Tag Archives: grief

Alarums, excursions and jolly japes

This week, I am speaking to you from the past by the wonders of scheduling, as I do from time to time. When this post goes live, I will be at Dad’s memorial service, which, incidentally, takes place in a building that, with a few tweaks, became the High Temple in the K’Barthan Series. Here it is. It looks a bit frillier in this picture than it really is. I think I wrote in prettier chandeliers though.

This is where I went to church every other Sunday in term time, from eight weeks old to when I was a teenager. We sat in a stall; one of those raised seats at the sides, the second one on the left in this picture. As a small child, I remember playing in the Chapel (that’s its name) while Mum did the flowers. Running up and down the aisle under the kind auspices of Mr Kendall, the verger who would warn me not to run past the altar rail for fear of setting off the burglar alarm.

Once he gave me one of the hosts to eat. It was delicious! Just like a flying saucer only without the sherbet. I also remember playing with the hassocks, but they were blue leather, like cushions rather than the traditional home-embroidered, sorbet-rubber brick, so they couldn’t be stacked into walls or towers, and weren’t nearly as much fun as they should have been. It was a school, so they were probably designed like that deliberately. Therefore, I usually eschewed hassock-related japes in favour of running around. Sometimes I went down the stairs into the crypt, although, not so often after I fell down them and cracked my head open (3 stitches).

Later it wasn’t as much fun. If you will, imagine sitting raised up on high like that as a shy gawky teenager, looking out over around 500 or so boys who were sitting in the seats below. I was a shade of puce throughout the whole hour and it felt as if every single one of them was staring at me. I liked the music, I sang in the choir of the other church we went to and I enjoyed listening to most types of music (still do). The hymns helped, in that they were usually tub-thumpers and it was fun to listen to the boys and try and work out what their alternative words were; Glory, glory Brighton Hove Albion, with a small contingent trying to shout Glory, glory Man United more loudly, etc. But apart from that, mostly it was a pretty cringeworthy experience.

If you do that every other term Sunday, and get as many regular bollockings at your own school as I did (a different institution to the one attached to the chapel in the picture) you come out the other end almost unembarrassable … if that’s a word. I was so glad when I finally went to the school I actually lived in (girls were only allowed in the sixth form in those days) and I was able to leave the stall and disappear into the anonymous mass of pupils below. Actually I sat in about the position this picture was taken from.

Anway I’m wandering off topic terribly here, what I was really going to say was that I’m actually writing this from a few days in the past. It’s been a busy week but all in all, things seem to be going reasonably well.

First up, Mum. After discussing it with her financial advisor, we have decided it’s time to get Mum’s enduring power of attorney for her finances activated. I looked out all the paperwork we’d done on Dad’s and dropped the solicitor a line, by email, explaining what we were going to do and asking if she could send me the original document of Mum’s enduring power of attorney. I did it first thing but got one of those weird, ‘your message couldn’t be delivered so we’ll try again’ type things. Not an out-and-out bounce but a kind of, might have, maybe bounced.

After a bit of thought, I decided that the best thing to do would be to ring the solicitor, explaining what had happened and apologise for pestering her by phone as well if it had got through. The lady who answers the telephone there is great, we had a chat, I explained what had happened and I gave her as much info as I could. She asked the date Mum and Dad signed their powers of attorney and I reckoned it was 2004 but I had all the paperwork in front of me.

‘Give me a sec, I have Dad’s here, I’ll look it up,’ I said. I grabbed the document in front of me. ‘Oh … hang on,’ I said as I read the name on the front, ‘Um … this is Mum’s. Oh … I must have got you folks to send it through when I did Dad’s. That was … surprisingly organised of me.’

‘I bet it’s a nice surprise,’ she said.

‘It is but I still managed to forget, phone you lot and make a monumental twat of myself,’ I said.

She laughed, which was lucky. I doubt she gets many people telling her they’re twats. She told me she’d tell the lawyer I’d emailed that I didn’t need her to do anything and I thanked her and hung up. Then I made some toast by holding a piece of bread against my red face. No. I didn’t make toast actually even though I was quite embarrassed and my cheeks were burning. NO! The ones on my face you dirty bastards!

