The3 Sounds of Wycombe and Poets …

25/09/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘The Sounds of Wycombe and Poets’ by Ms Paige Turner
It’s a busy week. Well, it’s National Poetry Day on Thursday so you might expect me to be so. Last Saturday the Gerrards Cross Festival hosted eight poets reading their own word wares and also hosted ‘Rhyme & Reason’ prize winners. This anthology has raised over £60,000 for the Iain Rennie Grove Hospice over the past 27 years and I am proud to be part of its history. Jill Wallis who has been the editor and beacon for some years is needing to spend more time on her own Masters so anyone interested in keeping this tiny literary gem going, contact me and I will pass your details on to Jill. The festival raised a good sum (TBA) for Mind and Iain Rennie. I read and did the bits in between.
I will be performing from my collection ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’ at Hazlemere Library this coming Thursday from 10.30 am for an hour. Free Entry and coffee and biscuits.
And if you missed me this morning on Wycombe Sound Radio/Mid Morning at 11.00 am then you can get me on catch up.
Creative Ink classes for the Spring Term begin on Tuesday 9th January for 5 weeks. £180 to include up to 3000 word assessment/editing/proof read and coffee and biscuits. Email me for an enrolment form and syllabus.
Sorry if this is all a bit ‘admin’ but as I say, it’s a busy week.

‘Zigger- Zagger’

10/09/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Zigger-Zagger, Zigger-Zagger, Oi, Oi, Oi’ by Ms Paige Turner

Fifty years ago Peter Terson’s ‘Zigger-Zagger’ was staged for the first time at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre in Holbein by the National Youth Theatre. Terson tells the story of Harry Philpot, who initially finds some meaning in life by becoming a football fan. Quite frankly, he gets buggered from all sides: a flighty mother who introduces him to a number of ‘uncles’; a medical officer who finds him physically lacking for the army; a careers officer who gives him a job as the human end to an automated fruit packing conveyor belt; a rowdy gang of football hooligans who introduce him to petty crime; a bitchy girlfriend who falls in love with a football celebrity and a boring sister and brother-in-law who present a cosy but boring lifestyle. The scenes all take place in front of a backdrop of 50-100 football fans who, Greek chorus like, ‘comment’ on Harry’s progress or lack of it. The possession of Harry’s soul is the central goal of the play that even the football fan vicar does not succeed in winning. Who knows where Harry’s soul will end up?
I went to see ‘Zigger’ last week at Wilton’s Music Hall in Whtechapel staged again by the National Youth Theatre. It doesn’t lose its touch and at its core it’s as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. I wasn’t in the original production but I did play bitchy girlfriend Sandra to Karl Howman’s Harry in 1972, graduating to Harry’s (Patrick Field) insipid sister Edna in 1975, both at the Shaw Theatre for the National Youth Theatre.
It was uplifting to see the play on the go again. The part of Harry is usually played by a Cockney which would have been appropriate considering the location of the staging but I was pretty blown away by Josh Barrow’s Geordie protagonist. After all, the playwright himself is a Geordie.
I was also conscious that when I performed in ‘Zigger’ in the seventies the future lay before me and now it is mostly behind. But hey, how lucky was I to be part of it: not once but twice. Yay to all that energy.
Creative Ink for Writers’ classes start this week and we are full.

Jan’s upcoming perfs of ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’:

Gerrards Cross Philosophical and Literary Festival/Poems and Pints – Saturday 23rd September.

7.30 pm for 8pm at The Memorial Centre, East Common, Gerrards Cross, SL9 7AD. £8 to include a drink. Tickets available on the door and in aid of the Memorial Centre and Mind.
Contact Jan if you would like to read from and sell your poetry collection.

