Friday 28 December 2012

A sound proof box

I never knew his real name for a long time, he was dad to me and Mac to everyone else, including mum.

What fragments of his early history I do know about came in fractured conversation greased with dripping and washed down with cold tea.

His mum had died when he was two, a loss that came back in watery memories every now and then. My grandfather, apparently a bit of a rogue, was a little man who got about quite a bit, which was surprising as he had been left with only one leg after a mill accident.

Dad would talk of his early life in the 'big house' although the only memory I can recall him telling me was that he and his sister were forced to eat fruit cake, the dislike of which stuck with him all his life.

This time of plenty didn't last long, he and his sister were split up, my grandfather, who if he'd ever had any money had managed to lose it, took Dad with him to the slums. In this abject poverty he looked after his young step brother while his sister stayed in relative comfort.

Dad told a story of when he had seen her sitting on a float in a Catholic parade and had excitedly shouted, 'that's my sister', a policeman had clipped him around the ear for daring to talk like that of his betters.

We know he'd spent time as a youth running with the gypsies, because he wrote a book about it but it was only recently we found out he had lived rough on the railway sidings, anyway more of all that in a later post. 

It may have been love at first sight as far as dad was concerned but mum said she couldn't believe  her eyes when she first saw him, long hair, baggy trousers, a beret and sorely in need of a wash. Well they did get together and had three kids and moved to the country.

It was a misdiagnosed mastoid that created a series of events that meant my dad would never hear my voice, he never realised this but it was probably a blessing in disguise.

My sisters tell the story of when they were all sitting around the table one night when dad suddenly let out a scream and began thrashing around like some crazed drunk before crashing out of the house to be found dying in a lane.

As they lived in the middle of nowhere, it was too late to get him to a major hospital but they managed to get him to a small one in a town close by. The doctors saved his life but had to take his hearing to do it, a decision Mum had to agree to over the phone.

In those distant days support systems weren't really available or at least not dared to be asked for, a stiff upper lip and a strong cup of tea featured just as heavily on prescriptions as pills and potions. 'Tough Love' was  a major part of any form of rehabilitation, something mum had been told to do when Dad had finally come out of hospital. She told me the story of  his first time being faced with traffic without being able to hear it, he was terrified to cross the road but she crossed without him, watching from the other side, while he cried like a lost child stepping in and out of the road, while she stoically followed orders and didn't go back to help him.

 Anyway all of this hardship had made dad practical to the point of awkward and praise was still on ration from the war. Living in the slums and streets also gave him a very matter of fact view of the home, tidiness didn't really figure and even though he was a creative man, aesthetics of the house were never considered.

We didn't have lampshades, as he said what's the point of covering the light and this coupled with the fact that he didn't like net curtains either, 'windows were for looking out of' meant we lived in a bright light box that all who walked by could observe us in our natural habitat.

When it rained no brolly for him, he would just fashion a hat out of a carrier bag, quite resourceful but not much fun to be seen with in the street. In the winter he would take the red hot poker to the soles of his shoes to make them more grippy and if it was hot his shirt would come off where and whenever. 

We used to go to Hull quite a lot when I was a kid, this is in the days when we could begin the journey from Alford by train, before Mr Beeching had his way and closed the village  stations. I always loved the excitement of these trips much more than the arrival at the destination, because just like dad I didn't like my Nan that much either. 

Her little terrace house was totally different from ours, immaculately clean with a giant don't touch sign written with her eyes over everything. She had walls and walls of cuckoo clocks imprisoned behind glass that called out to me to free them, something mum read from my twitchy longing looks making her even more anxious around my nan. She became the child again when she was in her presence, listening to how I should be brought up, her constant berating of my dad and of course how different things could have been if she had married one of her more suitable suiters.

Anyway, on one of the few trips Dad did come on, he decided to get me to partake in one of the activities he had loved when he was a child, I guess in the hope of toughening me up. Ignoring my protests he forced me to follow him around one of the the huge industrial buildings on the docks and onto a tiny ledge that hung over the uninviting swirling brown water of the Humber. It seemed miles high and miles to the other end of the building as we shuffled along with our backs pressed against the wall fear gripping me all the way, I definitely don't remember seeing the fun in it anyway.

Both mum and Dad had a strange lack of any sort of fear of the water, which even though I could swim never had the same appeal to me as a child especially in the brown coastal waters that they adored to swim in even in old age. It always terrified me that they would both swim out until you could barely see them on the horizon leaving me nervously scanning for them from the shallows.

Dad was deaf but definitely not dumb, reading, anything and everything, poetry to pulp fiction and in later life writing too. He used to say you can learn something from every book even if its just how not  to write them. Its funny how people treat those with a disability but as dad was also a very strong man who lip read perfectly, many a person regretted their actions.

My lack of reading was one of the things from the extremely long list of subjects we would go head to head on and to be fair something I regret now, in fact a lot of his words of wisdom still stab at me, leaving the dull bruise of 'I told you so' but don't get me wrong not all of his words were wise or even thought through. Never a fan of me bringing curries home he once told me that the reason I was so tall and Chinese people were small is because they ate that muck and not proper food.

If he had any passion for food it was his passionate dislike of 'foreign food' because he thought it looked funny even though he would happily munch down the most disgusting English fare even if it did look like the trophies from a slasher movie; pigs trotters, tongue, tripe, kidneys, black pudding, this hideous dried blood was something I never ate even when I did eat meat. They always had this with another revolting concoction that mum called 'tomato gravy' for Saturday dinner based around tinned tomatoes, they would suck it down while dad shouted at the wrestling on the telly. 

Dinner was at that time in the middle of the day before it was usurped by lunch, but no matter the time, dad didn't believe in formalities, he never sat at the table, preferring his lap and the arm of his chair as a napkin.

We always had huge meals usually being meat and two veg, though even this wasn't completely straight forward, he always had to have the mashed potato lumpy and dry before mum added the butter and a dash of milk to make it smooth and delicious.

There was always dripping or talk of it. I liked it in a sandwich or as a treat on toast, but I think dad had it running through his veins. It always amazed me that when he was a kid all they seemed to eat was dripping and now I'm no expert but there must have been meat somewhere in the equation to get the dripping in the first place.

We would each have a tin of Oxtail soup on the rare occasions we had a snack style meal. Dad would have a large glass serving bowl for his, which he would fill with torn up pieces of bread until there was no liquid left,  just a brown bready gruel. I have to be honest here and say this wasn't just him, I loved to do this too.

He also had a bit of a thing for ginger nut biscuits which he took to work stored in his large  coats pockets, which was great for me as I would steal them, obviously being careful to leave enough for him not to notice. 

Now even though dad was very specific about food, the kitchen was just somewhere he walked through and dumped his coat when he got home from work, but on the very rare occasions he had to cook, he would make chips, huge fat ones that would be brought into the living room for us to admire before we stuck them between two pieces of bread for our butties. 

Now as you can imagine Dad and I argued a lot, disagreeing on everything, but we often fell out over his competitive parenting method. He would always tell my brother and I that we wouldn't be as good as our eldest brother, who was a shining star in the army.  My other brother took the bate and joined the navy working his way through the ranks to become an officer, I on the other hand didn't bite and went to art school. There never seemed to be a flicker of pride when I got my A levels and of course Art college was just somewhere I went because I didn't want to work, but it was only in recent years that I found out from people who used to work with him that he took all my pictures in to the factory to show them and boasted about my exploits.

One of the most telling things that he ever said to me was 'if you ever stop rebelling you're no son of mine.'