A memory of my father

I am so embarrassed about this memory that I do not want to tell you it. Therefore, it will be worthwhile telling you. Empowering or something.

I don’t know myself innately, I work things out from clues. I know I would not hit anyone, because I have been in particular situations. I am not sure I could say why- perhaps “Cowardice” (bad) or “Restraint” (good). Perhaps confusion: the rules aren’t working, and I don’t know what’s going on.

-Exactly so, she says, and I wonder whether she helps me find insight or influences, even manipulates, me into seeing things a certain way. Are our words random, or some kind of joint inspiration?

So much of me is unconscious. That memory of my father, I was sitting on his knee, crying- it is always there, and it pops into consciousness every once in a while, every now and then. I started telling her of it as an illustration of how the unconscious is always there, and the conscious seems random, not a particular “I” I could know; but she asks of the memory. It embarrasses me. The child I was was so ridiculously stupid!

It should not be embarrassing. The child knew no better, and might not be expected to, at that age. I remember a fragment of conversation. I wanted to listen to a record, and he asked what.

-Can you remember what it was?
-I am not sure, but I think it was that actress in Mary Poppins [Julie Andrews] singing
a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down
in the most delightful way

and he said, but we don’t have that record.

And I took from this that I was stupid, and should have known this (which is why the memory embarrasses me. Wanting something impossible! Ridiculous and divorced from reality!)

and that he was kind.

Now, I think, well- impossible? There are shops, and there are libraries, quite close by. There is also the vague idea that Julie Andrews represented the left-liberal camp which was wrong, as we were Conservatives: that is adult language for it, that such entertainment would be Improper in some way, not our thing.

Is the memory important? I still feel confused. What can I do that is Good?


I was a big fan of CS Lewis, and have read a lot of his work, since I sat on my father’s knee to hear The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My nephew sat on my knee to hear it. The foundation of my theodicy is his The Problem of Pain, and I read his space trilogy several times. I have been reading The Abolition of Man again, and find it appallingly bad. Either he has no conception of phenomenology, and attacks what he does not understand, or he has, and produces the crudest possible straw man, which he could not possibly see as in good faith unless he was convinced he could do no wrong.

He says any man, unless corrupted, would agree with him about morals, because the Natural Law is inscribed in every healthy boy. (He would not have valued inclusive language.) Education should enable the boy to recognise it in himself.

I read the book to see what in it I might agree with, but I reject it entire. I do not care if I am wrong, I believe THIS. All I could take from his morality is the value of the individual human- the value of Me.

I drift off into thinking of how I might be useful in the General Election.


I am frightened by
the bigness and inexplicability of the World

and of myself

but that’s OK

The Union Jack Club

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e1/Clock_Tower_-_Palace_of_Westminster%2C_London_-_September_2006.jpg/495px-Clock_Tower_-_Palace_of_Westminster%2C_London_-_September_2006.jpgIf you go South over Westminster Bridge, and turn left- East, that is- you go down some steps to the South Bank walk: nice places to eat inexpensively, the National Theatre, Tate Modern, jugglers and buskers. I should not have walked ahead, and stopping, waiting, long before he caught up I should have gone back, to see what was going on. On those steps, my father had fallen, and someone had helped him up. He fell quite a bit, actually. I blamed him. I was embarrassed by it. He fell once in Edinburgh at night, after we had a meal or a concert or something together: a bloke saw us out the window of a wee restaurant and clapped and waved, thinking my father was ratarsed. A passer-by helped him up.

That weekend in London I had not quite realised that he wanted to see a particular exhibition, rather than some generic art gallery, so we saw the National Gallery permanent display- impressive, but not quite the same. He had not wanted the theatre, but I did, so booked that day. Brecht: not fun enough for a fun show, not serious enough (in my view) to be satisfyingly high brow, it was alright. God it’s been such a long slow goodbye- the next year, he could not have done it.

I wanted to look after him, and he wanted to look after me- that is, to be the big brother, making the decisions, the dominant one-
or to actually be looking after. We took the bus into Edinburgh last September, and we wanted to be looking after the other: I fussed officiously with his walking frame, and he paid my fare.

Oh! Perfection!

Little squabbles and little minor irritants and you could really get to care about them and alternatively you could push them into the background- on that bus trip, he stood before the bus had come to a stop, which pleased me, he was not so frail after all. Minor irritants and major irritants, and the major irritants matter

and I remember it all. Nothing need be denied.

I loved him, and he loved me.

Crying for the money

Claude Monet- Yellow Irises detail 1If a man for money criesClaude Monet- Yellow Irises detail 2
cry not when his father dies
It is proof that he would rather
have the money than his father.

This has been bothering me. Even if the original is a mockery of Lopez de Vega rather than a serious point, I have cried far more passionately over my father’s loss of money than over his death.

£60,000, or £10,000, as soon as the executry was complete, would give me choices which I do not now have. That my father could be conned out of £50,000 last year was bad enough; that he could be conned out of another £50,000 by practically the same con, after he appeared to see that he had been conned before; that after he appeared to see that the second con was a fraud, he could scrape together £2000 to give to the same people this Summer; that his wife, and my sister who lives ten miles away could not protect him from this; that I could not, because I was so far away and because of how I was with his wife; that we and hundreds of others conned in the same way could tell the police of the particular con-men, and those con-men could continue to operate with impunity from the same addresses and telephone numbers-

makes me weep, passionately, abandonedly, repeatedly- for my failure to control my world, and my loss of the money. Whereas at his funeral my weeping was a happy grief, with delight at his beauty and vivacity-

Is this next bit brutal and dark? I don’t know.

