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My parents moved into my childhood home when I was 5, in 1974. I only remember anywhere else from photos: Sunny Cottage was where I grew up. Earlier this week Mum finally moved out, downsizing to a smaller place barely a few hundred yards away. And so our home is no longer home.

In fact Mum has been keen to move out for years, but for a long time Dad resisted. The big garden was his pride and joy, filled with densely planted flower borders, fruit bushes and trees, carefully tended vegetable beds and a greenhouse loaded with tomatoes and cucumbers. Eventually it became too much and it was great that, a few months ago, they chose the new smaller house together before he died.

Sunny Cottage

Instead of mourning this hugely significant and symbolic change, I instead hope to reflect a handful of the positive times, memories and experiences I can recall from my many years in Sunny Cottage.

The original cottage is the section to the right of the white porch and is over 250 years old. The middle of the three windows is the original front door. This was our lounge, the heart of our home. Here’s where I played; downfall and computer battleships when they were the latest thing, creating Space Lego crafts and space stations. Here’s where Dad taught me to lay and light and maintain a real fire in our beautiful fireplace, where we toasted bread on a Sunday evening. Here’s where I made countless tape-to-tape compilations on the Technics stack system, first watched Not The Nine O’Clock News, The Young Ones and Blackadder, where I spent entire Saturdays watching Swap Shop in the morning then Grandstand all afternoon…

Fireplace

The fireplace earlier this year, when we no longer had real fires…

Upstairs from the lounge on the far right was my room. The stairs and corridor to reach it are narrow, so when we moved in apparently my bed had to be hoisted in through the window. When we helped Mum and Dad earlier this year to start the clearing-out process, the bed left the house via the same window.

My room, where I listened to Radio Luxembourg late at night, face pressed against the speaker, sound as loud as I dared. So many times I woke up with the corner of the radio digging into my cheek, batteries dead or dying. Here’s where I practised French Horn, created worlds during my Dungeons & Dragons phase, revised for exams, plotted countless visions of a future I was actually clueless about…

Height Chart Cupboard under the stairs

As Mum prepared to move out, she traced out the inside of the door to the cupboard under the stairs. This is where we would periodically stand, shoes off, flat on the floor and she would track our height (I’m on the right, then my brother Mike, then my daughters). The first measurements here were taken in 1979, the last just last week. Now our younger daughter is 12, it turns out she’s the tallest of all of us at this age, while my brother is the (ahem) least tall…

For me the best thing about our house was the garden. It’s sprawling, with countless opportunities for imaginative play. We’d play football against the Cotswold Stone Wall, cricket, frisbee, boules, mini golf, anything – even using plant pots and bamboo canes to create obstacle courses for amazing Spacehopper races (look it up!)…

I remember trying to be Ian Botham in 1981; hitting the ball over the fence into the (main) road meant ‘Six-and-out’ and you had to go and retrieve it. We often had so many apples that we’d use the fallers for smashing around with the cricket bat, spraying pieces everywhere.

Before the path around the house was gravelled it was paved, which made it a great race track. The lane alongside the property went up into a field of allotments (long since developed into houses where Mum now lives). We would ride our bikes up the lane into the field, then come screaming back down the hill and skid spectacularly in the dusty grit at the bottom. We’d laugh and do it again, and again.

Garden Frisbee

Garden Frisbee, 1989, post-interrailing holiday

Rachel and I celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary in the garden in a joint party for Dad’s 70th Birthday. Next year we’ll reach 20 years and he would have been 80, and we’ll have to celebrate and commemorate elsewhere. But nothing can diminish or extinguish the sunshine I’ll always carry from our Sunny Cottage home.

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A recent thing that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook has been the 7-day Black & White Challenge: post one photo a day for a week that reflects your life. Photos should contain no people and carry no captions or explanation. And like the best (sic) memes, you’re encouraged to challenge another person to take the challenge each day. 7 times the fun!

