Ten years ago today was my father's funeral, at which I stood up and delivered the following remembrance of him:
When I was very young, about 25 years ago, I remember sitting in our dining-room and looking down at a red slipper. The red slipper was sitting on the carpet in front of an armchair. The slipper also had a problem. The slipper had begun to come apart at the toe, so that the front of the sole was hanging down like a gaping open mouth beneath the whole of the front of the foot. Suddenly the slipper began to talk to me.
"Good evening Stephen." the slipper said to me. Although I was only about 5 at the time, I managed to have quite a conversation with it. It turned out that the slipper had a twin brother, who I don't think it got along with very well. I remember at one point the slipper actually fell off, revealing a foot, that continued to agonise for several seconds before realising its nakedness and fleeing back into the slipper in embarrassment.
The other thing I remember is the foot's voice. It was the same voice that Father Christmas had whenever he recorded messages for us, it was the same voice a puppet emu later had, and it was the same voice that the man who always looked after me used to have. The man whose bike I used to ride to school on the back of. The man who took care of all the complicated things like telephone-bills and family holidays. The man who always seemed to be around while other people's lives were taking place. What was this man's name? His name... was... 'Daddy'.
I remember daddy taking a magic marker pen and drawing a big smiling face onto a yellow baloon, and then using static to stick it to the dining-room wall, so that this big yellow face would just hang there, smiling down at us.
I remember a kid I knew saying to me that if his dad and my dad ever got into a fight, then his dad would win because his dad was stronger. I remember knowing how wrong he was, because I knew that the idea of my dad getting into a fight was utterly inconceivable.
I remember my dad sitting down in the living-room, sneezing, and rocking his chair back so far that he broke the living room window.
I remember my dad getting his book Smokey published, and receiving a royalty cheque in the post.
I remember my dad making several home-made rugs.
I remember my dad singing, sometimes to us, sometimes to himself, sometimes to the cat.
I remember him doing the Rubik's cube.
I remember the smile on dad's face whenever he watched an episode of Sergeant Bilko.
I remember going to Hampton Court Palace, and seeing dad in his full work uniform, welcoming the three of us with a huge salute.
I remember dad working all day at Hampton Court, coming home at 6:30 for a sandwich, and heading out again half an hour later for his evening shift at Richmond Theatre.
I remember him accidentally appearing in a national newspaper standing inside the theatre foyer, next to Princess Alexandra.
I remember that the Department of the Environment decided to transfer my dad away from Hampton Court and to work instead at Kew Gardens for a few weeks. Within a day or so, Hampton Court Palace had famously caught fire and suffered extensive damage. I remember my dad watching the blaze on the news. "Typical!" he said. "I leave them alone for one day and look what happens!"
I remember how much he enjoyed baking apple and blackberry pies, using fruit that had grown in the back garden.
I remember the way that, whenever he was making a telephone call, his voice would start to boom around the entire house. "Hello? Dave this end! How are you getting on?" He wasn't shouting, his was just enthusiastic to talk.
I remember all his work for the Conservative Party - canvassing, telling, even organising jumble sales. I remember how pleased he was on Father's Day 1995, to receive a book written by and autographed "To David Goble" by Margaret Thatcher.
I remember my dad always had trouble telling us what he wanted for Christmas, because he was happy with what he already had. "What do you want for Christmas?" we would ask him. "I've written you a list!" he would explain, indicating an almost-blank piece of paper on the mantle piece containing just the 4 words 'First Day Cover Album'. So we'd rack our brains, get him the old favourites, and on Christmas Day he'd correctly guess each of them in turn before unwrapping them. He told me that he liked doing this, because he liked puzzles, and the gifts we got him certainly bore this out - crossword books, quiz books, a de luxe Scrabble set. In fact, his knowledge of words was really encyclopedic.
I remember on January 1st 2000, him opening the french-windows so that he could watch all the fireworks.
I remember he had a spell in hospital last year. I remember him saying that he was extremely grateful for everything that had happened with the family, and we all knew what he was actually saying.
Late one night he was moved to a new ward to make room for an incoming patient. My father asked the nursing staff to telephone us at home to let us know of his new location. When the phone rang at quarter to midnight and it was the hospital, for 20 awful seconds I honestly thought he was dead. When they said he had been moved because he was the healthiest patient in the ward, I knew I would never be so lucky again. A month later, when he was back home again, I told him of the misunderstanding. I figured that whatever he said might come as some comfort to remember when the day came when I would actually lose him. "We thought you were dead," I said to him. His reply? He fell about laughing!
One day last year father came home from the shops complaining that he had fallen off of his bicycle. This he was perfectly okay with. What rattled him though was the fuss that passers-by had insisted on making of him. The fact that he was almost 80 years old at the time didn't seem to occur to him.
I remember father walking around the house wearing an Anne Robinson mask over his face, and accosting each one of us with "You are the weakest link - Goodbye!"
In June last year, I remember sitting with him on a train heading into Waterloo, when out of the left hand window he spotted our intended destination - The London Eye. I remember how he sat up in his seat to get a better view. I remember the look on his face of sheer fascination. I remember what a lovely sunny day we had.
I remember how much he looked forward to his sister visiting for a week each year. I remember how we all enjoyed sitting around the living-room table each night, playing rummey as a family.
I remember when the cat had died on Christmas Eve. I remember Father coming in and gratefully giving him the same three or four big deliberate strokes as he always had when feeding him.
I remember Father talking for a long time about his days as a young man, and recounting to me all of the places he had worked, all of the holidays he had been on, and many of the old friends he had lost touch with.
I remember leaving the hospital one night, and saying that I hoped he had a pleasant night, something that always made him smile. "You do say some funny things, Stephen." I remember giving him a smile and some sort of small wave as I left. Despite the depression of 5 weeks in hospital, I recall him returning them.
The following night, I remember taking his hand and saying "Hello Father."
I remember telling him how much we loved him, and how grateful we were for everything.
I remember him relaxing, and finally completing his long life.
I have no recollection what happened next. After all, without my father there, what was there worth remembering? And the answer is of course, he left us millions of things to remember.
No-one is perfect, and my father used to complain about some of life's more trivial problems - silly misunderstandings, having to repeat himself, anything Neil Kinnock said. But we can't really hold these things against him.
It's far more interesting to remember the things he didn't complain about:
He never said "If only we had a bigger house." Instead, the 4 of us lived happily together, in the same semi-detached house for 27 years.
Although he played them for fun, he never groaned "If only I won the pools." Instead, he took a second job in the evenings.
He never wished "If only I had a better job." Instead he stuck at nearly all of his jobs until each one of them ended independently. How many of us wish we had more space, wish we had more money, wish we had better jobs?
Father was content to have been given a life by whatever great power had created him. My father accepted his lot and, rather than trying to change it, made the best of it. He was happy with his wife, happy with his kids, and, the icing on the cake, he was usually content with whichever cat he was feeding at the time. If only we could all be so certain of ourselves.
About a week before he died, father offered me this piece of rather morbid advice. He said "On days when life seems dismal, you've just got to get on with it."
And if we applied father's formula to our lives, maybe we would also enjoy as full and happy a life as he made his.