When did you last see your father?

When did I last see my father? More than half a century ago, actually, around four years after he’d walked out on us. I was almost twelve.

He turned up at my grandparents’ house, with the mail. He wasn’t their regular postman, but a stand-in for Mr Toon, the always laughing, always smoking postman who habitually displayed his gift for second sight with accurate predictions regarding the contents of envelopes and parcels. “I see Ernie’s come good again. Don’t spend it all at once. Ha! Ha! Ha!”

It’s odd to think that my recollections of Mr Toon are more colourful than those I have of my father. But on that day, in 1966, I felt a shyness, almost an embarrassment when he spoke to me. His words brought about a level of awkwardness in me that I usually only experienced when meeting complete strangers. This is, evidently, what he had become. A stranger.

After that encounter, we never met again. Any emotional bond, if it had ever been truly established, was broken by his leaving. Forgive and forget, so many people say. It’s never too late. Except in some cases it is. In order to forgive, one must be able to forget. For me, forgetting was and still is impossible.

When he fell ill with cancer, five years ago, I was sad, but in a detached way. I sympathised, as anyone might, should the illness have befallen an unfamiliar member of another household.

On Monday, he died, on the same day as Ennio Morricone who was three years his senior. My mother telephoned the news. The two of them had been reunited for a decade following the death of my stepdad, and I’m sorry for her loss. But I’m glad she found a new happiness with the man she never stopped loving. The man who was there and, after a forty five year absence, was there again.

So, this is a blogpost about a man I didn’t know. A man I couldn’t know without painfully unpicking a life I’ve stitched and woven together with varying qualities of thread and patchy dexterity. It has no easily definable shape but I’m comfortable in it.

We know that actions, particularly actions within families, have consequences. His actions were no different. But they went unchallenged and eventually collapsed into the form of a well drawn line. His death, like all deaths, leaves some questions dangling. But they are those that remain unanswerable, rather than the nagging kind that are left unanswered.


After Normal Life

We’re out walking again. A daily stroll in the early morning sunshine. The lane has become a leafy tunnel in our absence, and the birdsong echoes and reverberates along its length as we step. It reminds me of the excited, musical whooping and whistling of children, each outcrying the other. Infant’s voices in the hollow of a cavern or the parabola of a stone arch.

Sensing the breeze on my face feels new, along with all it brings. The scents and sounds of a spring day bursting to get my attention. Out of the shade I shoulder the familiarity of the sun and carry it lightly. Warmth is never a burden.

It’s just an hour a day, but it fits neatly into our new world of distractions. Close the door on confinement and catch up with all that feels lost. Then, all too soon, we are banged up again. We have become our own wardens, and will remain so until certified fit for parole.

We pass our time easily and the boredom factor doesn’t get a look in. We’re still baking despite the fact that flour and yeast would seem to have taken on roughly the street value of premium drugs. It seems entirely plausible that, soon, procurement will only be possible via dealers who have stopped peddling toilet tissue in favour of raising agents.

I’ve read ‘Normal People’, by Sally Rooney. Getting hooked on the TV adaptation was inevitable. It’s so good, it’s only possible to sip at it, one short episode at a time. Likewise, ‘After Life’. I’m not generally a fan of Ricky Gervais, but the man deserves a heap of credit for both series.

Oh, and the soundtrack to ‘Normal People’ is superb, too. Perfect music for abnormal times.

Soap Opera

Is it me or are the first cracks beginning to appear in the lockdown? At the beginning of all this our Close was jammed with parked vehicles all day long. Every available space taken. Overspill lined along the grass verges as though the occupants had turned up late for a local event.

That’s not happening now. Cars come and go. You can’t help but notice that some people disappear for the entire day, sometimes overnight, with their kids. If you’re observing the government advice, your life has become so static and predictable, you develop a kind of hypersensitivity toward the slightest movement outside. The cult of curtain twitching has a strong pull. What was once simple curiosity, becomes stealthy surveillance. If someone is moving out there, what is the threat level? Are they wearing a mask and/or gloves? If not, why not?

Our postie doesn’t wear any protection at all, yet he visits almost every address every day, including the block where there has been at least one confirmed case of Covid-19.

Two men were sent by our housing association to clear some carelessly discarded household items. They were wearing the standard industrial gloves issued to workers who need hand protection. But after heaving several black plastic bags and their unknown contents into the back of his truck, one of the guys proceeded to scratch an itch on his face without removing his glove. Similarly, we watched with alarm when a refuse collector, wearing disposable latex gloves, manhandled the communal bins to the rear of the lorry before taking a water bottle from his pocket, unscrewing the top with his germ laden latex gloves, and enjoying a long swig.

Are we, in our efforts to dodge the virus, succumbing to pandemic paranoia? Short answer is no. The urge to survive is basic, isn’t it? Basic hygiene isn’t rocket science. Before touching anything that’s destined for your mouth, make sure your hands are clean. The casual observation that everyone has to eat a peck of dirt before they die will no longer wash. We, on the other hand, must.