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a challenge, and apparently it’s caused far more ranting on social media than I’d wish for from a civilised society in 2017. But never mind that, I took part and enjoyed it. But why should I let the pictures speak for themselves when I can speak for them?

Birthday Cake
The first day of my challenge happened to be Eleanor’s 12th Birthday, so there was cake. She’s an avid baker and indeed she made this red velvet cake herself, and the icing, and iced it!

Black and White Challenge 2017 Birthday Cake

Whiskers
We adopted Whiskers on 1st July 2016, almost on a whim. We knew the family of his elderly owner, but she had to go into residential care, so he needed a new home. We went round to meet him and he was so immediately friendly that we took him there and then. He’s 9 years old, adorable and adoring, he craves and loves attention. I can scarcely remember a time without him.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Whiskers Cat

Bedside Table
These are a few of my favourite and least favourite things, some of which remind me of my mortality every day. Is it a cheat to have these pictures of Rachel, Jamie and Eleanor? I love (not in the same way, obviously) cinema, films and Empire magazine. The Handmaid’s Tale is my current much-overdue reading material. We’ve been watching the stunning TV adaptation, and in fact experiencing the two simultaneously has in fact enhanced my appreciation and admiration for both. A rare feat.

I’m less keen on needing two pairs of glasses now, and two different daily eyedrops to keep my glaucoma under control. Nor am I thrilled about the Citalopram tablets, but after 6 weeks, I genuinely think they’re beginning to make a difference.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Bedside Table

Sibelius
This coming Saturday the Stroud Symphony Orchestra is playing Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony. It could prove to be an emotional evening, as it’s the first concert I’ll have played since Dad died in August. It will be something not to have him in the audience, as he (and usually Mum too) came to virtually every concert I’ve played in the last 20 years. Sibelius is one of our shared favourite composers, and this perhaps his finest symphony. The epic, triumphant final movement might be tough to play without tears.

Black and White Challenge 2017 French Horn Orchestra Rehearsal Sibelius 2nd Symphony

Headspace
Rachel has been a practitioner and advocate for mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion for a couple of years, especially after she took a course locally with Linda Thomas. I’m using the Headspace app (free for a 10-day basic trial, paid-for after that, packed with loads of good stuff). Just taking time out, focusing on my breathing and how I’m actually physically feeling, not suppressing thoughts, just noticing them and letting them pass on by without beating myself up; observing, not judging. It’s worth a try…

Black and White Challenge 2017 Headspace Mindfulness App

Map
I’ve loved maps since I was a child watching my parents navigate our way through France on holiday, and closer to home. I love OS maps and their symbols, contour lines and clarity. This is centred on Tetbury and barely a day goes by without me pausing to reflect on how much I love the Cotswolds. I’ve planned many bike rides on this. Strava is great, but it’s not everything.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Ordnance Survey Map Tetbury Cotswolds

Clock
My last picture was taken on Wednesday, a Bad Day. I’d been working at home but it hadn’t gone well. After a poor night’s sleep I was down, distracted and dismayed all day. Sunday and Tuesday had both been Better Days, but Wednesday certainly wasn’t. By the time I needed to go and do the school run, I felt like I’d achieved virtually nothing. The clock ticked on and I felt lousy. The volatility and seeming randomness of what can make for a Good or Not Good day is almost debilitating.

Black and White Challenge 2017 Kitchen Clock Cornish Blue

But today I’ve genuinely tried to be present, in the moment. I’ve not thought about next week or next month or should I go to that meeting or what about Christmas Shopping? And it has felt productive. Laundry, cooking food, writing this, doing yoga, going to the gym. It might not seem much, but it’s been a Good Day.

We recently spent three days in Amsterdam, the best family time we’ve had in months. The last time I visited there was just for a few hours after a work meeting, on a frigid drizzly January afternoon. Even then I enjoyed walking along the canals, soaking up the history and architecture.

