Paternal Eccentricities

Over the last year or so Mum has talked of the things that irritate her about my father and I confess that my usual response has been ‘Mark (my brother) and I can’t really see anything different’. Dad is 83, some 15 years older than my mother, and he always has been a tad eccentric. He likes order, routine and things to be done in his own imitable way; yes it’s irksome on occasions but then I don’t have to live with it 24 7 as the Americans say!

Christmas has made me rather more sympathetic to my mum’s complaints; well not exactly complaints because she knows that’s just the way he is but as he has aged the generational gap somehow seems wider. When I was growing up I was aware he was nearer in age to my granny than my mum which amused me rather than anything else. 

My smoking is tolerated as long as I indulge in the garage (which is bloody cold at this time of year); my mum says ‘have you been for a smoke’ when I emerge into the house. A smoke? Am I an elderly gentleman puffing on a woodbine? No it’s frankly a more sophisticated infusion of nicotine with none of the nastiness ‘a smoke’ implies! This visit home has seen my garage time interrupted on more than one occasion as mum bursts in with some tale of dad’s antics although she never stayed long!

Yesterday, as I was strolling around the car (smoking) before we left for a fleeting visit to my brother in the North East, a lorry reversed down the lane and stopped at the top of the drive. Not in the mood for conversation I turned my back and walked to inspect the border. But there was no escape as the driver walked towards me with a bin bag clutched in his hand. ‘Did your dad phone to say the bin hadn’t been emptied?’ the man asked. By now I could see he was wearing the uniform of the Council refuge collectors.

‘I don’t know. I’ll ask him’ I reply walking to the back door to enquire if dad had indeed been demanding his council tax paid services. Not waiting for my response the man carries on towards the back of the house saying ‘the bin bag wasn’t out when we came yesterday that’s why it wasn’t collected’. Dad is adamant he hadn’t phoned by which time the man has returned to the van bin bag in hand!

As he walks passed me I say ‘he didn’t call’ to which the man replies ‘I think it was your dad’ and as he’s polite (and cute in a rough kind of way) I conspiratorially smile and say ‘it’s entirely possible (he did)’! What kind of daughter would betray a father’s trust so lightly? A little light flirtation lifts ones spirits and who am I to deprive a stranger of my wicked little smile (with crutch in hand he’s hardly going to do anything other than gratefully accept)!

The deal of that day was mum and I would share the driving to my brother’s house; in my car as it’s rather more comfortable than the ‘run-around’ my parents own. I rue the day I persuaded mum to consider a smaller car graduating away from a lifetime of VW Golf ownership as she has bellyached about the Ibiza ever since! Of course in retirement the car buying budget is smaller and the VW prices a tad too high. So the basic – ‘bottom of the range’ as mum refers to the car – model was purchased. ‘It rattles; it has no padding at all. You can feel every bump in the road’ mum observes.   Mum is a perfectly competent driver although given the ‘handy hints’ my father (who hasn’t driven for at least 15 years) proffers you would never guess. But she isn’t confident on motorways as she doesn’t do much motorway driving. As we were going to just below Newcastle for the day sharing the driving seemed like a good idea. That’s what insurance is for and it’s only a car!

 So off we set and mum is suitably impressed with the way the car handles. As she drives she is making a check list of what she needs when she changes the car – which I’m guessing will be soon – on the list ‘a small steering wheel’, ‘ lots of padding’ and ‘wide tyres’! I drive a top of the range Seat Altea TDi Sport with a ridiculously high specification most of which I wouldn’t know were there – male friends are amused when they point out its top qualities and I look blankly at them (as if to say ‘and yer point (lovely boy) is (what exactly))!

 All goes well until we get off the motorway and the communication of the instructions seems to be translated into a different language between leaving my lips and arriving at her ears. Perhaps it was the shingles – bless her she resembles someone who has done several rounds with Mike Tyson and come off second! I do hope that she isn’t scarred as it on her face. Anyway back to the journey. Tension rises as she loses the confidence of the motorway driving rather toooo slowly around the numerous roundabouts! And then she utters the ultimate retort ‘you’re just like your father!’ Touché lady! Calm down dear! Neither of which I say of course!

On arrival I understandably need a cigarette and am pacing (as only a crutch reliant person can) by the car. Mum and Dad are failing to get my brother to answer the door; it turns out he was cleaning the windows! His doorbell doesn’t work and he had been out of earshot with a chamois! When brother realises I’m not coming in he tells me I can smoke ‘out the back’ as I am obviously lowering the tone of the street with my behaviour! Compliant as ever I clip clop through the house to the yard and am forgiven.

A little while later I overhear Dad saying ‘I’d like to buy you a doorbell’; brother says that won’t be necessary as he’s on to it! A couple of years ago Dad had insisted on buying me a plug in door bell just like the one my parents have. What I don’t tell him is that of course it works perfectly well as long as I turn the plug on; which I sometimes prefer not to!

Today as I was drying my hair before leaving my parents house mum asked me to move my car so she could get her car out as she was going back to the doctors. The tablets she’s taking for the shingles seem to be having an impact on the absorption of the insulin (she is a type 1 diabetic); last night whilst in the garage I hear her in the pantry having come back downstairs after going up to bed. Her blood sugar has plummeted having been high all day and she can’t reach the lucozade as dad has put it on a shelf out of her reach! Ladies when considering a partner do take account of the height differential mindful of the challenges this may cause in later life. Mum is 5’2” and Dad is (or was) 6ft!

So Mum has gone by the time I am packing the car to drive back to Wales. As she left she said ‘I’ve made you a sandwich and left it by the fruit bowl’. So the last thing I do before getting into the car is look for the sandwich. Dad is doing the crossword and firing questions at me to test me (and fill in the blanks)! I have placed a bag containing the contents of the bin upstairs on the breakfast bar and say ‘I’ll put that in the dustbin on my way out’.  Not convinced he has heard me I carry on looking for the sandwich. Dad is a bit meticulous about tidying things away and I notice him tying up a plastic bag next to the ones I have just placed on the breakfast bar.

There is no sign of the sandwich by the fruit bowl or in the fridge or anywhere. I assume mum had forgotten the sandwich in her haste to get off to the doctors. Dad asks what I’m looking for, ‘the sandwich mum said she’s made’ I say. ‘Oh yes she made it’ he replies before pausing  for a moment before saying ‘do you think it was in the bag I just put in the bin?’ So he goes to retrieve the bag from the bin, he has tied it up so tightly that he has to rip it open to examine the contents. ‘Don’t worry love I’ve got lots more bags’ he says as if to cover his embarrassment as the sandwich is revealed!!!


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