Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Goodbye, Mr Chips.

I love doing the ironing.

I reckon my enjoyment of a task that is almost universally moaned about stems from my youth. There was a time, in the late 1980s, that each and every Saturday evening followed a similar routine. Television on, parents, sister and both Grandmothers would congregate in our enormous lounge smoking Silk Cut, eating hand raised pies from the little bakery across the road and watching whatever vacuous crap the program planners at ITV had decided we needed to watch. Sometimes it was Surprise Surprise with our Cilla, sometimes Ted Rogers and his five fingered shenanigans and sometimes, my favourite times, the inimitable Roy Walker's Catchphrase. Week after week, being urged to "say what you see", we'd play along.

Whilst the show was on I would, having taken my extra long Saturday night shower and stinking of Insignia antiperspirant and Jazz eau de toilette, stand behind the settee and iron my outfit for that night. You may struggle to believe it if you've ever been witness to the disheveled appearance I now sport, but back then I cut quite the dashing figure. Always a suit, never a tie, silk shirts and matching underpants, the shiniest of shiny shoes and as much gold jewelry as an Inca high priestess, I would wander the streets of Manchester from swish venue to swish venue before, the next morning, performing the "walk of shame" through Salford and generally calling in at a cafe or a friends house to boast about the glamour model I'd spent the night with. I'd arrive home, grinning, and would invariable be greeted by my father who would ask me who on Earth "that dog" whose house I'd been spotted sheepishly leaving was. I have never, in my life, slept with a "dog".

I've woken up with fucking loads though. Isn't beer brilliant?

My dad's long dead. I miss his mocking. He had a knack that I like to think I share, the ability to be offensive without causing offense. He would wander around his pub at chucking out time shouting;

"Pacey, pacey. Andale! Andale! I've had your money, now FUCK OFF!"

Like Mr Walker's "Say what you see", this was my father's catchphrase and, although quite plainly highly offensive, not one person ever took offense.

He was full of little phrases he'd use over and over again. When I was little, probably too little for safety's sake, he taught me to use a hammer and saw. "Don't cut the wood, son, let the saw cut it" and "Don't throttle the hammer" when teaching me how to use the tools meant that, by age eight, I was spending many a Saturday afternoon banging away in his shed producing go-carts or toy castles for my Action Men. Little tips, repeated often, that stuck in my tiny mind and have stayed with me ever since.

One afternoon, when I was a father myself, I came across my mother hanging pictures on the stairs. She was making a right pig's ear of it and so I took the hammer from her and said "Here, mam, don't throttle the hammer". I glanced down the stairs and saw my father was passing, looking up at me and smiling. I knew why he was smiling but, and I've no idea why, I smiled back and said "What are you laughing at?" He shook his head and walked on.

Once dead, he had to be cremated. I say "had to be", there were other options, but the taxidermist was mortified by my inquiry, as were the lads at the tip, and burial is fucking expensive so cremation it was. One of the customers from his "Pacey, pacey" years offered to speak at the service. I really wanted to, but back then I was terribly shy and I thought, with all the emotion that day would bring with it, I'd make a mess of it. So I sat quietly as this man, a man that had known my father for decades, gave the worst eulogy ever. Bar none. He mumbled his way through it, saying so little. No funny anecdotes, no entertaining insights, nothing. It turned out afterwards that he'd had a speech prepared, one that told of my father's exploits, his naughtiness and unprofessionalism, all the things that made him a great pub landlord but, upon seeing the faces of some of the brewery bigwigs in the crowd and realising my mother still had one of their pubs, he'd bottled it. His tales of events after hours and of fights and threats and Del boy like double dealings remained unimparted.

He'd plainly never watched Catchphrase.

I wish I'd had the courage to speak, but I didn't. I wish I'd stood up there and told the people, gathered there from all over the country, what a rum-fucker he was and that I loved him. I don't think I ever told him I loved him. Not since I was a small child anyway, and back then it would have been an automatic response to his telling me that he loved me. But, as unspoken as those three little words may have been, I genuinely, unconditionally, loved that man.

The thing is, he knew that anyway, so I've no regrets in not telling him. There is one thing I wish I'd said though. If I could have the chance to give him one more message it wouldn't be "I love you, dad", it would be more personal than that. I would correct a massive mistake I once made, let him know something that I hope he knew but that, because of one little, inexplicable oversight, a silly choice, I'm not sure he did. A few short words that might have confirmed to him that without him, without his words and his love and his caring, I'd be nothing. Everything I am, everything I believe, he taught me, or at least taught me how to use the necessary tools to learn for myself. I'd stand before him, smile, and simply say...

"I knew what you were laughing at."

Say what you see, folks. It's very important.


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