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.

…footnote

…I should maybe also add that the last two weeks have, in addition to the death of my father, seen my eldest son move out permanently and go back to live with his mother (after 6 rather difficult months of co-habitation) and me, erm, fall in love. At my age.

I do so have to make things complicated.

Memory is a cruel mistress

Recently wrote a poem based on a conversation with a friend that took place about 3 years ago, about a third party. He texted me to say “ooo I like that poem it reminds me of someone I used to know”.

Well, yes. It’s the same person. You just forgot we had that talk.

This happens to me constantly. My memory of what I say to people and what they say to me is, I estimate, about 38 times more efficient than most people’s. This is great if you’re a poet. I reckon I could sit at home and write poems for thirty years solid without ever having to have another experience again.

But personally, it’s shit. For starters I have a moderate reputation for being a man of few (verbal) words. I tend to assume that if I have said something once, then it will be remembered by others as well as I remember it, so it doesn’t bear repeating. I also tend to assume that anything I say will be taken and understood in the context of everything else I have ever said, rather than heard and evaluated in isolation. I stagger conversations over several meetings, adding to things I said the last time we met, without seeing the need to recap. I talk in spirals rather than straight lines, overlapping circles of conversation over time.

This probably makes me very, very, annoying and at times, completely incomprehensible. At least poems are self-contained without the need for context (or they should be) which is perhaps why I like writing them.

The other problem is that attempts at lying/hypocrisy/revisionism are generally immediately obvious to me, which does not make for smooth relationships. I suspect that most friendships are greatly enhanced by the almost complete inability most people seem to have to remember a damn word anyone says to them. Assuming they were even listening to start with. Then there is the beer thing. I remember what I say when drunk. Other people claim not to. This may be no more than an excuse to say what they like when in pubs. I dunno. 

I’m sure my social life would be greatly improved overnight by a set of earplugs.

Of course, a capacity to remember all the things flags up, constantly, just how conflicted and contradictory most people are, most of the time. It becomes an in-yer-face facet of humanity that can go one of two ways.  You can either sink into a pit of despair over just how little sense human beings make OR you can sigh and feel all compassionate about just how rubbish we tend to be.

I’m no better. I talk constant twaddle.

Truth‘ is pretty malleable when it comes to human stuff. At best it may be what is true for that person on that day, but next Wednesday? Anybody’s guess.

Personal blogs are great for this. You can (if you feel inclined) sift through someone’s posts over an extended period and find all kinds of glaring contradictions and non-sequiturs. Proving that bloggers are real human beings rather than robots. That we are all as confused as fuck.

 

 

Oscillations

 


She clasped her arms around her knees
burying her head in the sand of her thighs
eyes closed
listening to the ocean come
again and again to kiss her toes.

OR (revised version, bit twee maybe)

She clasped her arms around her knees,
head
sunk in sandy thighs.
Eyes closed,
she listened to the ocean come,
in gentle beats to touch her feet
and kiss her twinkle toes.

[pfft ideally needs to be somewhere between the two]

Version 3 [gratitude to Deborah Love]

She gazed beyond her deformed legs,
watching tankers chuff and grumble,

…[bollocks her eyes are meant to be closed. Come back tomorrow]

Version 4

The girl stood on the burning deck,
her hands holding a froggy,
they both jumped overboard to see,
and now they’re both just soggy.

[That’s enough of that. Write it properly tomorrow – Ed.]

Version 5 (sigh)

She clasps her arms around her knees,
eyes closed;
listens to the ocean’s beat,
while waves repeat their cautious reach
up beach to kiss her toes,
then playfully retreat.

[No – Ed.]

Version 6

Arms clasped around her knees,

eyes closed;

listening to the ocean come,

again, again, to kiss her toes.

[you don’t know when you’re beat, do you? – Ed.]