The following is a tribute that I was honoured to have written and read out at my father's funeral at Hanworth Crematorium on Wednesday, 16th December. As I cannot improve on it, I republish it in full.
Dad, I miss you, but these few words at least will live forever:
My father was born on 14th August 1935, here in Hanworth. But at a young age he moved to 82 Octavia Road on Isleworth’s Worton estate. The fifth of six children, this is where he was raised.
He was, by all accounts, popular amongst the youngsters on his estate. Kids would call round and ask if he would come out with them to play football, over on the green or in the streets as kids did in those days.
After leaving school at fifteen he went into window cleaning, going on to set up his own business which attracted not only domestic customers but also a number of shops and industrial clients around Hayes, at which he earned a fairly good living. He met Mum and they married in April 1959, and between them they managed to buy their own house at 40 College Road, where I was born in 1961.
I have some clear recollections of Dad from College Road. Cutting myself with his razor that he’d inadvertently left lying around as I tried to copy him shaving, sitting on his lap and pretending to drive his car home along the quiet residential street. One memory in particular remains with me. Despite being only about three or four I had at the time a fanatical interest in motor cars, and it was a source of pride to me that I could identify every make and model on the road. Dad would indulge my enthusiasm by taking me for walks around the local streets and listening patiently as I pointed out the Anglias and Consuls, and Morrises or Austins. Even at that young age he was keen to help me develop. He was never too busy to take me out.
Both I - and a little later Ruth – went to Worple Road Primary School, where Dad had cause to be particularly embarrassed by my bad behaviour as the headmistress was also one of his customers on his window cleaning round, and he regularly had to endure tales of my exploits whilst applying his chamois to her double glazing.
Dad was a big supporter of Brentford Football Club, and as a kid he would always take me along. He would talk me through the teamsheet and in due course I would become as familiar with the set-up at Griffin Park as I had been years before with the cars on College Road. One amusing incident from around that time sticks with me. Dad and I were at a vet’s surgery in Hounslow and a guy in there with a dog thought it hilarious that we had taken our tortoise along to have its gammy eye seen to. We both instantly recognised the man as the Brentford defender Tommy Higginson.
BUTLIN'S AT CLIFTONVILLE NEAR MARGATE
Possibly my fondest memory was of the summer holidays that we almost always spent at Cliftonville, near Margate. Back in the day Butlin’s had a number of hotels in the town, and each year we would spend a week in one or other of them. Hotel life in those days was much different to today. Dinner was a set meal served at a set time, and if you didn’t get there for that time you missed out. We would sit at bench tables with other families, interacting with strangers. Each hotel had a TV – just the one, mind – and if you wanted to watch BBC1 you would go to one hotel, BBC2 and ITV were shown at other hotels. Although the rooms were quite posh, the bathroom was along the landing and would be shared with several other families. There were amusement arcades and a ballroom in one hotel, a shop in another. They were happy times.
My father would take me fishing on the old Margate Pier. I loved fishing – Dad hated it, yet he would patiently linger for a couple of hours while I indulged my hobby. Once I was fishing with a handline and there was an almighty pull on the line, so violent that it left my hand and went flying into the sea. Although I’d lost my tackle I was so excited at the thought that I’d hooked a fish so big that it had pulled the line from my hand. Dad though went racing down the steps onto the lower platform of the pier, where two youths were laughing hysterically about their prank. Somehow he managed to persuade them very quickly to hand me some of their own tackle as compensation. Although they were probably only about thirteen I considered at the time that he was quite heroic.
Other times we would go swimming in the pool at the Queen’s Hotel. In his day my father was a powerful swimmer.
One other recollection I have from Cliftonville was when we took advantage of our proximity to France to take a day trip to Calais on a one-day pass. I think it was 1978. It was the one and only time that my father ever left the UK, and the culture shock that he felt was palpable. Dad never had any desire to travel abroad, which was just as well because we later discovered that his birth had never been registered when he was born. He didn’t possess a birth certificate, which would have made getting a passport very difficult.
When I went to senior school Dad demonstrated his interest by becoming part of the Parent-Teacher Association. And when I went on to college to study for a degree he travelled up to Manchester with me on the train on the first day. More culture shock.
As Dad became older he climbed down from his ladder and took up paid employment, first with Fliteform at Heathrow making aircraft fittings and later with Richmond Council. All this time he put up with me as I got into all manner of trouble, and tried to get me out of it whenever he could. He was also an occasional painter and decorator on his days off, and he took me along sometimes to help me earn a few bob, even though I know he despaired of my uneconomical approach to this kind of work.
Socially he liked to end the day with a relaxing drink – or, in his prime, about half a dozen relaxing drinks. He was a light and bitter man (for the benefit of the under 40s amongst us a light and bitter was a cocktail involving half a pint of bitter in a pint glass topped up with a bottle of light ale). This led to a lot of misunderstandings whenever we ventured to any of the more modern, trendier hostelries in which such a tipple was unheard of. My father’s typical “gertcha” moment.
In retirement he loved his gardening, but more than anything he loved his three grandchildren, whom he doted on.
ISLEWORTH ROYAL BRITISH LEGION
I have found myself wondering over the last week or so why it is that I haven’t cried more over losing Dad. Whether maybe there was something wrong with me. It’s not that we weren’t close – we were. Or that I didn’t love him, because I did - and I do. I think the reason is this. Dad did everything in life that he wanted to do. When he had no more reason to drive, he stopped driving. He had no ambitions or desires to travel. He had worked hard and was satisfied in his retirement. In his last year or so he discussed handing over his work for the Poppy Appeal. He looked after his grandchildren. He spoke of his future passing not with fear or with sadness, but with an air of calm inevitability.
I’ll always remember my Dad with fondness and gratitude, but also with a sense of thankfulness that he did more or less everything he wanted to do; achieved more or less everything he wanted to achieve. I hope you’ll do the same – it’s what he would have wanted.