On My Father

Today would have been my father’s 87th birthday. In a change of tone from the usual Hooting Yard guff, here is a remembrance of him. Following Georges Perec’s Je me souviens (1978) and Gilbert Adair’s Memories (1986), I have written, in no particular order, a set of sentences each beginning “I remember…” There are fifty-eight in all, one for each year of his life. I wrote them at one sitting, as they bubbled to the surface. On another day I might write a different list of memories.

1. I remember he smoked a cheap brand of cigarettes called Carlton Premium.

2. I remember the Evening Standard ringing him up after he made disparaging remarks about Dr Rhodes Boyson, though I don’t remember the context, or how the paper knew.

3. I remember his love of crime fiction.

4. I remember his love of football, and that – uniquely among aficionados of the game? – he did not support any particular team.

5. I remember his hip-flask of Scotch.

6. I remember seeing him cry only once, when talking about his father.

7. I remember him using the nickname “Brucie” for my mother.

8. I remember when his choice of hat convinced some of our neighbours that he was a Russian spy.

9. I remember he read The Guardian and the Morning Star.

10. I remember he always called The Guardian The Manchester Guardian

11. I remember him wandering around the house with a tea-towel over his shoulder calling out “Any more pots?”

12. I remember he called Ready-Brek Fairex.

13. I remember precisely the style of his spectacle-frames.

14. I remember the way he referred to Norman St John Stevas as “Ste-VASS”.

15. I remember that he subscribed to a Soviet propaganda magazine called Sputnik.

16. I remember him dusting individually the books on the bookshelves.

17. I remember his habit of cutting off the corners of dust-jackets where the price was shown.

18. I remember him saying “The whole point is…”

19. I remember his afternoon naps on the sofa.

20. I remember his loud snoring

21. I remember him saying “It’s like Blackpool Illuminations” when a light was left on in an empty room.

22. I remember his psoriasis.

23. I remember him telling me that when he played football as a young man he was nicknamed “Twinkletoes”.

24. I remember his hatred of Reginald Maudling but also his insistence, when Maudling died, that one should never speak ill of the dead.

25. I remember his sentimentality.

26. I remember that Random Harvest (Mervyn LeRoy, 1942) was his favourite film.

27. I remember him taking me to a Manchester United match (at Upton Park?) and how his Manchester accent became unconsciously exaggerated when speaking to other fans.

28. I remember him saying “daft as a Toc H Lamp”.

29. I remember his puritanical streak.

30. I remember his dismissal of anything other than the plainest foods as “foreign muck”.

31. I remember him telling me how he had gone to the Chinese embassy to be given a free copy of Mao’s Little Red Book (which I still have).

32. I remember his fierce attachment to his mother.

33. I remember him polishing his shoes.

34. I remember that the bottle of Guinness he drank with his evening meal was “medicinal”.

35. I remember kicking a football around in the garden with him.

36. I remember when he wore a shirt with a collar that made him look like a priest.

37. I remember his collection of cigarette cards.

38. I remember the time he bought a hideous plastic rose in a glass globe as a birthday gift for my mother.

39. I remember him as an educator.

40. I remember him taking me to summer garden parties at the home of his colleague Mike Gibbs.

41. I remember learning that he had been very ill and almost died shortly before I was born.

42. I remember his brilliantine.

43. I remember him mowing the lawn.

44. I remember learning that he had all his teeth extracted at the age of thirty and had dentures fitted.

45. I remember his friend Jim Spraggins.

46. I remember him pontificating.

47. I remember him showing me the “grooves” on his hands that were the first signs leading to a diagnosis of motor neurone disease.

48. I remember his uxoriousness.

49. I remember his infuriating habit of tidying that which was already tidy.

50. I remember his insistence that one should always have an up-to-date atlas.

51. I remember, when I boasted that I had dodged my bus fare, how he reprimanded me for my dishonesty, his clarity about right and wrong.

52. I remember his supper of boiled egg and bread mashed into a pulp.

53. I remember how he hated Monty Python but loved Fawlty Towers.

54. I remember how he loved the Carry On films.

55.I remember his postcard collection.

56. I remember his big florid curly handwriting.

57. I remember that he always wore a vest under his shirt.

58. I remember clearly the last time I saw him, sitting at his desk, reading the paper, drinking whisky, on the morning of Monday 16 May 1983. He died two days later.

6 thoughts on “On My Father

  1. This is so wonderful to read. I love that I can feel as though I remember him through the stories mom and the rest of you tell. It is funny those on this list which are familiar to me and the others which fit my image of him. Thank you.

  2. it’s also funny to see so many of your memories being carried on through his children. Each one I can envision one of the siblings doing! Thanks for the wonderful memories of an amazing man.

  3. It’s a very touching post, Mr. Key.

    Mervyn LeRoy. I’ve recently enjoyed watching I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, a wonderful film. I must look your father’s favourite one up.

  4. My Dad also collected a free copy of the Little Red Book from the Chinese embassy – I remember him showing it to me, and then suddenly being really annoyed to discover that someone he’d lent it to back in the 1970s had done some unauthorised underlining. I remember the underlining was done with a ruler, and a red biro of course.

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