In Memory of My Parents
My Personal Reflections
My father died Sunday 4th November 2001. Our family home in Doncaster was no more.
It was a day I had dreaded. I was finally without family. Travelling back to the house, to rescue as much of our memories as possible, certainly re-enforced that. Yet I have to be thankful for having my father as long as I did. Although he was only 73 years old, his health was frail – a fact that was proven at the post mortem.
I can be thankful that the days when there had been an unbridgeable gap between father and son, lay in the past, and that nothing was left unsaid between us when he passed away.
A Tragic Life
It is cruel irony that as a design analyst, my father worked with computers long before they had begun to take the place they now have. When the computer age really arrived, with Windows 95, my father was almost penniless. Having worked all his working life from the age of 14, he was sacrificed with many other workers to redundancy by Thatcher’s Britain when he was in his fifties. The country he had contributed to became much richer; my father was left with as good as nothing.
When he got his redundancy payout, my father paid off the mortgage and had the house adapted for my mother. She had been in a wheelchair since I was three months old. When the changes to the house were made, it was fully modernised for her. My mother then got cancer, died, and the money now gone, the house fell into disrepair. You could say that it died with her.
My father had therefore a hard life. He did all that anyone could ask of him and more, but was left after forty years of work in poverty and loneliness.
Hobbies and Interests
Luckily for my father, whose health was already weakened by heavy smoking ten years ago (I remember that even then he was getting short of breath), he managed to keep himself interested in life.
In my childhood, my father had built radio-controlled boats. He was quite a carpenter, and made some beautiful models.
Music was though, his passion. Sometimes his insistence on quality came into conflict with a culture he regarded as vulgar: he could not stand the trends that were to make the Book of Common Prayer an endangered species, and the banality that replaced it in so many places. Sadly, it will be for another generation to understand what he was getting at. The church music culture he so loved, and passed on to me, is still being trodden underfoot, and what was once typically English is becoming very rare.
After my emigration, my father seemed to get about – despite his health – and attended many a musical event. He also followed the computer revolution, and kept himself occupied on all sorts of musical projects: whether it was making midi files, or other audio formats, or else using the computer to make lovely scores of music – including a setting of the Norwegian Mass that I dedicated to him. Indeed I am so glad that I made that dedication last year.
Without these interests, I doubt if my father would have lived as long as he did. He became involved; see below, at a local school.
* Doncaster Education Authority (no longer applicable: the school is now an academy)
It was 1996 that I first heard mention of Ridgewood. It became a part of my father’s language, he mentioned the word so often. Clearly he liked being there.
He told me, in a conversation on the telephone that he was “teaching” at Ridgewood. Personally I was a little sceptical, but as long as it kept him happy, I thought it was a good thing. I did not realise quite how involved my father had become at this school until I went to England with two Norwegian schoolboys in 1997. Amongst other things, they sat in at a class at Ridgewood.
It seems that the voluntary work there gave my father reason to keep getting up each morning. He would put pupils’ compositions on to the hard disk, make audio files, and even musical CD’s and cassettes out of them – all with beautifully made CD/cassette covers. He did the same with the school’s concerts and musicals.
In addition he restored the school’s music instruments, using his skills at carpentry. He put, quite simply, his whole heart into the young people there.
Clearly he touched their lives, and meant something to the pupils and staff. In that cold November week, when I was alone in the shell of my childhood home, I received a very warm letter from them.
My father always liked cats. They must have liked him too, since they seem to have lived extremely long lives…
The cat I remember was Scamp. She lived from when I was about six years old, to when I was twenty-four. Then came Sam and Suki, kittens from the same litter. Sam disappeared the same year, as did many cats in the Doncaster area – and my mother believed that someone was taking the animals. My mother was very fond of Suki, and the fact that this particular animal was my last contact with her made the question of what to do with her very difficult when my father passed away.
My mother died in 1990, and Suki was still there with us in 2001. Now that my father had died, it was like she was the only “family”. It was of course impractical to take her out of the country, and I am wholly indebted to Rosemary Moore at Ridgewood who took the burden off my shoulders: Suki was given a new home despite her old age, much to my relief.
Mrs Moore said – very aptly – that “she was part of the ‘set up’”. I realise that Suki cannot live much longer now anyway, but it was good to know that my father’s most faithful companion had been looked after. I am very grateful to Mrs Moore, who contacted me on her own initiative, that I did not have one extra grief and worry when I returned for my father’s funeral.