And there we have it. Three years ago, while sorting Dad’s enduring power of attorney I had been prescient, not to mention organised, enough to get them to send me Mum’s as well. It was heartening to know that I am capable of such giddy heights of organisational prowess, but it would have been more heartening if I’d remembered, or at least discovered my uncharacteristic attack of forward planning before I’d made a tit of myself.

Ruthless efficiency, and yet also, gargantuan twattery. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

Meanwhile McMini is enjoying his new school and is as nuts as ever. Lately, he has introduced me to the joy of ttsreader.com This is a site which allows you to type text into a box and it will then read it in an electronic voice. For some strange reason best known to ourselves, McMini and I find this unaccountably funny. Obviously, we don’t use it as it is intended. Although we do happily conduct whole conversations using it in about six times the time it should take were we speaking; laboriously typing what we want to say into the reader, highlighting it all and clicking play. Clearly we try to do more than talk with this thing, I think McMini has come closer than I to getting it to produce a realistic raspberry but that’s not for want of extensive effort on both our parts. All the while, as we pursue this ridiculous game, tears of laughter stream down our faces – because we’re really mature. Well, OK to give him his due, McMini is only eleven, after all, and probably is quite mature for an eleven year old. He already displays a great deal more maturity than I but then, I guess that’s not difficult.

Even McOther started giggling the other day, though, when McMini finally scored a realistic sounding raspberry.

On the books front. They’ve managed to squeeze me in at the Christmas Fayre so I am busy ordering books etc, which reminds me … Even better, the date of the new release creeps ever closer. Anyone who has pre-ordered it should get the ebook on Monday 29th. Woot. The paperback is coming later. I have also been doing lots of research into audio books. It’s kind of doing my head in because there have been a lot of changes to the audiobook scene just recently, with evidence that Findaway Voices might be edging ahead of ACX as a provider. I might post more about that as I discover it, or at least, some pros and cons if I can. But my own experience is going to be atypical because Gareth The Voice and I have done pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to! Mwahahahargh!

Anyway, that’s enough of that, here is a quick reminder about my two new releases … on about to come out and one out already. Pipple toot!

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 1

Available for preorder. If you are interested there is a page which gives you link to the main book vendors. Just click on the picture or follow this link here …

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

There will be print links, to follow. The print version is out on 23rd November.

Here’s the blurb:

Terry Pratchett meets Dr Who … sort of. When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

Future Adventures Box Set … Gorge yourself on free sci-fi!

This features full length novels from eight science fiction authors. I can vouch for the quality of the books in here, even more so now that I’ve read some of them!

But, if any of you haven’t read my first full length novel, Few Are Chosen, and would like to, it’s in this book, which is free, but more importantly it comes with all these other brilliant stories by seriously accomplished wordsmiths who really know what they are doing. So, you can grab a copy of Few Are Chosen with seven other books by authors who are seriously gifted and of whom I am, frankly, a bit in awe. And all for zero pence. If you want to pick up a copy, just click on the picture to visit a page of links to find it on all the major stores … or click on the link below:

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

 

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My lord! I bring news!

This week has been quite a contrast to last week.

First of all a brief word about superstition and its place in society. Now there are some folks who say that butterflies are a sign that angels/dead loved ones are watching you, and ditto about white feathers. I have no idea if any of this is true, but if I can see a white feather bobbing down from the sky and use it to make myself feel less sad, I will.

Obviously, it would be lovely if it was a message of support from Dad. There have definitely been a few white feathers over the past few years, something I’ve noticed because John Lennon always told his son that he’d send a white feather drifting across the room as a message after he died. Julian Lennon said once, ‘I’ve always been looking for that white feather.’  So when I saw my first one, during a pretty grim time in Dad’s illness, it left an impression.

No, I didn’t think it was John Lennon, but I’d never noticed a white feather drifting down from the sky before and I thought that pushing fifty was quite late to notice my first one, so it did make me wonder, slightly, if some dead relly somewhere was sending me a message of support – look I’m a writer, OK? I imagine all sorts of weird shit, it’s my job after all.

