Today is my Father’s 107th birthday. He was born on 16th April 1900, and died just before Christmas 1962 after several years’ illness with prostate cancer – then a far more lethal disease than it is nowadays.
Although he has been dead for almost half a century, my Father is still a vivid presence in my memory. We loved each other dearly, but we had an uneasy relationship, because there was always a degree of mutual incomprehension between us. I always felt, rightly or wrongly, that I was a different son to the one my parents would have liked to have. I was bookish; they were not. I actively disliked outdoor sports; my Father had played rugby at school and was always fond of golf. My disinterest and poor performance on the links was a disappointment to him. I was devoted to classical music from being a small child, and played the piano – not as well as I would have liked; my Father only became attracted by music during the last decade of his life, when the new era of long-playing 33rpm records [some of which I still have] gave him increasing pleasure.
Worst of all, we did not always manage to be good companions without one or both of us ending up feeling we had trodden on the other’s toes. My Father, when he was well and not worried – a too-rare state – had a puckish sense of fun, and a keen wit. He could tell some very funny stories from his own childhood and life. At these times, he was like the playful older brother that I – an only child – would have liked. But there always came a moment when he drew back, and I was left feeling I had overstepped some invisible mark. In retrospect, our mutual inhibitions were such a pity.
My Father had a troubled life. Born in
Sadly, my Grandfather suffered a severe nervous breakdown in the early 1920s, followed by a dozen years of invalidism that imposed a severe stress upon the whole family, so my Father never became a partner in the family firm, as he otherwise would have done. Eventually, he left to become a financial executive of John Brown & Company – one of the biggest steelmaking and shipbuilding concerns in the country [they built the early ‘Queen’ liners which, in their day, were the largest in the world]. During the 1939-45 war, my Father was Chief Accountant at Westland Aircraft, the West Country aeroplane and helicopter manufacturing firm which subsequently became notorious during Mrs. Thatcher’s premiership. Living in relatively sleepy
The next fifteen years were a busy time for my Father, who worked in the unhealthy atmosphere of smoke-belching steel mills in the east end of
In the event, my Father had to take early retirement and my parents bought a bungalow in
My memories of my Father include many enjoyable times together when I was younger, as well as increasingly anxious ones as his death approached. Above all regret – for him, and for my brave Mother, who worked so hard for each other and for me and who were cheated out of their due reward. When I used to walk around the West End of London – which I can no longer do – I recalled where he stayed, and where we used to have meals together, during his business trips to