Although this is both sentimental and very subjective, the truth of Suki being “part of the ‘set up’” impressed itself upon me when I returned “home” from Norway. Although that concept was then falling apart from before my very eyes, I still feel that the house – just – remained “home” for a little while after my father’s death, waiting as it were for me.
The last embers of a fire now quenched, and the warmth of what was once our family were all in the cat’s pitiful cry. Suki recognised me, and welcomed me home for that final time. When she was gone, so had home, and our house was a spiritless cold, and empty shell.
From My Father’s Hard Disk: Pictures of Our Family
One of the first things I tried to do when I was back was salvage the files from my father’s hard disk. Unfortunately, I literally lost every single word document – my father had a feature that did not allow you to recover accidentally erased files, and I had gathered all his word documents into a folder (using the computer’s find search), found that some had the same name and would overwrite each other – and so having got 99 per cent in the folder, I erased it and decided to try it again. However, I had moved the files – instead of copying them – into the folder I had erased, and that was that.
However, I was able to salvage all of my father’s audio and picture files. I shall post some to this blog shortly.
As mentioned earlier, my mother was severely handicapped. Nevertheless, she was a remarkable person, holding the house in tip top condition despite her rheumatoid arthritis.
My mother was a wonderful mother – despite the fact that the social services would have had me placed elsewhere as a baby (and probably would these days now their powers are so much greater). Apparently they had wanted me to be looked after somewhere else, and my mother could see me in the day. My father had shown them the door. In those days parents could still do that.
Apart from a very brief period of weeks when I was about six years old, my mother was confined to her wheelchair. She was stung by a bee or a wasp. My mother was allergic to these, but after recovering from the initial sting made a complete though temporary recovery: for the first time since I was born, she walked as everybody else. Sadly, she was soon back in her chair, and at least twice had to be hospitalised in my childhood because of the intense pain she suffered.
By the time I was a teenager, my mother’s body was deformed by her illness. Yet the house was always impeccably clean, and while she did have good help from Veronica our cleaner, my mother still managed to dust and wash. My father made an ingenious device that enabled my mother to turn the controls on the cooker. She also had a chair lift, which to be frank my father ought to have retained for himself after she died.
Indeed thinking of her example, one really would have to be ashamed of anything less than perfect housekeeping where one is healthy! The year before our good neighbour Mrs Thompson died, another person a greatly miss, I had remarked to her on a visit home that “that house died with my mother”. She had nodded, knowingly.
My mother’s death in 1990 was the last straw for my father, and he lost the will to stop the decay that had begun to set in. Wallpaper decorations begun in that year were never completed, and the wall concerned remained bare while the rest of the house deteriorated. In addition my father lost all his stereo equipment, which because of his poverty was uninsured, to thieves in the middle of the nineties.
The house was also damaged in that burglary, and neither was the damaged door ever fixed. By the time my father died, things were really in a bad way. He agreed to allow me to change the now rotten windows, but this work was never done. He died on his own, in bed Sunday 4th November.
My parents’ lives were without question bitterly hard. I will however remember my home not for the dilapidation into which it ultimately fell; but I will rather remember its good days, when despite my mother’s pains, we were a family living there. Even though we did have tensions, especially between my father and me – we always loved each other.
Some of my parents’ hardships were part of life’s cruel tragedy, like my mother’s illness. Yet the terrible poverty my father endured, often sitting in a bitingly cold house because he could not afford fuel to heat it, or else had to choose between that or buying himself food – this was neither deserved, nor necessary. My father did contribute his dues to the British society, in his 40 years of very hard work. The “rationalisation” so-called of the eighties and the economic boom that some enjoyed were at the expense of others like my father.
Of course like many other things, there is little that can now be done to redress the wrong, and indeed my father’s tragedy will all too soon be forgotten; but if there is a day of reckoning, then some people have much to think about, not least those thieves who took the last few pleasures my father still had. That burglary, which was never cleared up, added yet more pain and grey hairs to an already tortured soul.
Yet someone – because of that burglary – will undoubtedly have had the benefit of my father’s spoil, some very good stereo equipment. I cannot see the moral difference between that and the so-called “economic boom” that was paid for out of other people’s daily bread.
Last updated: 30.03.2002