Sunday, 26 October 2014

John Peel - Home Truths

Whilst many single people in their thirties would be having a lie-in, from 1998 until 2004 I had a reason to be awake from 9 to 10 every Saturday morning.... “Home Truths” on BBC Radio 4. Can it really be ten years ago today (Saturday October 25th 2014) that the legend John Peel died? 

Home Truths was a wonderful gathering place for us oddballs. It was a virtual family before Facebook existed. It was a place for ordinary people to go to where we could tell our less ordinary tales and feel a sense of community. There was a large correspondence from listeners. I remember writing in, sharing something I would never have shared with my friends but somehow felt this was a safe place.

After my father had died on January 15th 1999, I don’t know why but I kept his false teeth and his glasses. Added to one of his hats, usually a ships captain’s hat I could recreate a facsimile of him. Of course it sounds ridiculous, embarrassing to write this now but at the time I had lost him but I still had his smile.

As a child, on the odd occasion he told me off with his favourite phrase, “You’re a right little stinker” (said in broad Lancastrian) the whole force of this statement was lost when his top set invariably dropped down. His teeth were all removed before I was born so I never saw his natural smile. He was always taking them out and fiddling with them, filing bits off that has started to make his gums sore. I never saw him without a tube of Bonjela.

The above photograph was taken shortly before my Dad died. I love this photograph as it encapsulates the essence of him. The shoes are shined, they were purchased some time in the 1960s and he had worn them for over thirty years, replacing the leather soles when needed.

The photograph evidences the frugality, thriftiness and make-do and mend attitude of those who had been through a war. The chair has seen better days but Dad simply added more pillows the more it sagged.

He built the fireplace in 1952 out of some spare floor tiles he had found and a piece of wood. The carpet was threadbare from years of guests walking through, "It'll see me out".

The bit I love most about this picture is the old television stand that Dad had converted into a table. This was possibly mark IV or V. He loved this utilitarian piece of furniture. The little lip around the edge prevented things falling off. The ice-cream tub contained some small items; Bonjela, sandpaper, tape measure, tide tables, assorted screws and batteries. He had everything he needed at hand.
He is wearing a shirt and tie despite having retired in 1975. He would never be seen without a tie. He even had one to wear when decorating. The only exception was when were on holiday on the River Rance in our boat. In which case he wore a button up Fred Perry style T-shirt.

My dog Fred is sat in pride of place. Throughout my childhood I had begged for a dog and the reply was the same, "No". However, in 1998 I was watching a programme about Battersea dogs home with Dad and asked again. He said "Yes". Before he could change his mind, I had organised for the Jersey Animal Shelter to do a home visit and booked a flight to London to go to Battersea.

There were 700 dogs to choose from. I spotted one I liked but they brought out the wrong one. I didn't say anything. We were put in a room together to see how we got on. Danny Boy, as he was called, came up and cocked his leg on my handbag. At that moment, I decided that he would be my dog.

He had been a "lifer" at Battersea - not to be re-homed with children or other pets (hmmm). As soon as he arrived in Jersey he plonked himself next to Dad and that's where he stayed.

We tried calling him Danny but by then early dementia was setting in and for some reason the only word that came to mind was "Fred" and that's how he got his name.

Shortly after, Dad died. My friend Nancy has always wondered whether Dad said I could have a dog so that I wasn't left alone.

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