Dad slept like a dead man. Photo: Caitlin McCall
My dead father visits me now and again. He stands at the side of my bed and whispers: ‘I forgive you.’
‘I forgive you.’
Then he vanishes before I can ask him what the Hell he thinks he’s forgiving me for?
Things should be the other way round. He should be asking me for my forgiveness.
This morning is one of those moments when he’s decided to cross over the spectral plane to pay me a visit.
‘The cheek of it,’ I say to my wife. ‘Didn’t even have the money courage to hang around long enough to listen to my side of the story.’
‘He was never one for a long intimate chat,’ she says.
‘Just buggered off. Like the ghost in Hamlet. Just when I was about to tell him what I thought.’
‘How long did you go on drinking after I went to bed?’
‘For once could we just entertain the idea that something magical has happened to me rather than immediately question my sobriety?’
‘Ok. So, your father came back from beyond the grave. I believe you,’ she says.
‘It’s not impossible,’ I say.
A cold upbringing
An emotionless Mother, Eton, the army, and Jonny Walker Red Label turned my father whiskey sour by the time he reached his second marriage.
When my brother and I arrived in his late middle age his joie de vie was the local pub, not us.
On Saturday’s, in Richmond Park, my brother and I would plead with him to play hide and seek or play football with us, like other fathers seemed to do with their kids.
But he didn’t see games as part of his parental package.
‘I’m terribly tired, boys,’ he would say as he stretched himself out on the grass, legs together and arms crossed over his chest.
‘Why don’t you run around for a bit.’
‘What are you going to do, Daddy?’
‘Imagine that I’m dead.’
Sleeping like a corpse
‘How funny,’ says my wife. ‘He slept like that, too.’
‘Like he was laid out in a coffin. I’d walk past your parents’ bedroom and he’d be lying there still as death. Then he’d suddenly start talking to you but without moving or opening his eyes.’
‘Like a corpse in a horror movie?’
‘Exactly,’ she says.
Dad had a gallows sense of humour. As kids, he told us he slept on his back and with his arms folded across his chest because it would be easier for the undertaker to roll him off the bed into his coffin if he died in the night.
On other occasions, he’d tell us we should save on his funeral expenses by wrapping him in a bin liner and dumping him in a motorway lay-by.
‘One of the sturdy garden bin liners. And do it after dark or you’ll be charged with fly tipping.’
It was hard to tell if he was serious. He was dry as a hardtack biscuit and his mouth was thin as a pencil line.
‘Perhaps that’s what he wants to forgive me for,’ I say.
‘I don’t get it?’ says my wife.
‘For not burying him on the motorway in a bin bag.’
President of the cynic’s club
During the week, Dad was the President of the Cynics & Sceptics Club.
No motive was too low for him not to believe someone somewhere was capable of embracing it.
His conversation turned into a caustic soda fountain if the ‘blood sucking’ Royal Family were mentioned.
When the BBC banned ‘God Save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols he bought me the record so I could play the song at full volume to annoy my mother, who half admired the Royal Family.
She thought it was right to ban the song out of respect to the Queen and her Silver Jubilee.
‘She can’t help it boys,’ Dad would say. ‘It’s in her blood. Centuries of being told to tug your forelock takes its toll. It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome.’
At weekends, cut loose from the drudgery of his work and the daily commute both of which ground him down, he would cheer up for a few hours.
We would laugh at his jokes and feel happy that he wasn’t drinking.
He would play us the ‘Goon Show’, worshipped Spike Milligan and sat with us listening to ‘Derek & Clive Live’, the drunken, foul-mouthed ramblings of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
‘I’ve had worse jobs than shoving lobsters up Joan Crawford’s arsehole,’ he told us referring to the most infamous sketch on the record.
But he never told us what that job was.
My son is home
My son is back from University where he is studying Italian and French.
My wife, who’s studying Italian too, thinks he speaks the language beautifully.
‘How do you know?’ I ask.
‘He’s been reading to me,’ she says.
‘The Panettone box,’ she says.
‘Wow. One term and he can read the a cake box?’
‘I’m just saying he has got a beautiful accent.’
When my daughter was one years old, my mother said she had ‘good hair’. Good? Morally? The comment symbolised the blind admiration grand parents have for their offspring. However, my father would never have said such a thing. He didn’t believe in compliments.
I pick up the panettone box and study it for a while and decided I should be more supportive father than my father.
‘There’s more text on here than I thought. The lad must be doing really well to read all this. Shall I go to the Italian deli and get him some more packets to practice on.’
Xmas with the mother-in-law
After three days at my mother-in-law’s house, my son tells me that when our cat dies, he and his sister are going to get tattoos of it.
‘Where?’ I ask.
‘On my arm,’ he replies.
‘When I die will you get a tattoo of me, too?’
‘Are you nuts,’ he says. ‘If I did that everytime I changed my shirt you’d be there staring at me.’
‘When you die we’re going to put you in a black bin liner and dump you in a motorway lay-by,’ says my daughter.
‘That sounds familiar,’ I say.
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Grandpa told us it was a family tradition that all the men should be buried that way.’
‘Nice,’ says my son. ‘What’s your favourite motorway, dad?’
A version of this blog first appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.