Tuesday 24 July 2012

Immortality and Mapateewa

Dear Dad,

I've thought a lot about immortality recently. First, Jem discovered superheroes (what does unmortal mean, mummy?). Then Mum phoned to tell me you were sick.
I know that, in time, images from the past ten days will fade, leaving happier memories in their place. For a small, often silent man, you filled a lot of space.
Thanks to you, my childhood plays to a soundtrack of John Arlott and Maria Callas (though you said you preferred Tebaldi), windows wide open on sunny weekends as Madame Butterfly took flight along our street. Thanks to you, there was gardening, and London Zoo, and shrimps in the shallows as we squelched through London Blue. There was A.A. Milne, and Amahl, and A Christmas Carol (always begun on December 1st). There was Dr. Who, and druids, and Heinz meatballs for tea while Mum took Emma to Guides. And of course, there was the endless array of pub gardens, our cokes growing warm in the bottle as we stole sips of Bitter from your glass.

In later years, I came to share your love of roses and opera and words-the more esoteric the better (Paul calls his sons chap, as you called him, you named yourself Bumpy, instead of grandpa, and we all call mashed potato mapatweewa). And I find curious comfort in Test Match scores, weather forecasts, and the back page of the Times, neatly folded to frame the Crossword.

I know you weren't always an easy man, but you never raised your voice (or hand) in anger, and I never once heard you swear. You were proud and off-beat and stubborn beyond words, and gentle and funny and kind. And in your last days, when you finally consented to leave the sanctuary of home, you were dignified and graceful and brave. The nurses loved you. And we admired once again the man you were meant to be.

So Dad, this isn't goodbye. Though I don't believe in an afterlife, I know you haven't just stopped. Like the moon and the tide and compost, you'll circle back through the years: more than DNA, more than memories, more than your garden melting back beneath the grass.

One day, Jem too might plant roses, listen to Callas, and make his own children mapateewa for tea.

And I will always love you.


  1. lovely Claire, thanks xx

  2. Surely it's spelt mabateewa with a b rather than a p :), and no mention of smelly cheeses, particularly nasty looking grey scrambled eggs, runner beans or swiss chard, I guess the list of memories is very long.

    Claire ... a lovely piece, he would have enjoyed reading it.


    1. thanks paul. i forgot all about the runner beans and chard and I meant to include the cheese (banished to the garage). the eggs i have forgotten on purpose... but might have to them all in (if you don't mind). and yes, it is strange how many memories there are, once you begin. hope you're doing all right. have been meaning to call but not sure when best to get you (when we're home). can we skype on the weekend?

      as for mapateewa, it is pronounced with a b, but definitely spelled with a p ;-)

      see you soon x

  3. I really enjoyed reading this.
    It is funny how many of the things you mention are things that I remember too... Although I think I had the fortune to eat less mashed potato...
    The list of memories is endless.... From making Tudor- style headgear out of cardboard boxes, to improvising an extended version of the song "Barbara Allen" to last throughout a whole rugby match on the TV!
    I also remember the great delight he took in recounting the time when I was given my first water pistol, and my first words were "Let's point it at Bumpy!!"
    Although, I must say that his sense of mischief certainly outdid mine, as he would greet trick or treaters on 31st October with a sinister state and warn "You should know better than to come to this house on Haloween..."
    I laughed, as well as got a little teary, when reading this, which is not only a testament to your evocative writing style, but to the man he was and the many memories he has left behind....

  4. Oh the headresses! How could I missed them. And the minature wooden Dionne quinns. The list goes on and on.

  5. A beautiful portrait and testament to a well-loved man. You are so fortunate to have had him in your life, to have your youth so embroidered with memories.

  6. That was such a beautiful and heartfelt piece. Your words wove a lovely portrait of your dad - evidently a very strong and interesting character. Lovely to have grown up in a home full of music - and I really enjoyed all your family 'in-words'.