At Colchester Zoo with my dad in the mid-seventies
The first thing you need to know about my dad, Phil, is he liked to do things his way. I wouldn’t call him headstrong; if he’d have been any more laid back he would have been horizontal, but he most definitely had a stubborn streak. He was also like the bunny in the Cadbury’s Caramel adverts in that he liked to take things easy. He wasn’t lazy (well, not bone idle lazy), but when Jack Nicholson said ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, Dad was first in queue to take his advice.
Dad only ever wanted for a comfortable life and for him this consisted of cigarettes, alcohol and rich greasy food, a newspaper to read while he sat on his ‘throne’ for half an hour each morning (a routine that would eventually result in piles) and a daily walk through the aisles of our local Sainsbury’s, where he knew most of the staff by name, and would leisurely peruse the wine section, helpfully recommending bottles to complete strangers.
He grew up in a sleepy village on the Suffolk/Essex border in a working class family, and was the eldest of two sons, doted upon by our nan. Dad and Uncle liked to consider themselves the wide boys about town and dressed in Cuban heels and Godfather style long leather coats. Although in old photos their poses were reminiscent of the Kray brothers, they were more like The Walton’s and, as children, we were told tales about how they saved the local factory from burning down, were head hunted by Colchester United Football Club and performed kung fu style heroics on local thugs intent on taking over the village pub.
At thirty Dad decided that he had outgrown village life and it was time to leave home. He had travelled to London a handful of times as roadie with various bands and had contacts in the industry. Packing his bags he headed all the way north to the heady lights of Norwich.
Not renowned as a buzzing hive for up-and-coming musicians, Dad’s philosophy on the move, and answer to his critics, was ‘why be a small fish in a big pond, when you can be a big fish in a small pond?’
To be fair to him, he made waves in the music business as a promoter in the late sixties and early seventies, bringing several known artistes to East Anglia and he is still remembered fondly by many in the industry. I can also thank him for ensuring I listened to an eclectic range of music growing up.
The rock n roll lifestyle did mean that on the night I was born he was out partying with Rod Stewart, having helped promote him at the Wheeley Festival. Weeks later, Rod went on to have a number one single with Maggie May and the rest is history.
As he settled into family life, priorities changed and although he kept the ‘Liam Gallagher of the seventies’ look, he set up his own agency, mostly dealing with the military and supplying all manner of entertainment – from bands to dodgems – for their summer and Christmas balls. He also owned a couple of video rental stores, which is probably why I have always had a huge love for film.
Mum and Dad on their wedding day – December 1970
The agency was run from home, which meant plenty of free time for golf. Dad was a player was what was best described as a ‘unique’ swing. He also introduced Mum to the sport and got the hump when she proved to be much better than him. As Mum continued to excel at the sport and the lounge cabinet became home to all her trophies, Dad eventually resigned himself to becoming a golf widower, occasional trolley puller and secretary of Mum’s fan club.
Lack of golf meant lack of exercise, so we got a dog.
Dad had always been anti pets and as young children we had been resigned to goldfish. Gradually we managed to climb our way up the animal chain by sweet-talking Mum, working our way through hamsters, budgies, rabbits and kittens. Then we tried our luck with a dog.
As I recall, the conversation with Dad went, ‘if you bring it home, I’m leaving’. Of course the trick was to show Mum the cute yowling little puppy and once she was seduced we brought him home regardless. We called the puppy Cody and although Dad sulked for a few days, he made no attempt to pack his bags.
Of course the novelty of walking a dog soon wore off and the leash was passed to Dad, who along with Cody became a familiar sight around the village. Long gone were the Cuban heels (the Godfather coat hung in the cupboard for years, but we tried not to let him leave the house in it) in favour of a more middle of the road wardrobe of ill-fitting trousers, which often slipped down to reveal his bum crack and knitted pattern jumpers.
With his snowy white hair and smiling ruddy face, he cut a friendly figure and soon got to know all of the neighbours and fellow dog walkers on his route. In the summer and autumn he and Cody would disappear for hours, returning with ice cream containers full of cherries, blackberries and wild mushrooms. He would attempt to use these in weird and wonderful recipes that we, of course, would all refuse to eat.
Cody the wonder dog
Cody never travelled well in the car, hence why he was only ever taken on the occasional road trip. This fact came to light when Dad, Mum, Brother and Sister went to the coast one day to take Cody for a run on the beach.
Family walks always followed the same routine. Dad would march half a mile ahead of everyone else; a man on a mission who seemed to work on the theory that the quicker he walked, the quicker it would be over. The rest of the flock would follow together. Sister usually whining to Mum that her legs were aching or she needed an ice cream or drink. My brother would keep close tabs on everything sister was asking for to ensure he didn’t miss out if she got it. Over the years little has changed. The complaining of aches mantle has been passed from sister to Mum and brother rarely accompanies us on any social gatherings that don’t involve alcohol.
On this particular occasion the family was walking along the high street in Wells. It was a warm day and busy. As Dad marched ahead, the rest of the clan noticed people giving him a wide berth and some were looking at him in complete disgust.
Dad was oblivious (he was his daughter’s father) both to the stares and to the fact that Cody’s upset stomach had turned into diarrhea and was dripping down his trouser leg.
Let’s just say it was a rather uncomfortable and smelly ride home.
There are many great stories I could tell you about my dad. He passed away thirteen years ago, just four months before 9/11, and never got to witness Mum become the Captain of her golf club, Sister join the police and make detective or know that I eventually became a published author. Most of all though, I think he would be devastated to learn that my brother now works for a whiskey magazine and that he would have never had to pay for a bottle again.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Gone, but never forgotten.