Hey old man. It’s been a while. A year to be exact. Can you believe it?
It’s just over a year since we sat side by side on your settee nattering. Well, shouting to be exact because you wouldn’t accept you were a little bit deaf and you never turned the bloody telly down! News 24, politics, football. You had them on constant rotation.
You were ranting about the cancellation of the Teletext text service. There’d been long nights when you’d sat up and just scrolled page after page of 1980’s style blue and yellow text, satiating your need for knowledge. I tried to teach you how to use a computer instead, but that ended in acrimony! For an intelligent man you showed a remarkable resistance to all things electric.Thank the gods for Freeview and News 24.
There was much we didn’t have in common, but politics and an inability to go to bed during elections was a key talking point for us. We didn’t vote the same – you true conservative blue, me liberal yellow – but we liked a good wrangle over a proper pub lunch and a catch up. We were both united in our utter disdain for Ed Milliband (believe me, the goon gets worse as the year drags on). Whom I gonna call for a good bitch the morning after the general election in May?
You’d have loved the Scottish Independence Referendum. We talked about it that Sunday I saw you last, you hooting with glee at Alex Salmon trashing English politicians like they were bugs. Didn’t matter that you didn’t agree with him – you just liked the man’s chutzpah. Sound and fury with a strong bite, that’s what you required for from your political figures.
I watched that election alone. I knew you weren’t up, at the other end of the phone. I knew I couldn’t call you the next day and talk about the perfidy of the Glaswegians for voting for independence. You couldn’t mutter to me about the ‘nice Glaswegian lass’ who’d drop off your Sunday’s dinner, and chatter to you while you understood 1 word in 4 of her broad accent (and she probably felt the same way about your Geordie one to be fair!).
Smart man, an analytical chemist, I’ve got your poison diaries safe in my desk. I’ll treasure them, much as you did. I read the various experiments and concoctions, the social history in their pages. Testing the waters of the Tyne for oxygen. Examining organ samples for belladonna and other poisons. I don’t pretend to understand any of it, but they represent a part of you that you were – rightly – very proud of, coming from your mining background. First person in the family to gain a degree (in chemistry). I didn’t inherit your scientific nous but I did follow in your academic footsteps, making you so proud.
You were a maverick, the joker in the pack. Life was lived fast and furious for a good while, and you lost us. You lost me. You lost YOU, that was the greatest tragedy of all. The panacea of drink only lasts so long before the joker comes crashing down from his house of cards, to flake like a soggy beermat.
But let’s get one thing straight. I never doubted that you loved me. That you loved my brother and my mother, despite your inability to take care of us. Even at the worst of times, I knew I was loved. I recall your cold turkey, as you crawled on the floor and wept for us to come home. But we couldn’t, and your eternal sorrow was that deep down in your soul you knew that you’d thrown away all that you’d ever really wanted.
I may have despised my step-monster for many reasons, but she did bring home to you the value of family.We reconciled, me a prickly university student in counselling to deal with the demons of the past, you entering a period of long stability. You never drank again. It had cost you too much, and actually you were a stubborn old git when you set your mind to it! I’m not sure we ever gave you enough credit for kicking such a serious addiction.
Time passes; for a long time you wanted more than I was willing to give. Step-monster shagged off with another bloke, you deliberately crashed into his car(!) to make a point. You retired, back to the beautiful village of your childhood. You met lovely Eunice, and were happy for 9 years. She encouraged you to reach out to me, I was in a place where I was willing to connect. And we became friends. And I knew you loved me.
You loved my husband Paul, and Miss Sally, even if you did torment that poor dog by sticking piles of deep fried bacon butties under her nose. You were an unrepentant antagonist – and the only person who could tell you off was me. I remember when you had your hip replaced and it went horribly wrong. You ended up having a cardiac arrest and were in the ICU for 3 weeks until stable enough for a stent. I’ll never forget that morning at work, when I’d rang to see how you were before my afternoon visit and the absolute hollowness in my heart when they told me how unwell you were. Paul & I sat by your bedside and wouldn’t let you get up – the drugs had sent you scatty and you keep trying to escape the ward on your one good hip, even calling the police to say the Germans had you hostage! The staff took it with good grace and thankfully you pulled through. That was a turning point for us both. I visited every day for 4 weeks, hid your salt cellar (Eunice sneaking you another one in), watching you recover and reasserting your cheeky self as king of the ward.
Then the worst happened. You lost your Eunice. You may not have lived together, but your houses abutted and your existences were so entwined it was hard to say where one started and the other stopped. I sat with you the night of her stroke, slept over on her settee in a sleeping bag because you wouldn’t go home. The only person you felt calm with was me. Which is remarkable because I’m not known for my patience!
I know the moment when I truly forgive you everything. When the past no longer mattered. At her funeral, I saw your little grey head five rows ahead of me in the family pew and you were broken. I just wanted to hold you. I knew it wasn’t alright, could never be alright. The warden and I, we worried about you so much over the next few months. I saw what a lovely community you lived in as they all rallied round to look after you. After 6 months you began to regain your insouciant swagger and my worry began to lift a little. Well, it did once I talked you out of trading in your sensible automatic for a little racing green sports car!!
The Sunday I saw you last, we sat side by side. I looked at your arm, next to mine. Like mine, pale and freckled, yours badly scarred from past transgressions. Both brown eyed and with magnificent eyebrows (yeah, thanks for that particular legacy!). You were full of beans, pulling faces at the picture of my brother on the calendar I’d made for you. You stood on the back door step and waved us off, after one of your bone crushing hugs. I’d come back for a second one, something I didn’t usually do, and we each told each other that we loved them.
And I love you still.
And then you were gone. Four days later, I sat by your side, Paul at my side. I couldn’t hold your hand because the IVs had hurt it so badly the nurses had wrapped it in a sheet by your side, so I buried my face in your shoulder and I put my hand on that large forehead of yours; something else I share. The machines went silent. So did you, so peacefully you left me. I feel so privileged to have been with you as you passed, so glad you weren’t alone.
So it’s been a year, old man. Your number is still in my phone. I hear your voice, that loud irreverent laugh. I hear the words, ‘I love you so so much wor Jane‘ and no one else can say them like that, no one but you.
I miss you. I love you.
In memory of Trevor Morpeth, 25th June 1937 – 13th February 2014. My Dad.