As I get older, I realise more and more just how long a life actually is. How full of memories and moments one’s life is. It’s so difficult to pack in almost 79 years of a life into the few minutes I have here.
It’s already been over four weeks since Dad died, yet it hardly seems any time at all since I was sitting and talking with him, bringing him tea, and watching his comic reaction when Jo surprised him with an unexpected joke. I couldn’t know then that I wouldn’t see him again, but I am so glad that he still knew Mum, Jo and me, and that he still had the twinkle in his eye which Mum saw every day for the whole of their life together.
Mum said recently that it’s as though Dad and Sarah aren’t gone at all, but are just the other side of a hidden curtain. It gives us such comfort to feel that they remain with us in spirit, as they always will. Be it in familiar surroundings, shared memories, a treasured photograph or a quiet moment.
As many of you know, Dad was diagnosed a few years ago with a form of Alzheimer’s. He dealt with it in the same way that he dealt with other challenges in his life: by getting on with it. Thanks to Mum’s never-ending support and devotion, he was able to remain at home in Yateley, in the house to which we moved in 1978. Mum has received a great deal of support from family, from her friends and from St. Swithun’s. Over the past few months, the Daisy Cafe for people with memory loss here in Yateley has been of great support, and Mum treasures the time they spent there; enabling her to spend some quality time with Dad without any distractions.
Dad was born in the sitting room of his parents’ house near Cirencester in 1939, where his mother raised him during the time his father was in military service abroad. Childhood holidays were spent with his grandparents in Pembrokeshire, to which he, Mum, Sarah and I returned as a family for our own annual holidays. We gained a love for the part of Wales from which his family came and a strong affinity to that part of our heritage.
Dad attended the local grammar school and played rugby for Cirencester Town, then spent some time working in an architect’s firm before joining the Metropolitan Police and moving to London. After a stint as a “bobby” and on secondment to the C.I.D., he left and tried his hand at a few different professions, before arriving at the fabric and woolens department in John Lewis on Oxford Street. Much to the delight of a young Patricia Hooren, with whom he spent breaks and lunchtimes, and who became besotted with him from the start.
Keen to impress, he managed to break one of Gran’s best glasses when helping with the washing-up on the first occasion he met her and Grandad. After a party in the West End, Dad chivalrously accompanied Mum back to Catford by taxi, then walked home to north London because he didn’t have the money for the return fare. But practicality won out the next day, when he accepted Mum’s offer to contribute towards the taxi fare.
Dad worked for Terence Conran after leaving John Lewis, taking on responsibility for store security across much of Britain for the Habitat furniture company. He imbued me with a life-long love of lamps when he occasionally took me to visit a store. My earliest memories of my Dad are the map he hung on my bedroom wall, with a pin indicating where he would be that day, and of sitting at the window waiting for him to arrive home. It was from my Dad that I have inherited a ceaseless interest in travelling by car, and for driving up nameless lanes just to find out where they go.
We spent many hours on golf courses after Dad began to teach me at the beginning of the 1980s. Most often, we’d head off to Downshire Golf Course in the early hours, spending too much time doing battle with the Berkshire undergrowth. It’s touching and somehow appropriate that we’re taking him to Easthampstead after this mass, as we spent so many weekends on the golf course next door.
After many years of hard work and countless miles on British motorways, Dad took early retirement and started his own business as an antiques dealer. Beginning with furniture, which he restored and took around to antiques fairs, he found a liking for W.H. Goss porcelain, which he began collecting and which subsequently became his main business. He was proud of the collection which is displayed next to his chair at home, and he always took great pleasure in it, being that the pieces are from places he loved, from Pembrokeshire to Switzerland.
Even after Dad fell ill, he and Mum continued to come to visit us in Switzerland a couple of times each year. Dad’s love of the country in which I live pushed us all on to explore more and more of the mountains while he and Mum visited us; most memorably on foot to a mountain peak well off the beaten track, through deep winter snow on the Simplon Pass, on countless cable-car rides, and on the historic lake paddle-steamers.
As I wrote what I’m reading now, I was sitting at my desk at home, with the view he loved so much of the mountains and the lake. Despite not being a keen artist, we pushed Dad to do a drawing when we were in Amsterdam a few years ago. It was this view he chose from memory. He will always be there with me, watching the boats pottering about, watching the trains pass by, and picking yet another peak and asking me, “what’s that one called”?