Tag Archives: Dad

My Dad RIP

My Dad died in June. He was 96 and right up to just his last few days was still talking about all sorts of random stuff. Here’s the eulogy I gave at his funeral:

Roald Dahl, a Cardiff boy, wasn’t supposed to have been the nicest of people, but in the preface to what I think is his best book, Danny, Champion of the World, he wrote something like this:

What a child wants – and deserves – is a parent who is sparky.

Well, my dad was literally a sparky. He was, for a few years, an electrician. But he was also sparky. He was sparky, kind, generous, and wonderfully, brilliantly eccentric. He was a great father. He was also my friend.

Just last week, in going through his things, I found a newspaper article, probably from The South Wales Argus, reporting his retirement as a magistrate. He was on the bench for 26 years. Here are a couple of paragraphs from that article.

‘Wishing Mr Strong well for his retirement, court clerk Jon Badman said ‘I can honestly say that in the 19 years I have been clerking here, whenever you have been chairman of the bench I have always looked forward to an entertaining day.’

Entertaining? He was a magistrate, not a juggler!

And then later, in the same article, there’s this…

‘Mr Strong, who joined Newport magistrates in 1971, wore a flamboyant Donald Duck tie to mark his final day.’

Dad had a range of ridiculous ties. My brother Roger is wearing that Donald Duck tie tiday, I’m wearing one featuring Homer Simpson and my son Jake wears the one decorated with those guardians of the law, the Mister Men.

Yes, Dad was eccentric. He often wore a deer stalker and, for a while, had a large badge of an eye pinned to the back of it. The eye was a lenticular image, one that appeared to move – so the eye winked as he walked the short distance from car or motorbike to his office. He’d also smoke an upside down pipe, and in his pocket carry a plastic moustache, which he loved to produce so he could utter his most loved pun ‘I moustache you a few questions.’

About ten years ago, after slipping on the garden path and falling on a metal joist he ripped his face open, knocked out half his teeth. But the next day, when I went to see him, horribly bruised and disfigured, he laughed as he told me how he had not only taken himself to hospital, then discharged himself, but got up early that morning and go out, as usual, to buy milk and paper, and enjoy the horrified look on the faces of passers-by. ‘I look like the elephant man!’ he chuckled.

Moving back through the years to my infancy, I remember how he taught me the word onomatopoeia, as that was the word he used when he wanted me to get out of the bath. Andrew – on a mat appear – now!

But for most people who knew him he was their optician. I remember the four floors of HJ Strong, on Upper Dock Street, which got successively more cluttered and ramshackle the further up you went. A bit like Dad’s psyche – superficially he was bastion of the community, but get to know him, climb up the dark upper storeys of his mind, and you discovered a wildly imaginative and slightly messy man.

Dad never cared about money or material things. He was a little bit chaotic, and his stories were often rambling and circuitous. In those last weeks in hospital he often engaged nurses and doctors with his exhausting stories. When he began to hold forth, fixing a nurse or orderly in a storytelling trance, I would quickly take my leave, fully expecting by my visit the next to day to find him still going and the staff comatose on the floor.

Over the course of his life Dad had many hobbies and interests: he loved making cine films, took hundreds of photos, he loved motorbikes, airguns, (a fascination that skipped a generation) and there was golf, of course, but there was also his interest in electronics – he built a remote controlled caddy which later evolved into gokart for the grandchildren. He designed what he called the cupot, half cup, half pot, which he sent to Dragons Den; he learnt the clarinet for a while, practised dowsing, and, inspired by the cranky theories of Erik Von Daniken, once built a pyramid in the attic at home in which apples would supposedly stay ripe and he proposed blunt razorblades could miraculously regain their sharpness.

In his last weeks he was as interested in everything as he always was. I made a note of the topics of some of our conversations: the fall of Rolf Harris, Frank Skinner, the German radar system, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a game called centrifugal bumblepuppy, JPR Williams, Morse code (while in hospital he insisted to one of the doctors that a bedside monitor was spelling out his initials) and how the nationalisation of the coalmines led to the demise of the coconut matting industry.

