Both of my parents are saints, basically. But beyond that, they have their particularities. Especially my Dad.
My first ever assignment at secondary school was to describe ‘A Character I Know’. Apparently, I wrote: ‘My Dad likes The Guardian, pepper and Beethoven’.
That wasn’t bad. But here is the expanded version.
- He will try anything once. ‘I’ll try anything once’, he says, whilst waiting at the top of a near-vertical flume in a water park, or ordering the hottest dish on a menu, or allowing me to show him a film that he is likely to dislike.
- He is a rationalist. And a mathematician. The Mathematical Gazette sits by his toilet. New Year’s Eve is just a day. He watches the German celebrations on satellite TV and gets to bed an hour early. There are no omens. Once when I had a particular reason to be sensitive to death, he brought me the sole survivor of numerous lavender plants that had died on him in Grantham. He hoped that it might flourish in London, and brushed off my reluctance to potentially watch something die. I watched the plant die.
- He arrives early. Every estimated time of arrival needs to be anticipated by exactly half an hour. No last-minute dressing or cleaning must be left to this half hour.
- He sacrifices smaller to greater needs. If his and my mother’s turn to serve at Grantham soup kitchen falls on Christmas Eve, then the family Christmas Eve organises itself around this.
- He does not mollycoddle. I had to walk alone to my first day at secondary school, despite not knowing the way and having to ask strangers. We speak once a week, at weekends. If something big is happening in my week, then it can generally wait to the weekend for him to hear about.
- He has no interest in luxury, fashion, or brands. He brought me up with a distinct distrust of, and mild contempt for, wealth. Of most brands he has never heard (except recently, through his pricing work at Grantham Oxfam shop). He has kept his flares in the wardrobe for decades, on the consideration that they might come back into fashion. He has no envy, no desire to socially climb, and no interest in the cult of youth. He has always wanted me to do whatever job would make me happy.
- He always has enough money. He was a war child in a working-class family who became a teacher. He uses cakes of soap until they disappear. He has for years kept a toaster with a broken-off lever that it hurts to push down, rather than throwing away something that works. But he buys everything outright. He finds insurance, like gambling, a mug’s game, and avoids it whenever sensible. He buys cars new, and drives them for as long as they are safe. He would never try to avoid inheritance tax, because he finds it fair. And whenever I have needed money, he has had it, and has given it to me.
- His aesthetic views are decided. Beethoven is the pinnacle of music, and music is good in proportion as it was written close to Beethoven, in either direction through time.
- He is Liberal. With the exception of one occasion on which he voted Communist, on the grounds that only the Communist candidate had a sensible job (a boiler-maker, as opposed to a trade union official or a company director, for Labour and Conservative respectively), he has all his life voted, and campaigned, for the Liberals. He wears a beret on the grounds that it is warm, can be stuffed into a pocket, and makes a pro-European statement. He only isn’t displaying a pro-EU poster in his Grantham cul-de-sac because it would bring out a flock of countervailing posters in the neighbouring houses.
- He understands women problems. Once, when I confided to him my distress regarding a boyfriend, he listened in silence, and then said: ‘Catherine, I have never understood what women see in men’.
- He accepts my teasing. For the most part. He will allow me to smile at him putting on a rucksack when going to the National Gallery.