100 Pictures of my Father.

Flat window.

I’m not sure if the following are memories or impressions. Perhaps they’re best described as snapshots. I have inherited his lack of historical accuracy.

* * *

Leaning back, side by side with my mother, with his hand on the tiller of a small sailing boat as they skimmed about on a sunny evening on our Norfolk Broads holiday. We four children were watching from our rented motorboat. In that moment, they were a smiling, glamorous couple and he looked so dashing.

* * *

Clambering on to his lap, when I was three or four, to secure some after bedtime television viewing, in drawing room. The mock disapproval of my mother helped to fuel the complicity of it.

* * *

One evening in the bathroom, teaching me to tie a bow in my dressing gown cord. “Nearly. Half a sec. There, try it again.” He taught me so well that I ‘got’ it and never had to ask again.

* * *

The One-Armed Flautist joke, told to our shrieks of delight and my mother’s giggling, mock embarrassment, in the kitchen at Little Downham. His face pivoted between the raconteur of the joke and the fluttery features of the musician.

* * *

Massaging a bloodied chin after a laurel bough had sprung back and walloped him as he cut the hedge, He sat, bleeding into bits of hanky at the kitchen table on a hot summer’s afternoon. Two hours later, he relented and went off to Casualty for a stitch.

* * *

My sheer embarrassment at the counter of Lloyds Bank in Great Portland Street as he introduced my 17-year-old self not just to the teller, but also to the waiting customers and all the other staff. He knew them all. Or so it seemed.

* * *

Holding the service sheets on his lap, his hands white and tense, as he sat next to me in the passenger seat as we drove to my mother’s funeral. We had had to turn in to Equity & Law’s approach road to go back and pick them up.

* * *

Meeting him and my mother, by accident, shopping in St Pourçain as they were heading to pick me up from my French exchange. He quickly told me of the parrot, the TV and the one night (only) that he and my mother had spent in a tent on their ‘Camping Trip’. His face scrunched up and practically crying with laughter.

* * *

His morning face, as he handed over a cup of tea and over enunciated the ‘T’ in Happy Christmas with a ringing, kindly sincerity.

* * *

Mulling on Boxing Day in the kitchen of the granny flat. A distinctive smell of gas combined with the richly alcoholic, clove-y fumes of Don Cortez Spanish red. He radiated eager concentration to get it right.

* * *

As my bowled ball tipped the bails of Father Number Ten, my father – at number eleven – saying “Oh, I hoped you’d keep that one away from him” from the crease next to me. He didn’t have the chance to face a ball and walked of good-naturedly.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, in a postscript match on the square at St Neot’s, his scoring an easy six with my white, composite cricket bat, topping twenty in the same stroke and walking heroically off the field to hand it to the next player. A cricket God.

* * *

A tobacco tin, red, with the distinctive Players’ typography, on his desk on a bright morning in ‘The Flat’ at Little Downham. Setting, object, context: unmistakably, completely, my father’s.

* * *

The green jumper. Hand-knitted, held together with who-knows-what determination. Umpteen family holiday’s worth. And then some.

* * *

The pointing, second finger, jauntily extended in to the air of his later years. “Hey Buddy”, the accompanying cry.

* * *

His throw-your-head back projection as he read The Specialist to us one mealtime in an unrelenting Australian accent. “Aaftah thet, she jest hollered.”

* * *

After Brie, the Labrador’s, run–over accident, I was left at the back of Wycombe station to meet him while the dog was in the vet’s. Wearing just a T-shirt, I remember meeting my father and our coming home on the bus, his draping his see-thru plastic Mac on my shoulders to try and warm me up. The slightly bewildered look on his face.

* * *

My father peering gloomily at the chips I’d made in the overflow drain at the edge of the pond to alleviate frogspawn and weed build up. His suggested – very gently – that the water level would simply sink. In an aberration of basic physics, I hadn’t spotted that.

* * *

Telling me, at another Father’s cricket match at St Neot’s, about how he was convinced that Brie was expecting puppies because, “Her buttons are so pink”. He meant nipples. About as close to sex education as I ever got from him.

* * *

My father stepped out of nowhere from behind me to pay the charge for my postal order in Hazelmere post office. I had saved up with exactly the right amount for the chemistry set additions but had not a penny more. I hadn’t realized one, that it cost and two, he was watching over me.

* * *

That extraordinarily clear and resonant voice as he read a lesson for John Olhausen’s Matins.

* * *

He paused and watched three girls dancing in unison to Mud’s Tiger Feet at a Hazlemere C of E school summer event in the dusk. We were leaving to go home. “I think,” he said, “I understand pop music for the first time.”

