took him to the doctor who referred him for a scan and gave him some tablets to aid digestion but it was too late. During that visit, as I sat talking to my dad, the TV was on: an afternoon repeat of The Good Life. So incongruous that such a dynamic and proud man should be contextualised thus, in what was to be the last time I saw him conscious; he would NEVER have allowed this to happen had he been well!

As a child, my dad seemed to me a combination of extreme good looks and exceptional humility. He had ink-black hair and an olive complexion; I think he must have been breathtakingly handsome to the women in his orbit. He was a brave man who had tried to join the navy (as a boy, really) before reaching the legal age to do so but had answered wrongly: when they asked him how old he was he blurted out “1922!” – the year he knew he would have to have been born in order to sign up – rather than giving the fake age he had remembered. He was three years too young, anyway! He later made it to sea in the Merchant Navy and took part in the D-Day landings, an event about which, like so many men of his class, and others, everyday heroes, he never spoke.

About a month before he died, Auntie Lily, his cousin, came to stay with him and my mum. One of my sisters was also staying with them and one evening Auntie Lily confided in her that dad had been adopted but that she didn’t know whether he knew this. My sister was upset and panicked about it but I remember not being especially surprised. One day, whilst chatting with him and observing his almost Mediterranean good looks I had said to him, laughingly “Dad, are you Jewish? How come you look so different from Uncle Bill? Where do you COME from?”. “I don’t know, Jimmy” he replied, smiling, and we left it there. He wasn’t too big on in-depths: once, on a rare visit to the pub with him, I was holding my cigarette at face height, elbow crooked, as we talked, when he looked at me and said, rather sweetly: “Less of the Noel Cowards”.

He and mum had met when she worked as a nurse at the Brompton Hospital in the 50s and he was an inpatient having been operated on for TB. Mum talked, when pressed, about her experience of leaving rural Ireland and living first in Birmingham during the Blitz, training, and finally ending up at the Brompton; she enjoyed those London days when people would give the nurses free theatre tickets and there were always parties on her rare days off. It seemed so glamorous to us. I especially liked the name of dad’s surgeon: Miss Waterfall! Set against the great smog of the 50s, she sounded like a beacon of natural purity.

So, my sister and I asked mum about dad’s adoption and she confirmed that yes, he had been adopted, and that he had taken her to Kensington Gardens to tell her so, in order to make sure that it was OK with her before proposing to her. She said that once, years later, after all of us had been born, Auntie Bea came round with a woman who she didn’t introduce but whom mum said had the same incredible eyes as my dad and my youngest sister. She was sure that this woman was dad’s mother, but they left before he returned. We’ve learnt a little more about him since his death, because we wondered if it was an in-family adoption, which wouldn’t have been so unusual in the 20s. His parents certainly didn’t have money and they also had other children. It all remains a mystery though, and I don’t really mind that.

My dad never knew that we knew; he had never mentioned it to us. His brother, Uncle Bill, had been a prisoner-of-war in Japan – I never knew until his final months that he had suffered night terrors throughout his life – yet was the most gentle of men; whenever he visited with Auntie June he and dad would embrace, kiss and hold each other tightly, both of them looked slightly tearful afterwards and we understood that their bond was strong, that they were grateful to still have each other.

I’m glad that we never talked about his adoption, I think he would have felt it was a betrayal to the brother and family he loved; I don’t think you always have to talk about everything.

Once, when I was in hospital having a broken ankle set, aged about 30, a friend was visiting me when my dad turned up; as always, we embraced and my dad kissed me and held me to him. Later, my friend said that she had never seen a father so physically comfortable and affectionate with his son. I felt a bit guilty that I was used to it, and didn’t really think about it, though of course I do now. My mum was different: like a cat, she would let you embrace her but then start pawing at you to get out of your clutches. My sisters and I would sometimes ‘torture’ her with over-affectionate demonstrations, holding her a bit too long then laughing as she made her escape.

I remember: burying my face in his pale-blue-and-white striped towelling t-shirt when I had toothache; being given the t-shirt by him years later and wearing it until it fell apart; his chasing my sister and me upstairs with his slipper in his hand when we wouldn’t go to bed and all of us breaking down with laughter when we got to the top (he never, ever, hit any of us and we knew he wouldn’t this time); him telling me to take a pride in myself (i.e. hang my clothes up and polish my shoes); the thrill of his laughter when we said something funny and the pure generosity with which it was delivered (he was a fantastic audience); his protection of mum and the way we knew, instinctively, that he loved her more than he loved us, and we were glad that he did; the fact that he never drove, nor had any interest in doing so; the fact that he had sailed around the world but had no desire to revisit any of it.

