The Musician


Last month, on the 1st of May, my Father would have been 100 years old.

Yes, 100. Yes, Father not Grandfather.

Yes, he nearly made it.

Here’s something from the archives I wrote when he was 96:

In the greenhouse, 1988ish

In the greenhouse, 1988ish


My Dad is 96 years old. Most people – after squinting and counting on their fingers, working out how old he was when I was conceived (he was 70 when I was born, FYI) – react by timidly asking how he’s doing. “And is he… you know.”

Short of a few marbles? Bedridden? 

I like to answer with stories, so they can decide for themselves. For example, a few months ago he had a little camera pushed through a hole in his abdomen with local anaesthetic . The next day, because my Mum wouldn’t let him go shopping, he did pull ups on the kitchen door frame to annoy her.

Years ago, in his 80s, he had one of his hips replaced as it couldn’t keep up with him. He was told to rest for at least six weeks. Only one went by and he was off up the road on his crutches to do the weekly shop.

A couple of hours passed and we started to worry. Then, a phone call:

“I’ve had a bit of a fall in Sainsbury’s and they’re all panicking because I’m an old man so they’ve called an ambulance.”

“Oh god!” Mum cried. “We’ll come and get you.”

“No, no I’ll get a cab back – I’m fine.”

“No I think we’d better come and get you.” So off we went to the hospital, and they pulled back the curtain around his bed, and there he was: trousers torn, glasses broken, hair all in disarray.

Turns out he’d been hit by a car outside of the supermarket and broken his other leg.

In answer to the aforementioned questions, yes to one and no to the other.

Posing at Hever Castle, 1998ish

Posing at Hever Castle, 1998ish

Anyway, as well as clearly being a lunatic, he’s quite wonderful. He was hauled in and out of school from the age of 11 to travel the world and sing on stage with his father. He played the drums and piano and sang in bands. He has brilliant stories to tell. He has a fantastic moustache.

Judging a beauty pageant. Great Yarmouth, 1962

Judging a beauty pageant. Great Yarmouth, 1962

Slappin' the base, 2010

Slappin’ the base, 2010

He lead his own big band from the 1940s until I was born, in 1984. Then, 25 years later, he got up on stage again and conducted to cheers that echoed through Birmingham Town Hall. He was brilliant. I am so, so lucky to have been able to see him perform, despite my rather late entry to his life.

That’s him, second from the left. With the cumulous white hair.

On the cover of a magazine, top right

On the cover of a magazine, top right

He was 97 when he was finally beaten by cancer in a small room at St Helier Hospital in London. I wrote a sad, but hopeful story about it. His funeral was two weeks later and was a lovely humanist affair with friends and family all getting a chance to stand and speak about him if they wanted, and the wake was filled with happy memories and laughter and his songs playing on the record player.
At the funeral I stood up and spoke about his strength and read his favourite poem – Invictus by William Earnest Henley.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 
It was something he could recite word for word, even when he couldn’t remember where his watch was.
This was 2011, and my mother spent nearly three years agonising over what to do with his ashes. A gravestone didn’t suit him or our family. We thought he’d like to be scattered in the garden but with him gone my mother sadly had to downsize and leave the home they shared for more than 40 years. We came close to putting him in a window box or plant pot so he could still sit outside but go wherever mum went (which is what he always did).
Finally, she had an epiphany. A park bench, instead of a grave. A view of the rose garden, instead of a cemetery. He would have loved it.
As for the ashes, they’re still sitting in the box in my mum’s new home. I don’t think he’d have minded, he liked to be out of the way. Plus it means I still get to say hello whenever I’m over there.
And anyway. Whenever I picture him he’s still sunbathing in the garden.

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