Hazlemere Library – National Poetry Day – Thursday 28th September 2017

10.30 am to 11.30 am. Free Entry



Falling Over in Style …

25/08/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

Falling about In Style by Ms Paige Turner
Mister Double Cream and I have fallen over: not fallen out and not together. I had followed his appearances at Wimbledon on Facebook in awe this summer. He has been a spectator and privy to some grand Wimbledon cocktail parties in a wonderful pink jacket. This spurred me on to get there for the very first time and so I did. It turns out that Mister Double Cream from Uxbridge (one of my three Blog Readers) fell over and dislocated his shoulder ending up in A and E as a result of … playing a tennis match.
I visited Vienna for the very first time this summer and in my haste to secure tickets for the Spanish Riding School, I fell up the marble steps. It shakes you up. Mister Double Cream said that at least I had fallen over in style. And so has he. I wish him a speedy recovery and think it’s a rather drastic ploy to get out of reading at the Gerrards Cross Literary Festival on Saturday 23rd September at 7.30 pm when I will be hosting local poets reading. I’m then on at the Hazlemere Library on Thursday 28th September at 10.30 am for National Poetry Day doing my ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’ stuff.
Here are the contact details for both and in the meantime I shall be getting back on my horse and putting on my lipstick which we must all do when the chips are down. Mister Double Cream, I can recommend some nice shades. The Spanish ones are practically all white.
GX Literary Festival: £6 from
Or £8 on the door to include a drink for Mind and the Memorial Centre, GX.
Free Entry for the Hazlemere Library on National Poetry Day/Thursday 28th September at 10.30 am.

Three Gentlemen from Gerrards Cross

04/08/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Three Gentlemen from Gerrards Cross’ by Ms Paige Turner
This week I led a workshop entitled ‘Unlocking Your Creative Unconscious’ at the Gerrards Cross Memorial Centre.
I asked the writers to bring in an object which had some resonance for them. We do all sorts of things with these objects and not necessarily the obvious. But one gentleman of 93 brought in his medals and told us about working as a mechanic on the spitfires during World War Two and the buttoned up shoes he wore as a child. Another gentleman, slightly younger, at 92 brought in his uncle’s memoir written during the Great War. His uncle was the clerk typist who recorded court martialled soldiers’ testimonies during the First World War. And as I threw out the idea of writing about ‘First Kiss’ this sprightly gentleman told us about his: 72 years ago. And Reader, he married her.
A third much younger gentleman brought in copies of a solitary letter sent by his father to his family during the Second World War. His dad said he had been a bit busy to write home: the letter was dated May 1940. He was busy at Dunkirk.
I am in awe of these Gentlemen from Gerrards Cross and adore stories. And on such a week of Paschendale Anniversary.
Performances of ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’.
Gerrards Cross Philosophical and Literary Festival/Poems and Pints – Saturday 23rd September.
7.30 pm for 8pm at The Memorial Centre, East Common, Gerrards Cross, SL9 7AD. £8 to include a drink. Tickets available on the door and in aid of the Memorial Centre and Mind.
Contact Jan if you would like to read from and sell your poetry collection.
Hazlemere Library – National Poetry Day – Thursday 28th September 2017
10.30 am to 11.30 am. Free Entry

Some ‘Red Lipstick’ Perf Dates for Your Diary and Some ‘Red Lipstick’ Perf Feedback

28/07/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

Some Red Lipstick & Revelations Perf Dates for your diary and some Past Perf Feedback

Gerrard’s Cross Philosophical and Literary Festival/Poems and Pints – Saturday 23rd September.
7.30 pm for 8pm at The Memorial Centre, East Common, Gerrards Cross, SL9 7AD. £8 to include a drink. Tickets available on the door and in aid of the Memorial Centre and Mind.
Contact Jan if you would like to read from and sell your poetry collection.

Hazlemere Library – National Poetry Day – Thursday 28th September.
10.30 am to 11.30 am. Free Entry
A Guest Speaker at Words for the Wounded LitFest at Downley Community Centre, Downley, High Wycombe HP13 5TR – Saturday 21st April.
Contact for tickets.

