Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Tales of my father

My father once walked out of my sister's house because she had served him lasagne for tea. He got up, pushed back his chair and announced that he hadn't survived the second world war to be served 'itie' rubbish. Poor girl, there she was innocuously dishing up for the family with grandad come for his tea. Like me she'd thought that years of annual golf dinners at the only Italian restaurant in town had prepared my father for the delights of Italian cuisine. But he had apparently always had the steak chips and peas and quietly pushed his mushrooms under his napkin.

The grandchildren sometimes get themselves 30 minutes of fun by asking grandad about the war. He was actually just too young to serve (and may be that explains aspects of his personality) but he did have a job as messenger boy for the Home Guard. He has great tales of derring do, mainly bicycle based, him dashing around the countryside with messages for various far flung outposts of dads' army. We had bombs drop near us but not near enough for genuine danger. It sounds like he had a lovely time and was most self important. Extra hot chocolate too.

After the war he did his national service and was lucky enough, I think, to go to the Far East - Singapore. There he lived on a big base with many other young men. In the photos they all look about 15 and he is so young, so innocent and so cheeky! I can tell that it was here that he was happiest, with his mates all serving a common cause. Paydays were spent in the city spending he wages. Cigarettes and a decent meal - steak, chips and peas. Of course. In all hi time there he never sampled an authentic meal (or 'foreign malarky' as he puts it). Such a waste. They played pool and cards and wrote letters home.

At the end of his National Service he went to a dance in the local dance hall and saw my mum. He went up to her and asked her to dance. She mentioned she hadn't seen him for a while, 'well I've been in Singapore for 2 years, in the RAF' 'oh I see, that'll be why then. Wondered where you were'. Two months after they were married and 9 months after that my sister was born. The wedding photo was taken but not developed. They couldn't afford it. After my mother's death my sister discovered the negatives and took them to the same photography shop that had taken them (44 years previously) and had them developed as a gift for dad. They now have pride of place on the sitting room wall. My parents. Never before seen by us like this. Two extremely young, extremely nervous strangers.

They lived with my maternal grandmother for a while and later with dad's mum. My mother hated her. She criticised and picked fault and generally made her life a misery. When mum was pregnant with baby number two, the council took pity on them and gave them a 2 bedroom flat. I was born there.We never had many photos taken, money being a small thing but never enough of it with four children to raise. He took photos I think but could never afford to have them developed. No pictures were displayed in our family home but a biscuit tin in the wardrobe was a box of delights to us. Photos of strange people dressed in fur trimmed coats next to flash cars, babies in huge high prams and then a photo of granny on her wedding day next to a fierce looking grandad. A couple of pictures of my father so young, so thin and so shy in his uniform or off duty vest and slacks. Smiling in the company of his friends in Singapore. Looking uncomfortable standing next to a 'sight'. Holding a cigarette, looking hopeful. A handful of photos of us children (around 5 of me and none of the youngest, poor soul) looking like refugees from the eastern bloc all in a line with our hand me downs on sitting on chairs with torn upholstery or else a checked picnic blanket.

After mum's death the four of us poured over these photos in the days after her death searching for clues to our family's past and maybe future. And now I think of it, no pictures of my parents together nor strangely, none of her at all. But on the wall of my father's home there shines the photograph of the two young hopefuls, shy and uncertain and together for ever.


Pondside said...

Beautifully written. I think you've told a story that could be repeated about so many families. I loved the description of your newly married parents and the picture you made of you children on the torn upholstry, like 'eastern bloc' children.
Don't you dare take another year-long blogging break!

bodran... said...

So poignant,and like pondy i love the description of your newly married parents....

Frances said...

May I agree with Pondside and bodran, in their comments. What you write about your family, and the unknowns touched many familiar chords in my soul.

Thank you. Hoping to see more writing from you soon.

Faith said...

Oh that was a very sweet blog to read while I had my afternoon cup of tea. I love old family photos. Would love to see that photo of your parents if you could put it on your blog. (I just take photos of photos and they work out ok).

Exmoorjane said...

James would be with your father - he loathes lasagne....!
Lovely story - and now you've got me wanting to see that photo of their wedding.
Same here - very few photos of us as children as film and developing were pure luxury. Can't imagine our children being able to envisage that. Lovely to see you back again..... jxx

Sally's Chateau said...

lovely description and how poignant too to have the photographs developed after so many years

Ladybird World Mother said...

This is absolutely lovely. So glad I 'happened' upon it. Please write some more!