My Dad

I have been wondering for a while how to approach this subject. I like to write, as you probably realise, as I am on the road; I like to observe, and I enjoy the freedom that” the road” offers; I like to watch people, to engage strangers and to watch the world unfold.

I find almost everything interesting, from the suburban development in Baku to the new harvest in sleepy, rural Languedoc. My attention span is short, irritatingly so, for some. It is an issue for which some acquaintances, but few friends, have suggested a pharmaceutical remedy. Some chance; take a pill and morph into some kind of statistical normalcy? Thank you, no, I shall take my place among the observers, the eccentrics and those who rally against the WalMartisation of life.

One does, however, wonder from time to time, where this potentially irritating trait comes from; and the answer is, of course, my Dad.

He is a good chap, my Dad, and one of the best friends I have ever had, but now, The End Is Nigh.

Diagnosed with Lymphoma in March last, he told no one for six months. He didn’t want pity, he said, and in any case, he wanted to complete his peculiar study of South African bus fleets. At 85, he happily wandered to Cape Town, George and Port Elizabeth a couple of times each year to record the excruciating detail of bus chassis registration numbers, and the minutiae of the composition of fleets in the major local and national bus companies.

It is, one has to agree, an odd hobby. However, playing in the antipodean traffic pleased him, and to my astonishment, pleased others. Perhaps less useful than charting the human genome, his peculiar hobby filled in a gap; a gap. I have to admit that many passed and considered of little importance.

But his publications say otherwise; four booklets, proudly published by the PSV Circle, an august body of similarly-inclined individuals, are testament to his work. And for a hobby embarked upon in his late seventies to stave off potential boredom, it was wonderful; and epitomised him.

So on Saturday morning, when the phone rang suspiciously early, and my niece, the fantastic Fiona, told me that the nursing home indicated that next Saturday’s football results would hold little interest to him, I got on a plane. For the fourth time since he was given two to four weeks in November, I have to add; there is a little of the tooth that we all had when we were seven or so, that stubbornly held in place.

And so I am en route to London to see him, to bury him or simply to hold his hand and sit with him; and if I have to do that, I will bore him with tales of our trip to Uruguay.

When he was about eighty, I sent him a ticket to join me in Buenos Aires. From there we crossed to Colonia in Uruguay, rented a car and went to explore. What a great week! Rental cars that leaked gas, isolated estancias surprised but delighted to have us show up on their doorstep (Dad had found a brochure in the Uruguayan embassy in London, and off we went unannounced), wandering through the time-warp of the Fray Bentos corned-beef factory, wineries, gaucho-hitchhikers, laughs and more fun than we could have imagined.

My only regret is that he wanted to do it again, but this time travelling to India, and in particular to Dhera Dun; partly reliving seventy-year-old memories, but more, I think, to reinforce a thread that formed an integral part of the fabric that was, and at this moment is, My Dad. I think that we would have had fun travelling to India.

He has, in more than one person’s opinion, been a (bad word), but to those who were fortunate to steel themselves to his rather obvious opinions, and meet the real Andrew Johnson, met an overly generous and ever-curious man; a role model who I am so proud to have had.

We have no unfinished business. He is, or possibly was, my friend, and to my family’s periodic but emphatic Roll Of The Eyes, a role model.

So, off I go, and the next week or so will be a voyage of uncertainty. My friend Jim, whose mother passed away recently, and like I, had a relationship tempered by the tyranny of distance, spoke of the practical issues that death throws up; “it isn’t something one ever gets good at”, he said, “fortunately”.

We will see.