At 88, his physical and mental powers were greatly reduced. He needed no carers, and took some part in the housework, but did not go out a lot. He had stopped going to the church, or the dancing. People visiting made his social life, and I am unclear about how much there was of that. He has ceased to be a source of worry for me. In part the worry was that he would be unhappy or weary or frightened or deluded, and I and others could not alleviate that.

In dying, he has ceased to be this vulnerable old man, and become- himself, the whole of him over his whole life. In that sense his life is Eternal, outside time. I have memories, of gifts and achievements, and his real regrets are outweighed by his consolations and mine.

The images are extracts from Yellow Irises by Claude Monet.

Wedding photography

Wedding portrait small

Here is my parents’ wedding photograph. Wedding photography has come on a great deal since 1962, it seems. After scanning it, I recalled it and thought how they might almost be holding numbers in front of themselves, it was so impersonal- looking at it again I see it is not quite that bad. I note the prayer book my mother holds.

I much prefer this informal one.

Wedding informal small

Just as in the war, he has cracked a great line, and looks as if he cannot believe his good fortune.

Granny, happy

Here is my grandmother, looking happy. With her is my grandfather, who died of tuberculosis in 1934.

Granny, happy

When she had to be taken into hospital, my father said he saw her and she did not stop screaming. We buried her shortly after, beside her husband, who shared my former name. That was in 1982.

So happy memories are necessary. Here are my father and his brother, with a cuddly toy,


And in short trousers.


And in the choir.

choir church

What makes that photo stand out is the ladies standing on our right.

choir park

Here is Granny in the orchestra, not smiling as whole-heartedly as when sitting on the grass.


Mentioning the War

I look at these photos and I feel love, pride, and wonder that my father could fly operations. At the funeral, there were a few from the Bomber Command Association to pay their respects.

Even if he looks a bit unhappy here.

Then they went round to the tail. The war was over in Europe, though Hiroshima had not yet been bombed and it was possible that 218 squadron would be posted to the far east, and they look playful- especially him, between his machine guns. Mild kudos to whoever can identify the pilot- comment, and say why.

Lanc tail 2

Then- oh, wow.

Off duty

I don’t recall seeing this one before, but I love the eye contact. He must have come out with a great line to evoke that reaction.

We mention the War too much. Our TV dramas are still set in it, and we mark endless anniversaries- if every five years is significant, then all the time is an anniversary of something in WWII. Next year is the centenary of the start of WWI, and in November is Remembrance Sunday.

Government uses this interest to justify vast military spending: two new aircraft carriers, and a new nuclear playset budgeted at £100,000,000,000 and hardly likely to come in so cheap. Would we really destroy life on Earth, even if the Americans let us? And there is mawkish sentimentality (well, sentimentality has to be “mawkish”, even if nothing else is) around “doing their bit”, “all pulling together”. We remain British.

training-group photo

Added: I love The Aircrew Dictionary, and particularly “as useless as Anne Frank’s drumkit” as a representative sample of its black humour.

In Edinburgh

There is building work in Waverley Station. The steps up to Princes St. are now covered over, and have an escalator- very swish. It is beautifully sunny. This end of Princes St is all dug up for the tram tracks.

Dad fancies going to Jenners for a coffee. He complains that this until recently family-owned department store has now sold out, and gone down-market, yet another sign of the general decline. Thence the Abbotsford pub on Rose St. for dinner.

I can hardly remember any of the conversation. We got onto the Church- my last vicar was gay. He says his priest is gay, which surprises me, but is the way people become tolerant- get to know one of the formerly despised group. He says I am not to tell anyone, as he would not want to get S into trouble. This angers me- his bishop must know, they have known throughout his career, it is alright as long as no-one says anything. Politics depresses him with Wee Eck as the First Minister, the Tories have no chance and are too far to the left for him, and perhaps he fears us disagreeing.

This “shameful” characteristic- it is how I am, so shame does me no good, and if I honour it I may integrate it, and part of that is voicing it. So I do, and he says “Oh”.

There is a rather unpleasant smell in the Abbotsford, where we have a bottle of merlot. We have a glass before going upstairs to eat. Outside the evening sun is on the beautiful stone of St David St.

Do I actually want this job, or am I just going through the motions? Or pretending not to because I do not get jobs and do not want to be so disappointed? I do not know myself, so I do not know; I guess at my unconscious motivations, try to make them conscious, the conscious thinking bit thinks it through, and the unconscious bit can block. It would be good to live in this wonderful city with its vibrant cultural life and unique character, and be able to build a relationship before it is too late with my father and sister. Or, that is what I feel I ought to think. Or something.

I really enjoy the venison steak. It is pink as I requested, very juicy, and I expected it tougher: I read that venison must be stewed rather than roasted or grilled because it is wild. Perhaps this animal was not full grown. This is a pub, which thinks to serve its cheesecake imbued with tarragon on a slate. The tarragon is subtle and fitting. Better than in Swanston.

I found last year’s visit depressing and now I look back to it fondly. I have been reading old copies of The Spectator today, dating back to February. Conversation does not flow. Dad is no longer walking across the estate each morning to get his newspaper, but we go out across the park together in the afternoon. A man greets him: Dad explains that the man helped him up when he last fell. Dad calls me “he” and “Steven” out of carelessness. They have two bedrooms: Margaret has consented to me visiting while she is here, but insists Dad and I share a room.

That “investment” where a glib fraudster, selling moonbeams and rainbows, conned him out of half his capital has got between us. Possibly I could build this relationship. Getting ready for bed in the same room does not help.

Margaret points out the woodpecker on the birdfeeder in the garden. I go to take a photograph, but it sees me through the glass back door, and flies off before I get the door open.

We had three particularly lovely hugs. As I left he said, “I feel I know you again”.