Dad was incredible to me as a child
I couldn't, as a child, imagine my father ever having had a mother.Skip to next paragraph
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In fact, there were quite a number of things I couldn't imagine about him. I couldn't imagine him playing the drums, or even the piano. Yet it was passed down to me by my older brothers that he had, indeed, at some time been a player of both (though not simultaneously, I presume).
He never spoke about his musical abilities. I occasionally begged him to play the piano, and he always refused. He never spoke about his past much at all. In many ways he was a bit of a mystery.
Thinking about him now, I realize that I have no idea where he lived before he lived in our house. I have no idea what his father did for a living. I have no idea where my father's love of gardening originated. A host of things I don't know.
I never saw him play tennis, either. And yet again the word was that he had "played for Yorkshire," which meant that he had been pretty good. I was very proud of this, though the tennis court by the time of my arrival had become (in dutiful deference to wartime necessity) our chicken run.
Instead of knocking balls about on a summer evening, one of my childhood delights was feeding wriggly worms to the hens through the netting as they scratched and ransacked the all-weather surface of the court (now as pitted and undulant as an unruly sand dune). Collecting the chickens' eggs was an even greater (and less callous) sport. That may explain why, years later, I retain a soft spot for eggs and no special affection for tennis balls.
The warmth of a new-laid egg is a tangible pleasantness, even though the hens would flurry and squawk rather terrifyingly as they were rudely dislodged from their nests on behalf of our breakfasts.
When I first met my father - I mean when I first became conscious of his separate existence, since he was certainly as permanent a fixture in our home as the unplayed piano - I started to learn various things about his present-day life, even as his past remained an unexplored land. He wore black shoes (brown was for "spivs") that he polished daily before going to work at his wool-combing-and-cleaning mill.
Back home at teatime, he would stand in front of the coal fire with his back to it, warming the fundamental part that presumably had been chilly all day at the mill. As he stood there toastingly, he liked to count the coins he had in his pockets, clinkingly arranging the denominations.
In public, he wore a trilby hat with two indentations in the front. Whenever he met someone, these large felty dimples were pinched between thumb and finger and the hat raised in a "good day" salute. This hat was so much a part of him that now, decades on, I find it hard to picture him without it. Did he even wear it to bed?
The only snapshot I still have of him shows him (in monochrome) lying on a grassy bank. This was presumably during a picnic (he always protested the discomfort of picnics). His legs are straight out, and his trilby is pulled down over his brow. But he is only pretending to be asleep, and has a humorous eye for the photographer (my mother with her box Brownie?).