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The International Writers Magazine: Memories

Dad's looking down on me
• Chris MacAdie
My father who died in 1990 is still looking down on me from above, all these years later. He was a very intelligent man, one of three very intelligent children. His father I'm led to believe had a brain the size of Scotland, where he came from.

He, my grandfather that is, started life in Wick, right up in the north east corner - the last place before you fall off the edge - and gradually worked his way down to London. I say 'gradually', because one fact that sticks in my mind is that my parents' first house when they got married was the twenty-sixth house that my father had lived in. And he got married in his early thirties. Every year or so, grandfather would change jobs - he was a chemist - and move to somewhere a little bit further south. He finally ended up in East Finchley in London, I think, and held one of the most high profile chemists' positions in Britain, that of Chief Pharmacist at the Royal Free Hospital in London. He was sort of Chief Chemist to the government. Lots of conjecture here but the basic idea is solid, I can't check it with anyone anymore!

Father was considerably less peripatetic and only ever lived in five houses during his life thereafter, dying at the age of 82. And three of those were in his last 15 years of life.

He was brought up in this brainy environment and was a person of the old school. Straight, full of moral rectitude (lawyers were not to be trusted, being people who'd argue your case for money, whether they believed in it or not), not given to messing about, was always tactful but called a spade a spade. And the real joy was that he was blessed with a wonderful sense of humour. In any number of social situations today, a word or a situation will bring one of his sayings or imitated accents to mind ('Right lad, 'ave yer got yer waders on?' and that's 'weeeeders' as in north country speak!). And then I have a little inward smile - no-one else would understand. At English-speaking gatherings, I do sometimes try to imitate his imitations, but it usually falls flat on its face (as you can now imagine). They needed to be there at the time.

When I have these moments I often think to myself whatever happens to the spirit of such a lovely old chap like that. I tend to think of him in the latter part of his life, I suppose because I remember more of that period generally. Whatever happens to the memory? I glimpse some of his mannerisms on occasion in the mirror. I used to see them in my brothers and I noticed one or two reminiscent gestures when we had a nephew visiting a couple of months ago. So he lives on a tiny bit although no-one apart from me knows, certainly not my nephew.

I am now the only person alive who actually lived with him and has such a deep knowledge of his ways. I have an aunt - my mother's sister - who is now in her hundreds and will have some memory of him. I have a sister-in-law who, obviously, will have lots of memories, but not those of someone with profound knowledge. My son's only recollection is of a man sitting on the edge of his armchair on a Saturday afternoon, jumping up and down watching the horse racing on the television and shouting 'Come on Jehoshaphat! Come on Jehoshaphat!' He was a keen horse racing man and was director of Ladbrokes in his later professional life. The pictures of him handing cups out to jockeys abounded - those that haven't been thrown away are now confined to a draw somewhere, as they have no real meaning for me.

I went to Malta a year or so ago and met up with his second in command when he was working out there. He, too, obviously has lots of memories of his dealings with my father, and is an elderly gentleman himself now. We discussed them a lot over a pleasant family dinner (his not mine). I also met two now senior staff in one of the hotels he was a director of for many years. Oh yes, they remembered him: 'Don't worry about serving me, it's the guests you want to concern yourself with!' They, too, have fond memories.

I find it sad that in just two generations all these things are lost. My son only has one mental picture left of my father and I only have one of his father, but I think I only met him once or twice. Only if you have done something memorable (like writing this piece perhaps) will more of you be immortalised, but generally after two generations you're reduced to a 'he' or a 'him' - 'he had seven children and, as was usual for that time, only three survived him', or something like that. Nothing to do with your personality just basic facts. Even with the advent of the internet I don't know that much more than the bare facts will be recorded for posterity; the warmth won’t be there.

And thinking about posterity, what about all my father's possessions? He had loads of 'stuff' so where did all of that end up? He wrote a play once I recall. I never read it although he did mention it once and I saw it at the back of a drawer when I was nosing around. I'll never read it now, it's lost and gone forever. The only things that I've still got of his are a safe, a thing that two strong men have to lift together to get it off the ground, not the sort of thing that you can lose, and a load of garden furniture. I must say that I have warm feelings sometimes when I look at those seats and benches. He spent a great deal of his latter years sitting in the sunshine under a tree on one of them whenever the British climate allowed. I can almost see him sitting there now - different position, different country, and I’ve even painted them a different colour, but I have a vivid imagination. I sit on these benches in the sunshine myself from time to time and I wonder what he used to think about.

But I'm not telling you the whole truth! What I also have of his is quite a lot of pictures and framed photographs. I've got them hanging all over the place, even in places that they're not ideally suited for. He loved paintings, the larger the better, and I have inherited this passion. My office walls are plastered with them! I have one photo that he wasn't particularly fond of, it's one of him, taken when he was about fifty years old, so more than fifty years ago. He's wearing a smart, dark, three-piece business suit and is sitting at his desk, fountain pen and note pad at the ready, looking very serious. I must say though that he has a bit of a Mona Lisa smile which cleverly reveals more of the man to those who knew him.

But, as I said, that's only me now.

Anyway, there he is hanging on the wall behind me in my office, reflected in my computer screen, looking down on me smiling wryly at my attempt to leave something of us both to posterity.

© Chris MacAdie, November 2013
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