Saturday 29 November 2008


This is the little speech I gave at my Dad's funeral earlier this year. I had meant to put it on the blog at the time, but instead hid it in the drawer. So not in the normal run of things...and more for me than anyone else....

I’m sure my Dad…our Dad would be pleased to see the family gathered here today. And typically in our family gatherings I suspect he would be glad to know he is the centre of attention…but on balance would have preferred it if he could have had a raucous sing song whilst drinking that strange combination of whiskey and orange squash. A drink I once tried but only once.

When coming to write this I realised that there was a lot to say, but not really much time to say it. And that is true of life itself. There is too little time…we all here have got to whatever age we are now faster than we expected…and that was true for Dad too. He retained a youthful and mischievous glimmer in his eye even though age and illness took its toll in recent years.

I think a father’s role is to inspire through his own successes buy also through his weaknesses as well. I think Dad did both in good measure. In the areas where Dad was great I have been inspired, and where there were flaws, I have learnt. Today I just want to mention a few things that shape my memories of Dad’s life.

It has come as a surprise to be standing here today…and I have to say not least because even to the end, Dad insisted he was fat …and forty.

You Jean, Sheila and Dermot will know better than I how hard life was when you were all young. Dad used to tell the story from those times of how he used to steal the evaporated milk by making a pin hole in the bottom of the tin and sucking out the contents. Evidently Nanny Bowman could never work out why the tins she bought were always half empty. It was always a story told with affection…I truly believe that he understood that what ever the deprivations of his childhood, they were good family times.

He was a very generous person. I remember lavish Christmases…always a present or two in the morning, a much anticipated table present over dinner and then the excitement of handing out the presents when everyone had gathered in the afternoon. These were good Christmases and as I have grown up, I have missed the large family gatherings. But it wasn’t just at Christmas that Dad showed his generosity. At many other times when someone was in need, he did not hesitate to help them out.

I remember Christmases for another was a time for Dad to take centre stage and sing one favourite or another. He may not have been Mario Lanza…but he certainly aspired to it. He could be the life and soul of any gathering. And, as I understand it, that was quite an achievement for someone who was really quite a shy person at heart.

Although Dad was often absent as Kevin and I grew up there can be no doubt that he loved and cared for both of us immeasurably. And I believe we have learnt from that experience – and become very involved fathers to our own children. It is a role we love and enjoy every moment of every day.

Dad was full of surprises. You can imagine the surprise when Dad took me up to his new home in Leek for the first time and there was a lady there…never previously mentioned. If I remember rightly she was simply introduced as Doreen. His ability to surprise never left him. It was, after all, just eight weeks ago that over the telephone he announced “I’m married”…something that perhaps he could have mentioned four or so years ago. But that was Dad…and it brings a smile.

At work Dad has been an inspiration. From the shop floor he worked his way up and into the Board room. In those times, that was a remarkable achievement particularly in a family owned and managed company.

Cooking was one of those things that Dad enjoyed, and somewhere that his talents brought joy to others. Favourite dishes were scampi wrapped in bacon and ham cornets. Always a pleasure and a treat. For me it was a shame that in later years he lost his cordon bleu skills…and perhaps more of a shame as Fred here will testify is that he didn’t manage to transfer his expertise in the kitchen to me. That is not to say that he lost his love of food...because he didn’t…even if favourite food became Mr Kiplings Almond Slices.

I don’t know anyone else whose father has built a boat to take the family on holiday. The Norfolk Broads were a firm favourite…and I well remember one son being plucked from the water having fallen in trying to catch a dead fish, and the other son being rescued having sunk into the muddy banks up to his knees and beyond. They were fine holidays.

Dad was a caravaner. There were holidays to the South West and others to the Lake Districts. I do though think he took it to the extreme when he first came up to Stoke on Trent, and the caravan became his home.

Dad spent many hours playing cards…one form of patience or another. As he got on I noticed the rules seemed to change or perhaps he tended to cheat a little more…but I don’t think we begrudge him that do we?

But I just want to return to that drink of whiskey and orange squash. The one time I tried it was after O levels, I persuaded him that we wanted to give one of our teachers a bottle of whiskey to thank him for everything he had done for us. Instead, of course it was for a school boy’s party. I managed half the bottle mixed with squash and have regretted it ever since. I suspect Dad knew the bottle was not destined for a teacher, but chose to indulge me and turn a blind eye to the misdemeanour. He was good at that – and it’s been a lesson to me to know when to indulge and also when to turn a blind eye. It’s quite a skill to have learnt.

In his later years, Dad knew his time was drawing to an end…but that didn’t stop him fighting with the same determination. For him life was a journey and he travelled well.

Friday 28 November 2008

Jingle bells

Christmas is a coming. The season starts for me 1st December it's on that day that I stop changing channels whenever a Christmas advert, that's been showing since August, comes on the TV. Actually, all those impossibly glamorous ads for the latest perfumes and aftershaves means that the turkeys should start feeling nervous. Equally the countdown to the holiday ads which start on Boxing Day also begins. So the excitement begins to build...especilly as it seems this year we'll be having flurries of snow throughout December.

We'll get our office Xmas tree from the very fabulous Borough Market at a price which is about double what anyone with any sense of reason or fairness (or credit crunch) would charge for it, but it'll look lovely once we've put the lights and (corporate orange) baubles on it.

At home the Xmas Decs will go up around the fifteenth of the month...Brighton has a very unsophisticated 6' fibre optic tree which kinda catches the spirit of the season, but in Buckhurst Hill there just isn't room for a tree, so we throw some sparkly lights on the bushes which I've done my utmost to kill this year...inability rather than anything deliberate you understand of course, I hope.