This time we were blessed with fantastic Autumnal weather and a terrific Airbnb apartment within walking distance of everything we wanted to see, and we absolutely loved our time there. Perhaps the highlight was our open boat tour of the central canal network, starting in perhaps one of the busier spots opposite the Rijksmuseum, where cars and bikes and pedestrians come together just like in any major city centre.

But within minutes, the boat had slipped down a canal-alley onto a parallel channel. We were 200m away and 80db quieter. We could have been in the countryside, it was that quiet. And with only 9 of us in the boat, our pilot and guide gave us a fantastic tour, complete with history, architecture, politics and social niceties of this most un-city-like city. We loved noticing all the ‘wonky’ houses, assessing the different styles of rooftop, revelling in the effortless beauty of the place.

Amsterdam Canals Bridges

Amsterdam Architecture

Compact & Bijou? Skinny House.

Amsterdam Architecture

Not quite straight?

 

Bike Bingo

And then there are the cyclists. Bikes and their riders are everywhere. I Reckon about the same amount of space is dedicated to cycle paths as to car/bus lanes as tram lines as pedestrian pavements. It’s very equitable, and this can make for some difficulty crossing the road, as there are so many different things to be looking out for!

Most importantly, however, is the atmosphere around the cyclists in Amsterdam. When I was thinking about this post I was going to consider a series of cultural comparisons on why cycling in this Dutch city looks and feels so different to cycling in Bristol (where I have commuted) and London (where I’ve observed commuters). But that just seems fraught with potential for people to take offence, so I’ll reserve my comments to observations rather than judgements.

In three days in Amsterdam, I noticed

  • traffic signals seem far more geared to the needs and priorities of cyclists and pedestrians than cars: we hardly ever had to wait more than 20 seconds to cross
  • more male cyclists in suits and female cyclists in (proper) high heels than wearing lycra
  • most bikes in Amsterdam rattle, have baskets or panniers, and look like something from a different age
  • very few have racing/drop handlebars
  • hardly any cyclists seeming to ‘race’; very little overtaking or jockeying for position
  • many cyclists wear headphones, many ride along using their phone in one hand
  • parents doing the school run with huge child carriers on the front, or remarkably young kids sitting behind the saddle, or toddlers in special seats mounted on the handlebars
  • people carrying huge bouquets of flowers, or large paintings, or guitars, or briefcases
  • almost no-one wore a helmet or high-vis jacket. Quite a few cyclists at night didn’t use lights

We loved playing ‘bike bingo’ scoring points for spotting different behaviours from that list above. Through the three days we were there, no-one looked stressed: there was no fuss, no fear. I didn’t see a single incident or anyone raising their voice to anyone else, even at rush hour. If we strayed onto the cycle path (this happened quite a bit on the first day) noone yelled, they just rang their bell (everyone has a bell) and we moved quickly away. I’m not saying I agree with all of this (especially those not using  lights at night), but it felt very different from cycling in Bristol, and almost entirely in a good way.

Our younger daughter Eleanor described Amsterdam as a city for people who don’t like cities. Perhaps that’s why it’s one of my favourite places.

The response to my last post was at once astonishing, heartwarming and more than a little worrying. So many kind words, so much unconditional support, not even a hint of the hard time I was giving myself, that I feared might come my way. And so many people who have clearly experienced similar feelings and issues themselves.

THANK YOU to everyone who has sent kind words and thoughts, recommended reading, shared experiences, or contacted me to ask how I am and if you can help. It’s been humbling and uplifting.

More than 3 weeks on, and I’ve been riding the clichéd emotional rollercoaster. In the immediate aftermath of my diagnosis, I felt a wave of relief, of validation. It was official: I had permission to feel shit.

Too good to be true?

Then for a few days in that week I felt really good. I went cycling with friends, twice. I did yoga and played my French Horn every day, went for Autumn walks, talked with friends. But then I felt like a fraud, because I felt good. How can I be off work when I feel this good? How can I have depression? The tablets don’t kick in for a few weeks, apparently, so am I making it up?

