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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

What a Clever Man was he

Memory focus on one

Today, rather than write about a broad range of memories involving many characters I’ve decided to focus my attention on just one person: my father.

He was a man of many talents, in my eyes he could "fix anything".  Without harping on how poor we were, a found broken alarm clock became a treasure after he had applied his magic.  New shoes for four children were a luxury that we could not afford, so when a hole appeared in the sole he was there with his repair leather and cast iron last anvil, to make the footwear usable again.
One like this repaired many, many shoes in our household.
Make a suitcase, mend a purse, polish a floor, cook a dinner he could do it all.

It was nothing unusual to see him down on his knees applying polish to the shiny cement floors in our apartment, or to see him in the kitchen making Sunday dinner.  My favourite was when he made Liver and Onions, he made the best gravy in the world.  He was a good cook, (perhaps he had learned from his mother).  He was a man with a modern attitude well before his time.   He was more than willing to do chores that at the time were considered woman's work and he never hesitated to teach me how to hold a hammer or use a handsaw.  Some of the many skills that I learned from him I have found to be very useful in my later life; one being how to keep a bunch of brad nails in my mouth without swallowing them. 

No doubt if you’ve been reading my outpourings you are aware that while there must have been times when money was available, there were times when we were as poor as church mice, nevertheless, we always had a piano in the house. Both parents could play without sheet music.  This was referred to as “playing by ear”. As a child it was a phrase I couldn’t understand as they both seemed to use their hands – not their ears. Dad’s favourite rendition was: "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", played with a lot of gusto, gestures and dramatic hand movements. The following YouTube By Max Bygraves is the closest I could find to his version.

Mum’s style was more jazzy and fast.

When I think of a pianist hands I imagine long slender fingers. Not so with Dad.  His hands were stubby, large and callused with a clubbed feature that intrigued any doctor who saw them; his nails fully turned over to follow the tops of his fingers.

This being a time when record players were not fully utilized or popular or available meant that both parents were in great demand at parties for their musical skills.  Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor at the side of a piano listening and learning all the words to the latest "sing-along" tune.  Then later that evening I’d fall asleep astride my father's shoulders as he carried me home.

At the start of World War II he was in the Territorial Army. 
Dad - trained and ready!
As far as I could discover the TAs were a part-time army that practiced "in case" of conflict, consequently, they were the first to be called-up when the war was declared.  After all that practicing it’s ironic that he left the army prior to the war's end due to damage to his hearing from working with the big guns in the Royal Artillery division.  Nevertheless, he always kept an interest in what was happening because when the enemy bombers made their nightly actions over London, he would be outside watching the English fighter planes involved in dogfights taking place above him.  The following link will give you a little idea of what these fights entailed:
When we were young he would delight in telling us what he thought of as a funny poem but what we thought of as something that scared the living daylights out of us! Especially since he would usually recite this at bedtime in a voice made deep and throaty. I recently discovered an old Victorian picture depicting this poem

One night he awoke, a candle he lit,
he saw his revolver and soon loaded it.
No longer I'll stand it, he savagely said.
Then he blew out his candle and went back to bed,
Ha, Ha, he laughed, Ha, Ha, he cried.
What a clever man am I.
If any of this sounds as if he was an ideal parent with whom I had a wonderful relationship then I've given you the wrong idea completely.  In truth, we were similar in so many ways, that it led to constant clashes of temperament.  He was stubborn and he had many rules.  I was stubborn and I hated his rules.  I hated not being able to wear lipstick, I hated that he wanted to know too much: where I was going, what I was doing.  He made my life miserable!

He loved to have a few or more drinks at the local and consequently when he walked in the door full of liquid bravado his rules became loud enough for the neighbours to shudder,   Although he was very loud I can't truly remember him actually hitting any of us.  Perhaps I've blocked it out, but I doubt it.  I can still see him as he pulled off his leather trouser belt with a flourish -then make it into a loop that he would snap together with an enormous BANG!  This would scare us kids into a corner.  The belt never touched us! It would then be followed by a huge THUMP with his large fist onto whatever table or surface that was near.  These arguments only got worse during my teenage years when I knew everything.

Yes, he could do everything, fix anything,  but he couldn't beat the effects of too much smoking.  He died of cancer in 1960, the year that my son was born.  I wanted to travel to England to see him in the hospital or attend his funeral, but due to the problems with that pregnancy my doctor thought it would not be advisable.

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