I know that we anchored my adopted dad and my immigrant mum and I am grateful that we could, inadvertently, do that, and that their sense of belonging gave us the same feeling about them and about each other.

The last time we spoke, on the phone, before he collapsed and was taken to hospital, we talked hopefully and hopelessly about the medication he had been given and the upcoming scan. “Thank you, son” he said. I always felt a little bit strange on the rare occasions when he called me “son”; it sounded as though someone were speaking from another era, and of course in many ways he WAS from another era. There is no escaping the sentimentality of memory: it is unbidden yet implicit. I’m happy that this memoir of my dad is a sentimental one because he was a sentimental man. Isn’t ‘sentimental’ rather a lovely word? Doesn’t it just mean ‘feeling’ in its most elemental translation? So, my dad belonged to a generation of working-class men who had the opportunity and the pleasure and the hardship of providing for their families. Whose lives had been forever changed by their experience of war, of helping to deliver the world from Nazism. Who had taken the chance to change our world. Of course it is sentimental.

In that telephone conversation were the last words my dad ever spoke to his son.

“I love you”.

Jim Owen lives in London, is a member of an amateur choir but is always ready for a bit of a sing-song. Writes speculatively and slowly

Andrew Charles Edwards, by Lisa Edwards

Lisa and dad

My father died when I was 21. He had been in a psychiatric hospital for some time due to what was diagnosed as early dementia in addition to Parkinsons. In fact it was probably Lewy Body Dementia. I only realised when it was too late that the antipsychotic drugs he was given shortened his life and insufficient physical care led to pressure sores and septicemia. I have tried to access his medical notes to be told they were destroyed by fire at the old asylum-type place he was in. I feel angry. They let him down. I let him down.

It is important to me to tell his story. He has no memorial, his ashes were scattered by the lake on Hampstead Heath where he used to swim as a young man. My parents divorced when my brother and I were young and our mother’s ill feeling towards him coloured my sense of him despite him being a good father to me. Although I was the only one to visit him in hospital I hadn’t realised at the time how wronged he had been, how tough his life was and how desperately sad but proud I would be once I was emotionally mature enough to see things beyond my mother’s narcissistic lens on the world.

My father was born to an unmarried servant girl, Annie Alexandra who worked at Hadleigh Rectory, Barnet, North London. I am aware from his paperwork that he had tried to trace her towards the end of his life but to no avail. I know little of his life apart from fragments. He was put in a home for waifs and strays when he was a small boy and went on to do an apprenticeship at De Havilland Aircraft as a draughtsman. I have his admission contract for this and sadly the section mentioning his time in care has been scrubbed out as though he found it painful to recall.

I’m lucky enough to have his meticulously written engineering books and drawings, mostly marked with A grades, he was a perfectionist and very intelligent. I have memories of him trying to help me with my maths homework, his love of the subject evident but I do recall my frustration at the time as I just wanted help with the answer and not the related aspects.

I know my father spent time in the Army, Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, and references were made by him to my brother and me of mental illness and surgery for it. He told us he had a brain operation involving his skull being drilled. I can only conclude it was a lobotomy on the frontal lobe – experimental surgery conducted widely at the time, often without consent. It is possible he was suffering from anxiety or depression. My mother’s knowledge of this time in his life is either patchy or disinterested. It would have been before she met him, though ironically her later training as a psychiatric nurse did not spark her interest or her compassion. For her, he was cold and unaffectionate, presumably this was his character when she met him and I have since read that the type of psychosurgery he probably had caused marked character change and dampening of emotions.

The father I remember did not hug us or say lovely things, but I remember more and more the caring things he did like brushing my hair or trying to diffuse my mother’s anger if I’d spilt something at the breakfast table. He did seem to notice us and be present for us in a way I don’t recall from my mother. He bought me a new bike when mine was stolen. It was my father who took time off work to take me to frequent orthodontic appointments and I’m not sure if this was a factor in his subsequest redundancy, but he experienced this on several occasions in his working life and in the years leading up to his illness he was unemployed despite trying hard to find work. He never missed maintenance payments, kept up with mortgage payments while my mother who then remarried, and I, now at college, lived at the house. My father lived in a bedsit up until he was admitted to hospital.

