Thursday 21 January 2010

So Long and Thanks For All the Onions

A couple of days before Christmas my father passed away. Even though he was in his 70’s and had recently been in hospital, we all thought he was on the mend and so it was still somewhat of a shock. Yesterday was his funeral at which both myself and sister spoke. I’m not sure if a blog is the right medium to publish something as personal as a eulogy, but I believe it’s because of the last 9 months of blogging that my writing skills have improved to the extent that I’ve been able to attempt to write a piece that would do him justice. This blog may just be a temporary affair, but he will be with me always…

For as long as I can remember people have said to me “you’re getting just like your father” or “you sound just like your dad”. This is usually said in jest and I’ve always tried to shrug it off. But is that such a bad thing to be?

As some of you will know I work in IT as a computer programmer, and it’s here that one of the most dominant of Dad’s genes shines through. He had a strong sense of logic, which was often put to good use solving Sudokus and cryptographic puzzles in the newspaper. But it also had a somewhat perverse side that meant that an argument could be taken to ridiculous extremes. Normal people would call it being bloody-minded, and I can personally testify that it’s a trait that doesn’t go down well with your partner - no matter how useful it might be for your choice of career.

Although we shared a similar gift for numeracy, he honed his ability to do mental arithmetic and eschewed a calculator in favour of pen, paper and grey matter, come to think of it, did he even own one? No doubt this is also the reason that he had a love of cards, and Bridge in particular. The only card game he would shy away from was Rummy because he was unable to beat mum at it. The one time he finally did, we made him a certificate. To most of us a game cards was largely a game of chance, but to him it was more like Chess. He was always thinking three hands ahead of us and loved to analyze the outcome of each hand – something I appreciated, but I’m not so sure the others always found it quite so interesting. Isaac and Millie - my two eldest - are both card sharks in the making and will definitely miss the free lessons.

Dad was one of those people that read a newspaper from back-to-front. I say front, but I think in reality after digesting the sports pages and neatly separating the puzzles for later, he just skimmed through the actual news. There is no denying that he was a lover of sport. And not just the usual mainstream stuff such as

Football, Cricket and Tennis. Oh, no, he also followed Darts, Snooker, Athletics, Swimming, Golf, etc. In fact pretty much anything the TV was showing. Or for that matter was being reported via Teletext. In the days before he had managed to convince his neighbour Pete to let him watch Sky round his place, he would just watch the game results page on Teletext. He didn’t even have radio 5 on in the background with the commentary!

From what I gather he wasn’t half bad at playing sport either in his younger days. I remember going to watch him play cricket at Ifield Court and we even shared a pitch together once. He always came to watch me play Football, Rugby & Cricket and of course was instrumental in my Swimming career. His skills with a stopwatch were legendry and as 1500m was my race of choice it gave him ample opportunity to provide various statistics about each 50m, 100m, 200m and 400m section - all timed to the same degree of accuracy as the pool’s electronic timing!

That kind of precision and attention to detail was reflected in other parts of his life too – from folding a sweet wrapper to the placement of the stamps in his collection. Yes, Dad was quite literally a train-spotter. Although I’ve never really shared his passion for trains or stamps, I am nonetheless also a geek, but mostly of the computer variety. I also have a full catalogue of all my vinyl records and CDs and I’m sure my passion for music comes from him. How could a boy not marvel at the reel-to-reel tape deck that was dusted off during each phase of decorating? I wasn’t a fan of the decorating but I did enjoy being in a room full of music – after all who doesn’t the like Beatles? He had a pretty wide taste too, covering most things from classical to modern pop. During my teens I often caught him listening to some of my tapes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood was definitely a favourite.

So is there anything missing from my DNA sequence that I wish I had been given? I have absolutely zero interest in gardening so I’m not going to complain there. Fortunately Charlotte is covering that angle and I’m sure the success of this and any subsequent year’s harvest from our back garden will in many ways be down to the advice given by Dad. Let’s face it, he had enough practice! He certainly had a much better grasp of DIY than I do. Although he left the hardcore stuff like electrical or plumbing work to the professionals, he built the garage the sits to the side of the house and the retaining wall and rockery at the foot of the garden - a considerable achievement by anyone’s standards.

I’m sure my wife would wish for me to have inherited his frugal nature, at least regarding money management. In some respects he was way ahead of his time as he tried to minimise his carbon footprint by switching off unnecessary lights and sockets, closing doors to minimise heating expenditure and recycling A4 paper in post-it note size chunks. He’d even rather save the last cup of tea from the pot and later reheat it in the microwave than throw it away and make a fresh brew. The one tip of his I did adopt during my cost-conscious student days was to drink light-and-bitter, which is supposed to be half a pint of beer and a similar sized bottle of light ale, but the barman would often pour up to the bulge in the glass so you got more than a pint you see.

Fortunately we’re not carbon copies of our parents which gives us an escape hatch to avoid some of their foibles - not that I think Dad had many. If the worst memories I have of him are when he used to wake me up with a cold flannel to go swimming (of course I was really awake and I’m sure he knew that) or that we had to be quiet whilst we were eating then that that’s probably not a bad benchmark. Going to University was certainly quite an eye opener as it seemed everyone else in the flat belonged to a broken home and their parents had divorced. I realised that any grievance I might have against my parents was somewhat petty in comparison.

That said, of all his attributes, the one I hope our children have inherited most is his morale compass. Some may regard his fondness for formality to be old-fashioned, and I remember how surprised he was to find out that we don’t address our superiors at work as Sir or Madam. His experiences with eBay certainly tested his patience (even if he got mum to do the dirty work) as he wanted everyone to behave as ethically as he did. He was a firm believer in fair play and instilled politeness in us as children and never swore or used bad language either. In these respects he was quite the gentleman.

Ok, actually that’s not entirely true as I do remember him swearing a couple times during an evening playing snooker when he was working for the Snooker firm. It was very late and the brandy had been flowing freely. He missed an absolute sitter and exclaimed… Well I don’t think I’ll repeat what he actually said, but the entire room stood aghast, not sure they could believe the words that had just been uttered by their supposedly respectable bookkeeper. This is probably why he could get on with almost anyone as he was equally comfortable hiding behind the curtain entertaining the grandchildren as he was talking shop with customers.

So you see, being “just like your father” isn’t so bad after all, in fact I should consider it a compliment. I reckon Mother Nature has dealt me a pretty good hand and I’ve come to realise that I should not see it as a curse, but embrace those hereditary genes as they make me a better person.

And remember, if you see me weeping in future; don’t automatically assume it’s down to the loss of my father. Yes, he’ll be greatly missed by us all, but it may just be that we’ve unearthed a few more of his onions…

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