The instances have increased dramatically recently, and they have definitely coincided with good days, not just because I can use them to pep myself up but because genuinely good things have happened on the days when I’ve seen them. Coincidence? Probably. They are white, so they’re coming from the gulls rather than our local pigeons, who are all grey. Perhaps there is a particularly scrofulous gull flying over our house every day, one with a dash of the gift,

‘Ah yes, I must drop a feather on MTM today, good things will happen to her.’

Mwahahahrgh! Or perhaps he’s just the gull equivalent of Humbert. Hmm… could be. I don’t really mind, I’ll even put up with them shitting on the conservatory roof if I can use this phase of vigorous moulting on their part to help me be positive.

It’s like the bit in Terry Pratchett where he talks about telling people stories, or at least, Granny Weatherwax does. Tiffany Aching is trying to use facts and truth and Granny Weatherwax contests that people don’t respond to facts and truth and that you must tell them stories.  Tiffany is at her wits end because a family in the village have dug their outdoor lavvy too close to the well and they keep getting ill. Despite her most earnest entreaties to move it, and despite her repeatedly explaining to them that the crap is seeping into the drinking water and making them ill Tiffany can’t galvanise them into moving their out door kharzi. They can’t be arsed. She seeks Granny Weatherwax’s advice. A few days later, Granny Weatherwax tells Tiffany she persuaded them and the two witches visit. Sure enough, the bog has been moved.

‘How did you do that?’ asks Tiffany.

‘I told them there’s goblins down it,’ says Granny Weatherwax matter of factly.

So another brief lesson about grief then, don’t be afraid to use headology on yourself! If seeing a white feather floating in the air makes me feel something good will happen, my attitude is going to be such that it probably will, even if it’s just something that mightn’t have registered on another day or in different circumstances.

But, that said, quite a lot of smashing things are happening! Here are some.

Big news this week.

Small Beginnings is now available for pre-order in some but not all places, I’ll post a proper link next week when it’s live everywhere. In the meantime, click on the picture for more information, or if you want to to, you can sign up to receive three email reminders around launch time. To do that, click the link below.

Receive a reminder when Small Beginnings comes out.

Ultimate launch date is 19th November. Feel free to tell your friends.

Eyebombing news

I have to fess up to being piss poor at posting my eyebombing recently, but I’m also hoping to organise the eyebombThereforeIAm calendar a bit more formally this year. It depends if I can get a stall at the Christmas Fayre though, and I won’t hear about THAT until Monday or Tuesday. More on that story next week.

And some even bigger news this week. Um … yeh.

So a while back a chap contacted me explaining that he was an actor and that while it was a grand and jolly life, he would quite like to do a project of his own.

[MTM waves] hello Gareth!

This being the case, he’d decided he would learn to read and produce audio books. He wanted to use something as a guinea pig while he got to grips with production skills, sound booth construction, etc, and for this purpose, he chose the K’Barthan Series.

However, he hadn’t just said he’d like to do it, he’d already recorded a rough outline of Unlucky Dip. Since then he’s recorded another one. So yesterday we had a chat on the phone about well … basically about the recordings he’d sent me, and the characters. It’s a pretty great project to be involved in when two people can spend over an hour on the phone doing silly voices at one another, and giggling, and then tell people, solemnly, that it was work. Mwahahahaahrgh! Yes he’s as nuts as I am but then, what would you expect? He likes my books!

If anyone wants a listen, you can do that by clicking the link below. It is a draft, so it isn’t nearly finished, and he’s reading it off his kindle, rather than a marked up script so he sometimes puts the emPHAsis on the wrong syllAble, but as an outline sketch I reckon it’s chuffing marvellous! He’s got Big Merv and The Pan of Hamgee, absolutely how I imagine them and he also knows how to put in the right kind of energy to bring it all to life … through the magic of acting he tells me with tongue firmly in cheek. Feel free to have a listen and let me know what you think.

Unlucky Dip Sketch Number Two

So yeh. All in all, a good week.

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A snapshot of blue …

It isn’t always like this, but I’m feeling a bit blue today. Then again, it’s probably only to be expected because I have, as we might euphemistically say, the painters in. But I’m going to take a few moments out to bang on about grief again because I suspect the way I’m feeling is pretty universal, so it might help someone to read it and see they aren’t alone.