I wish my father could have had the love and care he deserved and needed. Despite his own difficulties he was a good father to me and worked hard all his life for us. I wish I knew his story.

In these more enlightened times mental illness is seen differently by health professionals and employers, but there’s still a long way to go.

I have experienced debilitating depression in my twenties and thirties, unaware that it had a name or that there was treatment. To my mother it was laziness. I was being a miserable cow, I was a bad person. Her own early experiences robbed her of the capacity to feel the necessary sensitivity towards those closest to her. I am now a Counsellor and psychological therapist but am filled with gnawing sadness at these lives. Despite now understanding it, nothing removes it from my core.

Thank you for the opportunity to do this, with love to us all.

Lisa Edwards works for Re-Gain, a mental health project in Cornwall and is a Counsellor in private practice.

 

Terry, by A W Wilde

image

7.30am, November 10th 2006. I was walking off an English breakfast in the Oxfordshire countryside with three colleagues from work. We were up early on our company’s annual away days. The sun hung low, gloriously obscured by a thick mist rising from ploughed fields. The morning frost tried to hoax us into believing it was the year’s first snow. We were on our way to see the ruins of a sixteenth century church, walking down a country lane beneath an oak canopy and a volley of starling song. The ice was everywhere it wanted, varnishing dead leaves with crystals, glinting like silver fillings in the roadside mud. The ice was crunchy white and undercover black. My mobile rang and broke the morning in two.

Mum.
Austin. Get here now.
Sobbing. Uncontrollable sobbing. Fighting to get the words out between petrified chokes of air sobbing. What I heard was more than fear, more than panic, and more than pain alone. It was an aggregate loss of hope.
Mum, Mum, what’s the matter?
Austin, get here now. Dad’s not good. The ambulance is on its way. It’s his heart.
I’m on my way.
Please drive safe. I’m at your Sister’s. I need you.
I looked at my colleagues, their faces frozen and hesitant.
It’s Dad. Something’s up, I said. The ambulance is on its way.
Oh Austin, they said with their eyes.
Drive safe, they said individually.
I ran down the lane, over the ice, across the gravel car park, along the corridors and into my room. I stood in the middle of my room thinking what the fuck do I do? Is he dead? I snatched clothes from hangers, stuffed them into my weekend bag, piled on books, paperwork and toiletries then ran to the car. The bag thrown into the passenger seat, the key slid into the ignition. It didn’t start. Not now, not today. I tried again, the starter motor turned over, sounded hollow. Again, nothing. I knew I should have had it fixed sooner but please please please not now now now. Arms firm on the steering wheel pushing my back into the seat. Silence. White noise. Deep breath, I asked nicely. I talked sweet with cherries on top. I turned the key and the depleted roar of a once powerful engine rang out.
I pulled from the car park, on to the road and into the path of a fully-pimped matte black Range Rover Sport. Full beam lanced my eyes in the rear view mirror, forcing flecks on to my vision, fucking with my focus. Palpitations. The driver kept full beam on for what felt like seconds but could have been minutes. I flashed my hazards, issued my apology. I accelerated, made for the motorway blinking and unsettled. He followed.
Chest pains. The roads quiet. The fast lanes empty. Travelling against the tide of traffic. My mind raced faster than the speedometer. Indicate, overtake, down a gear, up a gear. This is it, my mind whispered This – is – it.
This can’t be it. They’ve only been back in the country for days, five days? They had lived in Spain for a decade and Christmas was coming. This was supposed to be the week of phew and woo-hoo. A week of relief of the unthinkable: of Mum being left alone in Spain, of his body coming back in a bag. Indicate, overtake. Down a gear. Up a gear. The matte black Range Rover followed. Dad’s in hospital. In an English hospital, and I will see him alive again. This is it is on a loop over and over and over and over and over until, shiiiiiit, breaks, pump, the, fucking, brakes. Tyres screech. I stop short of the car in front. Adrenaline bites down. Left ventricle failure. The driver of the Range Rover gives me a sardonic smile in the wing mirror. Heart attack.
Traffic starts to move again. Dark thoughts gain traction. Heart attack. Heart attack. Oh look, Eddie Stobart haulage truck. Your Dad’s dead. Heart attack. A classic Aston Martin Vantage. Your Dad’s not dead. Keep calm and cruise in the middle lane. Radio on ignore the voices. My stomach creaks, wants attention of its own. Drive just drive and think of something else. Humphrey Lyttleton is on Desert Island Discs. He loves jazz from no later than the 1950s and his desert island luxury is a keyboard. I couldn’t care less about his taste in music or his favourite book, I needed a shit so bad I’m hunched over the steering wheel in pain. Subservient to the needs of my body, I indicated to pull into the services. An all-consuming thought filled my head and my heart: he could well be waiting for me to arrive before he gives out.
I looped twice around the roundabout and pulled back onto the motorway, tried to achieve the monotony of vans and cars and lorries, signposts exits and bridges. Failed. Obtuse images and bleak thoughts reined, questions rattled and collided. Had he hung on long enough to get Mum home before giving out? Was this poetic or heroic or cruel? How much pain had he been suffering? Genetic predisposition.
I gripped the steering wheel tighter and tapped my right foot incessantly. The white noise wouldn’t leave me. I called my Sister’s mobile and home phone and got no answer. Am I supposed to be driving to her house or the hospital? I called my friends with the news he may or may not be dead. Warm voices helped calm me. Motorways became A roads and A roads became B lanes. The Potteries’ glorious countryside floated into vision and out of rear view mirror. The fully-pimped matte black Range Rover Sport overtook me. I was high definition slow motion personified. Shock had arrived. Nature’s finest opiate smothered me.
As I pulled into my sister’s street the sight of a solitary police car confirmed what I’d already known.
My Dad was dead,
My Dad is dead.

