Friday, March 13, 2015

My Dad

There was quite an age difference between my mother and father, around 20 years, so my father would have been in his early 40's when they got married in 1945. He would always appear to me, as a  young child, as being quite gruff and somewhat distant as a parent. This might be put down in part to the fact that he was profoundly deaf. This was due to an incident which happened when a gas-gun he was carrying in the back of the Land Rover exploded whilst being driven at the time. I should explain that these gas-guns were used on the farm as a way of frightening off birds, particularly pigeons,  from crops and operated on a timing system. No doubt the one that exploded hadn't been put on safety when it was being transported. He did eventually wear a hearing aid, but only when he could remember to use it and then when it was working correctly and not making loud whistling noises which must have been very uncomfortable for him. Once I'd left home, and after my mother had died in 1981 and you'd visit him he'd be sitting watching television with the sound turned up almost full volume and it was obvious that he wasn't using his hearing aid, so you'd have to hunt around for the television's remote control in order to reduce the volume so you could begin a conversation with him.

He was very good with his hands. He was an excellent welder and this would have been handy with regards repairing equipment on the farm. When we were very young children he constructed an amazing four-wheeled contraption which allowed four of us older children to pedal the thing around the village. It had a steering wheel like a car and the same sort of pedal and chain mechanism you'd find on a bicycle to power it. We sat behind each other rather like a tandem. I'm not sure what became of this wondrous machine, but I have an idea it met with a serious incident, perhaps ending up in a ditch or something worse as as a result being beyond repair and ending it's life in one of the barns on the farm and never being used again when we grew too big to be able to fit in it, which was a real shame.

My Dad certainly seemed extremely accident-prone. The incident which caused his deafness, or at least contributed in large measure to what poor hearing he had before the accident, was just the beginning. At harvest-time there were always problems of some sort or other with the various bits of machinery breaking down and then needing repair. The weather was always an important factor when the corn was being harvested, so if there was a threat of rain then the combine harvester or baling machine would have to come to a standstill. If there was a breakdown, and there were many, my father would be on the spot attempting to repair whatever machine it was in order to keep the harvest going. It was whilst attempting to repair the baling machine that he managed to cut his hand. There is an extremely sharp knife inside the machine which cuts the twine which runs around the bales of straw so I presume it was this which caused his injury. He was constantly shoving his hands inside these machines without any thought of injuring himself. He had to return to the farmhouse with blood pouring everywhere and my mother's training as a nurse must have come in useful as she cleaned up the wound and bandaged his hand but this didn't prevent him from returning to the harvest field to continue with repairing the baler.

On another occasion he was doing some sort of repair on the horse-box my mother owned which was used to transport her horses around to various places. I think he might have been replacing a tyre or something and didn't have the thing lifted up on the proper sort of lift such as you would expect to use for the purpose and the horse box was balanced precariously on a pile of bricks. It was just when my mother was about to serve up Sunday lunch and he came flying into the house, again with blood pouring everywhere. The horse box had collapsed and crushed one of his fingers. He was rushed off to Accident and Emergency in Bedford and it turned out the top-most segment of the finger that was crushed when the horse box collapsed on it had to be removed. Which ever surgeon did the operation did an amazing job but it meant he never had any finger nail on that finger. It must have hurt considerably, but he never seemed to show any sort of pain as a result of the accident.

There could be times when you were with him in the car when he was driving and it could be quite hair-raising, particularly if he was driving past a field that had been ploughed or was being harvested. He would be staring at the field and making comments, particularly if it was a neighbouring  farmer's  as he was sure to make some comment such as 'Huh, that's  a poor field of wheat!" or "ploughing's not very straight!" or "It's full of weeds!" and you'd be holding on to your seat for dear life as the car wandered all over the road and you'd be worried sick that you didn't end up either in the ditch or being hit head-on by another vehicle.

He knew a great deal about cars and it was always useful when something went wrong with your car, as he was really good at sorting problems out, particularly if you couldn't get your car to start, as was often the case with cars I owned, and usually first-thing in the morning if I was driving off somewhere in the middle of winter and it was cold and frosty. Also, if you were looking for a new car he would come with you and check out any car you might be consider buying and make some comment, either good or bad about a possible purchase. He would always ask you, if you were going on a long journey, "have you checked the oil, the tyres, water?" etc etc. All good advice, but it could get a bit tiresome at times.

When I was at Rushmoor School we used to have school on Saturday morning and he was supposed to come and collect me to bring me home afterwards. On several occasions he totally forgot to come and collect me and I was left standing on the pavement outside waiting patiently. He would no doubt be somewhere talking with someone or other and then realise he'd forgotten me. I think he had on one occasion actually gone home and my mother had asked him where I was, and he had to go all the way back to Bedford to collect me. It was on one such occasion when it was raining and I got soaked through, standing and waiting. All this long before mobile phones and being able to ring up or text, of course. It's amazing how we take such technology for granted. I'd love to know how he'd have responded to all the modern technology we have now, such as the internet, mobile phones and multi-channel television such as Sky. I think he would be overwhelmed by it all.

Dad had a passion for cars. Infact, almost anything mechanical or with an engine in it. Which would explain his ability to weld and to build the pedalled contraption already mentioned in this post. He had a variety of cars over the years. As we grew older, the need to have a vehicle which was merely a taxi to ferry us around, either to school or other places, became less and less. So be bought cars that were a little more, how should I say? Sporty? Built for speed? Probably. He had a Triumph Herald 12/50. A little green car. Quite a nifty little beast. But my father wasn't one to leave a car alone. He had to tinker with it and had twin carbs put on it, and extra dials added to the dashboard inside to measure R.P.M. etc. These refinements only made things more difficult when the car broke down. I remember driving with my mother to Fronton-On-Sea in this vehicle (see earlier post for description of our summer holidays on the Essex coast, particularly Frinton and Brightlingsea.) and this car kept over-heating. I think it was during a period of very hot weather. We had to stop in a lay-by somewhere en route, I think probably the Avenue of Remembrance near Colchester, and having to fill the radiator with water as the car was boiling over. I think it was definitely as a result of the 'extras' that had been added by my father. We didn't get much further on, only a couple more miles or so, and having to stop again to top up the radiator. You can imagine how long the journey took, as we had to wait for the radiator to cool down before taking off the cap to put water in. I can't remember where we got the water from. Probably we had to stop and ask at a petrol station or even a private house and no doubt we had a water can with us kept in the boot of the car.

A little later he bought a Triumph 1300 TC. I remember it was gray. He seemed to love it. For it's size and engine it was quite nifty as far as I remember. This was well before I passed my driving test, so I never actually got a chance to drive it. He then decided that my mother should have a car and he bought a second Triumph. This time a maroon colour. Well, as you would expect, my mother kept her in an immaculate condition. Inside and out were kept spotless. Meanwhile, my father's car was dirty. Well, living on a farm you expect there to be a lot of mud and other unmentionables. My mother stuck to driving on the roads. My father not only drove on the public highway but also drove around the farm on farm-tracks. More mud and manure. Also, he drove across fields, through the worst conditions imaginable and probably not the sort of conditions a car such as a Triumph 1300 TC was designed for. So no only the exterior of the car, but also it's interior became very dirty and unloved. Also, because it was driven across very uneven ground it seemed to effect the suspension or something and slowy and shortly it began to develop an annoying squeak as it was being driven. I don't suppose my father could hear it due to his deafness. To cap it all, because he smoked a pipe, and often when he was driving, the car began to fill up with rancid smoke and the smell of tobacco and the remnants of burnt tobacco. Which added not inconsiderably to the very run-down appearance of this vehicle.
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