Thursday, 19 November 2020

His 100th birthday today

19th November was Dad's birthday, and he would have reached the grand old age of 100 today

I like to think that he would still have his usual sharp mind. But I have to admit that by now he would have been crucified by creeping arthritis, and on that count alone his life would be very uncomfortable. 

He would also have been a widower for eleven years. I wonder how he would have borne life without Mum? They were devoted to each other. I would have been no substitute at all, beyond becoming his live-in carer. I'd join him in the same house that I live in now, but the other bedroom would have been my room. I dare say we would have pooled our very decent pension incomes and be living in great style, with all the best and latest gadgets, especially those that saved physical effort. Dad was no fuddy-duddy when it came to useful tech: he'd embrace it. 

But nothing can take away the pain of loss. And Dad knew that pain. Dad had a very successful life, but it was marred by the death of my younger brother when Dad was 75 - the only time I ever saw him break down and cry - and the death of Mum when he was coming up to 89. He followed Mum so very soon afterwards. But if he hadn't, I think he would have found a way to live without her. He wouldn't have become introspective and bitter. He was so much bigger and better than that. He was resilient, inventive and resourceful. He also had a talent for drawing and writing. The first was out of the question - the arthritis in his hands was too bad for fine work - but he'd have set to (in two-fingered style) with a computer keyboard, and might well have produced a novel, or even a history, based on his experiences in life. He would have binged on TV golf, and, keeping his mind alert, would also have followed the news carefully. He would have had interesting things to say about the events of 2020.

I have assembled some pictures from every decade of his life. These are mostly not my own photographs, but that doesn't matter.

This is Dad age three, in 1923.

This is Dad aged ten in 1930; and as a boy scout later on, around 1935.

Here he is aged twenty in 1940, called up to the Army and training at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire. Then when aged twenty-two in 1942, serving with the Eighth Army at Cairo.

After the war, he met Mum. Here they are in 1946, when Dad was twenty-six. The betrothed couple; and their wedding day at Porthkerry near Barry.

Now it's 1954, and here he is aged thirty-four, with my Uncle Wilf. Both pushing prams on the promenade at Barry.

1965 now, and Dad is forty-five. Here he is with my little bother Wayne at Houlgate in northern France.

From the 1970s, Mum and Dad's social life greatly expanded. I was still at home, but doing my own thing. Wayne was getting pretty independent too, and during the 1970s overtook me, leaving home and getting married much sooner than I did. These shots show Dad enjoying various aspects of a happy life.

Here he is, with a rather glamorously dressed Mum at my cousin Rosemary's wedding reception in 1975; and dancing there with another of my cousins, Sylvia.

A jolly Christmas Day morning in 1976. 

Trying his hand at mackerel fishing at Newquay in Cornwall in 1977. And the Queen's Jubilee Medal ceremonially presented to him at Buckingham Palace in the same year - still proudly hanging in my hall. 

Larking about with Wayne at St Michael's Mount in Cornwall in 1979:

Dressed up for an Old Time Music Hall evening with Mum and close friends in 1980:  

Dad retired at the start of the 1980s, and having moved to Liphook in Hampshire, joined the local bowling club with Mum. Both became very involved with the club, Dad being in his time both President and Treasurer, and Mum a stalwart on the catering side. Some shots from that era.

Dad had no training whatever in drawing, but definitely had talent, and would design the bowling club's social posters. Here's one for a fancy-dress event. 

Club membership involved away fixtures - bowling holidays even - in sunny places. I think this next shot from 1991 could have been taken on one of those jaunts. But equally it could have been on a regular holiday to Spain or Italy. Now which of my parents do I resemble most? Dad was age seventy, Mum sixty-nine.

Eventually excruciating arthritis forced Dad to have a double knee replacement operation in 1993. He was seventy-three. The operation was a success, but his bowling days were over. He kept his sense of humour though!

Later in 1993, I accompanied Mum and Dad on a long weekend in South Wales. Here they are together on the beach at Oxwich Bay on the Gower, in a picture I took of them:

This is a poignant shot from 1995. My younger brother Wayne (now aged thirty-nine) stands full of life and vigour between my proud parents. A few weeks later he was killed in a car crash.

During the second half of the 1990s, and on into the early 2000s, Mum and Dad enjoyed cruising. In 1996, they crossed the Atlantic and back in the QE2. Here's one of the official pictures:

In 1997, I went with Mum and Dad to Exmouth, and we tripped out to look at Dad's boyhood haunts in and around Kentisbeare, deep in the Devon countryside. Here he is at Blackborough, with Kentisbeare far away in the distance behind him. Off to his right (our left) was a track that led to the primitive farmhouse he lived in for much of his young life, his keep paid for by his father (who didn't want to look after him, and let someone else do it). Dad was now seventy-seven.

Ten years later, in 2007, in a pub. Dad was now eighty-seven.

And lastly a shot from 2008, at home. Dad was now eighty-eight, and was taking it easy. But it's still hard to believe that only seven months later he would be dead - of a cardiac arrest. 

Perhaps it's just as well that I don't have Dad with me now. As I said at the start, he would be in constant pain from his arthritis, and it would defeat even his powers of adaptability. I'm glad he was spared that. 

And I think I should stop commemorating these imaginary birthdays. It's highly unlikely that he would have reached the age of 100, or any later age, and I should let the notion go.   

Even so, I have often wondered, during the last ten years, what he might say about my own life  since 2009. I like to think he'd give me full credit for coming through those years rather well. But I can't be sure what he'd think about the person I became, once I was alone, and independent, and free of all the circumstances that had ever held me back. Once I'd shaped my own future, without consulting him. Perhaps he'd still be wistful for the old, quiet, amiable, compliant me, who had always said yes. Perhaps I would make him feel slightly uncomfortable with all the self-confidence and assertiveness I'd acquired. 

On the other hand, he'd have enjoyed the good games of cribbage or piquet I'd have given him daily. And the tasty lunches, with a good pint, in the country pubs I'd have taken him to. And all the jokes we'd share. 

I wouldn't have let him down. 

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