This is as good a time as any to talk about my Dad. In my world photographs are a bit pointless and sadly we have no audio or video relating to his part in my early life. But the sense of smell evokes magical restoration of the memory of him in my head. You will see that, in our little world, the olfactory is almost a spiritual sense and the role he played in our lives was on the way to being almost godly.
He had a deep and gentle voice; his bald head shone like mine does now and he was always busy. He was our provider and creator. His shed smelled of wood-shavings, paints and varnish. The lawn-mower and his tools smelled of metal and oil. There were tins of nails, screws, glues, and paints, everything to order and in its rightful place. When a wheel came off our toy car or lorry, he would fix it after work. When the chain came off our bikes or we punctured a tyre it would all be sorted out in his shed.
In his garden we had raspberries, strawberries, apples and a pear tree. The blackcurrants were fantastic straight from the bush, and the smell of the leaves and the half-squashed stolen fruit in our grubby hands was exquisite. I used to lie on his lawn, on my belly, picking the blades of grass and sniffing them up into my body in the hot sun, and I used to crush his lavender in my fingers and rub it into my hands to cleanse and soften them. His roses in their millions on the fence and back wall were the most fragrant I have ever smelled. Somewhat later, we bared his well-cut lawn with our cricket and bike races and I smashed down his best chrysanthemums with my finest off-drive!
My Father’s greenhouse was his pride and joy. Rumour hath it that he actually piddled in the water with which he fed some of his special plants. Lettuces and cucumbers from the super-market plastic bag are nothing compared to the smell of salad carried from the greenhouse to the kitchen by a small boy, sniffing the stuff on its journey of less than half an hour from the soil to the table. Best of all was being given a small ripe tomato from my Father’s fingers in the green-house itself.
Dad’s smells were all about the house too. His brushes on the kitchen window-sill smelled of turps when he was finishing off decorating the living-room. The sweet smell of his shaving lather lingered in the bathroom long after he had left for work. His newspaper smell hung around the sofa even when the newspaper had lit the morning fire while we children were still sleeping. And when we woke up, his bacon breakfast smells filled the whole house to reassure us that a new, safe day had dawned. When he came home from work, over 12 hours later, his whole being smelled of oil and slurry as he enveloped us in his tired arms on his knee. Once or twice, mainly around Christmas, his face smelled of something called beer and he talked about a party at work. He was very lively! On hot summer afternoons, the smell of the blow-lamp meant he was preparing the outside of the house, or killing ants.
He died 55 years ago in bed on Friday afternoon with a screw-driver and a light fitting he was repairing by his hands on the bed covers. Downstairs I heard a thud and he was gone.
In the lottery of parentage, I did really well. He introduced me to practical things, hammers and screw drivers, to Chess, Maths and the freedom to explore the world.
I remember with shock the first time I heard him swear in front of us but it was only a “bloody”. I remember his knowing laugh the first time he noticed that bulge in my teenage pyjama trousers at bedtime. Years later, in the hospital ward after a cancer operation, the power of morphine brought back scratchy recorded memories of his voice talking and singing to me as he used to. So my happiest memory of him is the whole family in bed on a Sunday morning and he demonstrating just how low he could sing a scale – D R I N K I N G – right down to third octave F.
If you have an OK plus Dad, you are on the way to being able to adopt the idea of God The Father but if you are not so lucky with your Dad, well the whole God Father thing might seem very hollow. Here the seed is planted and I imagine I will return to this theme in later sections.