Today, whilst trying to find my way to Cavendish Square, being guided by a satnav which has little sense of direction, and certainly doesn't know its left from its right, I ended up somewhere between Piccadilly and Soho, ducking under some gargantuan snow men hung across the streets. Which was nice. And then turned into Regent Street, where the Christmas lights are a beautiful series of twinkling spiderswebs. Fabulous.

I love Christmas...secretly I still believe in Santa Claus, love the Christmas lights and remain convinced that there will be six inches of snow when I wake up on the 25th, and relive happy childhood memories of large family gatherings which just seemed to go on and on and on.

But this year, Christmas has become a bit of a challenge...for the last four years, the boy and I have dutifully trecked down to Llantrisant to spend time with The Wicked Witch of the West. It seems only fair that if TWWOTW has lost her daughter, then grandson should be there. And the boy has always enjoyed going. The first couple of year's the boy's sister deigned to honour us with her company, so it was a good family gathering for the two of them. But the sister has singularly failed to keep in touch with "itttle bruvva", almost since they were separated and she went off to live with her father whilst the boy came to me. And she is less and less inclined to come across to the Christmas celebrations.

Equally as time has gone on, I've felt more and more like a rasher of bacon at a Jewish wedding (sorry, not PC - please suggest acceptable alternative)...not that I'm not welcomed with open arms, its just that they didn't speak to me for five years from the onset of divorce procedings until the day that the brain haemorrhage struck down the boy's mum. So it's always a little uncomfortable (my problem, not their's)

And then last year, after a day of doing nothing but watching TV (apart from a couple of hours when I escaped for a very long walk by myself), I vowed not to spend the day in Wales again.

Which went down like a lead balloon when I told them ("Well you're always welcome you know"), but the boy merely shrugged his shoulders when I started dropping hints about nine months ago. And he's right, it's my decision not his...but some guidance would help.

So all well and good providing we have a good alternative. But we don't. I haven;'t got a Plan B, let alone a Plan A.

At one stage I thought we might get to ski for Christmas...but tightening of belts and declining business haven't allowed for that

And there's a high risk of the boy and I in Brighton entertaining ourselves for Christmas Day. And even I know that's not good.

So either I swallow my pride, make the arrangements to go west, or spend a day full of guilt-ridden which should it be?

It's cold outside

Oh no, tomorrow is Saturday, and it's the last home match of the season, so I'm duty bound to stand watching thirty boys running around chasing an odd-shaped ball for an hour.

Not that I'm not interested.

Not that I'm not fearsomely proud of the Boy being in the first fifteen (I never had the drive, skill, enthusiasm and determination, let alone the motivation).

Not that I won't be cheering him and the rest of the team on.

No. It's just that it's bloody wet and freezing out there.

Still, Bancrofts is renowned for putting on the best post-match food.

And yes, I'm tired, selfish and grumpy today.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Life through a lens/Sureality

The unfolding events in Mumbai (called me old fashioned, but I'm afraid I still have to translate that back to Bombay, in the same way, Beijing sticks in my head as Peking...however Rhodesia has made the transition to Zimbabwe) are truly shocking, and today I've been following it on the live text feed on Sky News, whilst generally avoiding work. In amongst the regular updates on bombs, fires, hostage taking, death and destruction has been the effect on the cricket...will England stay, if so where will the next test take place and so on. Now I do appreciate that cricket is almost a religion in India, but equally I think that whether the cricket goes ahead or not probably shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as how many people have been slaughtered. Perhaps I'm wrong.

On a different level altogether (and I appreciate I might be accused of some hypocrisy here), the route I cycle in to the office is a lovely main road through Epping Forest. The local council has taken it upon themselves to clear the path between the road and the forest of fallen leaves...and you can imagine that at this time of year there are a fair number of them. And the way they do it is to sweep up the leaves into big plastic bags, which are left at the roadside for collection at a later date. The logic of this defies me completely...surely, you'd simply sweep the leaves into the forest (there's no physical barrier to stop this) to nourish the grounsd, and do all those things that would happen in the normal cycle of plant life. I keep meaning to take a picture as I ride past, but keep sorry about that.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

On the job

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in a judging session at the Royal College of Art, for a competition that we're involved in - Toyota are launching a rather fab city car, the iQ, in January and have teamed up with the RCA to challenge students to come up with ideas that embody the concept of 'intelligent urban living'. Some of the ideas are weird, some whacky and some excellent...but I can't reveal anything for fear of getting into trouble. I was surrounded by some of the cleverest design experts in the country, and the atmosphere was quite rarefied. I should point out that I was an observer, rather than a judge. Nonetheless I found it very exciting.

But what occured to me was that, when I was 13 there was no way I could ever have predicted or imagined that one day I would be sitting in an office in the leading institution of its kind looking at newly-borne ideas that could potentially change our world. Regularly I sit in meetings surprised to be where I am, and wondering how I got there. I'm not sure what I thought I would be doing now when I was 13...I suspect my vision didn't extend much beyond the sixth form, perhaps to university...but I'm sure no further.

At the moment the boy has his career ideas firmly fixed on MI5 or MI6...a combination of too much James Bond, and me telling him that he can go in the Army Cadets but woe betide him if he thought he was going to put on a military uniform once he leaves the school cloisters. I'm still hoping that, as predicted by a fortune teller before he was born, he will end up as a marine biologist...and that he'll spend his time in some tropical paradise amongst the fish and coral.

I suspect, though, that we'll both be wrong and he'll do some unimaginable jobs, which probably don't yet exist. I find that quite exciting.