South Africa:
Fish Hoek Scribblers – Thursday 19th October 2017
7.30 pm. Contact:
Fish Hoek Library – Friday 27th October 2017
10.00am. Contact:
Off the Wall – Thursday 2nd November 2017
7.30pm at A Touch of Madness 12 Nuttall Road, Observatory. Contact:

And not forgetting you can purchase a copy of Red Lipstick & Revelations here:

Red Lipstick & Revelations Perf Feedback

Beaconsfield Library

Congratulations on your successful library ‘show’ yesterday. I call it ‘a show’ because of the performance values that bring the poetry alive. And the addition of props added to the feeling that your poetry is rooted in the real word of personal experience. For many poetry is hard to fully appreciate (or understand) on the page, for your audience the addition of drama really illuminates the experience and the understanding.
Only a few poets can do this and fewer still, I expect, can do this as well as you. Personally, I like the idea of telling ‘the story’ behind the poem, or putting the poem into context with a prose explanation. Maybe something to think about for the next volume of verse. Phillip Sheahan
I thoroughly enjoyed your performance yesterday. I liked all the poems, especially God and Lipstick.
Fauzia Rahman
Hi Jan, I’m so glad I was able to come yesterday. It was like going to the theatre. You had no reason to be nervous you were so professional I felt I hardly knew you and you looked amazing.
Christina Blake

Just wanted to say a very big thanks for such an enjoyable and successful afternoon yesterday at the library. As was universally agreed your readings of your poems brought them to life and made the whole event so vibrant. I thoroughly enjoyed did the others. I’ve attached the feedback forms we had handed in.
Good luck with all future ventures. Kind regards Helen Goreham/Head Librarian Beaconsfield Library

Hi Jan,
Just to say it was such a pleasure to see you earlier and, a joy hearing you!
I’m already loving your book, it’s going to be trusty companion!
Enjoy your Summer and see you in September…..All the best, Louise x

I enjoyed your poetry reading very much. Terry Hobson

Comments from the Beaconsfield Library’s Feedback Forms: ‘More please’, ‘Entertaining and illuminating’, ‘Enjoyed hearing the poetry and useful to hear Jan’s and the audience’s comments on the poetry. 10/10


Gerrards Cross Bookshop 28th June 2017

It was wonderful Jan. Inspirational to hear such a great poetry performance and also to see friends from 2015 once again. It really does make a difference to hear live poetry. Richard Candy

So lovely to see you and I’m so proud to know such a hard working and talented woman. Heather Smith

Great to see you today, I really enjoyed the reading. Elaine Mulvaney

Thanks Jan,
you read really well, and I’m not just saying that because I know you. The range of voices and inflections – you brought each individual poem to life, I enjoyed it immensely. Chris Johnson

Book Launch Saturday 22nd April 2017

Well-done ! I have immensely enjoyed the evening: your wonderful poems and the readings which were faultless. Jen is so poised and natural. Michelle Gunner

It was so lovely to be able to join in your success yesterday and once again I must congratulate you. I am, quite frankly, full of admiration for your ability to express yourself so beautifully and thoughtfully in your poetry. Chrissie Thomas

Congratulations on a lovely evening. Theresa and I really enjoyed the poetry readings. Hope you find your glasses. Sue Benwell

I want you to know how much Peter, Dorothy, and I enjoyed your reading yesterday evening. The poems are (of course) of the highest quality and your presentation made them come alive. This was probably Peter’s first experience of a poetry reading, so it is great that you have shown him how interesting and entertaining it can be…not that every poet is capable of doing what you did!! I’m very glad to have a copy of your new book. Sally Willison

Very enlightening night, last night, I enjoyed it, a new experience. Jill Dannhauser

Really enjoyed Saturday night and so did my friend Sandy

What a talented lady you are :-) Lucia Crowden

I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday evening and I know that fellow Creative Inkers did, too. The poems really came alive. Jane MacKinnon

I loved your poetry reading. It is the first time that I have ever been to a poetry reading and it made me realise how important it is for poetry to be spoken aloud. Claire Abbotss