* * *

The bellow we heard when he caught a two pound Rass on a line and shrieked “Jocelyn” as he landed it. I think we were in Ireland. You could have heard the cry in Wales.

* * *

Taking Angus Kendall and I to watch the Proteas rugby team play in Aylesbury. While the Africans looked miserable, trying to cope with a greasy ball and sub zero temperatures, he tried to overcome our juddery, freezing torpor with good humor.

* * *

The sharp hiss, an indrawn gasp of air through the rictus of a false smile whenever any other driver than he was at the wheel of the family car. Usually accompanied by his clenching the armrest of the door handle.

* * *

Helping himself absent-mindedly to a Punch magazine or two from the stack in my wardrobe. A serum to the anxiety in the house as my mother was gravely ill.

* * *

Lying in the bath and grunting with the perfect, onomatopoeic response to a hard weekend’s gardening. I knew exactly what he felt and meant.

* * *

On holiday, he stopped to pick up an old and unfortunate woman with a tennis ball-sized growth on her forehead, inflicting her on the four of us in the back of the white Cortina estate. Loudly and artificially, he kept a conversation going with our mother about the number of Magpies they observed that morning as we drove along the Mealagh Valley to Bantry. We were frozen with awkwardness.

* * *

Walking back in through the back gate at Little Downham with a great branch on his shoulder for the fire. Countless times.

* * *

Talking about Hemingway’s ‘The Light of the World’, Ring Lardner’s ‘Haircut’ and Jack Schaeffer’s ‘Shane’ with reverential awe.

* * *

The surprising sprint across the front lawn (a grass tennis court) as he walked in from work to kick a football that Matthew Orr and I were playing with. Probably aged 42, he met my incredulity with, “I was playing football long before you were born.” Up to that point, I’d never realized.

* * *

Polishing off the last centimetre of Martini Rosé in a smoked glass tumbler from the Esso garage with a satisfied gulp. For a time, the aperitif of choice in the Awdry household.

* * *

The ring of the black typewriter as the manual carriage returned. A crystalline, sonic indication of “man at work”.

* * *

The acrid smell of Swan Vesta matches in the downstairs loo as the gonks on the wallpaper looked on at you. He’d ‘been’.

* * *

Walking into a shop in rainy Cornwall (Camelford holiday) and declaring to the shopkeeper we were about half a ton of direct descendants. He varied the delivery on this particular line ever after.

* * *

Always referring to his sibling as ‘Phillip, my brother’.

* * *

Giving me sixpence pocket money on a Friday night at the Werner’s in Kent, so that, for the first time, I had a whole pound. He watched me closely as I took it.

* * *

Digging my little garden for me with his big fork by the dip one Saturday morning, even though he had a terrible headache.

* * *

Kneeling, in striped pyjamas, to say his prayers before bed. I was probably sixteen.

* * *

Watching him laugh and laugh his face into helplessness, for the sheer joy of family, sitting together, at the kitchen table, on a weekend afternoon. It didn’t really matter how it started. (Although it was usually because somebody had blown off).

* * *

Walking across a field to right a sheep as I clung to his shoulders, peering down at the grass lurching at his feet. He walked me into the bough of a tree, observed by the rest of family waiting in the green Morris.

* * *

Standing in the flickering green of a Welsh wood in August, watching an otter cross a dam in a small stream, fast flowing and perfect, as I stood beside him.

* * *

Listening to 100 Best Tunes, presented by Alan Keith, in the bath on a Sunday night.

* * *

Endless, endless patience as we walked up and down Oxford Street until he stood me to my final choice of a pair of stout, mustard-coloured shoes. They were repellent but he humoured me.

* * *

Driving through the dark of Marlow on the way back to prep school, he told me of a WWII pilot who’d fallen thousands of feet with an air vest and no parachute. The airman had blown up the air vest, which re-floated him in time to survive despite breaking his legs on impact with the sea. Later he spoke of planes stuffed with ping-pong balls to keep them afloat if shot down, during the same school journeys.

* * *

The way he stroked a dog – part pat, part reassuring thump – an exact and particular communion of great reassurance.

* * *

Watching him in a red check shirt and white shorts freewheel down the mountain road in front of me on a cycle ride to the unimpressive temple on top of Poros. The day itself hot and resiny, as we rode.

* * *

My father saying slowly and deliberately ‘Por Fah Vor’ to Spaniards on the dock as I got into snorkelling difficulty in the bay at Tamariu. They kindly helped me out of the water.

* * *

At the back of Wycombe station, watching the moment he detached from being one of the army of tired, smoky commuters and became my father about to join us in our car. (My mother said, at just such a time, “He still makes my heart skip.”)

