Saturday 30 September 2017

The Saturday List 148 - The top ten bits of wisdom my Dad passed on to me

My Dad passed away thirty years ago, in January 1987. If he'd lived, he'd have been 100 right now. I miss the old fella. Last night I had a rather interesting discussion with a couple of friends about their relationships with their parents. They both have lost a father but have a mother. One has a troubled relationship with his 99 year old mum. The other has a degree of anger at some of his siblings who he feels don't make the effort with his 82 year old mum. Both spoke affectionately about their Dad's.

It got me thinking about my Dad. He was an Australian WWII RAF bomber pilot, a giant of a man, who I have lived my life in awe of. I feel that in some ways he is constantly with me, in other ways I've felt very alone and isolated since his passing. If I ever have a massive dilemma in life, I always mentally ask him for wisdom and guidance. Invariably some quite random thought will pop into my head, giving me a unique insight. Often this 'spiritual advice' is extraordinarily bad but totally in keeping with how he lived. One example was when I was extremely pissed off with one of my brothers. I said 'Dad, what would you do in such circumstances'. The thought immediately materialised 'I'd Smack him', which I was quite pleased to ignore, but it cheered me up no end. Is it guidance from beyond, is it just a mental coping technique? I will leave you to decide. However, I often reflect on the nuggets of advice he passed on whilst alive. I thought I'd take the opportunity to pass on the ten best (these are the real verifyable ones, not the potential figments of my imagination).

1. 'Never eat spaghetti on a first date' - He said that it always slops juice over your shirt and destroying any degree of cool you may have been trying to aspire to.

2. 'If you must carry a weapon, make sure anyone you use it on only sees it when they are dead' - Now this may seem like a shocking statement, but it is actually eminently sensible. A weapon is not for show. You should only ever use one if your life is in mortal danger and then you must use it with devastating effect. If you wave it around to impress people, you are placing yourself in danger. His view was that in a civilised society a weapon should never be carried.

3. 'Early to bed, early to rise, makes you healthy, wealthy and wise' - Interestingly my Dad lay in bed every day till 10am and insisted my mum brought him breakfast in bed. Perhaps that's why he died so young. Sadly I've had to train myself to rise early. Haven't managed the early nights though.

4. 'Women judge you by your shoes' - My Dad believed that no decent woman would ever go out with a man who had bad taste in shoes. His days in the Army and airforce meant that he loved well polished shoes. Funnily enough, the one bit of advice guitar legend Hank Marvin gave me, when his son was in The False Dots was 'Always wear good shoes at gigs, never trainers'. Wisdom indeed.

5. 'We won the war because we didn't gas homosexuals' - My Dad was as macho as it is possible to be. In the 1970's when I was growing up, society was still very homophobic. Gay sex between men had only been legal for less than a decade. In amongst all this, there was a show on TV called 'The naked civil servant' about gay icon Quentin Crisp. My Dad was fascinated by this. I asked him what he thought of gay people. His response was that the Nazi's had gassed them, while Britain had found them useful things to do in the war effort. He said that 'if we'd gassed Turing and Noel Coward, we'd have lost the war for sure'. I hadn't a clue what he meant. I do now.

6. 'Always buy the biggest car you can' - This may seem a very bad piece of advice in the modern day and age. He said there was nothing worse than spending a fortune on a sports car and then finding that you can't fit the stuff you need in it. As with many of his pieces of advice, he flouted this rule and bought himself a racing tuned 3 litre Ford Capri. This was justified as it meant we could drive to my sisters house in Northampton in 25 minutes from Mill Hill. For right or wrong, I've always felt that men who drive small cars are in some way lacking. My Dad, being in the motor trade, was extremely judgemental of people who drove what he considered to be bad cars. I can remember being out with him and he met someone. After chatting, he turned to me and said, in his broad Aussie accent 'That fella is a complete W-Anchor'. I was shocked and asked why? 'He's just bought a Lancia.' In our household to own a Lancia was a crime second to none.

7. 'There is no such thing as guilt and innocence, there is just getting caught and getting away with it' - Again this may seem like dodgy advice. We were discussing the great train robbery, which seemed to obsess the media in the 60's and 70's. My Dad said the villains were idiots because they had meticulously planned the robbery but made no plan at all to get away with the dosh. He had a mate who'd robbed a bank in Germany in 1945 with a tank. He used to sell the Reichmarks to squaddies for a discounted rate. I asked him how he could justify such an act. He said 'Pat had been one of the first British Officers into Belsen and he hated Germans, he felt no guilt at all in robbing their money. He was sensible, he made sure he got away with it'. My brother bought this guys house and found a stack of Reichmarks under the floorboards.

8. 'A good aircraft landing is one you walk away from' - His view of danger, any sort, is that if you walked away from it, it was nothing. I think many of his wartime experiences had actually scarred him, far more deeply than he'd ever have admitted. Throughout the 1960's he was plagued with mystery ailments, that were put down to an ulcer. When my mum got cancer in 1970, they all went away for good. I've long suspected it is what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

9. 'Never settle for a woman who doesn't make you happy' - My Dad used to consider anyone who moaned about their wife as a complete idiot. His view was that you should only be with someone you absolutely worship and that in such a case you should be grateful for what you have. The last time I had a conversation with my Dad, he confided in me that he always believed that if he'd never met my mum, he'd never have been anything. He told me that when she was diagnosed with cancer and he was told she'd be dead in two years, his world completely fell apart. He said that it was her strength that pulled him through and he'd felt ashamed of this (outlived him by 31 years).

10. 'Never give a mug an even break' - This was said in response to an incident when he took one of his staff's entire weeks wages off him in a game of cards. I was quite shocked by his attitude, but he said 'If I'd have deliberately played badly, he'd have thought he could actually win. A truly evil thing would be to take half his wages off him every week. This way he won't play again and might learn something'. My Dad always took the view that you should never gamble if you couldn't stand losing your shirt. I generally don't gamble, because I realised my Dad was a very good gambler and I realised that to be one, you must be completely ruthless and amoral when indulging. He played to win, I don't. I play to enjoy, in most things. But if I have to gamble, I understand the rules and I religiously follow his ethics.

I feel quite emotional having put this together. I think I'll have a Guinness and a Drambuie tonight in his honour.

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