Three framed photographs of different sizes and various hues stand on a shelf in the bungalow living room. All contain images of females. There is one of a pre-pubescent girl with ribbons in her hair holding a bag of sweets while standing in a wooded glade; another of a woman in her early fifties sitting classically at an angle on the edge of an armchair with clasped hands and face to camera; the third shows a woman in her eighties looking fresh in the obviously cold atmosphere around her donned in matching white woollen hat and scarf with dangling golden earrings. They all smile.
They are all dead, frozen in a pictured moment shortly before their passing.
They are my two sisters and mum.
Or, my dad’s two daughters and wife.
The females in our family, gone.
Which means of course that only Dad and I remain.
I arrived early back to the bungalow from a trip to India last week owing to another death, that of my mother-in-law.
In a strangely apposite manner you could stand another set of photographs in a mirror-like arrangement in the living room with my mother-in-law, wife and daughter complementing those already placed on the shelf.
So, back to my dad and me.
My first memory of him is as he runs down a beach in naked panic and I am sat beneath a candy-striped umbrella which is stuck in the sand. A day later I see him from the backseat of the Vauxhall car turning into our road with one family member less.
Then he goes a little bit AWOL, always working at the factory or out in the shed or all-night fishing in the river Thames with his brothers and workmates.
He disappears completely for long stretches, always returning with presents, until with a minute to spare – apparently – he narrowly avoids hauling us all north where I would have become something of a Scouser.
Instead, he takes me to watch midweek football games under the floodlights at Loakes Park where Wycombe Wanderers play their Isthmian League home ties against the likes of Slough Town, Walthamstow and Wealdstone, winning, losing and drawing in about equal measure. I can recall what must have been a cup game against Brentford, a professional team from nearby west London, who wore a strip of red-and-white striped shirts with black shorts and all eleven of them looked about a foot taller than our lot. We lost, I think, 1-4.
Brentford was where my grandad was serving as a policeman at the time he met my nan (who already had four children) and following some mysterious fire and an insurance claim they were able to buy the first ever family-owned property in Widmer End, where dad was brought up alongside eleven other assorted siblings. Having narrowly avoided the permanent trip north, he remains a south Bucks lad through and through. Like me, really.
During my teens we kind of lost touch with one other in some ways, although early on he always took me down to Cosy Corner on Friday evenings to buy paper-wrapped fish and chips to eat back at the house while mum visited one of her many Irish sisters. After this routine was discontinued – other than a pummelling he gave me for not cleaning my football boots – we didn’t re-connect until he imposed another bout of violence on me following a shop-lifting incident, this time using his fists and later claiming to mum that I had howled like a pig – which was pretty much true since I didn’t want to punch back because I knew that would be the end of our relationship forever and yet I wanted the violence to stop also.
We managed to stay friends and when my mates came over to the bungalow purchased not far from the house he never complained when we made a lot of noise and doused each other with cold water from the garden hose on hot summer days, or smoked drugs or…
Actually, the violence was always at his wife’s instigation.
Next up, I left home and we had some more argy-bargy when I returned briefly – again with my mother centre-ground – and that was pretty much it until I married and had a son of my own. Since dad was semi-retired by now we’d go up to the bungalow and the three of us play together in the garden until mum returned from her waitressing job at the nearby D’Israeli manor house.
Several years and one daughter later we moved to a place on Dartmoor and when Dad suffered his annual mental breakdown he’d come down to stay and he and I would take walks across the moor and on the coast until he was well enough and patched up and ready to go back for another round of normality at the south Bucks bungalow. Really, we were the best of pals.
Shared holidays were taken in Normandy and Kerala and then my remaining sister was diagnosed with cancer and things changed for the worse. Trying to help with her alternative treatments he wore himself out until the inevitable occurred, and his second daughter was prematurely laid to rest while he looked on in deep sadness.
A fissure arose and it wasn’t easy to understand why, although the usual suspects were always watching on from the background.
Mum’s illness, diagnosed after a fall during a trip to Switzerland, meant that he devoted himself entirely to her well-being and as he became immersed in her life so did his moods fluctuate accordingly.
We stayed in touch and of course I helped out where possible – but then…last Boxing Day mum passed away in hospital, so that dad and I rode back home in the car together; with this time just the two of us remaining.
So now, here we are in the bungalow for a while, Dad and me.