Recently, I’ve been feeling slightly muted. Tomorrow would have been my father’s birthday and a few days ago, my phone’s calendar flashed up a reminder warning me that I might want to get prepared.
I still miss Dad, which is illogical, because it’s not as if he died a bad death or his departure was even a bad thing. It was a mercy. He had suffered enough and there was nowhere else for him to go. Death was the next stage for him and I am certain that he was more than ready. Although it hurt to receive it, I couldn’t bring myself to remove that notification from my phone. Maybe next year eh?
Strangely, I find that these empty milestones that were once land mark days often come accompanied by a stream of coincidental, memory-triggering events. I don’t mean the phone notification it’s more stuff like the fact that today, in church, we had a couple of hymns that Dad loved. Immortal Invisible is one where the memory of how he sounded, singing it, was so strong that I could almost hear him beside me. Likewise, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, which we have had at most family funerals on both sides of the house, weddings too — to the point where I feel guilty not having it at Dad’s.
There is a bit in Dear Lord and Father of Mankind which can be construed as rude … if you work at it very hard. Today, I found myself smiling as I remembered Dad leaning over to me after the service, in a conspiratorial manner, and telling me which bit it was and why.
This from the man who was endlessly telling me the latin or greek roots for things … which is not as erudite as it sounds because Dad was a natural rebel and liked to be a little subversive from time-to-time. That’s probably why the only instance I can remember of his efforts to educate me is constipeo (constipere, constipatatum, constipatus sum) — which means ‘I bring pressure upon’ and from which we get the modern word, constipation.
How proud he’d be!
Then again … I do remember him gleefully sharing this information with my brother and I, and Mum’s gentle, ‘No! Darling!’ which was more for show than anything because she was trying not to laugh. Indeed, as a nipper growing up, I remember all four of us as being terrible potty humourists, you only had to shout, ‘bum!’ at my family in the right way and we’d fall about laughing.
Mum was probably the best at pretending to be normal, Dad could do it as well, but he did tend to be a bit forgetful which blew it all apart at the seams sometimes. On the up side, as I told him when he started to get dementia, since he could never find his keys anyway, he’d be quite far gone before anyone noticed. Which turned out to be the case.
In my last year at Lancing, Dad retired as housemaster. Since he and Mum had left the accommodation on site I was boarding. Dad was Head of The Common Room which basically meant he was now housemaster to the teachers. One evening, I was on my way back from supper, or possibly a rehearsal or something at the music school and I encountered Mum and Dad, in their best black tie glad rags, with the parents of one of the lads in Dad’s house.
‘Hello, what are you doing here?’ I asked.
‘We’re here for the Common Room Dinner,’ Dad explained.
I glanced over at the door of the Master’s Dining Room. It was looking a bit closed and I couldn’t hear much in the way of chat going on. Should I say anything I wondered? No.
‘It seems to be a bit late starting,’ said Mum.
‘Right,’ I said. I think I wished them well and skipped off without a thought.
The next day I asked one of the other staff if they’d enjoyed the dinner the previous night. ‘That’s not until next week,’ I was told.
Oh dear … poor Dad, I remember thinking. Poor Mum, too as she had to produce dinner back at home and she had precisely zilch with which to do so. I think she rustled up a quick risotto with tinned ham and frozen mixed veg.
Life was never boring at home indeed, it was years before I reached the point where my parents were remotely shockable. They were more open and accepting than most of my friends … perhaps I should just leave that as, ‘most people’. Mum still is.
I miss Dad a lot. I suppose that’s partly because, as time passes and my memories of the shouty bit that plagued his last few months at home have begun to fade, I’ve begun to remember who he was — which is a bonus. The only slight drawback is that when you’re stressed your brain dumps an enormous amount of intel and unfortunately, I’d say as much as half my childhood memories, and my memories of Dad, have melted away post the stress of dealing with his Alzheimer’s. So it’s kind of wiped my memory, as well as his.
That’s a point of order though, because on the whole yes, I remember who he was more. Who he really was, and that’s a Good Thing. I have a video of him talking on my phone, in his proper, non demented voice. He had Alzheimer’s at the time, advanced Alzheimer’s, but it wasn’t manifesting itself so strongly and it’s so much him, that vid, that I treasure it. I realise that I need to make a video of Mum. I might get her to record one for McMini next week, saying she’s looking forward to seeing him. That will be one for both of us to treasure then. Because that’s the first thing I find, when someone dies, you subtly start to forget their voice. Not totally, but when you hear it properly you realise how much is missing from your remembered version.
Then there’s the fact that, on top of the better memory of who Dad was, I’m finding that, as Mum follows her own dementia journey, I am keenly aware that this time round there’s no ‘sane one’. Through most of Dad’s illness, I could ask Mum for guidance if I wasn’t sure I was getting something right. She would know exactly what Dad would have done or said. It’s probable that, because of that, I know what Mum wants. But there’s no Dad to check with. Because he’s dead. And even if he wasn’t dead, he’d have been nuts.
Shortly after he died, I was out with Mum in the garden walking very slowly beside her as she crept along with her walky frame-on-wheels thing. At that time, we always made a beeline for the bottom of the garden because it was beyond the range of her panic button and she wasn’t allowed, or at least was strictly encouraged not to go there unaccompanied. She did, of course, but we all pretended she didn’t. As we walked I suddenly heard Dad’s voice in my head saying,
‘Oh darling! Just look at the state of your mother, I can’t bear it.’
