Suzanne - Memories of my Father

Created by Peggy 11 years ago
For a time as a very small child I secretly thought my Daddy was Fred Astaire. They were confusingly linked in my mind. First of all, my father was a wonderful dancer. Everyone said so and – to me – Fred and my Daddy looked alike. My father was justifiably proud of his dancing medals and I loved watching him playfully whisk my mother round the kitchen as he casually hummed a tune. (Later he patiently spent hours trying to teach me how to dance – once taking the lesson on to our tennis court as I struggled with the turns and we needed a lot of space!) In one of my favourite photographs of my father he looked very like Fred Astaire to me – it was taken in his photographer days – he was an aerial photographer in the Royal Air Force and then worked on Fleet Street when he came out of service. He is striking a model pose against a white background – I learnt later he was setting up the lighting for a shot. He has a broad grin and is looking very sharp with his pressed trousers, crisp white shirt and tie – attention to detail obviously important – even down to the stitching on his shiny shoes. This photograph and the dancing were complemented by watching musical movies with my father from an early age. After watching ‘Funny Face’ in which Fred Astaire is a photographer who dances around the story with Audrey Hepburn the connection was made in my young mind. Quite what Fred Astaire was doing moonlighting as my dad I never considered but to me he will always be a little bit Fred! In fact I was to learn my father was absolutely his own person. He was a born storyteller and I loved hearing his stories. Born in South London he told me tales of his boyhood during the Second World War. My grandpa had been a brave soldier who still had a bullet lodged in his head and my father had once been smuggled in to my grandfather’s billet. After the war my grandfather had worked on the railways and had been given a watch for his years of service that my father wore. My father had been evacuated with his two sisters, Joyce and Sheila and his mother but my Grandma had not liked their hosts so they had returned to face the Blitz in London where they sometimes slept in the tube stations to escape the bombs. My father had once been a look-out for someone selling illegal goods on the street. He had boxed in the same stable as Dennis Waterman. He was called ‘Snowy’ as his hair was so blond. He used to sleep walk as a child and nearly stepped out of a first floor window. He was once attacked by a swan in a park. He used to swim in the Serpentine with his friends – unthinkable now. So many stories etched in to my memory… As a young man I think my father would agree that the RAF was a catalyst for him. He did his National Service – including a stint in Germany – and then stayed in for longer. He learnt a trade – photography – that would launch him in to an interesting and glamorous career after he left the force. He made two great friends – Peter and Trevor – who have remained his best friends for fifty years. He was in the RAF when he met my mother – at a dance at Wimbledon Town Hall. Afterwards he took my mother and her friend home to Ham on the bus and then had to walk home to Wandsworth as he did not have enough money for the bus fare home. Later, instead of an engagement ring they bought a Vespa so my father could scoot home from RAF Cottesmore to Ham and see his ‘Peggles’. They courted in the dancehalls - dancing, always dancing… I loved hearing about my father’s Fleet Street days – working in Manchester Square; for Smee; going to a press conference at the Savoy to see Charlie Chaplin; seeing Churchill; photographing exhibits for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Reflecting now I think I became a picture editor and art historian largely because of him. He quietly taught me to really look at pictures and to love them. Our house was always full of boxes of photographs that I loved to look at. I loved the stories behind our family pictures and the surety they gave my life. I have started taking photographs myself now and this is a great joy for me. I love capturing and recording happy family moments just as he has. He was also a natural researcher. He constantly found new subjects to research – segments he had heard on the radio, people he had met, articles he had read would constantly spawn new interests. He fell in love with new subjects – one of the signs of a gifted researcher in my eyes. My parents taught me to love cities, especially London. Even though they left London when we were little we returned nearly every weekend and there was always a sense in my mind that it was ‘better’ than the small town we had moved to. Driving to London – Ian and Dad off to Stamford Bridge to watch the football and my mother, sister and me off to shop and have haircuts – there was a wonderful moment when we drove along the Finchley Road and we were there. We did exciting things in London – we saw shows – musicals mostly – this was the era of Andrew Lloyd Webber. I remember one very special year when my father took me on my own to see ‘Wind in the Willows’ at Christmas time. I wore my best dress. He was always very fond of Mr. Toad and his catchphrase ‘Poop, Poop!’ On other visits we walked the streets and soaked up the atmosphere. We ate great pizza in the Pizza Express on Fulham Road before the game. We wandered along the Kings Road and saw punks. We saw exhibitions – my first memory of an art gallery was going to the Tate and being allowed to choose a print to have framed for my bedroom – I chose one by Paul Klee. These visits gave me a love for London and ensured that the moment I left home I headed there and stayed there until I moved to New York. It is still my favourite city on earth and part of this is the bond I feel it gives me to my Dad. He loved the countryside too – I have beautiful memories of holidays in the Lake District – but when I come home now I feel that it is London that is in my blood. My first views of Manhattan were shaped when I was a teenager by watching Woody Allen movies with my father. Movies are a common theme in my memories of my childhood – we watched a lot of movies together. Long before he visited the city my father loved New York – jazz clubs, the food, Jewish humour, stories told to him by his American friend, Augie. (I loved to hear about Augie and how all he had in his ‘fridge was pints of cold milk and chocolate cake – a story that now fascinates four year old Mariella). I am glad I moved here – it was such fun to share the city with him and my mother when they first came to visit us. On their visits they walked the city. No cabs or buses or subways for them – they pounded the streets to make them their own. 72nd and 2nd down to Times Square and back – no problem! Another note on Woody Allen – I remember a car journey with my father and us listening to one of Allen’s stand-up routines on the radio. It was a sketch called ‘Moose’ and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Listening to it today I can hear my father laughing beside me. My father was the person I wanted to tell when I saw Woody Allen walking across Park Avenue a couple of months ago. It was a ‘New York moment’ for me and I wanted to share it with him. My overriding memory of my father will always be LAUGHTER – what a lovely one to have! His chuckling and his explosive laughs that would make him shake and cough. We once lived in a house where my bedroom was above the kitchen. My happiest memories of that house are of waking up and lying in bed and listening to my parents chatting and laughing with each other downstairs. My father’s capacity for friendship was like no-one else’s I know. He loved to make new friends and new connections. Tennis was a huge part of his life and he made great friends with his opponents, partners and his pupils. The word most applied to my Dad is ‘generous’ and I think this goes for everything – his time, his money, his heart! One of my favourite songs is called ‘Everybody Eats When They Come to My House’ by Cab Calloway. It reminds me of my parents - cooking together for family and friends was one of their biggest pleasures. I am so fortunate – I have always felt that my parents are my biggest fans. They were truly interested in their children and managed to create and value three people with very different personalities and with totally different interests – science, art, sport – these all got equal attention and praise in our house. We have all been shaped and inspired perhaps more than we know - a sportsman and – as it turns out – a great salesman – can’t think where Ian got that from! When Dad and Ian went to Canada for six weeks - hiking in the Rockies - I missed them terribly. I remember very clearly waving their coach off and crying. Dad loyally wrote to me and sent a string of postcards of bears – addressed to me to make me feel special. I remember the excitement of waiting for the coach to arrive back in the car park and seeing him climb off. He has turned out to be a wonderful Grandpa too – ‘Gumpa’ as Venetia called him today. He has caught Mariella’s imagination with tales of birds and hedgehogs in their garden. After each tennis lesson this summer Mariella would ask one question, “Will Grandpa be proud of me?” She was delighted when when he gave her a trophy to show her just how proud! My favourite photograph of them? One taken on his 70th birthday in Norfolk where we had all gathered to celebrate his big day – he picked her up and danced with her in his arms. My childhood was a very special one and set the foundation for a happy life for me. My parents’ relationship was an inspiration to me – I remember often walking in to a room as a child and finding them kissing. I know I am lucky to have the memories I have and to know that my family love me – and to see my own girls being loved in turn. I was a Daddy’s girl – still am!