mumdadrollneck

My Mum and Sister met me at the door. In bits: completely in bits. He’s gone sobbed Mum, he’s gone. Fear of the unknown engulfed me. Fear of the unknown fought with the state of shock and knotted in my stomach. One fear fell onto the other, and then to my feet. I stood rooted on the doorstep as we all embraced. A Policewoman sat doing death’s paperwork at the dining room table. We joined her and answered the questions she delivered with care. I chose that day to start smoking properly again. Give me a taxable self-destruction, for now, but not for long.
Mum asked if I wanted to go and be with him. Dad was lying dead on the floor in the front room. His slow decline had meant the thoughts of this moment had rattled around my consciousness for years, plenty of time to formulate questions. The voices from countless airports and emergency plane journeys to Spanish intensive care units amplified as the motorway exits gained in numerical value. They asked me the same questions.
What is it like to lay with them at that precise moment?
Is it the wholesale effacing of pleasurable images?
Are they superseded by one bleak image of finality?
What is it to talk to a dead man, to unload the unsaid on incapacitated ears, just to ease your own emotions?
Are these moments cathartic?
What is it like to help your mother shut your Dad’s eyes for the last time?
I had envisaged this last moment over the years, but it was never like this. My mind had dictated that it was always in a Spanish hospital with surgical surfaces and reassuring smells of disinfectant. We were supposed to be buffeted by the bustle of the vital tending to the ill. As it turned out it was just hardcore normality. A house I know at the end of a road I recognised and will see again many times over. I’m glad it happened that way. We had more time with him in a place he was comfortable as the man we knew him to be.
With a deep intake of breath, I opened the door to the front room. A white sheet draped his body. He looked much smaller under it, loose folds made an outline of the man that taught me blue from green. If I am to trust the fidelity of memories I once tried hard to obliterate, then I was completely unruffled, submersed in a sublime halcyon moment. I knelt next to him and pulled back the cotton sheet. He was smaller, at once colourless, and every single shade of every single colour. He was unearthly cold. Devoid of the pump of lifeblood, individual skin cells were thickening, passing on the Chinese whispers of decomposition.
Everything was so motionless, but still – there was something.
I sat on the floor at his shoulder, stroked his hair, and kissed his forehead. I spoke to him, first in my mind and then aloud, words that would take me years to recall. I made my last new memory with him in the present when he was already in the past. A one time exotic duality. All of a sudden I was unsure if he knew how much I loved him. I would have swapped everything to have the chance to say it to him alive once more. At that one moment I knew I had wasted conversations. I would have given anything to hear a retort from him, telling me to stop being so daft. I felt a blaze of guilt for those pointless arguments about his smoking and his drinking. Guilt lengthened into every single cavity that my body had left to offer. The reasons for extended silences and rancour were so pointless to me now. Hefty tears came quickly. Mum must have heard and opened the door, joined us on the floor. I asked her if he knew what he meant to me, and if he knew I was only being hard because I cared. I couldn’t get the words out.
From the windowsill we said the last goodbye. I watched strangers carry him to the ambulance with much the same emotion as I’d waited for him to return home from work as a child: adoration. Mum watched the warmest man she ever knew disappear.