It was so vivid I turned to look but he wasn’t there. I remember thinking ‘back’ that I’d do my utmost to look after her and that while I couldn’t make her better, I would try to keep her happy.
Most of the time, I know those things are my imagination, but every now and then, one pops up from such depths that it feels as if it wasn’t me. Weird.
As well as it being the eve of what would be Dad’s 91st Birthday, had he survived, today was also the 70th anniversary of The Queen’s accession to the throne (in English, since the death of her father).
As a result, the last hymn was I Vow To Thee, My Country — a hymn I would like a lot better if the tune didn’t concentrate itself quite so comprehensively in the crackly twilight zone between my upper and lower range. Then we finished with the National Anthem which goes to a tune I rather like — apologies to Billy Connolley, who, I know, believes we’d be much better off using the theme tune to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’.
Run with me, there is a spot of relevance to this one. I remember reading somewhere, a while back, that The Queen was very upset when her uncle abdicated. To the point where she took herself off somewhere quiet and cried for a long time. Legend has it that the reasons for her grief were twofold; firstly, because her father lacked his brother’s strong constitution and she shared the view of himself and most other members of the Royal Family which was that being King would do for him. Secondly, because she had to face the godawful truth that she would have to be monarch, which is a job that nobody sane with the smallest understanding of what it entails would want.
Few people seem to see beyond the wealth but I’m sure fame, or being monarch, could be pretty grim. I can’t imagine how I’d feel having people like Robert Mugabe round to tea. Sure his name backwards sounds like Yorkshire swearing (eee by gum) but that doesn’t make any of his actions funny. Supping with murderers and meat-packing tyrants might be quite grim but since you’re part of the state machinery, it’s what you do. There’s a point where being monarch might actually be quite dehumanising, I suspect.
Years ago, growing up in the school, everyone knew who I was because they all knew who my dad was. That meant everyone felt they knew me well, even people I’d never met in my life. Every now and again someone would pop up and say hello and I’d have no clue who they were. So I’d ask after their work, and various other things until I could pin down which of the people Mum and Dad had described — but whom I’d never met — I was talking to. I was always aware that my behaviour towards other people reflected on Dad so despite being an absolute menace in many respects I was always as polite as possible to everyone, especially the people at the pointy end, the cleaners and domestic staff.
Sometimes, I felt the pressure. Especially when I hit my teenage years and boys started wolf whistling at me out of windows etc. But I could always go off site where nobody knew who I was. There’s no ‘off site’ if you’re queen. Most people want a piece of you. Anyone else hates you. Everyone thinks you like it. Everyone thinks you can say no, the way they think my brother and I could say no to looking after our parents. But actually I doubt she can say no any more than we can. Being Queen? I think it’d be a bit shit to be honest.
The point is, she’s spent 70 years of her life doing a job that she categorically did NOT want to do. OK, so she might have come to enjoy it by now, who knows. The point is, it was the antithesis of what she wanted at the start. The perfect storm of NO. You can see where this is going now, can’t you?
There are times when I do give the Almighty a piece of my mind about putting my Dad, and by proxy the rest of us, through so much. The fact that pretty much everything about the whole care thing requires a portfolio of skills that is the absolute antithesis of any of my fucking skills. Which is, indeed, a perfect storm of all the things in life at which I am spectacularly shite. Yes. Every. Last. Fucking. One. Oh and some extra things that I didn’t even know I was shite at until this kicked off, but now I do. Bonus!
The fact that pretty much all my duties of care are about playing to my failings. OK so I can sort of cope with that, because yes, I am able to understand that many parts of my life — most of them, to be honest — are fucking brilliant. Also I am able to understand that if this is the price of growing up with parents as lovely, open, amusing and out-and-out fun as mine I’m happy to pay up. But … the mental energy required to do stuff you’re absolutely bollocks at day after day is quite substantial.
The endless requirement to enhance my sorry performance from fucking awful to godawful-but-it’ll-scrape-by … probably (that’s a technical term by the way) is not only draining but it cascades down onto the pathetic embers of my creativity like a gushing torrent of rusty bog water, further hampering my efforts to write anything or … I dunno … for my existence to have a point.
Sitting in church today, thinking about how long The Queen has been monarch I actually felt a bit of a lightweight for whinging about 5 years running my parents’ finances. I will try to shut up about it and be less of a whinging twat from now on. Seriously though.
Seventy fucking years people.
God in heaven! That’s a bastard truckload of CBT. Well done Ma’am. You’re a stronger woman than I.
On the lighter side …
Another quick heads up about freebies and cheapies available from my fabulous portfolio of literature. Er hem.
The Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c from my own store still. To find links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:
Few Are Chosen (remember it’s My Store only at the moment. It’s back to £7.99)
Small Beginnings (The ebook of this one is free at all participating retailers and on my store. The audio version is also free on my store, but £1.99/$2.99 everywhere else).
The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth has finished performing in Worms, presumably he is now bathed and scrubbed up and ready to do … audio things. Soon. There is an audiobook scheduled for late February/Early March.