Thursday, 18 October 2012


Dad's funeral was last Friday. To say I'd been stressed about it really doesn't do justice to how bad it was. For starters, my Mum was convinced I was ripping her off and that funerals really don't cost thousands of pounds, and so she wouldn't sign the cheque to pay for it. Problem solved when Mandy (Naughty Little Sister) got here from Germany - Mum always does what Mandy tells her. Problem reared its head again when the Funeral Director phoned to ask where payment was as it was in the terms and conditions that the deposit (two-thirds the cost) be paid three days before the funeral. This was three days before, and Mandy's car had broken down, plus Mum was being recalcitrant because she'd been out of the house once that day already :-(

So the only option was to pay on my credit card and hope Mum would pay me back. then there was all the worry of how the service would go, as I'd organised everything from the date and place to the order of service, the flowers and the music - there was no other way as my sisters live too far away. I discussed most of it with Mandy, but I still felt responsible - and worst of all I was worried no-one would turn up. You see, the telephone book my Mum had next to the phone had none of Dad's friends' phone numbers in it. Or any of his relatives - and we haven't seen Dad's side of the family for ages really. I knew lots of Dad's friends were dead (he used to joke that 'I spend so much of my time on Bushbury Crematorium, there'll be no bugger left to see me off'), but there was definitely Big Cyril to contact and he was nowhere to be found.

Once again, Mandy saved the day, putting notices in the local paper and somehow finding Big Cyril's phone number. Then, would you believe it, when she phoned up, Cyril had only ALREADY PHONED MY MOTHER to apologise for not being able to attend the funeral due to ill health!!?? And she'd seen me looking around the house like a headless chicken a million times looking for his number! She may be senile, but she doesn't half play on it when she feels like it!

Then there are the things you aren't prepared for. For me the big shock was choosing the clothes for Dad to wear in the coffin. We'd decided on 'comfies', but picking them out and seeing his things, smelling his smell, it was heartbreaking. And the photos for the party afterwards - all those pictures of him from a child up to a grandfather - all that life, and experience and emotions; all the specialness of the person that he was, all come to nothing, all now just a shell in a coffin.

So after this, strangely, the day wasn't too bad at all. My sister and I both spoke, and it was a ceremony full of laughter as well as tears - at the things we said and the exit music - 'Theme from The Great Escape' (it was the last bit of music I listened to with him). Some of his old work colleagues came, his niece came, and we had a really good party afterwards too.

This is what I said - not sure how I got through it, cos I cried uncontrollably every practice when I got to the last few paragraphs -but I did, and I'm really glad I did.

Five Things My Dad Taught Me

1. Take good care of yourself and your things
Dad was a great believer in doing things properly so that they would last. He’s one of the few people I know who actually reads instructions and follows them He was never much of a reader, but he had manuals for his car, for DIY, and for healthcare, and if anything went wrong, he’d look up how to fix it in one of his books.

When we were little, Mandy and me used to think it was really funny when Aunty Mary would come and visit at Christmas, and without fail she would ask Dad, ‘have you still got all your own teeth, Harry?’ We didn’t realise how unusual it was at the time for someone his age to have kept them and Dad kept all his right into his late 70s. He went to the dentist every six months, and always made sure we did too, and I can confirm that partly thanks to Dad’s good example, both Mandy and I still have all our own teeth. I’m not sure about Susan tho....

Mandy’s talked about how Dad was a great one for DIY and repairing things, but what was odd was that for a man so meticulous about doing things properly, he had a blind spot, and that blind spot was his belief that anything could be repaired with gaffa tape. It didn’t really matter that by 1979 our Christmas tree was more gaffa tape than tinsel, or that the mat in the kitchen still doesn’t move because even though the gaffa tape is long gone, the sticky remains. What really kept us on our toes were Dad’s gaffa taped electrical appliances. There was the electric razor that delivered little shocks as you shaved your legs. Then there was the death-trap light-fitting that shocked you if you tried to change the bulb. And of course the incredible exploding iron that made doing the laundry that little bit more exciting. It’s lucky Bill and Matt were good with electrics, otherwise Dad may not have lived to the ripe old age he did.