He was a kind, generous, warm-hearted and eccentric man, a brilliant father and, considering his generation, incredibly liberal. He loved the Goons and although he owned very few books, he had at least three by Spike Milligan. He was quirky, funny, loveable. I will miss his monthly calls to check his premium bond numbers, the regular visits to his flat to go through the same paperwork I went through the month before but which he’d manage to jumble up into a confused mess. I’ll miss scrabbling around on the floor of that flat to retrieve his glasses, remote controls and batteries. There were batteries everywhere. I think at the last count we’ve discovered about 120 in his flat.

I’ll miss his silly voices, his rambling stories. I won’t miss his ridiculous ties, they’re still with us. The banana tie, Homer Simpson, the Wallace and Gromit, the Mister Men, Donald Duck.

Goodbye Dad.

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The King’s Speech and Other Stories

Every time I see my father he tells me something that makes me laugh.  I saw him last week and he told me about a photograph he bought of ‘The Post Office’ in Bridport, Dorset.  A local told him that it that shut in 1901 after the postmistress was receiving a report, via telegraph, of the death of Queen Victoria.  At that moment the line was struck by lightning, the postmistress died, and the post office had to close down.

Here’s another royalty related story my father told me. It originally appeared on the Awfully Big Blog Adventure website.

 *    *    *    *    *

My mother is in hospital, so I went to have lunch with my father.  He’s a sprightly and intelligent man, he can string out a tale, and always surprises me.  We sat in a very ropey pub in a damp corner of Newport in south Wales.  For some reason we began talking about my father’s childhood, and the story of the King coming to Newport.  I wanted to rewrite it from my father’s point of view, trying to keep it more or less as how he told it.  The year is 1937.

  *    *    *    *    *

 Mother, or Mama as I called her, took me into town to see the King. I was nine, so I assumed it would be some sort of private conference, just me and him.  Perhaps he had something to tell me.  Of course it wasn’t like that at all. When we got to the centre of Newport, there was a huge crowd, but Mama, bold and obstinate, pushed through them all to the front.  And there was His Majesty, about to lay the foundation stone.

Suddenly Mama grew excited.

“The King,” said Mama, “he digs with his left hand.”

It was a grand day. A big cheering crowd. Mama had bought me a flag.

“I knew it,” said Mama.

I could see the King’s head but not the shovel he was holding.  I waved my flag.

“You don’t remember, do you?” said Mama.

“I don’t remember what, Mama?”

Someone started speaking, a very loud voice. There was a lot of clapping and cheering.  I couldn’t see what was happening and I needed a wee.

We went to the Kardomah.  Mama allowed me a lemonade.  She sat opposite me with her coffee.  The Kardomah was steamy and busy. It was nice.

“You don’t remember any of it, do you?”

“Yes, Mama,” I said. “You told me.” It was in the papers and on the wireless. I repeated her words exactly.  She’d said them enough times. “The King is coming to Newport to cut the first sod.”

“I don’t mean the King,” she said. She looked cross. The lemonade wasn’t very fizzy.

She stared past me. Perhaps she was hoping to spot someone she knew.  She knows lots of people. She is always stopping to talk about her sciatica.

“I was talking about you, not the King,” she said.  “When you started school the teacher wouldn’t let you write with your left hand.  Don’t you remember?”

“I think so Mama,” I said.

“You were forced to use your right hand and it made you stammer.  You stammered quite badly. We went to see Dr Harris and he said you must be allowed to write with your left hand. He wrote a note to school and straight away your stammering stopped.”  Her eyes were getting watery.

“I know Mama.”

“And the same silly people have done that to the King,” she said.  She looked cross again.

Cross but with watery eyes.  “He’s been forced to use his right hand, but he naturally uses his left.” “Poor King George,” I said.

“But don’t you see?” she said, as much to me as everyone else. “That’s why the King stammers!”


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