Father’s Day

Flying fishI remember you in highlights.
I learned your legend
from photographs and family stories.

You, smoking a pipe at the helm on Iamhar
(he and his three friends poured
all their early earnings into that yacht).

You, in National Service uniform
(happy but homesick in Germany,
two years of letters upstairs in a box).

You and Mum, signing the register in retouched Technicolor
(he looked like Clark Gable
in that one)

You, holding infant me in faded black and white
(he cried the night you were born).
I saw your eyes every morning while I shaved.

Did I grow my beard
to avoid orphaning your grandchildren,
or to escape from your long shadow?

Did I go to sea to find you,
or to build my own legend
in waves taller than yours?

How could I compete with perfection?
If my life had been as short as yours,
would I have disappointed less?

When I see your photograph
I am five years old
and I miss you.

3 Anniversaries and a Birthday

3 Anniversary Cakes

Tomorrow is my birthday. Which I suppose is the anniversary of my arrival on Earth, so that’s four really. But I’ll keep things simple and call it a birthday plus three anniversaries.


The first event happened on the evening before my eighth birthday. We’d only been in the new-built house for five months, so my mother was furious when I got lost in a book and forgot my bath was running until screams from downstairs pulled me back into this world. The bath had overflowed and hot water was pouring through the floor into the kitchen below.

Furious that night, and she stayed livid for some time afterwards. The 18th of January has never lost its association with our kitchen ceiling coming down.

The second event was when on the morning of my thirtieth birthday and the morning of the next day, I had to sit two four-hour criminal law exams. I passed them well, but I still call that a cruel and unusual punishment.

And the third event was exactly a year later, when I was in the West Country waiting for Janette to go into labour with our third daughter, Bev, in London.

I had a deal with my employer that my arranged two-week leave would start when she went into labour, but I had to rely on my mother-in-law to get the word to me and frankly I didn’t trust her to bother.

Also, we’d sold our car in preparation for us all moving out to Gibraltar together to take up my new two-year position as soon as Bev was four weeks old and safe to fly. That’s why Janette and the girls were in London while I worked out my last few weeks in my old job.

Also, also, there was no direct rail route between us. It wasn’t going to be a quick and simple journey from my office to the maternity hospital.

So I called my mother (in yet another part of the country, still in our family home with the kitchen ceiling five months newer than the rest of the house) and asked her to phone my place of work first thing the next morning and say Janette was in labour.

Which she was, actually, only guess what: she’d trusted her mother to phone me but her mother hadn’t bothered.

So I made it to hold Janette’s hand during all three of our daughters’ births, despite difficult journeys and difficult people, and that’s my happiest association with this date.

A little bird told me

BelieveI overheard my wife telling our four-year-old grandson that she’d heard he’d been a good boy that day.

“Who told you?” he asked.

She replied, “A little bird.”

It took me right back to my childhood. Woosh, there I was, aged two or three, playing with my toys on the kitchen fireside rug while Mum prepared our evening meal, and Nan was arriving home from work and saying a little bird had told her I’d been a good boy.

I asked her about that little bird, several times I’m sure, but Nans don’t reveal the secrets of their magic to little boys. In the vignette I constructed of Nan’s walk home from work, he was a sparrow, hopping along the tops of neatly clipped privet hedges and telling her all about my day. I remember it clearly. It was enchanting.

That’s what I wanted to do in my fantasy novel Storywalker, which is now out on query duty. I didn’t write it for kids, but I did want to take my readers back to the magic of their childhoods, when they were curious and questioning and had no problem believing.

Do you have a certain phrase that takes you straight back to the wide-eyed innocence of your childhood? Tell us in the comments!

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