Thursday, October 25, 2007


I remember the day my Father and I went to pick up the new car with such clarity.

It was a very warm week day. Dad was not at work. My school holidays were in full swing. His break from work had just begun. My skin was a warm brown. His was as white then as mine is now, Britain having bypassed anything close to a Summer this year.

The hairs that made up Dad's wig were rigid. They did not move. All thanks to hairspray for men. Mum's was cheaper and did the same thing, but he refused to use it. The year was 1978, a year in which many gay men were seen sporting lumberjack shirts. Some straight men wore them, too, one being my Father. The shirt was mainly cream in colour with horizontal and vertical stripes of differing thickness in a colour my Mother would describe as brick. His trousers were navy blue; polyester. The belt was plastic and dark brown, as were his shoes, though leather and not plastic. I was six years old and wore, as many a six year old did at the time, open toed sandals or Jesus boots. Some boys in my school told me they were girls' shoes. I wore beige shorts and a white short sleeve shirt.

Mum was washing up at the kitchen sink as Dad and I left for the bus stop. I'd never seen Dad on a bus before, only ever in a car, taxi or van and naturally assumed he'd never taken one in his life. I felt very important thinking I was about to educate my father.

"Bye, Mum!"

Mum kissed me, holding my face with her hot, soapy hands. Bubbles clung to my cheeks.

The car showroom was in Winton, the Moordown end, so we took the number 31 from Fernheath Road. Dad allowed me to believe he'd never been on a bus before. I persued the rôle reversal by instructing my Dad to hold his hand out when we saw the bus come around the corner from Coleman Road.

"And when we get on, you have to say one and a half to Winton, please. The driver will tell you how much you have to pay."

Our wait under the dappled shade from a front garden tree was short. The yellow bus soon made the corner and Dad did exactly as he was told. We stepped into the bus from beneath the tree briefly passing through the vivid light and the warm August sunshine. Dad got the tickets as I waited to dispense the coins he'd given me into the driver's plate.

"This way," I said, climbing the unpainted metal stairs to the top deck.

We sat at the front of the bus, me next to the window, Dad at the aisle. He lit up a fag, took a deep draw on it and sighed. The red plastic seats burned the backs of my legs and I fidgeted.

"This side," he said, winking, and gesturing with a side nod of his head to cross to the opposite seat where we'd find shade from the hot sun. He swapped seats, I followed. This meant I was now sat at the aisle. Mum would never have let this happen, but I said nothing, wondering if perhaps Dad thought I was more grown-up than Mum imagined me to be.

I sat up straight, holding onto the chrome bar before me across the wide front windows of the bus.

"We'll be back in Turbary Park soon," I said, Dad nodding, drawing more on his cigarette. "Then we go up through Columbia and Ensbury Park."

"Oh?" said Dad, feigning interest, staring ahead into space.

I delighted in being right. Children of six often make claims which bear no fruit. But not I. Not today. Columbia Road. Ensbury Park. Moordown.

And then Winton. The first stop in which, was for us.

The showroom contained three cars. All the same (to me), just different colours. I remember it being stiflingly hot. I had no empathy for the man greeting us then, having never worn a suit and tie myself, but here he was, in one and in something of a greenhouse, too, the whole of the frontage being made entirely from glass.

I don't think that anyone in Britain would have even heard of air conditioning in 1978.

"Mr Tapping!"

How did he know my Dad?

"Sit here," said Dad as he wandered off with the man in the suit into a dimly lit space which was too dark for me to make sense of. I sat there on the fabric and chrome office chair for what felt like an eternity. Dad didn't come back. Neither did the man.

Just as panic began to set in, I heard the beep from a car's horn. Looking out into the street, I saw a blue estate car with my father sat in the driver's seat. He was grinning from ear to ear. I leapt from the chair and mouthed shall I come out?

"Yes!" called my Dad, whom I'd heard perfectly.

With no man in a suit so say goodbye to, I heaved open the heavy door from the showroom and raced across the pavement to the car. The passenger window was wound down completely. I rested my crossed arms on the open space and smiled at my Dad. Then giggled.

"Get in," he said.

So I did.

I was happy to be in a brand new car but sad on realising Dad was Dad again and I was the little boy once more.

"You alright?"

"Yes, Dad."

I loved the sound of the engine. Although loud, it seemed quieter than our last car. Another Datsun and the same model, although blue in colour. I wasn't sure about the colour. Our last car was orange and I preferred that.

The noise and the change in the tone of the sounds coming from the engine as Dad moved up through the gears were fascinating.

"Let's go on a drive before going home," said Dad.

We went to Poole. I remember passing the large Barclays Bank building near the Arndale Centre. The next thing I remember was Dad lifting me out of the car back at home in Turbary Park Avenue. I'd nodded off.

I still like to sleep on car journeys, long and short. Some things change, some stay the same, dear reader.

I'm alive. Dad's dead.

1 comment:

matty said...

This is a great memory and a wonderful story.

Interesting how memory works -- what stays and what goes away. ...and, how when collected it adds to something far greater than that particular moment in time.

I wonder what passed through your father's mind as he lifted you from the seat of the new car.

Hope he knew how very blessed he was.