 

MumDad1974

 

Next day. First wave down. Numb and nowhere: somewhere else on foreign longitude and a pirate frequency. My future was yesterday. I looked different, sounded unfamiliar: internally corrosive. I’d woken up looted and fat lipped, wondered why I was at my sister’s, and then I remembered the day before.
Back in the car, on the road again, getting provisions. People still needed to eat. People in the countryside don’t drive like people in the city. I edged out at junctions, pushed, barged, and chanced it. People honked, people gave me hand signals. The passengers offered stares I could not return. That very same matt-black Ranger Rover sport passed me in the other direction, I read its number plate: CAN C3R The driver met my gaze and raised his index finger from the steering wheel.
The roads were busy, the streets were empty. I left the retail-park and its commercially manicured round-a-bouts, and made for the contours of the b-roads. I passed a junior school. Kids in uniform were running in the playground, standing in groups in the playground, kicking balls at each other in the playground. Having fun seemed like a strange concept and it looked energetic.
The difference. The difference. The difference.
The open road. The green fields. The reflective yellow of speed cameras.
The view opened out for miles and miles either side. Patchwork quilts and stone cottages. Winter skies dark soon. Black rusting gates. Rootlets of decay. Electricity pylons. Giants walked the earth.
Silence.

Glacial silence.
A pair of umber cows sidled up against each other, breathed each other in, were still. The rest of the herd were scattered around the field, some lying down under naked and brittle trees. A few examined the stone wall that separates them from the open road.
Escape?
Go where?
The only visible disturbance was road signs pointing at me in tongues. Chevrons to the left and to the right. Sharp bend. Adverse camber. Cattle grid. Soft bastard verges. All had exclamation punctuation. Be careful.
The village welcomed careful drivers. The engine is up to temperature and up to speed, gears changed automatically both up and down. I just point and press, point and press. Take chances round corners. Rail the car, hard. Vulcanised rubber screeches, black hole, ambitions breeched. My sister’s village welcomes careful drivers too. I decelerate and indicate: mirror signal manoeuvre. The second time in two days. Up more hills round more bends, hedgerows, piles of leaves in gusts of life, the autumnal colour palette was pulled through my lachrymose eyes. I flashed full beam to give oncoming traffic right of way. Yearned into my sister’s road. Parked. Walked into the kitchen. Looked out the window for two minutes or three hours. Time didn’t matter anymore because it wouldn’t move backward sufficiently.
The coffee was cold so I put it in the microwave. I walked into the front room and forgot that the coffee was in the microwave. I sat down and tried to watch the television. Failed. All I could do was stare at the carpet. My eyes fixed on the carpet. The carpet was beige. Daytime television was vanilla. People wanted to buy a place where the shine is ‘splendiferous’. Couples wanted to move to the countryside to escape the arsehole of city existence. People wanted to downsize, spread out, ‘get back to nature’. Feel the sun on their backs, the sand under their feet. I stared at the carpet. The carpet held my attention. The carpet, it was beige. The carpet was where he was declared dead. Think about it. I couldn’t think about it.
Go back into the kitchen. Nuke the coffee for the second time. It tasted like piss and I threw it down the sink. Back on the sofa, the idiot box flickered at me and I at it. The presenter talked of kitchen diner large open plan living space. Fantastic sea views no real fireplace and the second room is a bit cramped: onto the next property. Old oak beams period features working Victorian fireplace and permission to extend already granted conservation area. See it, hear it, and don’t take it in. Stare at the carpet then look out of the window. The Place in the Sun theme tune rang out. Bright and breezy guitar licks.
The credits rolled on a Place in the Sun and the adverts started. A grey haired man looking despondent. He stares wistfully out of his kitchen window and shuts his laptop, combs his hair with his hand. The same man with noticeably darker hair looks in the mirror and I sense conviction as the boy watches him drive off. The man returns home and the boy runs to him and is scooped in his father’s arms, they wrap around each other.
Plump tears fell down my face poured from my eyes. It’s quite incredible, I didn’t make a sound my breathing remained the same, tears streamed I felt nothing absolutely fuck all. I tried to marry the evidence of tears with the knowledge of Dad’s death and get jilted. Hard.

