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I'd sat on an upstairs seat of the double decker bus that was taking me home. Just a few hours earlier my father had died and I wanted to get home to be with my mother. I'd realised that I knew too many people on the lower deck and, obviously, I wasn't in the frame of mind to make small talk with anyone. Then, on that day of all days, the wretched bus broke down close to the, Bramley Grange Hotel, so everyone had to get off. I could have waited with the talkative crowd for the next bus, but I needed solitude, so I decided to walk the last part of my journey, that's when an old school friend called, Anthony Napper, appeared at my side. I told him I'd just lost my father and would appreciate some silence, but he gabled on inanely and, as my tolerance was low, I rudely told him to bugger off, which wisely, he did. My sombre mood became a despairing one by the time I reached the village of, Wonersh, for that's when it started to snow. I still had two miles to go and and as I trudged on the heavy as snow fell, I wondered what else could go wrong on that most dreadful of days. It was the Thursday of March 4, 1965, exactly fifty years ago today.
My father died far too young and I regret that for so many reasons. One thing that's always saddened me was I never got to buy him a pint in his local pub, The Red Lion. By the time I reached the age where they'd serve me his drinking days were long gone. Another regret was him not seeing my business success for we could have shared so much together. However, my biggest regret by far is he never got to meet my Jenny, and to see how blessed I've been in life. Today she's listened patiently as I've repeated some of my favourite stories of the man. My wife understands the reason for my nostalgic ramblings.
Dad could be strict and today I recalled the time he was forced to take off his belt to two of his wayward sons. I first heard of this during one of the early 'Oak Table Gatherings' and it concerns some bad behaviour on the part of my brothers, Bob and Len. They had somehow annoyed their mother and she had told them that they'd be in trouble when their father got home from work. On his arrival they were duly summoned and, having listened to his wife's complaint, the two culprits saw him take of his belt. "Into your bedroom," he commanded and, following them in, he closed the door. At least a dozen strokes of the heavy leather belt could be heard and each one was followed by screams and sobs. This happened long before I was born so I was not there to hear the beating but some of my siblings were. However, I suspect that while the beating was taking place my mother was suppressing a smile, for all was not what it seemed.
I have no doubt that when, Bob and Len, saw dad shut their bedroom door, they feared the worst, but he had no intention of beating them. Instead, he whispered to the two lads, "I'm going to hit the bed hard with my belt and every time I do, you've both got to scream loudly." That's what happened and, according to Bob and Len, every whack of the belt was followed by screams that would have put an acting class to shame. I can only imagine the bellowing and shouting and I wish I'd been there to see my sisters reactions. Of course, it was all pre-arranged by mum and dad for my parents were never brutal. I'm sure Bob and Len learned from their scare but we all gained from dads humorous method of punishment.
One way where he would be truly strict was with rules and one concerned lipstick. My sister, Phyl, told me this story in response to one I'd written about the hollow elm trees that surrounded our village green. It's my, Cosy story, No. 101, called. 'Nappies, Elm Trees And Pranks.' This is what Phyl told me. "Those hollowed out trees had memories for me too, when we were fourteen we used to hide our lipsticks in them. Dad would not let me wear lipstick until I left school but you had to be sixteen to get into the, Regal Cinema. So we retrieved our lipsticks from the the hollow trees on the Sunday afternoon but did not immediately apply it for we wanted to get a child's fare on the bus. Not until we reached the cinema did we apply it to make us look old enough to watch the film!" The demands of his mischievous children was a battle for my dad but no doubt a fun one. Phyl went on to say that when she was a couple of years older she bought her first pair of trousers, only to discover that dad did not approve of women wearing trousers. So again the hollow elm trees became her hiding place before she'd change into her grown up slacks.
On this day of ancient reminisces I repeated another old chestnut of a story, one that I intend to tell my granddaughter in the near future. It shows how firm my father could be, in the, 'Cruel To Be Kind,' sense, and it certainly taught me a valuable lesson. From a very young age he and I had played cards together, simple children's games like, Snap and Stop the Bus. As I got older we advanced to some grown up games, my favourite's being, Knock Out Whist and Cribbage. It was during a game of the latter that I made dad very cross. For those of you who don't know the game I should explain that in it you use what is called a Cribbage board and the winner is the first person to peg 121 points, something I had never achieved. However, on this particular day I was slightly ahead and the cards in my hand gave me enough points to what is called, 'Peg Out.' I was chuffed beyond belief for I was going to win my first ever game. But, as I moved the pegs on the board, I realised I was one peg short of victory and foolishly, I cheated!
Dad just stared at me, said nothing, then kept on staring, finally, he said in a disappointed voice, "You let me down, Putner." He then collected the cards and the Cribbage board and placed them back in his drawer. I have no idea what excuses I made but he allowed me to babble on until he raised his hand in an, 'Enough,' gesture. Chillingly he said, "I'll never play with you again!" That was it and I was sent to bed, sobbing and ashamed. Thankfully, he relented on his original decision to never play anything with me again for we did play other games, but never, Cribbage, the one I truly wanted. As far as that game was concerned and despite my constant apologies over the years that I'd learnt my lesson he wouldn't budge. His mind was set and we never played Cribbage again!
So here I am in the March of 2015, reflecting on a March day of fifty years ago. My wife's heard stories about a strict dad, a stubborn dad, a humorous dad and a loving dad. She''ll probably hear them again.
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