On my way back to my flat after a visit to the Coop, I walk past a little antique shop that opened recently and pause to look in the window. A treasure trove unfolds before my eyes. It used to be a second hand book shop many years ago, before I lived here, and I visited often. I lived a few miles away then.
I particularly remember one occasion, (the first time I was signed off work with depression, in my late twenties) buying a complete set of D H Lawrence short stories, the first one I read being Ticket's Please, and it just blew my mind. I had recently joined a reading group and this was instrumental in opening my heart to the absolute joy and wonder of literature. I also bought the complete Sherlock Holmes short stories and some poetry.
Very recently I bought a silver Parker pen and propelling pencil set, (in a brown plastic case and made in England) from the shop who's window now has me entranced. I bought it because it is very similar to the one that mum and dad gave me as a reward for passing my 11plus. It was either late 1971 or early 1972.
I remember at the time dad was wearing his red waistcoat. I loved that waistcoat. It was a dark red and it was felt-like to touch. I wonder what happened to it?
I seem to recall he had a silver pocket watch at one point, but can’t be certain of that. I guess he was trying to cultivate a certain look, similar I suppose to the look I cultivate now. It definitely made an impression on me. He always made an impression.
I also roll up my shirtsleeves like he used to, just one or two turns, and I have a tattoo like he does, of a small swallow on my left forearm.
I had it done while I was still at secondary school and he was in prison, perhaps as a way of holding on to the man I had already lost, that we all had lost, who if truth be told was lost himself, although I was far too young and hurt to realise that then, and have to constantly remind myself of it now.
He has been married now for longer than he was married to my mum, and has never been in prison again. His current wife has the same name as the Pyrenean mountain dog we used to have as children. She is a fine woman as far as I know her, which isn’t very well truth be told. I haven’t seen either of them for, what, thirty or so years now (apart I think from a brief half hour when they were visiting my sister about ten years ago). I stopped seeing him, intentionally, after a particularly painful weekend visit when our children were babies, over half my lifetime ago.
He is an old man now, and I am getting older. I hold no grudge and bear him no malice or ill will. He wasn’t the best father. I’m not sure I was the best son. As an adult I have had no relationship with either of my parents, having lost mum to cancer in 1979. She was 58. I was 18. Her and dad were already divorced and he had moved on. I am 55 now.
I was a child back then, with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I’m not certain I’m a man now, I just get on with life. Sometimes the depression rises and sometimes it’s quiet. It’s been a faithful companion, that’s for sure.
I return to the flat with my memories and essential provisions, tea and biscuits, and I sit and write. Me and the words I try to form into meaningful sentences, my relationship with literature deepening, growing. I am still learning.
I pause to sip my tea, an image still vivid. I think I will buy a red waistcoat.