Two months down the line and the starter motor on the car was still playing up. I tried talking to the car coaxing it back into life, got nothing in response. I reached for the mobile to call Dad.
There was no answer.
There was to be no more calls of fatherly advice.

A W Wilde has been obsessed by the power of words since Chuck D walked onto his record player in 1987. A Large Can of Whoopass, his new collection of short stories is Out Now – for stockists check awwilde.co.uk

Anthony Freeman, by Amanda

Image

 

“Mean, moody and magnificent” was a phrase often used to describe my Dad Tony. He met my Mum on the bus to Kingston art school. She was 16, straight out of a stuffy girls school and from the posh end of town. He grew up in a two up, two down with no bathroom in the same village and had recently finished his national service. Dashingly handsome and enigmatic, he swept her off her feet.

They married in 1962 by which time Dad was a lecturer in Fine Art at Kingston College Of Art and they moved to the suburbs from London. Our home was bohemian compared to my friends – hessian on the walls and Dad’s large abstracts along with a sculpture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the nude (modeled by my Dad and commissioned by the couple).

Dad was the life and soul of the party, funny, charming – but complicated. Despite his obvious talent, he shied away from exhibiting his work claiming it “prostituted his art.” He was a loving dad but often absent.

Cine-film from that era paints an accurate picture of family holidays with my Mum’s parents – Dad standing on a distant sand dune gazing out to sea, the rest of us having a picnic. My Mum’s parents were supportive of his work – a huge portrait of Mum painted by Dad hung in their house which my grandfather bought when it was exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. To his own parents he was an enigma – he hadn’t followed a conventional career path, he’d married above his station and they struggled to understand him.

Image

(Amanda’s mother painted by her father)

I was 12 when my parents separated – It hadn’t been a happy home for some time so for me it was a relief. Dad hadn’t wanted the break up, but it did mean he could leave the art school and its regular income and start what turned out to be a successful career in films.

After years of thrifty living my Dad was finally making good money – and enjoyed spending it. There were meals out in fancy restaurants, generous presents – he bought me my first car. But visits were infrequent. I meanwhile was in my late teens and starting to understand – and sympathise – with the sort of character my Dad was.  Someone for whom life was challenging and conflicting, and that sometimes it was easier to retreat to the pub then ring his daughter.

Then changes in the film industry meant that work dried up.  Never one to prepare for hard times things spiraled downhill quickly. He lost his flat and moved back in with his elderly Mother. The requests for financial help started. The odd £30 now and then became more frequent. Then the ballifs and the police turned up at my door looking for him. Things reached crisis point with a very troubling phone call where I thought he was going to commit suicide. He didn’t – but I felt for my own sake I had to stop contact. At least for a while anyway.

Time passed. One year turned into two. There was a letter, but no apology which was what I’d hoped for. I should have responded but I didn’t. And when I did try to find him, attempts to do so resulted in dead ends.

Five years later, around midnight, I answered the door to a policeman and woman. “Is it about my Dad?  “Yes”. He’d died the previous night, peacefully in his sleep. After years of thinking he must be homeless, I found out that he did at least have a roof over his head.  He was in a hostel. He was popular amongst the residents, helping the older ladies with their gardening. The woman that ran it was lovely, it felt like she really understood him. His room was full of photos of me. “I tried to get him to contact you many times, but he was a very proud man and obviously didn’t want you to know his circumstances.”

We gave him one hell of send off.  A service full of his favourite songs, an epitaph to which my Mum and I contributed. All his old friends came. It was a celebration of all the good things about him. And I was reunited with my Uncle – his brother – and cousins who I hadn’t seen in years.

I wish things hadn’t turned out as they did. I wish I’d got in touch sooner. But I also know he was trying to protect me, didn’t want to be a burden and thought about me always. These days I’ve got memories of him in every room of my house.  The head he sculpted of me aged 3, that portrait of my Mum and other art works.  I’m reminded of him every day and in the best way possible.

Amanda Freeman runs Freeman PR – an independent music PR company – and lives in London. She celebrates 30 years in the music industry this year. Amongst her favourite things are darts, Disco and next door’s cat.