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Eulogy for my Dad

By John ~ Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I’d like to just take you back to Liverpool, 1959 at the Cammell Laird shipyard and my Dad’s 5 year apprenticeship as a Shipwright is coming to an end, they had this to say:

“During the period that Oxton has been with the company he has given satisfaction in respect of conduct, timekeeping and ability.”

We have other work references and they all say the same thing with increasing emphasis on his skills as a carpenter and shipwright. Notable for me is his record book for the merchant navy. From the beginning of 1960 straight through to the end of 1969 every certificate of discharge in his record book is stamped with the same thing describing general conduct and ability… Very Good… stamped for each without fail, not a single blip.

I don’t know very much about this time in my Dad’s life, I can only imagine it was a fascinating decade, travelling the world during the 60s. I don’t know much because Dad was a quiet man. He always said what he wanted to say but never anymore.

He’d given me hints of his time at sea and I was fascinated that he’d sailed through the Panama canal, more than once, and utterly terrified on hearing how he was sent out on deck, no safety harnesses, during a massive storm to fix something or another, “I could easily have died” he pointed out in a matter of fact sort of way.

He once told me that the scariest thing he experienced, in all that time at sea, was being lowered off ship in a wheelchair after an accident landed him in hospital with back injuries.

So far the picture I have painted is of a quiet, hardworking, disciplined man but that’s not the full picture at all. Whilst recovering from his back injury in hospital he was starting to get a little bored so he and a friend, one I assume he’d met at the hospital, decided to take a tour of London. The problem was my Dad couldn’t drive because of his back and his friend couldn’t quite manage the clutch because of the cast on his leg. They overcame this with a simple and effective plan, Dad’s friend did the steering and acceleration whilst Dad took care of the clutch.

So a mischievous sense of humour too and it was this that made him such a great Dad.

He did despair occasionally at my lack of ability when it came to practical things and couldn’t quite understand why I found it so difficult to stick two bits of wood together without the nearest shelf falling down as a consequence… but then I couldn’t help but sigh a little when his answer to a broken bit on his computer was to spray WD40 into it.

Still, I wouldn’t be here sighing about it had he and Mum not worked so hard to buy me an extraordinarily expensive BBC computer way back in the 80s. A Christmas present that had a profound impact on the rest of my life.

I have to say though, their mischievous sense of humour came out on that particular Christmas eve when Mum and Dad told me they hadn’t been able to afford the BBC after all and had got me a Sinclair ZX81, much less of a computer as far as I was concerned and I struggled to hold back the tears!

Not too long ago I visited Bletchley Park computer museum with my kids only to discover a room full of working BBC computers which we sat and programmed for a good hour or two, which lead to us downloading some software to start teaching them programming, which lead to lots of other amazing purchases, such as a bit of electronics for making game controls out of bananas. So like I said, a great Christmas present.

We made a decision not to bring Dad’s grandchildren today. Josh, the eldest is on his induction day today for Secondary School and Lottie and Dan are just too young to really understand what this is all about and besides we feel very sure Dad wouldn’t have wanted them to have to sit through this.

They have made some drawings which we will leave today.

The kids thought the world of their Taidy.

Dan, a typical boy, was, as you might imagine, fascinated with all the dangerous stuff like pen knives, whilst Lottie used to ‘accidentally’ spill her Battleships board every time she got a sense that Dad might be winning.

They also used to buy him Liquorice, constantly. He was never short of Liquorice.

This summer we will be coming to camp in the back garden for a few weeks, as the kids do every year. I am sure there will be plenty to talk about then.

Talking of the back garden, as most of you know it was less of back garden more of a woodland on a very steep hill and my Dad loved nothing more than hiking up into it and chopping down some trees, he did tell me that he’d always wanted to be a lumberjack.

I absolutely hated going for logs and it’s been a running joke every time I’ve come back home, “Shall we go and get some logs?” he’d ask.

I got married a few months ago and my Dad called me over to him as I was walking out, took me by the hand and shook it, one word, “Congratulations” but it was all in the handshake. It was a memorable moment.

When I remember my Dad it will be as a quiet man and a contented man, happy with his trees to chop down and most happy when making things. We never exchanged anything profound in words but he did things that left an impression. He was clever like that.

Quiet though he was, we did have moments to have a little chat about this and that, about life, what to do about this, how to approach that and I’ve tried hard to think what he’d have to say about this situation.

I think he’d have said something like, “Ah well, life goes on” and left it at that.

So, life goes on, hard as it is.

Let’s just keep talking and take one simple step at a time.