MY DAD

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.

MY MUM

What I don’t understand  is this: As in most households, Mum is the anchor, always there and doing most of it too. Yet I can’t conjure up the same magical memories of my mum as I  do for my dad. I can’t think of a list of special smells relating to her so spontaneously and this gives me cause for shame. As I grew up I treated her poorly, visited her less often than I should have, and failed to repay her with my focused time and love as she deserved. I wonder if I am on the verge of  getting to the root of why the paternal as opposed to the maternal is so dominant in many societies and cultures. I did love her very much but I was so up my own Ars  and self-centred that I could not show it AND I ALLOWED MY FORMER WIFE’S WISHES  NOT TO BOTHER WITH HER TO CLOUD MY JUDGMENT AND BEHAVIOUR. . 

In those days she was little and slim and I loved to cling to her before bed and feel her let-down hair and sniff the remnants of today’s perfume. My childish memory of her is that she was attractive warm and loving. Dad had fetched her from Blackpool in his motorbike and sidecar after a holiday romance. But the happily ever after story did not quite work out, I don’t think, in her case. Of the five children borne to her, two died at birth and three had very significant sight loss, with apparently  no previous family history of such troubles.   We tinies knew nothing of all this, it goes without saying.

By the time I was on the scene, her days were fully occupied. Cooking Dad’s breakfast at six  and sorting us out for the day. Lots of visits to the Eye Infirmary and long waits on green benches waiting our turn to see the great man. Caring for Nanna Hinds   who came to live with us as she grew more and more helpless and cantankerous. Reading endless stories to three children who could not themselves read. She spent hours with us in the kitchen so we could make a mess and learn to make jam tarts, Cocoanut Pyramids   and Gingerbread men. And her cooking!!! The smell of liver in the oven all day; Cornish Pasties, stuffed with corn beef onion and baked beans, almost ready to eat; and chips and Sunday roast potatoes, my favourites, even though I hated the meat that others’ ate with them. 

It was she who bathed our  knees when they were cut with stinging yellow Iodine; it was she who took me to hospital when I tried to cut off two finger-ends in my spinning bike wheel; and day after day it was she who took three blind children on and off buses, out to picnics, fishing for tiddlers in the local park and always back to the safety of home where she seemed to have it all just so. We were  experts in fighting, screaming and driving her to distraction but mUMs cope and, in her case, probably SHE paid dearly for her stress later in life.

Later you will hear how she played a pivotal  role in my senior schooling and university education as a result of the hours of reading books she, and often I, did not really understand. She also had the guts to speak to me about the mess in my teenage bed.