After hearing about the death of Montserrat Caballé yesterday morning, I played “Barcelona” over and over and sobbed because of its absolute beauty. A search for some of her other recordings led me to “Oh Mio Babbino Caro”, which, I remember, used to cause my mother extreme upset in the months following my father’s death. It is equally exquisite and caused me to sob even more.
I came to a bit of a halt the other day after I had described how our family suddenly changed. It was odd as I‘ve known all along what was going to happen. But, sometimes I watch a film or read a book where I know the ending and I wonder if it might turn out differently this time! Well it obviously turned out just the same as the first time!
But death shouldn’t be singled out for reverence. It should be laughed at like everything else. I certainly feel the need to laugh at it. So, now that I have turned that particular corner, how do I go on?
I’ve spent some time thinking about my dad and realised that I really didn’t know him very well. Perhaps the fact that he was still called “daddy” when he died explains that quite well. I’ve been calling him “dad” here because I’m grown up and don’t use the name “daddy” any more, but it doesn’t feel right! It seems strange that I remember so little of him, especially as he was a dad who worked at home and didn’t disappear for twelve hours every day. Apart from the gardening, the trips out in the car (always with a warning that I must visit the toilet before we set off because we wouldn’t be able to stop) and the occasional holidays, I remember him taking me horse riding. Quite how we came to do this, I have no idea. Dad was more at home on a bike or a penny-farthing I’m sure and we did it so infrequently that there was little chance of me becoming at all proficient. But I loved it! We used to go to a village near Harrogate called Brearton and I always rode a pony called Candy. With dad on his horse we use to meander around the fields and lanes. Once Candy, who was usually such a placid creature, started to run off down a field. My trotting technique was not up to much, neither was my ability to stop a runaway horse and dad had to come charging down the field and managed to stop Candy before we disappeared out into another country lane.
I was led to believe that dad and his father before him were great practical jokers. Indeed one of the few stories ever told about grandpa was of the time when he hid in the cellar and poked a brush out of the window at the ankles of people who were walking past. The family seemed to think this was hilarious but I’m not sure what the passers-by thought of it! My dad once painted the underside of a slice of boiled ham with a particularly hot mustard and gave it to his friend for tea. Personally, I don’t remember any occasions when my dad did or said anything remotely funny but I do hope that my own sense of humour might have come from him. And it sounds as if both he and grandpa were slightly unconventional, although I’m not sure if they would appreciate today’s humour! The old radio programs like “ITMA” and “Much Binding in the Marsh” which had my parents and all their generation rolling in the aisles have not even raised a smile whenever I’ve heard snippets of them.
However, in most aspects of life I would say my dad was a conservative with both a small ‘c’ and a capital ‘C’. When I was of an age when I had started to go out with my friends from work, my mum announced to me one day that “You father didn’t like women going in pubs”. And he was quite over-protective of me – I wasn’t allowed to cross the road to go to the shops with my friends. And, for some strange reason, I wasn’t allowed to eat the penny ice lollies made at the corner shop opposite our shop, in case they were “dirty”. However, one day the girls who lived at the shop, put on a concert in their backyard and all the local children were invited. On the menu, of course, were these delightful ice lollies and I wasn’t going to leave without sampling one. It was every bit as good as I knew it would be! Also, I wasn’t allowed to have bubblegum and, on the day that I managed to get hold of some and tried it out in front of the mirror in my parents’ bedroom, the bubble burst and got stuck on my face and in my hair. I can remember the panic of trying to get rid of it and somehow I think I did it without asking for help! Even members of the family were very much aware of this over-protectiveness. One day, my cousin Muriel (she of the real Muriel’s wedding), took me to the fair. I can still remember being on the little roundabout when it stopped and the fairground man lifting me out of the tiny aeroplane. Apparently the fairground man with me in tow was running round just behind Muriel and it was some time before we caught each other up. Muriel told me many years after, that she had thought, “I have to find, Anne, Cuthbert will kill me if I’ve lost her”.
Anyway, all of this came to an end on 13 August 1956 and life changed. Mum was never going to be able to look after the cycle shop. She tried to sell it as a going business but there was no interest (where was the Tour de France when we needed it?). So the cycles, accessories and all the other equipment were sold to a man who already had a cycle shop in Shipley and the premises were sold to someone else – I never knew who it was. I just remember one night, when I was desperate to go to bed, I had to stay up because everything was being packed up ready for our move. Mum, grandma and I were moving to Bingley to live with dad’s sister and my mum had lost her last chance of a home of her own.