Sunday, 11 September 2016

For Dad, my Hero, on his Birthday - Miss you

For Dad on what would have been his 93rd Birthday (11.9.1923)

I had a wonderfully happy childhood and I remember with fondness the hours Dad played with me and my older sister Sue when he was our very own "buckaroo". He used to get on his hands and knees and we would jump on his back holding on for dear life as he bucked and writhed about trying desperately to make us fall off, Sue and I giggling our heads off as we clung precariously onto his shirt as it rose up over his head. We used to grab onto his hair, but it always slid thru our hands as our grip couldn't fight the greasiness of Brylcream...whenever I smell Brylcream now it takes me right back there.  After he'd bucked us both off, he'd sit up bright red in the face, pull his shirt down, comb his hair back with his hand and enthusiastically get back into position on all fours for us to clamber on him again. We always gave up before he did. He just never tired. Mum always insists that playing this game is why he always kept a good head of hair.

Another game we used to play at home and in the car was "who could keep a polo in their mouth the longest". Dad always won!! Even after the longest of times when we thought we'd beat him, he would very slowly and triumphantly stick out his tongue having retrieved the extremely thin polo from its hiding place in his cheek, much to our utter disbelief and annoyance! He was so competitive.

Dad loved playing games, as we all did and was just like a big kid full of enthusiasm. If he'd had a tail, I'm sure he'd have wagged it.  He beat me at an egg and spoon race when he was 89 years old!!

Dad loved dressing up.
Taken at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Street Party in 2012
When we discovered the brilliant card game  "Cards Against Humanity" (better described as an extremely rude version of Blankety Blank) at Christmas, shortly after his diagnosis, he couldn't get enough of it. The TV went off and we'd play for hours with tears of laughter and hilarity. It was also a learning curve for us innocent daughters and boyfriends. When Mum, in her naivety, asked with a frown what a certain word or phrase meant, Dad would play charades with her and she would immediately know the meaning.  Cue brain bleach!! In the last couple of days before Dad passed away we managed to play a few games with him around his bedside. Wonderful happy memories.

Family holidays we had growing up were very few as Mum and Dad just couldn't afford it but the holidays we had were always enjoyable and memorable. One funny memory in particular is the time we stayed in a chalet in Hemsby, Norfolk. Dad couldn't shave for a few days as there wasn't a shaver socket, so he had a few days' growth on his chin and started looking like a convict. On the only sunny day he decided to put on his garish, skimpy, stripy swimming trunks to go to the beach (we'd never seen them before!), his little lily-white legs poking out beneath them. He stood in front of us all outside the chalet, bucket and spade at the ready, with that daft grin on his face awaiting our approval ... we all disowned him and he was left wondering in mock bewilderment what we were all laughing at ๐Ÿ˜‚ priceless.

I remember the long car journeys when we visited relatives in Sussex, before the M25 was built. We used to stop for a wee break and something to eat at an old greasy spoon in Chertsey, which was run by a friendly Italian family who got to know us well over the years. To pass away the time on the journey, Sue and I used to play silly games which drove Mum and Dad mad. We would sing in unison a tuneless song which we made up called "I like your new....."  We used to fill in the blank word with something we could see, anything  like ... "I like your new ...neck.....lace, I like your new like your new...tie ..and we used to put pause after the "new" and put in extra syllables so it went with the song. We wouldn't stop til we matched the same word and would collapse in giggles much to Mum and Dad's relief as that usually meant a short respite from our little ditty. Whenever we started the song in the car Mum and Dad would just look at each other rolling their eyes and groan. We still did it in recent years when we were all "growed up" just to wind Mum and Dad up๐Ÿ˜‚

Sue and I used to argue on the back seat about who was on who's side until Dad used to look in the mirror glaring at us and said sternly "if I have to stop the car ...." we shut up then as that was enough to quieten us down, until we started singing our next annoying song "are we there yet?" or "I can see the"๐Ÿ˜‚. On the local roads when there were no other cars around, we used to sing "go wigg..erly,  go wigg...erly" and Dad used to weave the car about resulting in us falling about the back seat giggling our heads off, bearing in mind this was a couple of years before seat belts on the back seats were invented ๐Ÿ˜‚

Dad and our older brother, Dave, used to play-fight regularly on the sofa which one time resulted with Dad suffering a broken rib and Dave a broken collar bone. Try explaining that one to the doctor!
We all love winding Mum up as she's so gullible. Dad regularly joined in, or just chuckled at us all whilst Mum asked why he didn't ever stick up for her, to which he just answered with that famous cheeky grin of his, his eyes twinkling. He had a wicked sense of humour and we always had such a fun time going there for dinner once a week after work. Dad regularly laughed until he had tears in his eyes, like the time I was fed a piece of cucumber, which is one of my most favourite vegetables especially fresh from Dad's greenhouse. Unbeknown to me that slice of cucumber had been laced with mustard! I coughed and spluttered announcing loudly "cor that made my eyes water!" to which Dad replied through tears of laughter "and mine" ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