As a human, I’ve always approached my life, and my future, with an attitude of mild interest, a kind of, ‘I wonder how this is going to turn out.’ That doesn’t mean I don’t try and mould my destiny at all, but I am aware how many other riders there are affecting the outcome of anything I plan. I hope my actions make a difference. Fervently. But I also think I’d be a fool to think I can realign the stars and guarantee anything about my destiny through my own efforts … well … you know … beyond how I react to what happens.

So my dad died. It happens to lots of people. And I’m OK with that and, more to the point, he was. It was his time, he led a full and wonderful life, he was loved … it was, dare I say it, beautiful.

The thing I am having trouble with is what happened first.

Losing someone to Alzheimer’s is really hard. There’s a strange mixture of emotion at the end where you’re glad their suffering is over but really want them back. There’s always hope, until they draw their last breath, that a miracle will happen and they’ll come back to you, that the gradual extinguishing of the light can somehow be reversed, the damage undone, your loved one returned. That you’ll find them again.

It can’t, although you might find enough of them. Dad definitely came back to us a bit at the end, I am in no doubt whatsoever about that.

They say that you don’t get over some things but that you do get used to living with them. That makes perfect sense to me. I try to give myself gaps to grieve, and in between, I tell myself it’s hormones, and yes, I am looking forward to reaching the stage when I no longer have a cycle, when Psycho Week, Misery Week (which is probably where I am now) Extra Special IBS Week and of course, not forgetting Brain Fog and Constipation Week all come to an end and every week becomes Mary Week. I do have a Mary Week once in every five and it is literally like being someone else, someone I really like.

Anyway, I try to convince myself that I’m busy or tired or hormonal but the truth of it is, I’m just sad. And I guess I’m learning that I have the strength to carry that sadness, which is nice, but at the same time, unfortunately, I’m not quite as strong as I hoped I was. Which is a bit of a shitter.

One of the things you can notice about people, if you look hard enough, is that those who are suffering or damaged are marked. They have an intensity, a brittleness about the edges, a burning brightness to their eyes that acts like a huge neon beacon over their heads saying, ‘Damaged Goods.’

Sometimes, I have to tell people that my dad died recently. It’s cringingly embarrassing because usually it’s part of an explanation as to why I’ve forgotten to pay a bill that arrived around that time, or pay in a cheque etc. I find it difficult to keep my voice flat. The emotion always creeps in and evinces an outpouring of kindness from strangers that is only reserved for folks they are very, very sorry for. Which is lovely but quite mortifying. I also find it really, and I mean really hard, to keep it together in the face of sympathy. No matter how hard I try to be dispassionate, they hear the emotion. I am always hugely grateful for their concern. But at the same time, it’s also difficult and embarrassing because there’s only a finite amount of time about which I can talk about it before I cry. I wouldn’t want people to stop showing sympathy though, or stop being kind. Because for all the awkwardness I feel, it’s also a wonderful and uplifting thing.

There’s very little time for sadness in modern life and even less in mine. Mum has dementia, someone has to run her financial affairs, pay the care team, make sure she’s OK. In some respects my weekly visits are a lifeline for both of us. It is wonderful to be able to talk to her about Dad. We discuss how we feel, how there was nowhere else for him to go, how illogical our sadness is when it was such a good death and when it was clearly a death he embraced. I think it helps both of us. Mum is definitely better than she was but she’s had a bit of a blip recently, which, I suppose, is  another reason why I feel the responsibility a bit more keenly than I usually do, and feel sadder.

Typically, now he’s gone, it seems that my life is full of events and problems that I would have discussed with Dad. Things he would have been able to advise me about so I could have made sense of it all and it would have been OK. Interpersonal stuff. It’s a loss I would have felt badly any time in the last one and a half, possibly two, years but it seems a great deal worse now. I think it would be melodramatic and downright wrong to say I’m sinking but it’s definitely a struggle. And I’m so raw. Oh blimey I’m ridiculously raw and so easily hurt about other things. Everything makes me cry, I reckon if I was walking round with a thistle stuck up my arse I’d cry less.