Thank you for this evening and congratulations on a most enjoyable event. I shall enjoy reading the rest of the poems in your excellent collection. Sorry I had to slip away, but I hope lots of people stayed to buy your book! Jill Wallis

What a fabulous evening! Thankyou so much for asking us to your book launch + back to your house afterwards to celebrate. I think the launch was an absolute triumph – how brilliant to have a variety of voices and props and to have interaction with your audience, it made the whole thing really come alive. I hope the book sales are going well – we bought another 2 yesterday from Amazon to give as birthday presents! Alison White

I have just posted a review on Amazon for your poetry under the name Burns. So moved by it. Brilliant. Pat Abercromby

Thank you for such a wonderful evening on Saturday. It was lovely to see you again. I thoroughly enjoyed the entertaining poetry readings and the touching stories behind each one. The poems were all so colourful and unique, each with their own individual style and rhythm.
You looked absolutely stunning in your red dress. (MS PAIGE TURNER HERE – I REALLY LIKE THIS COMMENT …)All the best with your fabulous new book. Diana Reeve

Indigo Dreams on Marlow FM Radio Interview
We’ve just had a very convivial listen to your interview, Jan. What a cracking piece and thank you for your lovely comments about IDP too. Much appreciated. If we notice lots of publication enquiries coming from the Marlow area we know from whence they came! Dermot sounds a jolly nice chap as well. We were both struck by the clarity of your reading, easy on the ear and enhancing the poems as only the writer can, not rushed or embarrassingly forced or over-dramatic. Super.
I’ll post your Sarasvatis off tomorrow which will await your return. We hope the SA trip is gentle on you and that your case is lighter from sell-out book sales on return!
And yes, I know I’m breaking the rules emailing on a Sunday but we wanted you to get this pre departure.
Go well and safely, Jan, continuing to raise the roof for poetry.
Dawn & Ronnie

Thanks Jan I consider it to the best interview I’ve ever done on Marlowfm. Great news the film you featured in won a Bafta you must be very pleased with that, Thanks again Dermot Fitzpatrick

Love All

16/07/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Love All’ or ‘By Default?’ by Ms Paige Turner
Mr Double Cream from Uxbridge gets a free poetry crit for emailing me with the name for ‘happy accident’ from last bi-month’s blog: serendipity.
I’m sure his appearance with his good wife on Centre Court, Wimbledon and appearing on Facebook with Rod Laver was no accident but the result of his other half’s hard work with Tennis.
However, it was a happy accident that I managed to get tickets with Miss Trial my daughter, for Centre Court and saw Roger Federer glide through one of the early rounds. (He likes to get home by 8 and watch EastEnders.)
Anyway, I am so pleased that Mr Double Cream, along with 29 other people, managed to get to my showing of ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’ at the Beaconsfield Library last week even though Jo Konta was playing and the sun was shining. I didn’t actually realise that the audience were given feedback forms and asked to fill in marks out of 10! Thank goodness I didn’t realise …But thanks, audience for my full marks.
I never used to get full marks for Reading Aloud when I was eight but I did write a poem entitled ‘Drawing Board’ about Susan Nash who did. I had just sent Susan a copy of my poetry collection (which can be purchased by the way on as we have only just recently linked up on Facebook. At the end of the Library Perf a lady came up to me and said, ‘My name is Susan Nash too.’
Added to this, every year about a week before the 12th July, Orangeman’s Day, a host of beautiful orange lilies bloom in my garden. I never planted them. Then on 15th and 16th July they wither: every year. Yesterday, Saturday 15th July, St Swithins Day, was the 40th anniversary of my father’s premature death: born and buried in Belfast. To form, the lilies bloomed about ten days ago and then have withered overnight. Serendipity?

Tuesday ‘Get Inspired’ classes are full but I have one writer wanting to switch to the ‘Get that Book’ arrangement which has two free places. So if you would like that Tuesday ‘Get Inspired’ place email me.