2. If you don’t know the answer, ask the internet
In later years Dad discovered the internet. That’s not to say he was into technology, because he couldn’t even turn on a computer, but he knew that whatever he wanted to know, the internet could tell him, and he could contact it via his daughters. So Dad was always phoning us up saying things like, ‘my insurance is due, can you ask the internet what’s the cheapest buildings and contents? Or ‘can you ask the internet is Val Doonican dead?’ Sometimes he did expect a bit much, and questions like, ‘can you ask the internet what’s wrong with my mouth?’ or 'can the internet do anything about tax?' did make me wonder if he thought we were communing with some sort of oracle.

3. Children should be seen and not heard
Dad used to say this a lot, but it must have been more of an aspiration, because he really wasn’t that strict with us and we could be quite boisterous. He especially didn’t like our game of ‘give us a cuddle Dad’, where both of us would climb all over him while he tried to fend us off. In the end, if it all got too much he’d have to resort to asking Mum to ‘tell ‘em, Beryl’. 

We did drive him to distraction sometimes, and one time at a particularly noisy Sunday lunch he shouted out, ‘less eating, more talking!’ Which was obviously the opposite of what he wanted to say, but it’s been a regular saying at the dinner table ever since.

4. Nothing is too embarrassing
Nothing ever fazed Dad and things that would be embarrassing to other people were the source of a good story for him. Quite soon after Mandy married her first husband, she fell downstairs and thought she might have broken her ankle, so she phoned Dad to take her to the hospital. He dropped her at the entrance and went to park the car. By the time he got back to A and E, Mandy had disappeared, so Dad went to reception and said he was looking for his daughter. 

‘Name?’ asked the receptionist. ‘Mandy... Amanda, ‘said Dad.


Well, she was only just married. ‘Hmmm, I don’t know,’ said Dad.

‘No problem, date of birth?’

‘No, don’t know that one either.’ By this time Dad had noticed he was getting a funny look from her. ‘Well I’ve got four of them, I can’t be expected to remember all their birthdays!’

The receptionist wasn't very hopeful by now. ‘Address?’

‘Hmm, now... I don’t know the name of the road, but it’s near the corner, just opposite where the butcher’s used to be....’

Well somehow she tracked Mandy down, and called Dad back to the desk.

‘Follow that green line around to the left.... No. (sympathising voice) You just wait here love and I’ll get someone to take you.’

And my ex-husband will never forget being left alone with Dad for the first time. He came running into the kitchen in shock and said, ‘your Dad has just taken his trousers down and shown me his hernia scar!’. Back in the living room Dad was a bit puzzled. ‘So, this Anil? He’s not a doctor then?’

5. Your dad is the one person you can always rely on
As well as always rising to the special occasion and being the life and soul of the party, Dad was also the person you would turn to in a crisis. If you needed rescuing, Dad would be there. If you were in trouble, if you needed someone to talk to the Police, or take you to hospital, Dad would be the person to call.

But it wasn’t just the dramatic things. All our lives Dad drove us around wherever we wanted to go – music practices, nightclubs, lifts home whether you lived in Birmingham or Cardiff, he’d take you there. He’d do little things that we didn’t really think about at the time too – if you had paint on your hands he’d clean it off with his special rag and thinners. And if you trod in dog poo, you’d leave your shoes outside the back door and next day they would be clean, like magic.

It’s only since he hasn’t been around at home that the amount of work he used to do has become really obvious. It was Dad who kept the house in order and the garden tidy, and for someone of his age it must have been a full time job.

Most of all, Dad was the person who always knew what to do. We didn't need to ask the internet because if you had car trouble, he could give you a rough idea of what was wrong. He could tell you all the steps to wallpapering properly. If you wanted to know how to unblock a toilet or apply for a passport, Dad would tell you. He wasn’t someone for talking about emotions, but if you were worried or upset he’d say, ‘it’ll turn out right in the end.’ And you would know that if it went wrong he would be there to help, so it was reassuring. My first thought when I realised Dad was dying was that without him I had no idea what to do – and I no longer had anyone to ask.

Dad would have loved to have been a professional footballer, and if the situation had been different, he might well have been - he played for his school team and for Wolverhampton boys, and was proud that he was often mentioned in the Express and Star. He always said you could tell a really good player by watching what he does off the ball. Well Dad lived his life like he played his football – he wasn’t just a star when all eyes were on him, he always worked hard, even off the ball.

We are all going to miss him very much.

Night night,  Dad.

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