There will be no procession of tributes or breathless hagiography at the funeral. My father was not one for grand gestures or pomp and circumstance. He delighted in poking the pompous, the higher up the better. A succession of potted histories will not mark his death with any meaning. He was more interested in seeing outcomes rather than intent knowing that the two rarely coincide.
I will not be called upon to ‘say a few words’. This comes as a relief of sorts. What could I say? Years of wonkery has honed my skills in boiling down lots of information into a handful of bullet points but as much as my father had little patience with my discursive storytelling it would seem poor to reduce a life to a slide’s worth of material.
I could only provide a partial picture anyway. My memories are unreliable and fragmented. I remember his days in politics, his business, tribunal stories and charity work but there are those that can say more of substance of those days.
I could tell random stories of his time in the merchant navy, seasick and stick thin driven to tinnitus by the constant radar beep. Stories of stolen crocodiles, snakes and negotiating with child soldiers.
I could tell silly stories about being stuck in a traffic jam for so long we were able to get out the car, buy a McDonalds (his first) and then sit back in the car from an impromptu car picnic and his rookie error of not holding the burger at the back resulting in the contents squirting all over the wheel and windscreen.
His friends will be able to tell more detailed tales of when he dismantled his headmaster’s car and reassembled it on top of the school toilets or learning about crowd behaviour by dropping water bombs as they were there rather than just having heard it second hand.
They will be able to provide rueful accounts of his legendary acid tongue and ever so quotable put downs about his rival councillors’ lack of imagination and being intellectual pygmies with a hat size bigger than their IQs. Some of them may have even been on the receiving end.
I could talk about the bright red club house he made for me out of a packing crate and my sadness at seeing its removal by the new owners of what had been our house.
I could talk about his amazing lack of IT skills and the time he tore the manual in half in a Hulk like rage after accidentally formatting the hard disk of the ancient Amstrad. How after spilling cola on his brick of a mobile phone he washed it with shampoo and then compounded his folly by leaving it on the car roof before driving off. Or when he almost drove his IT guy insane by managing to save the hard drive to itself.
His admirable restraint when he indulged my dreams of playing in a band by letting me use his office for practice only to see me knock a chunk out of the wall with the amp as I wandered through.
I could talk of how he cultivated my life-long interest in politics and his own political career weeding out the fakes and phonies and those that abused the system. The hours I spent in County Hall doodling or writing stories while I waited for his meetings to finish.
Whenever I go to airports I am reminded of all the time I used to spend in them when he had business there and the simple joy of wandering around or consuming unholy amounts of chocolate ice cream knowing that I didn’t have to be anywhere or navigate security or panic about missing a flight.
I could talk about the last time I saw him when he took me and my son out to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine and how my son still talks excitedly about how Grandad will take him on ‘baby train’ again to see Thomas and how Grandad is not sick and is better and will take him again soon.
I could mention the photos I have of that day that I can’t bring myself to look at or the surprise of hearing his voice on an answer phone message and how it nearly succeeded in unlocking that door.
There could be stories of discovering that Father Christmas did not exist when I heard my father mutter “bugger it” under his breath as he trod on Lego while navigating the tip that was my childhood bedroom.
That he was proud of me but rarely told me, teasing me that he told his friends I worked in a sewage farm as it was less embarrassing than the truth. I strived to make him proud by trying to fight the good fight in the only way I could. We had some very rocky years but after the fiasco of the referendum we had one of the best conversations we had ever had picking over the history, implications and unintended consequences as equals.
There are many other stories beside. Many of them are less savoury and painful. I’ve been advised to forget them but those moments have shaped me as much as the better memories and experiences have.
It was from him that I get some of my best and worst aspects. It scares me sometimes how I unconsciously echo his turn of phrase, intonation and cadences in moments of true anger.
As a father I also take on the mantle of Teller of Dad Jokes, many of which I have unashamedly stolen from him and repeat them with glee.
I remember when I mistakenly revealed that he was the Phantom Pillar Box Painter when I wrote a school essay about what I did at the weekend.
By telling these stories it triggers memories of more. My trip to the party shop and all its Halloween finery reminded me of the time when I confused a door decoration with a mask and he took me out trick or treating with a comedy oversized skull for a mask and a terrible joke book for the trick.
I remember how he awkwardly sipped at a pint forgoing his usual choice of white wine spritzer as we shared a rare drink together in a rough as [expletive deleted] Liverpool pub and his bafflement that no taxi driver could understand his RP accent and his annoyance that it was my Scouse inflected muted Essex accent that got us to where we needed to be.
I remember being devastated when he had his first heart attack and being shocked by how frail he looked connected to all those tubes and how blasé I was when I was informed that he had suffered another attack after overdoing it (“Oh. Another one?”).
I remember how he charmed and infuriated the nurses on the cardiac ward with his mischievous antics like strapping a talking teddy bear to the man that snored like a chainsaw. Or when he caused consternation and a stern rebuke for getting Indian takeaways delivered to the ward in protest of the awful hospital food. All that and setting up his miniature train set to loop around the room. All of this resulted in him being banished to the dreaded O Ward to think long and hard about what he had done.
Then there is the sad realisation that he won’t get a chance to reprise those antics. There won’t be any more new stories.