When my father died, I cleared two small shelves in my bedroom and arranged on them a collection of objects in memory of him:they speak to me of the idiosyncrasies of a complex, unique and unforgettable man. Among them there is a Marmite jar,marked neatly on the lid in permanent black with price and date of purchase: his blue-and-white striped cup and saucer with a glued-on handle(Dad never wasted anything!):a small piece of rock from the summit of Ben Nevis,marked with date of collection and varnished to protect the record of achievement:the badge and catalogue from the 1938 International Esperanto Conference in London:and a cardboard toilet-roll tube on which his great-grandson wrote in brown felt-tip 'In rememory of Great-Grandad'- with a childish drawing of the forget-me-nots which grew in his garden. And of course there are books:'Teach Yourself to Think', 'All Quiet on the Western Front',Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle', and the Esperanto pocket dictionary which fell with him into a river on his beloved Dartmoor and survived.
My father was a man who could be trusted. I never knew him to lie or swear- he was direct in speech and had no time for false pretence,and what he promised was always done. He was deliberate and thoughtful: he planned even small projects, and while his handiwork was always thoroughly prepared and finished, practical and permanent it was never particularly stylish or pretty. He was not interested in frills or show. He often wrote in indelible pencil, and would lick the point:the neat purple writing was meant to last. As a child I believed that God was very like my father,except that God had a beard. I deeply admired them both,and did my best to live up to what I thought were their expectations of me.
I realised that my Dad knew simply everything- all the names of stars and their constellations,the meanings of obscure words,how to build a good bonfire,how to stop lemonade from fizzing. He knew all the birds by their songs,and how to make a wireless set. He kept us safe: Mum and I slept together when he was on night duty. He polished and mended all our shoes:the scrapes and scabs on my young knees were largely due to the metal 'Blakeys' he hammered into the heels to save the leather. He was a great entertainer too:he could blow a series of smoke-rings which I could spear on my finger:he made funny teeth out of orange-peel,and with his pocket-knife could peel an apple in one long,magical scarlet spiral. It was Dad who 'made us better'(sometimes pain and sugar-lumps were involved) ,dabbing iodine on cuts,tweezering out splinters and measuring medicines. In my bedroom I have the old wooden medicine-chest, still filled with ointments and oils:occasionally I open the doors to admire the neatly-labelled cures within, and breathe in the safe medical smell.For a second I am a child again.