Happy Accidents

01/07/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

‘Happy Accidents’ by Ms Paige Turner – Blog 167
Since my last posting I’ve done a themed Summer evening workshop in Amersham which accidentally happened on the hottest of Midsummer Nights with Catherine Klyhn booking the Seasons Café also by coincidental accident. If you would like to attend the Wednesday 13th September Autumn workshop email me.
I’ve also performed my One Woman Poetry Perf of ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’; at Gerrards Cross Bookshop. I realised that sitting in audience quite by accident was my former illustrator: Heather Smith, my former ‘Dear John’ script writer: Elaine Mulvaney, my present Evening Workshop Producer: Catherine Klyhn, my Perf Reviewer: John Moore, my former Rhyme & Reason Marketing Director: Angela Dennison and the wonderful Richard Candy (what a great name to have) who is a puzzle book contributor on and featuring a pledge by Richard to create 100 puzzles in a book raising funds for the county’s mental health. I was in warm happy company and cheered by these happy accidents. You don’t need to be associated with writing to come along to one of my perfs. The next one is at Beaconsfield Library on Thursday 13th July, Reynolds Road at 2.30 pm for an hour. It’s free entry and free parking in Waitrose car park opposite. Complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits.
A third happy accident was meeting up with Pat Brewin nee Pat Eastwood. Pat and I hadn’t seen one another for 51 years. We were best mates at Oval Primary School in Croydon sharing a fondness for imaginary horses and Enid Blyton. She spent (what you call now) Year 4 in hospital. The class wrote Pat a letter and she gave me a photocopy of mine which began: ‘Miss Hughes is making a book of poems. I hope yours goes in.’ It seemed like a happy accident or was it? I also finished off with ‘We have now done all letters in real (joined up) writing except the letter q.’
I have been trying to avoid them all my life. You will not find one here.
We met, of course, in the British Library.
The first person to email me the literary term for ‘happy accident’ will get a free one poem assessment (up to 20 lines) which is worth £10 if you think it is.
Tuesday ‘Get Inspired’ classes are full but I have one writer wanting to switch to the ‘Get that Book’ arrangement which has two free places. So if you would like that Tuesday ‘Get Inspired’ place in the queue email me.

Long Walks and Elephants …

17/06/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

Creative Ink writers: Jane MacKinnon and Maureen Bradley have won the poetry and prose (respectively) ‘Rhyme & Reason’ competition this year.

Judging is absolutely anonymous and Jane won with her outstanding poem ‘The Long Walk’.
There were over 100 entries. Nick Wastnage judged the prose competition and
Maureen Bradley’s ‘Make the Elephant Go Away’ which was work shopped at Creative Ink
was a worthy winner. Competition is fierce. The editor: Jill Wallis is retiring this year. If
anyone is interested in taking the editorial reins please contact me.

The Tuesday ‘Get Inspired’ class starting in September is now full. I have two places left
on the ‘Get that Book’ arrangement for the summer through to November. Email me if interested. My Summer evening workshop with Catherine Klyhn is also full. (Catherine has hired the Seasons cafe in Amersham to accommodate numbers and to fit in with my Seasons theme – how does she do that?) but if you want to come to the Autumn evening workshop on Wednesday 13th September contact me.

Please do come to one of my Red Lipstick & Revelations perfs:

Gerrards Cross Bookshop – Wednesday 28th June -2.30 – 3.30 pm – £5 to include great cake. Saint Andrews Church 12 Packhorse Gerrards Cross SL9 7QE. Contact:

Regional winner of Independent Bookshop of the Year 2017/Winner of 2016 Vintage Independent Bookshop of the Year
Beaconsfield Library – Thursday 13th July 2017 -2.30 – 3.30 pm. Free Entry.

‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’ Performances

06/06/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

The autumn ‘Get Inspired’ Tuesday course begins on Tuesday 12th September for 5 consecutive weeks – £180 – to include 3000 word assessment, coffee and biscuits at the Fitzwilliams Centre, Beaconsfield. 10.00 am until midday. There are three places left. Email me if you would like enrolment and syllabus details.

