So apparently its Fathers Day today, or as I prefer to call it “Hallmark Cards Mid-Year Sales Boost Day” so it may be timely to write a few words about my own father, dead and gone these past fifteen years full story here.
I had a great dad, not a nationwide hero like Bobby Moore or an international hero like Neil Armstrong, he was though known to many of his friends in many different circles and if you met him you’d like him especially if beer and singing was involved, or snooker, better still billiards.
He was born on Nov 11th 1923 so was just too young by a year and a bit to “join up” when the Second World War started and so he joined the Local Defence Volunteers, also known as the “Home Guard” when the threat of invasion from Germany was at its paranoid highest, I always like to think of him as the original “Pike” in TV’s “Dads Army”, he learned to shoot an air rifle with them but they were never armed with anything more threatening than a broomstick while he was under their command, Christ knows what would have happened if we’d ever been invaded for real what with all the brooms in the country having their sticks detached like that, the place would have been a real mess.
On his 18th birthday in Nov 1941 he joined the real army and although I don;t know what regiment he served in he was enlisted into the Transport Corps which suited him fine, learned all about large trucks and how to repair them with random stuff you find laying around the roadside and was then dispatched off to Africa, not to fight with Monty’s Army in the North but to spend a very pleasant year or so driving trucks full of supplies from Nigeria on the west coast to Ethiopia and Kenya on the east coast for onward shipment to the British Army’s efforts in India and the Far East.
I wish now that I’d written down some of the stories he told of his time in Africa more details here but I still have a drawer full of small monochrome photos that he took during that period, mainly of lines of trucks driving along narrow mountain passes, a dead donkey (why?), or his “boy” which he was allowed to have as a Sergeant in the British Army, a Sergeant in the Motor Pool, my dad really was Sergeant Bilko in more ways than just the obvious.
When the Italian Army capitulated in Africa their Corps was sent some prisoners of war to use as they saw fit being that the British Army didn’t know what to do with them and it was during that time that he nurtured his dislike of “bloody foreign muck” as he would describe any food that was not roast beef, two veg and potato, just to emphasis this in later years as he attended head office functions at the company he worked at he would come home with stories of new fangled foodstuffs that he’d tried and surprisingly liked and it was in this way that my brother and I came to be introduced to garlic salt in the 1960s, “Garlic” he explained, “in salt, its not proper garlic because I’ve eaten that bloody foreign muck when the Italians made our meals in Africa, but its garlic salt, goes lovely with steak it does” and me and our Ned would sit on the floor and gape in admiration at our father, the world traveler and gourmet food expert, garlic salt indeed, whatever next.
Later in the 1970s when Ned and I grew old enough to go out to pubs and consume copious amounts of alcohol our Ned came home one night with a pizza, the first we’d seen, “Its cheese, on bread” our Ned explained as, several sheets to the wind, he brought the box into the house late one Saturday night, “What the bloody hell is THAT” our dear father declared as soon as the lid was opened, “it bloody stinks of garlic, get it out of the house you bloody idiot” and no matter how much our Ned tried to explain that it was basically cheese and bread he had to take it outside and sit on the doorstep in the dark to eat it, then put the box in the rubbish bin round the back as even the box wasn’t allowed in the house, “I know all about bloody pissas,” our father explained, “I had enough of the bloody things in the war”.
Driving across Africa, a native boy as a butler, eating pizzas, people would pay a lot of money for holidays like that these days.
Above anything else he loved two things, no not me and our Ned, the snooker table and singing to a crowd of adoring fans, as a 15 year old his family had lived just over the road from a club that had two snooker tables and although he was supposed to be apprenticed to a machinist at the nearby Yorkshire Switchgear engineering works he spent most of his spare time, and an awful lot of what was supposed to be working time, learning and playing billiards in the club under the tutelage of an old chap by the name of George Hughes, together this billiard grand master and my teenage father toured the local working mens clubs relieving many men of their hard earned wages at the billiard table and in later years my father still treated George Hughes as a surrogate father, “GeorgeJews” as I thought he was named when I was a kid, was a regular at our house and every Saturday Ned and I would be dispatched out of the house with our dad to “give your mother a minutes peace” and he’d take us to his office for a few hours, then go pick up GeorgeJews and go to their club for a few snooker or billiard sessions leaving Ned and I sitting around the bowling green (rain or shine) with a bottle of coke and a packet of crisps, I learned on those Saturdays how to make a bottle of coke last for two hours. More snooker days here
He was still playing snooker well into his seventies and even with glaucoma in both eyes he could still wup the pants off most of the young kids who’d take him on for a couple of quid a game, they never learned and he swore that the tunnel vision that comes with glaucoma actually made him play better.