But then we went for dinner with friends on Saturday, and I didn’t enjoy it. The food and company were great, but by the end of the evening I wanted to run away. A recurring symptom of my particular depression is an anxiety about being around people, even good friends. I want to curl up on my own at home, where it’s safe and I don’t feel like I have to justify myself. I’ve found it hard to explain exactly what I’m feeling, what I’m anxious about, which again makes me feel other people will dismiss it. I’m desperately sure that I’m bound to disappoint people, either for being depressed, or by not being depressed enough, or in the right way.

Don’t ask me…

The next week was a blur and chaotic. For more than 2 days we had British Gas men in the house ripping out the decades-old boiler and installing a new one, and our daughters were both on 1/2 term, meaning I didn’t have anything like as much time to myself all week. And what was hard was anything where I had to make a choice, or a decision, let alone anything more distant than something like What’s for lunch?  More complex projections were nearly impossible: What do you want for Christmas? What time do we need to leave on Monday? Which fabric do you like for the new chair cover?

Ups and Downs

Week 3 was mostly fantastic – a long-awaited trip to Amsterdam was our best family time in more than a year, despite the long and occasionally fraught travelling. We loved the city and had an amazing time, walking miles every day, revelling in art and architecture, bitterballen and stroopwaffels.

Last weekend we visited Rachel’s mum in her care home; the first time I or our daughters had seen her in a few months. She’s very frail and her mobility is really poor. Normally I’ve been able to almost dissociate myself from the emotions of this, helping her calmly in and out of the wheelchair or car, keeping conversations going. But this time I just couldn’t. I had flashbacks to Dad’s last weeks, worries of my own illness, almost overwhelming, and this lasted almost right through Sunday at home.

On Monday I started back at work, doing 1/2 days. Everyone has been terrific, and for a while it was great to be taking a step back towards normal. But every morning I’ve felt a pang of being clearly not normal. I’ve been (rightly) kept away from the day-to-day complexity of my normal clients: if I find it hard to think about lunch, their needs would not sit well with me…

While I exchanged banter with colleagues I worried again they would think me a fraud (he seems fine). At the same time I was anxious about completing even a relatively simple task, to the extent that when I got positive feedback I almost wept with relief. I’ve been anxious about going to make tea in case someone innocently or kindly asks “how are you?”… my worries being around people are still real. I want to explain myself, but (as this rambling proves) nothing’s clear-cut or straightforward.

Yesterday I got home feeling wiped out, exhausted, jittery. I had a nap and woke up with a fear that felt like it might paralyse me: I simply couldn’t haul myself out of bed. Today I’ve not been at work and have had a day more like that first week; yoga, the gym, time to myself. Again the lifting of any serious responsibility or decision-making is a significant thing. Even the smallest issue where someone else might judge me or have their own opinion is a challenge at the moment. I find it hard to think clearly, and just want to retreat into watching a film, where I can lose myself and shut out the world.

A first step?

But that’s no long-term solution, so I’ve booked a first session with a new counselling service next week. I honestly can’t easily rationalise what’s behind my symptoms; there’s so many potential factors, from work to family, my own health, my Dad’s death, Rachel’s mum… so hopefully they might nudge me into some clarity. And maybe my serotonin levels will start to rebalance soon. Fingers crossed.

 

 

When I first started writing What I Reckon, I didn’t want it to be a grown-up version of a teenage diary. You see, I’ve written one of those before, and it lasted into my 20s. In recent years my time has been more pressured and my posts less frequent but more reflective of challenging circumstances: the bleeding-heart liberal remembering that not everyone is like him, that he, his friends and his parents are decidedly mortal, that shit happens.

And yet I’m writing now because I’m not just angsty, or Moody, or ranty.

I’m depressed.

I have a doctor’s note and a prescription and everything. I was diagnosed yesterday by my GP with the use of a simple self-assessment questionnaire.