Politics hasn’t helped. It’s like the loss of Dad’s goodness and humanity, the compassion and empathy in him has taken it out of the entire fucking world. This week Britain has stepped up it’s efforts to make a monumental tit of itself on the international stage. The jury who found Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament illegal have been warned to wear stab vests for fear of nutters who are also pro Brexit.

And the two sides bang on at one another, the left getting all drama llama about Jo Cox so they can tell the right that they are heartless twats who don’t give a shit in a way that makes the whole thing reek of faux. The right are totally unmoved, of course, since the majority of them are heartless twats who don’t give a shit and I really don’t understand why the left felt that point had to be made, since we are all already aware.

In the middle of all this, I’m still waiting to hear someone mention the good of the people. Not ‘the will of the people,’ as decided by a ridiculous sham of a vote to decide which side’s lies were less plausible (but sadly, a vote, nonetheless) not who should be in power, not how much better we would be if x or y was in power. Likewise, I don’t want to hear politicians spouting off in the media for the benefit of sending a message to other politicians via the press, rather than because they have anything meaningful to say to us.

Wouldn’t it be great to see someone in Parliament who genuinely seems to be there to try and make life better for the British people rather than to feather their own nest? Someone who isn’t a plutocrat foisting left wing sentiments they can afford to hold onto people who can’t, or conversely, someone who isn’t a hedge fund manager, wholeheartedly buying into the vileness of the party opposing them; a party which continues to demonise the vulnerable, the disabled, the chronically sick as scroungers and weaklings, quietly passing laws to punish people for their disabilities, or chronic illness, or having dementia like my parents, as if these people are to blame for their own suffering. A party pedalling the view that anyone who is vulnerable is weak and that those who are sick somehow deserve to suffer and are not worthy of our compassion. A party that puts the view that, contrary to the tenets of the Welfare State, those less fortunate, or who have fallen on hard times are somehow stealing for us when they are given help. A party which is punishing the elderly for having savings and being careful, stamping on the fingers of everyone working or lower middle class who has dared to put a foot on the ladder. A party which is quietly dismantling the welfare state and the NHS while everyone is too distracted to notice by the circus of shite that is Brexit and all that goes therewith.

We need normal people in politics. Now. Because at the moment, for the most part, it’s just a bunch of rich, entitled pricks doing what they like. On all sides. Their wages alone put them into the top 6%, the expenses some of them charge probably put them into Fortune 500*. Only 8% of Labour MPs are working class. We need a proper mix and we need to hold them accountable, the trouble is, voting doesn’t seem to work so I really don’t know how we do that.

* That was a joke even if it does ring true.

All I know is that watching the different parties competing to out do each other over the lowest depths to which they can sink I feel like something inside me is dying. It’s like grief has taken my reality filter out and I can see every crack and fissure and smell the foetid pus below.

But then something will happen that snaps me back.

For example, today I had to explain to the lady in the building society that I’d failed in some duty of admin because the summons arrived while my dad was sick and dying, or possibly while I was on holiday just before, or maybe in the six weeks previously while I was sick as a dog with a massive temperature and road testing different varieties of antibiotics to get rid of a persistent chest infection. The minute I fess up to her, I know she’s seen the rawness. My orange neon ‘damaged goods’ sign is flashing. She nips out back and comes back with a leaflet.

What to do in a bereavement, it’s called.

‘There are numbers in the back,’ she says. ‘And your doctor can help you too.’

My doctor? Shit.

Is it that bad?

Is it that obvious?

Am I more damaged than I think?

OK so watching my father go mad was pretty horrible, but I genuinely believed that once it was over I’d bounce back. It’s happening but it’s not a bounce and I’m aware enough now that in many ways I will never be the same. I thought it would be a lot faster than this and I thought I would get over it all. I’m not and it’s going to be slow. I guess the hard thing is having to keep going, having to carry on paying the carers and doing the pathetic amount I do to keep things running – the care and gardening team do literally ALL of it but I still find my few duties tough. I probably need to look what happened to Dad squarely in the eye but if I do that right now I’m undone and I can’t be undone, because … Mum.