* * *

Chatting to the bus conductors and drivers on the brightly lit lower deck of the bus, whom he knew by name so they would drop him outside the gate.

* * *

Coming to see me as third spear-carrier – or whatever – in restoration drama Women Beware Women in the Oxford Playhouse. And sleeping throughout.

* * *

Snorting into a small plastic watering can to mimic the sound of a pig. Remarkably effective.

* * *

That red-eyed, coming-up-from-the-depths moment as he woke up after a Sunday sleep, the forehead stretch, triple blink and slight grimace as he adjusted his features. This series of facial manoeuvres always followed by the declamation, “Cuppa tea?”

* * *

With my mother, in the audience, at Mrs Housemann’s nursery when I was Joseph in the nativity play. Not being able to meet his steady, loving gaze as I gurned with a hopeless grin of first-ever stage fright.

* * *

The way he would say, for instance, “And one for his knob is sev-en,” in a cribbage game, giving a little sing-song note to the last consonant.

* * *

Standing proudly tall, with his brother, on a Breton beach playing petanque.

* * *

Collapsing on the grass by the brown Vauxhall on a French verge as he and John Mercer desperately tried to get some sleep after an all-night drive from Cherbourg to (pretty much) Poitiers.

* * *

On a package holiday, singing ‘Green-Grow-The-Rushes-Oh’ at top volume in the Muribus in Spain, having taught the Muribirds Jan and Sally and the Muri-boyfriend driver the words.

* * *

Socially accommodating a garage mechanic in front of the whole family by saying “Ta” and looking hunted as we taunted him for it. My mother’s mock shame and his indignant guilt.

* * *

Proudly walking me round the orchard at the bottom of Beaconwood and showing each tree as we wandered.

* * *

Managing to communicate to the manager and manageress of La Mura in Mel, Belluno who became embroiled in the party spirit, handing out bottles of wine and being seduced by the Richard Awdry charm as a result. A performance of persistent, energetic enthusiasm.

* * *

Prodding the Harissa on his plate in a pub near Ross on Wye when we went for a father/son weekend early in his marriage to Gill. He was very suspicious of it.

* * *

Trying to sleep in the cabin of the Fishguard/Cork Ferry as I stood and peered out of the porthole during our approach. He didn’t lose his temper but he could have easily. I was seven or eight.

* * *

His engaged but actually quite relaxed style as we drove at 80 mph for hours on end, across endless northern French motorways en route to the ferry. A driver in a groove, on a mission, happy in his concentration.

* * *

Walking towards me and Andrea with John Mercer, as we waited on the pavement to greet him and take him to see Peter Ustinov as a fillip shortly after Ma died. At that point, he was heartbreakingly alone and it was so good to watch him laugh.

* * *

Leaning over the old wheelbarrow, with Glanville, the gardener’s, wooden extension ‘lip’, pouring grass mowings from the Atco mower into its depths, surrounded by that jolt of a scent of fresh cut grass. A picture of summer in a checked Clydella shirt.

* * *

A catch phrase, often repeated, with a little tweak of the eyebrows: “Morning squire. Thwack. Thank ‘ee Squire. Thwack.”.

* * *

Standing looking down at all the plastic cowboys and Indians on a scrunched up rug in the attic room. “Extraordinary, all this. To think that all we had was a lot of old lead. Nothing like this…”

* * *

Playing Consequences and watching his face when his contribution to the ‘She was wearing’ caption was read out. His suggestion? “Even less.”

* * *

Mimicking the builder who drove a pony and trap onto Rooska Bay, saying ‘Collecting thand for plaathdur’ over and over again until our mother said: “Stop it. You’re making me want to go to the loo.”

* * *

The single raised finger above the driving wheel that was his way of thanking the on-coming driver.

* * *

Driving the outboard motor boat up the channel between Corfu and Albania with my mother and younger sister on board.

* * *

Lying hopelessly in bed with a carbuncle on his waist, my first conscious experience of a grown-up in bed ill. He drank lots of lemon barley water.

* * *

Standing gravely outside Charles Griffin’s front door with a full Native American headdress on, above his tweed jacket. Incongruous.

* * *

Drying up, cloth in hand, as I washed and the family sat round, he sang “He was her ma-aaan, and he was doing her wrong. Rooty toot too, three times she shoot, right through the cupboard door”, before going on to make muted trumpet noises as he waltzed about by the boiler.

* * *

Head in hands, at the table, trying to work out how to pay the school fees and a look of hung-dog despair lining the crevices of his face.

* * *

“Wine for my men. We ride at dawn.” Spoken with conspiratorial passion at the supper table, a touch of frontier bravado, red in tooth and claw, imparted from his shining eyes. Suburban Buckinghamshire suddenly very far away.