When the youngest sibling, Sharon, was a toddler Mum used to go to bingo with her friends leaving Dad looking after Sharon. Once whilst he was up a ladder decorating the lounge, she stuck her hands in a tin of emulsion and another time she emptied her potty onto the floor and I won't share with you what she did with it!! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜ฑ

In the heat of the glorious summers we used to have, water fights in the garden were commonplace. Dad and Dave had us in hysterics whilst each of them tried to go one better by leaning out of back bedroom windows chucking down bucketfuls of water at each other and all of us being chased round with the hosepipe. Crazy-foam fights up and down the stairs were also a staple diet of our childhood.
Christmas was always special, but not quite as poignant as Christmas just past as we knew that it would probably be the last time the whole family would all be together, so we made it one to remember.  (Dad received the devastating news mid-November that he had terminal stomach cancer๐Ÿ˜ข). We surprised Mum and Dad Christmas morning by decorating the living room Christmas Eve with old-fashioned paper chains which we'd made ourselves, gawdy crepe chains, honeycomb bells and a tacky artificial tree decorated with multi-coloured flashing lights. We'd plied Mum with drink to get her to go to bed early Xmas Eve so we could plan our surprise, but by the time she finally went up, the “decorators” were slightly worse for wear which made even the smallest of thing hysterical and made worse trying to stifle our giggles from Mum and Dad upstairs.

Christmas Day was always a day of laughter and playing daft games. The TV was never switched on until late evening. Last Christmas Sharon managed to find a hysterical game involving crackers and racing Brussel sprouts. It was absolutely brilliant as you will see ...

It was also a time to wind Mum up big time. For some reason, she's always had some kind of weird dislike for the amount of ties Dad has collected over the years, so you can imagine we used to fuel this by buying ties for Dad for birthdays, Father's Day, Christmas and even presents from holiday. This is the reaction that we got this Christmas! (I can't share the previous year as she did rather a lot of swearing in it!)

Christmas was also the time for funny family secrets to come out, the most memorable one being when Sue and Geoff, who were in the early stages of courting and the hilarity that ensued involving tropical fish flapping about under the bed ๐Ÿ˜‚.  Dad used to keep tropical fish and even had a tank in Sue's bedroom. One night Sue had crept upstairs to have a cuddle with Geoff who was sleeping in her bed, as he had to drive to Leeds University early the following morning. After expertly dodging the creaky floorboards on the stairs and landing, she quietly opened the bedroom door and flipped the light switch on, the shock of which caused one of the fish in the tank in there to jump out in fright. They had to stifle their giggles whilst trying to retrieve said fish which was flapping around under the bed and collecting dust on its scales. The following morning Dad had noticed said fish looking a bit worse for wear, and I think Sue may have told him the fish had been fighting. The truth came out years later๐Ÿ˜‚

At our family get-togethers I'm always reminded of the day I put a spinning top on top of my head as wicked sister Sue thought it would be a good idea, so me being the gullible little sibling obeyed๐Ÿ˜‚. It was a friction powered one which you had to roll on the carpet to charge it. Suffice it to say, my very long hair was a complete mess afterwards as the spinning top just "ate" it, a bit like when you see candyfloss being made and it wraps itself round the stick. I had to have it cut out so was left with a rather fetching bald patch๐Ÿ˜‚

Dad was a champion vegetable grower and frequently swept the board at his local horticultural shows which in turn led to him making his own homemade wine and winning various competitions. He even carpeted the loft, decked it out with wine racks and fermenting demijohns and also had a swivel chair up there much to the delight of his fellow wine-making friends… an early man cave if you will. 

In 1992 his village Wine Club organised a trip to the Annual World Conker Championships in Ashton, Northampton. You could've knocked me down with a feather when we got a phone call later that day to look out for him on local TV news as he was THE WORLD Conker Champion of 1991. Sharon and her boyfriend Martin were there to witness this momentous occasion. 

Dad with Ruth Madoc from Hi-di-Hi

Pantomimes with Dad's village Wine Club were infamous....He loved dressing up and one of the most memorable characters he played was Snow White. He nicked mums lipstick and blusher, found a long black wig  and stuffed apples down his top for bosoms. After he had eaten the poisoned apple his "bosom" hilariously dislodged itself when he fell to the floor doing his best to make it look real. We were in fits watching him trying "act" unconscious whilst trying to rearrange his apple bosoms. We have video proof of the whole thing....priceless! These are little excerpts from the two Pantomimes when Dad first arrived on stage (taken on my phone at Christmas whilst watching it again with the whole family last year). It gives you the idea of how he loved to dress up and act the fool ....

Whilst growing up Dad never mentioned what he did during the War. Sometimes when watching old war films, Mum used to say that Dad was in the Pathfinders but we didn't really know what that meant, just something he did in the war. Dad never spoke about it, like so many of these extraordinary men. 