PHQ9 self-assessment mood depression questionnaire

Answers on the right-hand side of the grid probably mean you should talk to someone…

7 out of 9 of my responses were in the shaded boxes. 3 were in ‘nearly every day’. In case you’re interested, my scores were 2,2,3,2,2,3,3,1,0.

 

A heart that’s full up like a landfill…

Unlike a pulled muscle, I can’t pinpoint which straw broke the camel’s back. When did I tip from tired into empty, from merely stressed into actually depressed? Perhaps like the frog in a pan of water, it crept up on me. But this has been coming: an ex-boss described 2015 as my annus horribilis but, to be honest, 2016 and 2017 haven’t been a walk in the park. I know my Dad’s passing is a significant part of this, but it’s definitely not the whole story.

 

…but now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured…

The net result of this has been a huge slump in confidence. I don’t think I’m very good; at my job, at being a Dad, or a Husband or a Son or a Brother.  I’m afraid that I’ll make mistakes, or just not help. I’ve wanted to avoid people, because I don’t want to have to tell the truth when they ask “how’s things?”. I avoided cycling on several occasions precisely because I thought I’d be ‘worse’ than I was in the Spring, and look! I was right!

And I’ve wondered if I’ll ever be good again.

And this feeling comes and goes. Last Thursday it swept over me in a wave just by getting Help! coming over on bloody Spotify shuffle while I was walking to work, and left me struggling all day. It was triggered a couple of weekends ago by seeing my Dad’s greenhouse and veg beds empty and bare, when at this time of year they should be groaning with produce. I get a kick whenever I say “Mum and Dad’s house” like I have done for decades and then realise it’s not, not any more.

 

I’m surprised you’ve been doing so well for so long…

Several people have said this in the last couple of weeks, and I want to believe them. Part of the problem at the moment is that I know what people say makes sense, I think it’s true, but I don’t get the emotional kick that tells me I believe it. It’s as though they’re speaking about someone else. I’m pleased that ‘Chris’ (if that’s who you’re referring to) is good at his job, or is a good son helping his Mum, but that’s not how I feel.

 

It will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end…

My colleagues have been fantastic, despite my ongoing fear that I might now be tainted goods, fragile, vulnerable. It was my boss who reminded me of our company’s policy with Lifeworks. A short confidential call with them put me in touch with a counsellor who, last Friday evening, suggested I should speak to a GP. So now I’m signed off work for a fortnight, with a week’s holiday to follow.

I’m hoping to make this time as positive and proactive as I can: exercise, fresh air, time doing nothing. I’m taking medication to help rebalance my chemicals and boost serotonin. I’m expecting to be taking these for at least a few months.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

When I started writing this post, I was hesitant: why write this at all? But then I learned that today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day, and reminded myself that talking is important. So I’m going to hashtag the sh*t out of this.

It is ok not to be ok.

This is far more common than we think. My elder child has had mental health issues, some (but by no means all) linked to having Aspergers-Autism: these have included self-harm. My wife had post-natal depression that rendered her convinced she was a terrible mother and afraid to leave the house.

Please be kind to yourself and each other.

 

 

I had hoped that I might be brave enough to speak about this or the previous post at my Dad’s funeral (held yesterday, 29th August), but in the end I wasn’t.

At St Mary’s Primary School in Tetbury they like to celebrate when children demonstrate the qualities for which they would like the school to be known,

  • Caring
  • Curious
  • Courageous

And over the last few days, as I’ve wondered what to say (if anything) at Dad’s funeral, I thought how these three values represent the best of him, and indeed of all of us.

If I’m honest, the first two of these are easy to talk about.

Dad spent a good deal of his ‘spare’ time getting involved, volunteering and organising events to raise money for deserving causes,, especially through the Lions Club, but also through the annual Stratton Show, volunteering at Cirencester Hospital, and others. In his later years he was also active in U3A, giving talks and sharing his passion for classical music with others. Virtually 100 people came to our memorial gathering yesterday afternoon, from so many different groups, and they were unanimous in their comments…

he was a Minister without Portfolio in our committee, because whenever you needed something doing, he would volunteer…

he didn’t do all these things seeking the limelight…

…you didn’t have to ask him twice… 

I’d always been aware of how much Dad did, both before and during his retirement. But yesterday I got an inkling of how many people his efforts touched, and it made me (even more) proud.