* * *

Making a complete hash (itself one of his stock phrases) of programming the video in the early days of Beaconwood. Whatever was supposed to happen was clearly never going to happen. In the ensuing melt down, he managed to get four syllables out of “Oh Dee-yer-ahhh” as opposed to his normal three.

* * *

Standing at the King William IV pub, newly married to Gill, as bashful and hopeless as a 14 year old but with absolute delight in his eyes.

* * *

The snort. A sometimes troubling, always unexpected event, much like a blue whale’s blow hole in action. As characteristic a sound as you could imagine.

* * *

Making a bra out of a linen napkin in the course of a long and elaborate joke at the table again. An extraordinary, origami-like achievement. We children were enthralled.

* * *

The look of anguish when I cheerfully suggested at Delaware, in front of the venerable Mrs. Hole (then in her eighties) that my father would be found on the dockside in Yarmouth the following morning ‘absolutely sloshed’. He was to go to a boat club dinner and we were taking the ferry the next morning to pick him up en route to our summer holiday. In the event, he just looked awfully hung-over.

* * *

The assured way he was painting the back of a strip of wallpaper in the wisteria room as he redecorated. As professional an act as I have ever seen.

* * *

Walking as solemn as a vicar round the garden with a shovel full of dog poo as he flung it into the hedge. The duties carried out with comic dignity.

* * *

The necessary brutality in his face as he came in from dispatching kittens, not able to acknowledge my childish incomprehension as I stood at the boiler. A lesson unappreciated at the time.

* * *

Watching his (two) typing fingers thump out Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’ for me to follow. I still play it his way to this day.

* * *

On the real tennis court at Merton with his brother, gamely battling on whilst being bamboozled by the likes of an ‘American Railroad Service’. The rules sounded as if they were under construction in Uncle Phil’s head.

* * *

Shaving one bright sunny morning at his bedroom sink as Emma and I sat by the electric fire in the parents’ bedroom. “I have something to tell you,” he said. It was a Saturday morning. “Aunt Bee has died”.

* * *

Watching him as we sat in a bar after Julian and Sue’s wedding, where he smoked two or three cigarettes, as pipes were not allowed.

* * *

“Moses rent his garments and showed his great concern.” That steeple- eye-browed pious look to accompany an oft-quoted gem of innuendo.

* * *

Tanned, with sleeves rolled up, doing the paper balls trick to Mik and Louise Brown’s kids with effortless confidence. An unassailable performance.

* * *

Sitting by a gravel pit lake, in Gloucestershire, on a chilly October afternoon, laughing at the memory of Tony Poole and also his own father, in hysterics without having to say barely a word.

* * *

His green flecked eyes, an extraordinary mix of hues and colours, pausing for thought, crinkled with amusement.

* * *

Sitting on the terrace outside Beaconwood, when meeting John and Daphne Marshall for the first time, and asking, “Shall we reveal our secrets?” as he produced his pipe from his pocket.

* * *

Looking down at his brown legs on Nissaki ‘Beach’ in Corfu and saying, “It’s so exciting to have hair growing on my ankles again.”

* * *

The one word acknowledgement reply: “Rather.” “Very.” “Tremendous”.

* * *

“Gilly. Gilly. Here.” Only ever a mental image as it signified him busy offloading the phone receiver to Gill to ‘do’ detail. As the instrument in his hands was suddenly buzzing with unanswerable questions.

* * *

Sitting, large-tummied, in post-operative delicacy in a pink armchair at Beaconwood. As though perched on an eggshell of good fortune, not quite ready to discuss the enormity of his aneurism op.

* * *

Biting his lip with patient indulgence as he endured Roy Cross’ monotone, when the cleaner’s son fitted our lobby cupboards whilst telling, droning stories, each as dismally dull as the last.

* * *

Giving a theatrical ralentando when talking to our mother and saying, “Oh, you baggage” with deep affection.

* * *

The shape of his face as he would say:
“N-kuuuuu-duuuuuh”, my phonetic take on his word for a distant dove in (I think) Chineangian, from days with either the Somaliland scouts or tea planting.

* * *

“Hello Father,” his attentive greeting to Grandad on the lawn as they walked up and down at the Forge, talking of this and that.

* * *

His split thumbs in wet wintertime. A jagged battlefield of domestic chores meeting the British climate with obvious consequences.

* * *

The speech he gave at Johanna’s wedding with the joke he’d written on the dog walk. His happy face as he projected the good news about marrying a rower preparing her for life: Endless grind, can’t see where you’re going and, unless somebody’s pulling strings, you’re going to have some difficulty with the bank

* * *

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