09 July 1999

Father

“Don't want you…” - but my brother didn't say, “…want my daddy.” Probably because daddy didn't stay long enough after his birth for my brother to form any memory of him. Not even I, almost two years older than my brother, have any memories of our father at home in Birmingham. Well, a vague one perhaps, something about coming downstairs one morning to find his father painting the walls purple; but that has been thoroughly refuted by his mother on numerous occasions. "Him? Painting? No bloody chance!"

So what became of the father? A legal secretary, as was my mother, he left, allegedly as unreliable with money as with cassette-players, and his sons saw him only occasionally. At first everyone would meet in a café somewhere, and then the father and sons would go off together for a while, maybe overnight (at one point he lived above a fish-and-chip shop); and later, when he had moved to Stratford, the two boys would visit for weekends or the even odd week during school holidays. If increasingly infrequent, these were enjoyable occasions, at least for me: we could get away with things there that we couldn't at home; there might be presents, small perhaps, but there; exotic foods that my mother and stepfather would never buy, like traditional lemonade, and little bowls of peanuts and things to go to bed with. And Stratford was much prettier than Birmingham: the Shakespearian half-timbered houses, the park over the river, opposite the theatre, where there were splendidly weeping willows along the bank. Of course, it wasn’t all wonderful, often somewhat boring: many visits to pubs, like 'The Rose and Crown', where my brother and I would be left to watch science fiction movies in the children’s lounge, which wasn't so bad after all. But there was a certain element of pride in the father, which sometimes manifested itself as bragging enthusiastically to friends about his children for a while, then instantaneously forgetting about them, having settled into a familiar bar-room scenario. Not that Joe's father was an alcoholic, in the sense of being compelled to drink vast quantities of alcohol before crawling home drunk; that never happened while we were staying. But he was very sociable, and it was in bars in particular that he liked to be sociable. And we often got hungry and had to pester him for crisps.

Once we went to a holiday camp, and enjoyed ourselves immensely: for a whole week there were games, swimming pools, activities of all sorts, and discos. And plenty of bars. I even won the junior disco dancing competition, which was, it has to be said, nothing short a miracle. But perhaps I was less self-conscious in those days. The only bad thing about the whole week was one afternoon when my father instructed us not to disturb him for a few hours and to play outside, for no apparent reason: perhaps for an afternoon rest, though it may just as easily have been sex, but at the time we were of course far too young to think of things like that. But eventually I needed the toilet, but couldn't find one, and didn’t want to disturb him, so had to shit under a bush. A few minutes later the father opened the door of the chalet in which we were staying.

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