Sunday 14 December 2008

Dogfights over Slough

It is often recorded that fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons, have a special bond between them. It is not something that can be easily described, but just exists as a silent entity. I guess the relationship with my father and me was just the same, deep down, and he got me out of many a scrape, from boyfriend troubles to the usual money woes, as I was growing up.

However, as many of you may know, on the evening of 23rd/24th December 2007 my father took his own life. A year has nearly gone by and not a day has passed that I don’t think of him. I shall not dwell on the latter part of his troubled life. Through no real fault of his own he caused hurt in our family, there is no denying it, but he was still my father and I thought I would share some of my memories of life in happier times.

It is, perhaps, poignant to say that my first ever memory of childhood involves him. My brother and I were playing in the garden one winter (I do not remember how old we were) and were happily making a snowman. My father was taking photos of us – and I think this is probably why it sticks in my mind – when he sat on a snail. It is that kind of event that still brings a smile to my face when I think of it.

He was a young boy in the war years and often told stories of going outside into the street where he lived in Slough, looking up into the skies and watching the dogfights between our airmen and the Germans. Mosquito fighter-bomber aircraft were made at Slough and so it became a target for our enemy. It is something that you don’t really think about, but he would recall how dangerous it could be outside when these dogfights were occurring, as shrapnel would fall from the skies. Obvious really, I suppose, but not something I had thought of before. It must have been one awesome sight though, and something that will never be seen again.

He was conscripted into National Service after the war and did his stint on Salisbury Plain. He was on guard one night when he heard snuffling and rustling in the darkness. Challenging with the usual “Halt, who goes there”, he was met with no response. Nervously shining a light across the ground in the vicinity he was embarrassed to find that he had been challenging a hedgehog!

Jon and I had been trying to get him to record his earlier life on paper, as he still had a very good memory of those early childhood years, growing up in the war and its aftermath. Unfortunately, though, he never got around to it.

I am not sure when exactly it happened, and I think it was mum that instigated it, but he became known to us as Pogle. There was a childrens’ TV programme called Pogle’s Wood and as dad was always, at that time, to be found pottering in the greenhouse, mum thought it was an apt nickname for him. From that time on, it stuck.

As a family we would go for walking holidays all over southern England. Many happy hours were spent tramping across places like Exmoor and they instilled in me a great fondness of the place. All we would see on our rambles was the occasional hiker amongst the multitude of sheep that roamed freely across the moorland, down into valleys with babbling brooks carrying cool, clear water. We would have fun crossing over stones to get from one bank to the other, trying not to slip on their wet, uneven surfaces. Many a time, also, it would appear that we were lost, but he always got us back to the car after a long day’s hiking around in a huge circle. Other times we went to Brecon Beacons in Wales and would get caught in the rolling mists that suddenly descended upon us.

When my brother was old enough to be left at home on his own and didn’t want to join in on the family holidays, it became my job to be front seat passenger and to stretch myself as far over to the left as possible so I could see what was coming around the corners of the twisty roads dad used to drive us down, with caravan in tow.

He was a talented man and had been an architect with the London Borough of Hillingdon for many years – he was the planner for the Alfred Beck Centre in Hayes, and it was a weird feeling going to see Ralph McTell there one night, sitting in the auditorium that my dad had basically designed. An artist of great talent, he once produced many watercolours, miniatures and sketches in his spare time. In his later years, he had started to dabble into writing music on the computer and produced several of his own symphonies.

Anyway, enough. He has gone. All I have are my memories and photos, and the lasting hope that he has, at last, found peace. Bye dad.