Today I went to say hello to my Dad.
How was he? Well, much the same as ever, quiet, peaceful.
His entry in the book of remembrance says:
May, Walter Richard. Died 3rd September 1973, aged 58 years.
In the 45 years since he left us I haven't visited very often, two or three times perhaps, though barely a day goes by when I don't think of him. Near the crematorium itself is a small, smart cabin home to the final written record of many. There are five books in three glass-topped, wooden cabinets. One book is for children - thankfully the page for today is empty.
Each name is hand-written by a skilled calligrapher, the first letter writ large in red. Dad is there with perhaps a hundred others. The names are spread over four books depicting differing decades. Today the books are opened to 3rd September. There are flowers in vases around the walls of the cabin and the lighting is subdued. It is silent in there.
This year I'm the same age that Dad was when he succumbed to Leukaemia.
Has this made me unusually reflective? Damn right it has.
I have one or two health issues but basically feel young. I was thirteen when he died and back then his 58 seemed distant and ancient. Now I'm 58 and 'ancient', but I don't feel it. He must have felt so desperate. Three kids, me the eldest, and a loving wife.
I've never really considered what he went through. Cheated, sure, but so much more I would think. Angry? Very probably. Bloody frightened to start with. More so perhaps because he would have known exactly what was coming. He was a Consultant Physician you see, trained to heal. There are probably local people alive today because of him, there must be. The old guy on the bowling green or the lady on the park bench, maybe they are here because he made them well. He would have treated them as youngsters all those years ago. But he couldn't cure himself.
He was cremated but I never knew what happened to his ashes. I believe they were scattered over the memorial gardens, I have a distant memory of having been told. Rightly or wrongly we kids were excluded from the funeral which in a way makes the history of it all the more vague. I had a good look round all the memorial plaques but he wasn't there.
There was an odour of decay around the lawns and neatly trimmed hedges, imagined of course. It must have been the drizzle and my mood.
I enquired at the registrars office if there was a record of who had plaques. She looked though a weathered card index but he doesn't. Plaques only last for ten years at which point you have to renew your subscription and I'm far from sure that one was taken out in the first place. She went into sales mode and gave me an application form in case I wanted one. We'd get a rose with a plaque for a hundred and fifty quid. We each raised our eyebrows. She wondering whether I'd buy one, me thinking, blimey, that sounds a lot. We've managed 45 years without so I see little point. Instead we have photos and distant memories and the generous words of some local people who remember him fondly.
I have so few memories of my time with him. I think I've blocked much of it out.
But I do remember a few days after he died, two weeks before I was due to be shipped off to a boarding school, I found a letter that he had written me a month or two earlier. It ended, Ever loving, Dad. I remember being distraught. His 'Ever' had lasted only a few short weeks and though it wasn't exactly his fault I selfishly felt rather betrayed. I ripped the letter into tiny pieces and chucked it in the dustbin. It seemed the logical thing, to get rid of the thing that was causing me so much pain. It didn't work, it still causes me pain. Me, me, me. What must HE have felt writing it? Christ, it gives me the shivers.
He was born in 1915 during the tumult of The Great War. He died in 1973, another tempestuous year worldwide. Watergate, an oil embargo, Icelandic cod wars and at home the three day week (that's the UK, not my Mum). If he'd lived he'd have been 103 and probably a bit worse for wear but what would he have thought of today's technological maelstrom, Littleborough stuffed to overflowing – and the state of the health service to which he dedicated his life.
In one of the other display cabinets in the memorial cabin is remembered Cyril Smith MP, MBE, Sir, who died on the same date in 2010. Most entries in the books are brief, like my Dad's. Mr Smith's entry was verbose and inflated, reflecting the importance of the man. It includes a four-line poem that begins, 'your life was full of kindly deeds' and ends, 'and beautiful memories left behind'. Well, if certain allegations are to be believed the epitaph could do with a re-think.
I feel a bit cheated that Dad has to share a room with someone 'of certain reputation'.
But as I drive out of the cemetery gates, from the peace of the past to the fury of the present, I buck up when I think of how the two men are remembered.
One by a few with love. The other by many, reviled.
Now I'm smiling. Jan is looking after grandson number two. He's happy as a sandboy having just had a plaster removed from a broken arm, sustained when he fell off the play-house I'd built for him and his elder brother. She loves her time with the boys, as do I.
It's there I now focus after a brief trip into the past. Ta ta, see you soon Dad.