Or maybe I’m just humiliated that another person has seen the extent of the damage, noticed my brittle cheerfulness and angular edges. I am worried and grateful in equal measure. As I try not to well up at her compassion and kindness I remember what Dad always said,

‘And this too shall pass.’

Maybe that’s the thing that’s so hard. Grief is amorphous. It oozes about inside you like a liquid and leeches out where and when you least expect. There’s no stopping it and no answer. You just have to ride the storm and wait until you are used to it, or it goes. It’s not as if I’m the first person who’s lost a parent, or the last … It’s just … hard.

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

‘Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
Today the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

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This week, I am mostly, cheating!

Greetings, late as ever. I appreciate that this is a late post. I knew things were going to get a bit hectic and sure enough they have. I had to set up McMini’s computer for school and it took approximately one thousand years. OK not quite one thousand but it felt like that, especially when I had bloody microsoft asking me to sign in and then saying ‘oops there seems to be a problem.’

After searching for what felt like fucking aeons, I realised that the problem was simply that McMini is under age and therefore I had to sign in as me to move windows from some crappy version, where you can’t download anything off the Microsoft app store, to normal windows that everyone else uses. As a result I have nothing to witty to blog this week and had to resort to Things I Have In Reserve, in this case, my Dad’s Eulogy.

It might seem like a strange thing to share, but it was written for laughs and it even got some! Next week, I have some absolutely chuffing amazing news for you! In the meantime … enjoy …

________________________________

Dad post retirement but pre dementia.

The difficulty talking about Dad is that I have so much material, so it’s tricky to know where to begin and when to stop. The fact his nick name, at the school, was ‘Johnny the Legend’ probably says it all.

I’ve made some notes.

Obviously, as his daughter, I’m biased and see him as a shining example of what it means to be human, and a Christian, and to do Christianity and humaning really well. There are certain words that crop up again and again in the letters and cards we received; Gentleman, kind, warm, radiant, humour/joie de vivre, fun, funny, witty, generous, non-judgemental, wise, humanity and a word he used about others but which also very much applied to Dad, himself, effervescent! Dad lived his whole life with an aura of intelligent enquiry and seemed, to me, to have a genuine interest in everything and everyone around him. He also had a sense of fun and mischief but coupled with a sense of social justice and a kindly disposition which meant the mischief was never cruel. He was genial and good humoured and would often tell stories against himself if he believed his antics were funny enough. Probably one of the most indicative things about Dad, and Mum, is the friends they made and the people they have around them. They seem to be pied pipers of lovely people.

Dad delighted in sharing the Latin and Greek roots of words, especially if they were slightly dodgy or a little bit lavatorial. I can still decline the latin verb from which we get the word, ‘constipation’. Despite being a committed Christian, Dad would sometimes take me aside after church and we would both giggle as he pointed out the double entendres which Victorian poets, in a more innocent age, had unwittingly put into that Sunday’s hymns. ‘Oh Lamb of God, I come,’ was a particular favourite, and the fact it was written by an ancestor on my Mum’s side just made it even funnier.

He loved to prick the bubble of the self-important and was proud of any signs of rebellion in my brother and I. He once hauled a colleague to the window of the master’s common room and, glowing with proprietorial, that’s-my-boy pride pointed out a scene in the quad below, where a member of staff who ran like the original Minister for Silly Walks was sprinting across the grass followed by my brother doing a near perfect impression of the man’s ridiculous run a few yards behind. Another time, I remember Dad carrying a copy of the unofficial school newspaper round one speech day and, when he met the right parent or colleague, he would whip it out of his inside jacket pocket, like some war time black-marketeer selling stockings, to show them a slightly scurrilous cartoon I’d drawn of the Bursar.

Life with Dad was never dull. He was always cheerful and sociable. He enjoyed entertaining friends and relations during the holidays and would wear his bedroom slippers ‘to make it more relaxing’ often prank phone calls would be made to other, absent, members of staff, or those who’d moved on to better things at other schools. Sometimes he would invite people round and forget so Mum would be surprised and delighted to see them arrive but have to pretend that she knew they were coming. She, and we, usually pulled this off, except for the time my uncle and aunt turned up and found the four of us sitting down to a grilled trout each.

