Eulogy

Yesterday was my dad’s funeral and being the wordy-stand-up-and-spout son, it fell to me to say a few words. Given my lifelong habit of talking to crowds in a diverse variety of contexts you’d have thought it would be easy. It wasn’t.

“If you asked my dad if he wanted peas or carrots he would say, “Yes please”, and he could murder an entire box of Rum-Babas in one sitting.

Possibly that’s because he was deaf and didn’t hear the questions properly, but to be fair he never was much one for social subtleties or the Art of Conversation.

Nor did he know everything. I remember my first encounter with a bidet, in an Austrian hotel room when I was eight. When I queried its purpose, he was clearly as clueless as I was, and in the end mum had to intercede with a “I’ll explain when you’re a bit older”. She never did.

Dad taught me how to keep score in cricket matches while we watched Dennis Amiss repeatedly smack the ball over the cover boundary at Edgbaston, how to cook a slap-up English breakfast, how to fertilise tomato plants with a cotton bud and how to read a map and not get lost when walking up hills.

Other than these very pragmatic skills, he only gave me one piece of advice that I remember. We were in the car driving up Queen Elizabeth Avenue when I was very young and I asked him whether he thought marriage was a good thing. He paused before muttering “I suppose so if you marry the right one” before pointing at some pretty woman walking down the pavement and commenting that she was “a nice piece of crackling”, which he was wont to do quite often.

I should mention the books too…whole shelves of them at home, lovingly collected from his subscription to the “Companion Book Club”. Hammond Innes, Alastair McLean, Monica Dickens. Other kids would point at them if they came round and ask why there were so many books. To read them, maybe? At the very least I grew up understanding that reading books wasn’t peculiar.

After my first divorce he visited me in Leeds, unasked, and stayed two days. He went with me everywhere I needed to go. Sat in the solicitor’s waiting room while I went in for my meeting, things like that. He said nothing to me at all because he did not have any clue what to say. But he came and was simply there, he knew enough to realise that was worth something.

He was my dad, and he always wondered how I was doing. That’s what they do.”

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Everything and nothing

I have just finished reading Bukowski in a Sundress, the ‘memoir’ of Kim Addonizio.

It isn’t really a memoir in the linear-narrative traditional sense, it is a series of essays, illuminating facets of a life via the equivalent of a short story collection rather than a novel. Clever girl.

What it is about? She staggers drunkenly (sometimes literally so) between being passionate about the importance of her life, and dismissive of its absurdity. She doesn’t know where or how to live, caught between two binaries and liberally quoting Keats’ concept of ‘negative capability’ along the way.

“I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Don’t you just hate binaries?

A few weeks ago as I sat with my father for the last time, he spent a lot of time imagining he was drinking from a plastic tot of orange juice. His hands were actually empty, just manipulating empty air. The cup of juice was on a table beside him, untouched.

Is there a difference?

What do we write about?

Everything, and nothing. So quit with the silly questions.