Dad loved learning. I think he prized knowledge for its own sake, and he loved exploring the world in every sense, physically travelling across most continents as well as intellectually – he was often a walking encyclopedia, a search engine before search engines existed. Moreover, he encouraged Mike and I to be curious, in our own studies and travels. Despite being a PhD Chemist himself, he was never anything but supportive as Mike pursued his studies in medieval history and I delved into the murky world of political theories (we’ve subsequently pursued careers in software development and marketing…!)

I spent the best part of two years abroad with a Gap Year in the US and a year studying in France. Mike travelled after university; across Europe, Venezuela, Africa and New Zealand. I skied, Mike discovered diving. Mum & Dad often joked about ‘spending your inheritance’ as they travelled the globe in their retirement, visiting China, New Zealand, The Far & Middle East, Russia…

But when I thought about courageous, I had to pause. I’d never thought of him as a stereotypical hero or a leader. He was self-effacing, not a show-off. He didn’t do a heroic job, saving lives or changing the world. But now I can appreciate his own brand of courage all the more.

Throughout his life he used his curiosity and caring to make a difference for others, on whatever level he could, but not for his own sake or pride; organising community events, researching and giving talks to inspire others about music, giving people lifts to Church.

But on a more personal level, my Dad, like Rachel’s Dad, was a miracle of modern medicine. He fell through a plate-glass door in Czechoslovakia in 1968, cutting his throat and losing far more blood than is good for anyone, especially when the Red Army was on the verge of invasion.
He had heart surgery in the late 1980s and a pacemaker fitted a couple of years ago. Significant and debilitating bladder problems for several years then turned out to be cancer. He had his bladder removed in early 2015, and enjoyed a few months of remission in between rounds of chemotherapy.

Through everything he continued to be positive, cheerful, musical, curious, charming – and all the adjectives his friends used to describe him in their cards of consolation. The consensus that rippled through the room yesterday was of a ‘gentleman’, on every level.

Only when the cancer came back in the lymph nodes and pelvis and spread into his spine did his joie de vivre diminish. Only then did we start to notice that he was no longer doing all the things he had done for years, that he had done seemingly forever.

Only when we took him out to celebrate his 79th birthday at the end of last month did I fully understand the extent to which he had been truly courageous. When the nurse instructed me how much morphine he was ‘allowed’, I realised this dose was more than 4 times he had been living on for the past few months. He’d been ‘grinning and bearing it’, ‘not making a fuss’ for so many days, weeks, months.

So just as Dad was openly and always curious, he was quietly caring, and especially brave. While I shall mourn his passing now and every day forward, I am relieved he no longer has to be so brave.

I will strive to live the best life I can in the same positive, charming and cheerful spirit he did. I hope I can be a gentleman like him.

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much:
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled the niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it;
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had.
Whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.
Bessie Stanley – ‘What is success?’

R.I.P. Anthony (Tony) Moody – 29/07/1938 – 14/08/2017

The Mr Moodys

 

Of all the kind messages I’ve received since my Dad passed away last week, one text from a friend has enveloped me ever since; sometimes in grief, but also in happiness.

…things may feel tougher and sadder, but remember you are made from him and will hold him with you for ever

It has struck me in these last few days how much I’ve reflected on his life and qualities only after his passing. Of course I wish now that I’d done it more, and sooner, and told him. I suppose I did now and then, and I hope he saw it for himself.

But it’s true that I am made from him, and these are just a few of the ways…

Sand Castles
Building sand castles, and indeed the moats, tunnels and trenches that go with them, is both an art and a science. It requires an understanding of the properties of wet sand, a creative flair to adorn your castle with shells, seaweed, pebbles and rocks. And it requires timing.