Dad was, as he would have put it, ‘a good trencherman’. On holiday France Dad demonstrated that, were he ever to go on Mastermind, his special subject would be not classics but instead, Guide Michelin, Normandy edition. As we drove through some village he’d suddenly stop the car and announce that it was lunch time because the auberge had a red underlining. No-one I’ve ever met before or since could sniff out a good restaurant as surely as Dad.

He also enjoyed wine, although, in that respect he was quite a long suffering father, luckily he had a very forgiving nature. I remember I inadvertently drank one of his best bottles while he was away on holiday. ‘What? You drank my Gevrey?’ he cried, his expression a mix of horror and disbelief at my iniquity in drinking his wine and pride that I’d made such a quality choice. Luckily pride won out although I did replace the bottle as soon as I could. I also remember spilling mayonnaise all over him at a restaurant in Durham when we were having a meal to celebrate Giles’ graduation. There was complete silence and, again, Dad’s face was a mixture – of anger and humour, this time. For a few seconds we watched the two emotions battle for control. God bless Lil, who guffawed before she could stop herself, Dad’s habitual good humour reasserted itself immediately and all was well.

I’ve already alluded to Dad’s selective memory. Any timely attendance at social events was due to Mum’s insistence that he put them on the kitchen calendar … also, most friends were wise enough to ensure she knew about them. The odd one or two slipped through the net though. I remember in my last year at school, Dad had just left the house and was commuting in daily from home. One evening, I found him, Mum and two friends wandering disconsolately through the cloisters in their dinner suits having arrived at the common room guest night a week early. This was a particularly spectacular achievement since Dad was chairman of the common room at the time and, therefore, the person responsible for organising it.

A familiar refrain in our house when I was growing up was the phrase, ‘have you seen my biro?’ Dad had two Papermate biros: there was a red one, which with Dad’s characteristic fuzzy logic, contained black ink, and a turquoise one which contained red ink. The hunt was on for one or other of them (and his keys) most of the time. Finally, he lost the red one, apparently forever, so I bought him a new one for his birthday, a top of the range black and gold Papermate. Yes, from now on the ‘black’ biro was going to BE black. I was incredibly proud when he hung onto it for years, although it turned out it was several biros. He couldn’t bear to upset me by admitting he’d lost my gift, so he kept buying replacements. It was only after he tried to buy replacement number five and he discovered Papermate had discontinued that model that he was forced to come clean. It was typical of Dad’s kindness. He was a soft old thing. He used to hug the cat goodbye before work in the mornings. She always smelled of aftershave at the start of the day.

For all Dad’s legendary forgetfulness, though, the headmaster’s secretary once told Mum that he was the one housemaster she could always rely on for an instant answer to any question asked about any of his charges. There was no filing system, no having to look things up. He always remembered the things that mattered.

One more instance of fuzzy logic. One summer night we left our pet rabbit in his outside run which had shade but very little shelter. Mum was the first to realise when she was awoken by a rumble of thunder.

‘Darling! There’s a storm coming and the rabbit’s still out!’ she cried and Dad went out to rescue him.

Mum heard the door go just as it began to chuck it down with rain. She ran to the window to see Dad rush into the orchard, completely starkers, barring a pair of wellies, grab the rabbit and take him, through the pouring rain to his more permanent home in the garage.

‘I didn’t want to get my pyjamas wet,’ he explained when Mum asked what on earth he was doing.

Dad was a committed Christian with a deep and enduring faith. Interestingly, his efforts to be Christ-like in every aspect of his behaviour could make him come up as a bit of a maverick – which suggests he may have been doing it properly.

Dad had a very firm idea of right and wrong and, as it was governed by his faith, it didn’t necessarily involve proceeding as convention, or the rules, dictated. Luckily most of the people he encountered appreciated this, even if his tendency to take the same approach at work, coupled with a propensity to forget housemaster’s meetings frustrated some of his bosses. Neither tendency let up after he retired.

