Friday, October 11, 2013

Dad – The days it happened October 11-12th

For once, politicians’ fathers have been in the news lately. There was the appalling attack by the Daily Mail (a paper Dad read, sadly) on Ralph Miliband, the father of the leader of the opposition, and a slightly surprising convivial defence by David Cameron, who said he would most certainly defend his father, “whom I miss every day”, against any attack. Good for him; he went up in my estimation over that.

It is odd to read that Ed Miliband was so badly affected by the death of his father that he needed counselling. It is as though one’s Father’s death is unremarkable, and should not cause profound sadness, dislocation, depression, even (in that 1950s catch-all phrase, a “nervous breakdown”). There is nothing unusual about Ed Miliband’s reaction, and since he has had the courage to admit this, I don’t mind stressing that my Dad’s loss had a massive impact. I didn’t know what counselling was in 1986, but it would have been helpful and comforting, to say the least, to have talked about me feelings to someone sympathetic, who would at least (I hope) acknowledge that significant grief is understandable, is legitimate, and hard to bear. Whether one labels that as mental illness or ill-health, and whether that would lead one to the latest trendy catch-all cure of CBT (enough said about that) is another matter. I’m not sure whether one always seeks a solution to bereavement; it’s a learning experience which is entirely unwanted, and has to be lived with and through. Unfortunately.
Anyway, this is about Dad, not me, and what proved to be his last day. He, Mum and friends were going to spend a weekend in Llandudno, a favourite place. Mum attended a meeting in Wales, and Dad was meant to pick her up on the way. He was packing the car for the weekend, lifted cases…and that was it. He was found later in the car, looking quite peaceful, or so it was said. The front door of the house was open, the faithful dog standing guard in the doorway, and the man next door in Wallasey, a close friend, came to look for him, and found him. Curtain on that.

Mum waited and waited, in Wales, wondering why he did not arrive. Hours later, she managed to ring and heard that he had gone hours before. Two very kind people, who had attended the meeting from mid-Wales, and would have gone South to go home, kindly ran her back to Wallasey. The phone calls, to his many friends, then began, with many encounters with disbelief and shock.
It was now early evening, and I was about to end a two-day break in mid-Wales. The man who had found Dad, a kind man who wanted to do things by the book, said that I should be telephoned. “A son should know when his father had gone”, he insisted. But others said no, and I’m grateful to them. He meant well, but he was wrong about me, at least.

I learned early morning, when my sister, from Middlesex, phoned. The hotel reception people had to come to the room and tell me there was a call from her, which seemed odd. I recall the details – “It’s Dad. We think we had a heart attack, and…..” She went on to tell me, but if the phone had been cut off somehow, I already knew; she was using the past tense. I went upstairs, collapsed onto the bed, and yelled out to my first wife what had happened (she had thought, somehow, that it was something routine). She rapidly finished packing and we drove off through mid-Wales. The world had, it seemed, ended, it was somehow lying on its side. I recall the valley beyond Corris, and saying, in amongst the tears, that Wales could still be a beautiful place – this seemed such an incongruous observation. She told others afterwards – I never regained a memory of it – that I had both talked (no surprise, for those who know me!) and wept all the 90 miles back. I knew all the clichés, and they were all true – an era had ended, nothing would ever be, or feel, (quite) the same again. All that has changed in 27 years is that the “quite” has been inserted. 

And yet, when I got back, expecting Mum to be in a state of daze, perhaps lying down in bed, she was simply there in the kitchen, saying hello. I too would be incredibly calm when my first wife died (although this was expected); at that time, I just went home and started getting dinner ready.

The rest of the family were there, and in a morass of uncertainty and seeming disbelief. My wife seemed, on the surface, more upset than anyone else. She was upset for herself, but upset for me too, and aware, having lost her own father 10 years before, of what it would mean for me. But for her, it was a major personal loss, because Dad had been like a father to her.

The aftermath would be long and complicated, with many and multiple reverberations. One may think that someone’s passing is the end of their life, but it isn’t the end of our life with them. I had no idea how strongly I would feel about my Father so many years later. The memories, and the love that underlies them, live on and on. And so they should, now the pain of familiarity has subsided.

Mr Miliband honours his father, openly, almost 20 years after his death. My Dad held very very different views from Ralph Miliband (as does his son), but having talked (by odd coincidence) with people who knew Ralph M, it is clear that these men shared a common decency. That’s a word marred now by so much clichéd use, but a fundamental nevertheless.

An emotional business, this blogging!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Dad and Knolton Bryn in the 1930s

Until he passed away, Dad and the family would visit regularly his uncle Rowland, aunt Amy and cousin Ronald (Ron) at their home in Knolton Bryn in the Maelor Saessneg area of Wales, and latterly at a bungalow further south, just by the England/Wales border.

I have many happy childhood memories of Knolton Bryn, where Aunt Amy and family lived in a  long cottage that had been two houses. Uncle Rowland had been a cobbler, and his wooden hut still stood when we visited in the 1960s.

Uncle Rowland was Dad's mother's brother; when their own father died, the brother and sister were dispersed, so that Hannah (Dad's Mum) went to live in Wallasey, and Uncle Rowland and his mother went to live, eventually, in Knolton Bryn. Their new home belonged to Edwin Sadler, to whom his mother was married after being widowed.

My dad had many fond memories of his own of the house in Knolton; when he visited it was, effectively, his grandmother's household. It seems that he was sent there for much of the school holidays, as his Mother was working. Uncle Ron was born in 1930, and was thus 8 years younger than him, and I suspect that he explored the area alone. Probably he spent much time around the Bryn - an area of common land that was just outside the house; at the foot of the unmade lane was a tin chapel that Aunt Amy looked after in later years.

Dad was so impressed that he sought to be a farmer after the war, and went to work on a farm in Higher or Lower Kinnerton, on the English/Welsh border; this was probably in 1946. His home movies from the 1960s show a considerable interest in farming, and I recall walking down the lane from Knolton around 1967 with him and Uncle Ron; we visited a dairy farm, and the farmer there told me that if I wanted to be a farmer I should have the sense not to!

I don't know when Dad visited, but I would suspect between the time he went to secondary school (1933) or boarding school (maybe 1935) and the outbreak of war in 1939.

I have wondered how he got there from Wallasey. My suspicion is that he will have taken the train from Seacombe to Wrexham Central, to change there to the local Great Western line that had only opened in 1895. He may well have alighted at Trench Halt (which had opened in 1914). There were eight workings each day on weekdays during this period. If he did continue to visit in 1940, this would not have been by train, as regular passenger services between Wrexham and Ellesmere were suspended in June 1940 for the duration. the service was diverted to buses between Wrexham and Ellesmere, and perhaps Dad used this rather than the railway, as it might have been able to stop on the road nearer to Knolton. However, I recall him pointing out the site of Trench halt in the 1960s (it had closed, with the line, in 1962), when the road overbridge there was being demolished, and I imagine this evoked a memory for him. I will never know, and this hardly matters; but it was clear that Knolton was a place that gave him much pleasure, and an abiding interest in the countryside and farming. Odd for a man who lived his whole life in the same suburban town!

Uncle Rowland died in 1974; Uncle Ron, tragically young, in 1984; I recall Dad at his funeral. Aunt Amy outlived both her son Ronald and Dad; she died in 1987. They are all well-remembered, with much affection.