My poetry collection ‘Red Lipstick & Revelations’ is available on:

If you have enjoyed please leave a sentence or two on Amazon.

These are my performances and book signings going forward:

Gerrards Cross Bookshop – Wednesday 28th June -2.30 – 3.30 pm – £5 to include refreshments. Saint Andrews Church 12 Packhorse Gerrards Cross SL9 7QE. Contact:
Regional winner of Independent Bookshop of the Year 2017/Winner of 2016 Vintage Independent Bookshop of the Year
Beaconsfield Library – Thursday 13th July 2017 -2.30 – 3.30 pm. Free Entry.
Gerrard’s Cross Philosophical and Literary Festival – Poems and Pints. Saturday 23rd September. 7.30 pm for 8pm at The Memorial Centre, East Common, Gerrards Cross, SL9 7AD. £8 to include a drink. Tickets available on the door and in aid of the Memorial Centre and Mind. Please contact me if you would like to read from and sell your own collection.
South Africa:
Fish Hoek Scribblers – Thursday 19th October 2017 -7.30 pm. Contact:
Fish Hoek Library – Friday 27th October 2017 -10.00am. Contact:
Off the Wall – Thursday 2nd November 2017 – 7.30pm at A Touch of Madness 12 Nuttall Road, Observatory. Contact:

For my Father/100

19/05/2017 // by Jan Moran Neil

The Great and the Good –
For my dad 24/5/17-15/7/77

My father died on St. Swithin’s day, 1977, and it rained for a long time after that.
We were given no notice of this major event. He lived three score years, depriving us of those very important ten, when he could have seen me married, could have seen his last grandchild born; could have known her, if only for moments. My daughter will only ever know her grandfather through my eyes.
He was the steely structure around which we built our lives and when he died, the foundations were almost blown apart.
I suppose I should have read the writing on those walls which once existed. But at twenty two, you have mental dyslexia. Unplanned events shock you. You haven’t learned to watch out for life’s secrets. But then, what can prepare you for the sudden failing of a heart? Even if you are given last moments which are irreversibly spiralling downward.
My father planned everything. He planned my birth, whilst Mum always says she has no idea how it happened at all. So heavily into planning was he, that we were stunned to think that he could not have been aware of his imminent departure. One week after his death, I realised that he could not have possibly known. A renewed ten year passport arrived in the post. It is clearly my most redundant possession and yet my heart has never been able to part with it.
No. My father was more prepared for his death when he was stationed in Nairobi during the war. His letters, immaculately uncensored, reminded his mother that there was thirteen pounds in his Post Office savings account, which could be claimed from the superintendent “should anything happen to me”. Apparently my grandmother sat in her Belfast terraced house and cried for days afterwards.
I believe the key to my father’s sudden surprise in his last moments was given to me in our Ford Escort van outside the Cash and Carry store when I was seven years old. After a deal of philosophising about the unknown secrets of life and the stacking of tinned tomatoes, I told him that death frightened me. He said, “Then don’t give it any attention.”
He held no death insurance. “That’s like backing a horse you don’t want to win,” he said.
Dad’s unplanned event shocked him. He gave himself over to mental dyslexia on a voluntary basis. He would never have agreed to teach my sister’s eldest daughter ‘Battleships’ if he felt that he was not going to fulfil that promise. We were so cross about the ‘Battleships’ and absence of his UHU glue for filling the gaps. Grief is a long, hard road no matter how many times you have been round the track.
In the years following his death, I searched for pieces of him in anybody. I scoured the streets for his likeness in the faces of old men, despising them for their differences and their survival.
I looked into myself for a recognition of the inevitable genes that must be passed on. I saw none. It is only in recent years, when identity has become more fully stamped that I see the similarities. He was able to settle the attention of a room upon himself with one subtle stroke and a string of jokes. I’m not a straight copy. I’ll do it with anecdotes.
We found my father’s secrets in the week after he died. Cupboards full of them. Notebooks full of those jokes in alphabetical order, with key words to aid memory. He was heavily into mnemonics. I realise in writing this that I have my own notebooks. Each anecdote is carefully recorded for future public scrutiny. There’s the love of order and penny counting, an insistence on dental hygiene and the similar way I labour the changing of car gears.
What else did he pass on? Eccentricities. Like the time he laid eggs on East Croydon station. He asked my mother to sew up the pocket in his overcoat. He boiled the eggs at work. He ran for the train.
My sister and I watched a man in the main street, surrounded by people, staring up at the sky, lost in thought. It was ages before we realised it was Dad.
I have shopped in carpet slippers and once set out in mid-winter for Africa in ballet pumps.
He told me we were here for our children; to give them a better life than we have ever had. And that our children would pass that on, until eventually there would come a generation that would have this planet and other planets for themselves. Heaven.
He gave me his surname. He gave me his initials. J.E. And he called me by my own Christian name, without offering up any pretentious nicknames.
What he wasn’t able to give me after the age of twenty two, was his presence and the lumps of nepotism I watched being heaped upon my contemporaries. And I was angry with him for it.
I was angry that he had spent his life posting me notifications of what the future might bring and failed to deliver his final notice. I was angry not that he said the cup of tea I made him was rotten, but that he had not told me it was his last one. It was the most important cup of tea I was ever to make in my life and I didn’t know.
My dad ‘raged against the dying of the light’ in those last moments, whilst I looked on helplessly and my sister held a bottle of Lucozade. My mum told him it was going to be all right. It was not going to be all right for a long time. We were to continue raging for him; with one another and against one another.
The day after his own mother died, I took the train up to Victoria with him. He was heading for the sleeper to Stranraer and for her Belfast funeral. He silently took a secret from his coat pocket. He smoothed his thumb over the creased faces on a faded brown and cream photograph, as if in a caress. It was a photograph of his father and himself, aged about nine. I was nineteen. I had never seen a photograph of my grandfather or my own father as a child.
“Do you still remember him?” I asked naively. I was then the same age that he had been when he lost his father.
“He is as clear and close to me as my mother is now,” he replied. Then back into the cupboard of his pocket the smoothed out photo went. He looked out of the train window and stared up at the sky.
There are moments which herald the future and this was one of them. Doors open and the future comes bounding in. I lost him quite soon after that railway ride. For, on his insistence, I was to accept a good job in Canada. And, setting aside the months after his death when I could no more tell you what he looked like than God, I can safely say I carry a clear picture of him in some pocket of my brain. That is all I am doing now, some forty years on; taking the picture out and showing it the light.
Above all, my father gave me his ordinariness. Few are born to be great. We were born to be ordinary. I cannot paint this man with words. And I cannot describe the sense of ‘all rightness’ I felt when I looked out from the school stage on first nights and caught the light from a Fresnal glinting on his huge spectacles.
He was not a famous illustrator, or writer, or movie star or a successful businessman. He worked as a railway clerk at Clapham Junction station. He owned a grocery shop. He did shift work and he wasn’t always there on Christmas mornings because people still had to travel.
He was a man who gained respect by what he did rather than what he said. “A gentleman and a scholar,” they said of him at his Orange funeral on the Newtownards Road. “A man who always paid his dues to the Lodge promptly and in full.”
But he could be pedantic. He switched off lights when you were in the room to save on fuel. He paid up domestic bills before we went on holiday leaving us short of the extra luxuries. He could talk dental appointments when you wanted to talk career crisis. I cannot count ‘quality time’ conversations with him past the age of eleven. He never hugged me past the age of nine.
He never sat on a pedestal. He doesn’t now. I did not worship the ground that he walked upon, because he and his Protestant ethic taught me to worship nothing but our Creator. In short, and in time, we re-built our walls because he had laid the foundations so solidly.
My father was not great. Good job; I had no need of great men when I was a child.
But he was a good man. Good enough. For me.