One evening he and Mum got talking to a homeless man in the churchyard and brought him home to spend the night. Mum, rang me and explained that if I hadn’t heard from them by half nine the following morning I must call the police as they would probably have been murdered. She put the phone down with the parting shot, ‘Don’t tell your brother darling, he’ll go into orbit.’ Mum and Dad were a team and as you can tell from this story, it was definitely a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other.

One of Dad’s maxims was,

‘Never let anyone see you’re shocked by anything, most of the time, it’s what they want.’

Dad was pretty good at not being shocked especially by some of my more punk friends not to mention us, his own kids. I remember his reaction after I attended my first party. Unfortunately I mistook the fruit punch for a non alcoholic beverage. By the time I realised my mistake I’d downed gallons of the stuff and I was terribly ill. The next day, I felt truly awful and spent the time very quietly in my bedroom. When supper time arrived, I came downstairs and Dad said,

‘I thought we could have a treat tonight, I’ve made some wine cup.’

I have no idea how he did it but Dad had managed to replicate the exact same punch that I’d drunk to such horrific excess the night before. I sunk two glasses with a heaving stomach and a thin pretence of enjoyment. It was a much more salutary lesson than any lecture on the evils of drink. Fizzy logic, perhaps, in that case, but no less effective.

Dad was also great at understanding the way other people thought. A naughty friend of mine told how, when about to be cautioned by the police for some argy-bargy at the Goldstone, Dad stopped him just before he went in and said,

‘Now listen, Duncan, there’s one thing you have to remember and it’s very important.’

‘Yes Mr Bell?’

‘Yes, whatever you do, DON’T laugh! It’s yes sir, no sir, thank you sir and out again. No backchat, and NO arguing the toss. Right?’

My friend confessed that, the moment he was confronted with the police officer cautioning him, he was indeed, seized with an urge to guffaw or make sarcastic comment, but he managed to contain himself because of what Dad had said.

Dad wasn’t afraid to be human if, by venting occasionally over something small, he could be better at something bigger and more important. I remember him mowing the orchard at home. The lowest branches of the trees were all about four feet off the ground. As Dad mowed he was watching the grass in front of him so he bashed his head on pretty much every single tree. Each bump was greeted with an ever lengthier flow of invective, mostly comprising the word, ‘bugger!’ It lead to a new family measurement scale of vexation, ‘how manyb’uggers was that, Dad?’ we’d ask after a particularly vexatious escapade doing something or other.

Dad told me that he’d wanted to be a teacher for as long as he could remember. To be honest, if you grew up around him while he was going about his job it was fairly obvious. He was extremely dedicated, but even when he had retired, even when he had Alzheimer’s, children still flocked to him to chat.

His pet advice on housemastering was, ‘It’s not about catching the boys it’s about knowing when NOT to catch them.’ I only found that out recently, which is probably why it was many years before I realised that, when he came home to regale us with something funny he’d caught the boys doing, they didn’t actually KNOW. The famous Johnny Bell warning cough made sure of this, unless they were seriously up to no good, in which case Dad would omit the cough and attempt to catch them. He allowed some slack but had a zero tolerance policy for bullying. I remember him agonising when he had to send boys to the headmaster for drinking, smoking, going awol or the like, but if they’d been bullying people he never had a qualm about having them expelled, which was entirely in keeping with his sense of right and wrong and social justice.

One of the greatest gifts Dad taught me was that, if you want to be happy in life, it’s essential to be able to laugh at yourself. He had a way of being self depreciating and using humour to keep things light without losing the message. His humour also helped him keep things in proportion, in a way that not everyone can. Perhaps that accounted for some of his courage when facing the grimness of Alzheimer’s. Wherever he is now there will be light and laughter.

In the classroom, too, Dad liked to allow space among the learning to enjoy a bit of levity. His pupils soon realised that you could have a far more interesting Greek lesson if you got Dad onto some off the wall topic after about five minutes. He got decent enough results, so it seems to have worked. Even after he’d retired, Dad’s one-to-one students knew to ask about his most recent holiday if they wanted a break. At school, the lateral and inventive nature of Dad’s red herrings was so famed that they were featured in an article in the school magazine, which amused Dad greatly. I have a photocopy of that article which I’ve included, below.

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