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.