Friday 16 May 2008

Watching the footie will never be the same again!

My Dad died.
I have seen many people lose parents, siblings, friends and even children, and the most tragic losses are the ones in which there lingers something unfinished. As the minutes ooze from the time of death, that lingering becomes malingering, and pain follows close behind.
Dad made it easy for me, because he had been so unwell for so long, I had time to tell him everything I wanted to say.
And oy, he put up a fight! Year after year, Dad grumped and exploded his way through procedures, operations, scrapings and inflations. Towards the end he lost his joie de vivre, but never his sense of humour, although my mother, his rock, his redeemer, and a great force of nature, mentioned how she sometimes missed the sound of laughter.
Watching somebody you love head slowly lethewards erases from your mind the image of the person they once were. When I think now of my father, all my mind offers is a weak old man in much discomfort, fed up with life, yet absolutely unwilling to die.
Naturally, I do not have to scrape much dust from my memories to see Dad as a younger man, and as I do, my heart races a little faster and a smile comes to my tear-sodden eyes.
So I am very happy to have told him what I thought of him, before he went.
A few months ago, he was sitting in his armchair next to my mum on the sofa. I had to be tactful, because despite the Jewish spirit, my parents' home and behaviour is quintessentially Olde Englishe, like the marmalade. Hence to avoid melodrama, I had to tread carefully when trying to explain to my father that he had always been my inspiration.
To that Octogenarian these words came as a surprise; one which I had anticipated, and thought might fire his spirit and confidence a tad.
I told him, in front of Mum, that he had been my inspiration throughout my life, in two different ways.
At a most vital level, I appreciated how hard he had worked, how many decades he had climbed into his car at 7.40 am, and driven off through the dirthy sludge of London's constipated commute, all the way to Soho, where he worked all his life for Pearl and Dean.
At weekends he ran a small chain of three record shops, until one of his managers did the dirty, and sent the business down the pan.
From my privileged and relatively cushy life, I am in awe of how hard Dad worked, so that we might enjoy the upbringing we had.
His was the last generation that would ever enjoy the 'job for life' culture, but even so, I embarrass myself when I think of how few hours I have to spend earning money each week.
Somehow, back in the early 1960's he earned enough money to take all five of us on holidays to Europe every other year, with trips to Devon and Somerset in the intervening summers.
"Thanks Dad!" I told him. "I didn't appreciate it when I was a kid, but I do appreciate it now."
My mum spluttered out that she thought that was very nice, and my Dad did something with his mouth that showed he was grateful.
But then I looked over, into his eyes, and I sent them a twinkle.
"There's another way you inspired me, Dad. Your mountains, mate! Remember all your books from the 1930's and 1950's about the conquests of Kachenjunga, K2 and Everest? They all had the same kind of tan cloth covers, and were packed with photos and maps and tales of these great mountaineers, walking around the Annapurna Circuit and reaching for the skies.
Well, it took a while for me to realise it, but all my travelling; the way I've lived my life; it's down to you. Didn't cop on when I was a teenager, because all that hitching just felt so good, and looked to me a million miles from the life you lived, and the one you wanted for me. But when I went off for my first roundy-worldy jaunt in 1984, you whispered
'Say hello to the mountains for me!'
and it all made sense.
Yes, in that instant I understood why I was who I was. I knew that your spirit of adventure was kindled in me; that the boy who read those books gave birth to another who could go and see them.
And the greatest thing about a sprit of adventure is that it helps you live your life less dominated by fear.
So thanks Dad! You worked your arse off so that I might have a good childhood, and you also lifted my eyes, my horizons and my understanding of ambition, so that when I felt happy in my life, I might know that I was a success."
What I didn't say to him then, but do now, was that unfortunately, I don't think you ever enjoyed the same self-confidence that you helped build in me.
You were a possessor of great charm and unquestioning generosity.
You taught me how to appreciate fine wines, how to carry myself in any situation, and always assured me that while fine things were alright, you could never beat the pleasure and honesty of a pie and a pint.
Wherever I have been in the world, we always had time for the Chelsea.
Remember that time when you were almost unconscious in hospital, and the Special One came on the TV in your hospital room?
"Mou mou mou rinho!" you spluttered, as you entered consciousness.
But my favourite of all time, was a year ago last Spring, when we were all standing round your bed in Intensive Care. We'd nearly lost you in the ambulance, and had been discussing how to cancel your big 80th birthday party.
Unaware of where you were, or how close you had come to death, your first words as you opened your eyes:
'Who's ordering the wine for the party?"
You couldn't understand why we all fell about laughing. Your spirit was so strong it will live forever amongst us.
I love you Dad. I love you very much.
God knows, I'll miss you.

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