My most popular post thusfar, by a really long way, was this one. Even so, my Randomly Accessed Memories post, yesterday, is probably my favourite. My Dad was a pretty strong theme, and in hindsight perhaps he deserved to have a post of his own. So, here are some bonus memories that particularly involve him.
In a similar vein to the ‘T-shaped chip’ incident, he used to make my sister and I cheese on toast quite a lot. We had this kind of rickety off-white gas oven in the kitchen, with an elevated grill. When the toast hit our plates, we’d discover that he had very carefully used two different colours of cheese – usually Red Leicester and what he called ‘mousetrap’ Cheddar – to, once again, spell out a big T or K. A perfect letter, neatly the same dimensions as the piece of bread. Almost mathematical precision. This must be thirty years ago, now. If you are a parent, maybe you could try doing something like this for your child. They might remember it in thirty years too.
He was driving me to Canterbury, for my first day of university, in his big white Astra hatchback. Tons of stuff packed in the back, including a piece of furniture he had made specially for me. A Welsh dresser – basically a tall cupboard with two doors, and a shelving unit that sits on top of that. Under the bottom shelf, sitting just above the top of the cupboard unit, a little drawer. I still have it. I can see it from here. He also made the desk I’m sitting at – it was specially built to suit the BBC Master Compact my parents got me when I was about 12. He was as excited about that machine as I was. Anyway.
Here’s the thing. There was a little surprise, waiting for me, in this Welsh dresser. He had originally hoped to let me discover it on my own, after moving into my room, once he was long gone. He got excited, though, and couldn’t wait to tell me.
“I made you some secret compartments.”
“Can you get back there? Open the cupboard doors, if you can reach.”
“See there’s an L-shaped shelf inside the cupboard?”
“Take it out.”
“Okay, got it.”
“Look on the edge of the shelf.”
“What am I… Oh, this little hole?”
“You might need fingernails, and I know you bite yours. Can you get that little peg out?”
There was a handcarved wooden peg, a diddy little thing, inside a cylindrical hole drilled into the edge of the shelf. There was a little handle on it, and… Hey. Maybe I should just take a picture or three?
He put a fiver into my shelf. Crazy. Fantastic. And that’s not even all.
“What do you mean, there’s more?”
“See that shelf? Take it right out. Look underneath.”
“You should be able to move that slat a little. It will pop right out.
“Turn it over.”
My Dad had hidden an emergency cache of ten pounds into my furniture, for those inevitable moments I got into trouble. My Dad.
So, Dad moved to Canada for a while, partly because his wife was Canadian. He was gone for, what, three years? I missed him. He had lent me a leather belt, which I wore pretty much every day. I don’t think he thought about the belt that much, other than an occasional grumble that he liked it and I still had it. I wore it partly because it reminded me of him, partly to keep my jeans up.
When he finally got back to the UK, I met him and his wife out on the Nower, the common of my hometown. He grinned as I approached, and held out his hand. I looked down at his hand with a mixture of surprise and curiosity. What was he expecting me to do with that? I wrapped my arms around him in a bone-crushing bear hug, and lifted him off his feet. I’m taller than my Dad now, although I never thought that would be possible as a kid. He was always the one throwing us around, crushing us with enormous hugs. Feels good to turn the tables.
I took the belt off and gave it to him. Had it been a movie, he would have instantly grasped the symbolic importance of the gesture, or somesuch nonsense. Actually, he was a bit confused, because this was real life.
Dad was visiting me in Canterbury. We met at The Pizza Place, an imaginatively-titled restaurant where I would later work, and who later fired me for not turning up to a shift. My friend and I took them to court, and it was a whole big thing. Anyway.
Dad gave me a bunch of cash, and we had a nice pizza. We chatted. He insisted on paying, but when the bill arrived he realised that I was now holding most of his money. He was a cabinetmaker, which is a weirdly specific name for a guy who makes all kinds of furniture. He’s also a perfectionist, as the images above attest. He didn’t get tons of work, and would labour so intently on each piece that the price inevitably climbed and he would price himself out of the market. It was a tough time for him. He was doing something he loved, but money was tight.
He had to ask me for some of the money back, so he could pay for the meal. It was embarrassing for him, and I feel a little bad even recounting the story, but it just made me realise how much he loved me. He’d give me his last penny, without even really thinking about it.
I’m 14. I might not be 14, my age doesn’t matter much for this memory. I have History homework. My Dad used to be a History teacher. In fact, he was the head of the History department at one point. I made the terrible, critical error of asking him a question. I can’t remember what it was, but let’s pretend it was something like “Dad… Who was king in 1652?”
“Well. That’s actually a very interesting question. You see, back in the 1590s, there was a political movement called the-“
I felt panic rising. No, no no. Don’t do this to me. I can’t go into the classroom with bonus information from outside the lesson! That’s madness!
“Dad! We haven’t learned that yet!”
It’s my sister’s wedding. My Dad, as father of the bride, is giving a speech. He’s a very clever man, and was a teacher for years, but I don’t think he’s all that comfortable with public speaking.
He’s telling the story I just told. History homework, History questions. I realise where he’s going. I’ve had a couple of drinks. As he reaches the punchline, I exclaim to the packed room:
“DAD! WE HAVEN’T LEARNED THAT YET!”
Let me finish this post with an apology to you, Dad. I trampled all over your punchline, and stole your thunder. It was your speech, and should have been your laugh.