Happy Father's Day
I love this picture of the old man.
It was taken, I guess, in the late 50s. It’s Exmouth, by the beach he would a few years later make his (and, in time, my) home. I spent many sunny days tottering along that wide concrete wall where his right foot is resting. Beyond it, a drop of 2 feet or 10, to the sand.
Every time I look at it I wonder something else.
A suit and tie - on a pushbike! The shoes - are they crepe, maybe suede too?
The P shaped bracket sticking out from the frame, near his right shoe - on to there slid the front light in the style of the time; heavy, two large batteries that often fell from the underneath should the road’s unevenness jiggle the light enough to dislodge the fixing sufficiently.
The hills almost faded into the sky; across the estuary to Starcross and Dawlish.
What is that vehicle behind him? It has a number plate so maybe three wheeler motorbike of some kind…surely too narrow to be a car? And anyway, it’s on the pavement. Tell me it’s a motorbike and sidecar. George and Mildred.
Today, I worry for his trousers. No cycle clip. Perhaps he has a chain guard, where the lad behind him doesn’t. It reminds me of the time I tore a ragged gash in my school trousers on the Monday by not using a cycle clip, and when worse was to follow the next day. I can still picture myself waiting for the traffic on the way home. I am in no hurry. It feels good to rest my arms and let the blood back into them, and it wasn’t going to be much fun when I got home. Dad would be mad. The brake cable had popped out as flew down the hill towards school; an inch of new-shoe heel slowing me to a halt was all that saved me from Certain Death. I wasn’t sure Dad would see it as a good thing. The line of cars is long: the factory where the shoes were made is kicking out. Some of the lads who lived on the estate nearby get free new styles to try, so that the factory got to know if there were any faults. I am beyond envious. My shoes were made in the factory but Mum bought them in town three days ago. It wouldn’t be her who went mad: I’ll get a ‘wait til your father gets home’ and the eternity to discover whether I’m in for a rage, a good smack, to be sent to bed, not allowed an ice cream when the van next comes around, or any combination. And all delivered against a backdrop of my sister playing the new David Soul single on repeat. Starsky is my favourite and that song cements it.
I snapped this photo with my mobile at his sister’s wake a couple of years ago, as long hidden family photos were pushed around the pub table between the wet rings from afternoon pints. Joni said we are only particles of change orbiting around the sun, and if she was right (and she’s right about most things), it’s pretty spectacular that those particles can organise themselves into a human in a suit on a bike, pausing a second for a picture that his then unimagined son would be looking at sixty odd years later on a little, unimaginable, device, observing that his Dad is unknowingly - if cooly - smoking one of the cigarettes that would do for him a few decades later.