According to Dad, sand castles should always be built knowing they will be destroyed by the incoming tide. In fact, you should make every effort to ensure you are present to see this destruction. It’s about learning about loss, or something.

Swimming in the Sea
I was a nervous childhood swimmer, having dreadfully short sight. But I inherited my myopia from Dad, and he was a bold, committed swimmer, seemingly even more so in open water. He’d plunge through the waves and swim straight out to sea, sometimes stopping quite a long way out, before turning and swimming up and down, parallel to the shore. He swam several times a week right up to having his bladder removed a couple of years ago, and even occasionally afterwards.

Earlier this month we had a week’s break in Devon with friends, where we went bodyboarding at the fabulous Sandymouth Beach. I knew he was declining, and all the time I was amongst the waves I was thinking of him and how he would have loved it, and how he had helped me to feel confident there as a child.

“Ooh look! There’s [insert ANY sport] on…”
Dad was a keen rugby player in his younger days and all-round sports fan. He was pleased that rugby seemed to be my best sport at school, but more, I remember enjoying watching sports with him.

Rugby (the 5 Nations) was his favourite, and the 1980 England Grand Slam (capt: Bill Beaumont) a highlight, but we weren’t fussy. Snooker became a fixture of the TV schedules in the 1980s, and it rewards the long-term investment a best-of-35-frames final requires across a whole weekend. Similarly, test cricket unfolds over days, or even weeks in a 5-match series: we watched Botham’s Ashes explode in real-time. We revelled in track & field, we loved the great commentators. Sunday teatime was Ski Sunday and its iconic theme tune, and then there was the Tour de France, which combined his passions for long-form sport and the natural beauty of France…

Exploring the World
I’m not sure that Dad was a fan of going somewhere twice. During my childhood we visited Eurocamp sites in virtually every corner of France from Brittany to Biarritz to Briançon, as well as The Black Forest, the Italian Lakes and Tuscany. He drove us all over the place, including an American road-trip from San Francisco through Yosemite, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, coming back to Los Angeles. I loved it. All the while he was a walking travel guide, talking history, geography, geology, everything.

Curiosity
Dad was a PhD Chemist (polymers, I think), but wore his intellect lightly. He read widely and absorbed facts and information like a sponge. There seemed no limit to his ability to relate one thing to almost any other thing. He sought out knowledge for its own sake, he was interested in learning, all the time.

A Wicked Thing (6)
Related to this, he loved puzzles and quizzes, especially cryptic crosswords. I swear he spent more time with the newspaper (remember them, kids?!) folded to the crossword page, and he carefully explained clue definitions and the wordplay, clues within clues and so on.

Make a difference
Dad got involved. He took part and got off his backside to do something; voluntary work, teaching, participation in community groups, organising events. None of this was to further his own position or recognition, but simply to make sure things happened, to make sure other people could enjoy the event, or benefit from the fundraising. He didn’t set out to change the world, but he did make it better.

A word in your ear, from Father to Son…
I’ve written before about my love of Queen, and it was Dad who got me started. From there I moved into ELO, Rock (both Heavy and Prog), as well as exploring his greater love of orchestral music. He encouraged me to take up the French Horn and hardly missed a concert I’ve played in over more than 20 years.

Father to Son is a Queen song from their 2nd album. I always loved it for its blinding guitar work by Brian May, but also for its message.

A word in your ear, from father to son: hear the word that I say.
I fought with you, fought on your side long before you were born…

…Take this letter that I give you. Take it sonny, hold it high.
You won’t understand a word that’s in it but you’ll write it all again before you die.

A word in your ear, from father to son: funny, you don’t hear a single word I say,
But my letter to you will stay by your side through the years till the loneliness is gone.
Sing if you will – but the air you breathe I live to give you.

I am proud to be made from my Dad, and I hope to keep writing the letter he gave me.