It's only during the last 15 years or so that we gradually found out what he actually did in Bomber Command.  With the advancements in technology, the internet and Dave emailing historian Kevin Bending from 97 Squadron association, who was researching for the book he wrote about the Squadron (Achieve Your Aim), which led to Dad finally revealing many of his memoirs. 

Kevin put Dad in touch with Dirk Ducupeyre, who had corresponded with him over a book he was writing about the raids on his home town of Courtrai and how the Pathfinder Force had minimised civilian casualties. A trip to Belgium ensued for Dirk's book launch where Dad was treated as royalty by all who attended. 

With the power of Twitter and Facebook I connected with our very special "Bomber Command family" who got to know Dad through my posts and found out all about our escapades over the years. The incredible coincidences we encountered along the way, the two most memorable ones were our first meeting with Chris Keltie (How we met Chris Keltie) when Bill Chorley's book of bomber command losses was dropped on the floor whilst Chris was packing up his stuff to leave. It fell open on a page highlighting a 97 Sq tragic formation flying accident. Dad immediately recounted what had happened as he was in the actual formation and had witnessed the two aircraft crashing in mid air.  A few months later on our way home from East Kirkby after Chris Keltie's book launch we tried to find the crash site in Crowland, near Peterborough. I tweeted about it which Di Ablewhite saw and asked for more information, a few tweets later and to our utter disbelief we discovered that the propeller used for Di Ablewhite's memorial to the crew she had researched about a few years before had actually come from one of the two crashed Lancasters! She had often wondered what the story was behind that propeller. Here's Dad with the propeller at  Di's Memorial site.

We took Dad to numerous Pathfinder gatherings, Black Tie Dinners, 97 Squadron reunions, visits to Coningsby and East Kirkby, book launches and signings, not to mention all the places and people we met whilst researching for Sharon and Martin's wonderful documentary, Finding The Pathfinders.

Another trip to Belgium for filming about Courtrai was arranged and was funded by the generosity of a very special friend I met on Facebook, to whom Dad and the family are eternally grateful. The film premiered at The Kinema in The Woods, Woodhall Spa on Dad's 90th birthday and the wonderful flypast by The BBMF Lancaster (The City of Lincoln) over the Kinema afterwards was awesome! She flew so low she set off the car alarms! 

A few days before that at a birthday barbecue we hosted for Dad we had another awesome flypast right over the house much to the neighbours' and Dad's utter delight!
Excuse my screaming!
We'd also played a hilarious game of passing the balloon between the legs which Dad thoroughly enjoyed with all the young ladies there! 

One of the most precious memories I have of the visits to RAF Wyton for Pathfinder Sunday was in August 2012 which commemorated the 70th anniversary of the formation of the Pathfinders. Wyton is indeed the home of The Pathfinders. I'll never forget the look on Dad's face when it was announced after lunch that The City of Lincoln was going to land on the Camp and the veterans and their guests had the honour of actually boarding her. The look on the veterans' faces was priceless and the way they clambered aboard, maybe not as quickly as they used to, was truly humbling.

A month or so later we had a VIP tour of Coningsby when Dad actually got to sit in his Mid Upper Gunner position ...we were all in tears.

In November that year we had a very special tour of Just Jane and Dad got to sit in the cockpit.

Sean with Dad and I in the cockpit - video courtesy of Chris Keltie

Had a few tears and a rather funny moment up there which you'll see on a previous Blog Post

Not a day goes by when I don't think of Dad or his name comes up in conversation. I have so many wonderful memories, photos and videos to look back on.

Dad's wicked sense of humour stayed with him throughout his illness, even in the last few days when he was so very poorly. One poignant memory I have is when one of the lovely District Nurses came to see him the day before he passed away and went beyond the call of duty to make sure he was comfortable maintaining his dignity throughout. Afterwards, he smiled weakly and thanked her, asking how she did the job she did, then reached out his frail arms towards her, she leant in towards him and he kissed her on the cheek thanking her again with tears in his eyes, then whispered "don't tell 'er downstairs!" A priceless moment and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so did both! That moment will stay with me forever.  She even visited us the day after we lost Dad. The carers, nursing staff and everyone at Macmillan were absolutely wonderful to him and all the family.

Shortly after Dad passed I received an amazing gift from a close friend of mine which was a Star named after him. We often look towards the southern stars to see if we can see his devilish wink in the sky.

Forever in my heart my darling Dad, you touched so many people's lives, from those who knew you and those who got to know you through posts on Facebook and Twitter. Rest in peace.

Love you with all my heart  xxx


  1. What a wonderful post about a very special man. Made me cry. Lots of love to you and yours Sandy. Thinking of you xxx

    1. Thanks so much Kathryn. He was a very special man, loved by all. Sorry I made you cry. I had lots of tears writing it too xxxx

  2. Beautifully written as always, he was loved by so many but especially his wonderful family and reading this you can see why, a very. very special person...twinkling away up there, you can't extinguish a light like that!! Love to you all xxxxx

    1. Thanks so much Jack (Di?). I think he'll wear himself out twinkling up there. He loved you too and his eyes always lit up whenever I mentioned your name xxxxxx