Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Per Ardua Ad Astra

My dear old dad died three years ago today.  It hardly seems possible that it has been so long.  You'll soon forget me, he said, when I was pleading with him to fight on and he'd had enough.  But I miss him painfully still.

He would have loved living here.  He would have been so proud.  And he would have driven me mad. The thought of him as well as my mum in that small kitchen is hard to take.  He would have been full of ideas on how to make do and mend.  But he would have helped us as much as he could and created a wonderful garden.  I think his dad was a gardener or, at least, grew leeks on a buried mattress that he pee'd on regularly.  And my childhood memories are of a garden that was intermittently full of weeds in between bouts of horticulture.  But he was a true gardener and that came to the fore in his later years.

I'm printing the reading from his memorial service below because my memories are filled with laughter as well as sadness.  My dad.  Sorely missed.

A Classic Pose - Complete with Smiling Face!

JM 1925-2010
A Tribute from his Family 

We are here today because we all have something in common: we all hold a thread that links us to the life of J.  We all have different memories of him, memories that tie us together.  Since he died, we, his family, have been remembering stories of the times we shared with him, memories that will travel with us as we journey through life.  And in amongst the tears he still makes us smile.  Even in his final days, J was ever ready with a topical joke.  When K was leaving to go back north, he couldn’t get his car started.  A went to J’s bedside to say, ‘The Toyota won’t start’.  ‘I thought they wouldn’t stop!’ he replied with barely a pause for thought.

J’s family is an extended one.  There are his three children, K, E and A with their respective spouses and partners, and his granddaughters, H and M.  However, beyond this are some special people who have featured as part of the M family for many years: H, whose father J served with him in the War, and her husband, C; B, who worked with D as a nurse, and her husband, C, their children, J and D, and their three grandchildren.  We’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for being part of our family.  They share our memories of J.  They provided invaluable help and support as his condition deteriorated.  They have shared our tears and grief at his loss.

The story of J and D’s wedding day has gone down in the annals of family history.  J met D on a blind date when she was a nurse and she was singularly unimpressed with him.  However, they celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary on 21st January this year with a message from the Queen, which should teach us all that first impressions don’t always count! 

Somehow the couple arrived too early at the Church, before the guests, who were filing in as the wedding was ending.  Neither J nor D recognised the vicar.  Then when it came to exchanging their vows, the Vicar said ‘Joseph, do you take this woman, Florence, to be your wife?’  To which J said, ‘Yes, I do, but the name’s J and this is D’.

It was the tradition to throw coins out of the car for the children on the way to the wedding but J forgot to open the car window so the coins were scattered back into the car with some ending up in the turn ups of J’s trousers.  When he knelt at the altar, they fell on to the floor.  After the ceremony, the couple walked up the aisle arm in arm.  After a few steps, J realised that he was missing his bride.  She was gathering up the sixpences behind him. 

J had a love of all things mechanical, aeroplanes, obviously, but also motor bikes.  He owned a Royal Ruby and the family had many holidays on the bike and sidecar and even made the momentous ten hour drive to the north.  To ease the monotony, K and E, the pilot and navigator, fitted out the sidecar with a Lancaster control panel in the front.  A, being the youngest and only girl, was consigned to the back as rear gunner and usually ‘bought it’ within the first few miles, making the journey particularly dull for her.

J was always the life and soul of any family gathering and, usually, the last man standing.  He loved to dance, although his style was rather unorthodox.  And he always chose the largest lady in the room as his dancing partner, applying engineering principles, like ball bearings, the bigger the lady, the better she’d glide.

He also loved to sing and a sing-song was always a major feature of any family gathering with Geordie folk songs, such as ‘Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinnie’ and ‘Wor Nanny’s a Mazer’.  The family will sorely miss his Christmas rendition of ‘The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot’, which always reduced them to tears.  His tale of ‘Tommy the Horse’, the sad demise of Tommy on the farm where he worked as a boy, also had the same effect.  However, he also made his children laugh with recitations, such as ‘A Long Strong Black Pudding…’  It wasn’t until much later that they realised how rude it actually was!

After his retirement, J decided to continue working to make money for frequent trips to Tokyo to visit E, S and M.  His first job was as a dinner lady.  However, he found the children troublesome.  They played him up and refused to leave the dining hall to go out into the playground.  After one particular incident when he threatened a child with a broom, he decided that, rather than end up in the European Court of Human Rights, it might be wise to rethink his career options.

So he became a trolley boy at Sainsbury’s.  This turned out to be quite beneficial on a number of fronts, not least the fact that so many people leave items behind in their trolleys.  J often came home with Turkey-sized Bacofoil and other such goodies.  Later, he was moved to the wines.  J loved nothing better than a bargain and bought an interesting array from the ‘reduced section’ for his 80th birthday party: Welsh gin, Malibu and Tunisian red wine – only £1.50.  ‘That’s a bargain’ said A, ‘£1.50 a bottle’.  ‘No’, he replied proudly, ‘It was £1.50 for six!’

J was one of the first eco-warriors and one of life’s great recyclers.  The door number at their previous house was proudly displayed on a painted bread board.  When the M family first moved into this house, it had a huge TV aerial in the back garden.  When this was decommissioned, the six inch piping was carefully cut up, reshaped, bolted together with solid joints and made into a very robust swing for the children.

J left school at 14 in June 1939 and cycled many miles to get a job that would keep him out of the pits.  But to no avail.  Despite a difficult start in life, he went on to put his three children through university, providing them with the education that, throughout his life, he felt he lacked.  He recognised the importance of education, being largely self-taught.  He had a lively mind, an eclectic knowledge, considered opinions and a house full of books. 

As his family, we pay tribute to JM, who thought he had achieved so little but who had, in fact, achieved so much.  We are lucky to have had him in our lives for so long.

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