I’ve spent a lot of time this last year writing a new book. I’m going to call it Song for my Father because it’s about my dad. It didn’t set off being about my dad, it started as a collection of musings about my own middle age, about where I’ve been, what I’ve done and things that have happened over the years.
Then, one Sunday morning last January, out of the blue, I got a phone call from my brother Andrew who asked me if I would come over to visit my dad.
Nothing out of the ordinary in that you might think, but if I tell you that I didn’t really know much about my dad after I was 15 and that I’ve only seen him about half a dozen times in the last 40 years, you might wonder.
Our Andrew was looking after my dad and told me that he was ill and the doctors had told him he didn’t have long left. He said he was riddled with cancer and wondered if I would come to see him.
I said of course I would come to see him, he lived in a council flat on the edge of the city centre at Hull, where he had been since 1972.
Our Tony and I went over one Wednesday morning and spent a couple of hours with the old man, who was still managing to act about and have a laugh.
We felt a bit sad and wondered why we had allowed ourselves to be parted for all those years. (It’s a complicated story, which I haven’t got the room to even start telling here, but I do tell it in my book).
We ended up going over to Hull four times in the last few months of our dad’s life and I’m glad we did, because we found out more about our father in that short space of time than we had perhaps known in our time as children being brought up in a house full of arguments and falling out.
One of the things he said to us will stick with me forever. He said: “Do you know lads, me and your mam only wanted the best for you, but some things don’t always work out right do they?”
He was going on 80 when he said that and I’m 55 in a couple of weeks’ time, I couldn’t help wondering why he didn’t say it years ago. But then my dad was never one for profundity, he much preferred to have a laugh, to act daft and to poke fun at most things.
My dad spent a lot of his time listening to records by The Inkspots and The Platters. He had a metal detector and liked to go treasure hunting and taught his Jack Russell to do tricks.
He liked what he called cowboy pictures and his heroes were Audie Murphy, John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. He liked wrestling as well and his favourites were Jackie Pallo and Les Kellett.
When I was a boy he called me Cheyenne Bodie and sometimes Mouse, I suppose because I was little. The first thing he said to me when I got to his flat was: “Can tha remember when tha fell of that donkey at Blackpool and squashed thi ice cream?”
When I came back from one of my visits, I decided to change the theme of my book. I would write about my dad, or more to the point, barely knowing my dad.
The book is finished now and I’m quite proud of it. It’s about making peace and finding that there’s a smile to be had even in sad times.
My dad died last October, he managed to stretch the six weeks the doctors gave him to nine months. In that time I found out all sorts that I’d never known. One day he said: “Did you know that your auntie Hilda once went out with Maurice Chevalier?” I didn’t believe him but there was a twinkle in his wizened old eye that said it might be true.
Another time he said: “Stan Laurel’s last words were “I’d rather be skiiing!” And then he started laughing and coughing.
I’ve been trying to remember what my dad’s last words to me were. I suppose I wanted amongst all the banter and the corny jokes for them to be something quite poignant, but they weren’t.
As I was going out of his bedroom door on my last visit, he said: “Hey up Cheyenne Bodie” I said: “What is it?” He said: “Umpa umpa, stick it up your jumper!”
I hope my new book will be out in October and I hope it will show what a comical old devil my old man was. It made me chuckle when I was writing it anyroad.