He’d never go out anywhere socially unless there was some form of entertainment on hand, not for him a night sitting in a pub talking when around the corner there may be a working mens club with a “turn” on and it was because of this that Ned and I never really got to socialise with him very much, sure we occasionally went with him to a working mens club and our Ned played golf with him constantly in later years, but we never did that father/son thing where you just sit in a pub and share a pint, shame – on the other hand I worked for and with him for six years before his retirement so there wasn’t much to say at the end of each working day after that.
Singing was his big thing, most clubs would have a “free and easy” night, which meant that the concert secretary had forgotten to book a turn that weekend and it was on occasions like this that our dad would step into the breach with his Sinatra and Bennett routines , you never had to encourage him to jump on stage, snatch the microphone and start the set with “Thats why the lady is a tramp”, Sinatra wasn’t a patch on my dad, in fact when I was very small I used to think that my dad WAS Frank Sinatra – the radio was always playing in our house, ALWAYS, and occasionally the radio announcer would mention this Frank bloke and he’d be on singing the same songs that I used to hear my dad sing at the Cayton Bay Holiday Camp Talent Competitions, so it must be my dad on the radio, obviously.
After our mother died of “the bloody cancer” in 1991 he would not settle to retired life on his own in a bungalow in north Leeds for he and our mother had discovered Benidorm – if you wrote down everything in life that my father adored you would then write at the bottom of the paper ” = Benidorm” for it had everything he needed especially during the winter months when Benidorm becomes that largest retirement home in Europe, Benidorm vs England is akin to Florida vs Northern USA in the winter when the elderly migrate to a warmer climate and a society that doesn’t mind them spending their pensions on the odd sweet sherry and a bingo game, our dad left England to live in Benidorm for nine months of the year and thus began the last phase of his life, the phase during which he lived the life of a teenager at 70 years of age.
He’d ring me every Sunday evening at 7pm prompt from a coinbox on the main promenade on the Levante beach but old habits die hard and pension money is better spent on beer so he quickly learned that the Spanish coinboxes would connect a call, even an international call, for ten seconds before you had to put a coin in, so my phone at home would ring at 7pm prompt, I’d pick it up and there would be that international call echo on the line and my dad quickly shouting “0034 96 xxxxx” before he got cut off – I grew adept at memorising strings of numbers dependent on which coinbox he was using and I’d have to ring him back, “Thats better” he’d say “we can talk now…” and he’d spend the next half an hour on the phone telling me all of the antics that he and Brian (his flatmate) had got up to in the previous week, while I picked up the bill – after seven years of that routine every Sunday, even today if the telephone rings at 7pm I’ll jump up ready to memorise another coinbox number, expecting to hear his voice.
He shared an apartment with Brian, one of his mates from the Leeds Working Mens Club scene and they were known to everyone as “The Odd Couple” after the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau film, my dad being definitely the Lemmon character to Brians Matthau, they arose around lunchtime, my dad would take a walk across town to his “ladyfriend”, a former Spanish TV star (the Cilla Black of Spain we were told) who had a fancy apartment at the north end of Levante beach which she shared with her three dogs, and my dad would let himself in and take the largest of them, a Belgian Shepherd named Brenda (lordy me), for a walk along the length of the Levante promenade and back again, stopping for a coffee in the same bar at the same time every morning – his favourite trick was to pretend to be Spanish to all of the English pensioners who were holidaying there and to shrug his shoulders as if he didn’t understand them when they asked if they could pet his dog, later he and Brian would spend the afternoon at “the bottle bar”, a simple lock-up bar that only sold bottled beer and probably didn’t even have a licence but was cheap and so got their custom, not only their custom but their ownership too as they got to know the Spanish owner so well that most days he’d disappear off somewhere and leave my dad and Brian in charge of ripping off the tourists.
Later on in the evenings, like about the time I’d be ready for bed, they’d get ready and go out on the town, every night of the week, and I mean EVERY night of the week, without fail – The Traffic Lights bar was their bar of choice simply because they had a “free and easy” night every night there and every night the patrons were treated to Brians comparing skills and my fathers “tell a few gags and then a Sinatra song” routine – 2am, 3am every morning would find the pair of them drunk as skunks driving my dads Renault back to their apartment like two naughty teenagers, “As long as you don’t hit anything the police don’t bother you” he’d offer in explanation, so that was alright then.
unsurprisingly when the end came it was via The Benidorm Disease, liver cancer, an ailment which most British Benidorm residents seem to expire from having emigrated out there to live like teenagers in their 70s they burn out pretty quickly and if he hadn’t gone there and lived in his bungalow in north Leeds, perhaps going out once a week, he’d probably still be alive today, he’d be 90 this year, but probably totally fookin miserable at having wasted the last thirty years of his life sitting in a chair looking out the window at the neighbours over the street – I don’t begrudge him one minute of his Benidorm days burning the candle at both ends and in the middle as well, not one minute wasted and hundreds of songs to sing.