On being a writer...

A celebration of the writing process, of being a writer, of all the weird things that pass through a writing brain...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Wednesday, half past four

Every Wednesday at about this time, for the past twelve years, I've saved my latest file, closed down my computer, applied a bit of lippy, fetched my car keys or my Oyster card and set forth to visit my Pa. 

Since our move the journey has required a couple of trains and a hike, before then it was a car journey through the rush hour.  When I arrived I'd ring the doorbell and after a minute or so I'd hear his feet shuffling up to the door which he'd fling open with a beaming, toothless smile:  'Hello.  I didn't expect to see you today.'

'Dad, you knew I was coming...'

And he did, because a tray would always be set out ready in the kitchen with the teapot and mugs, and biscuits or a doughnut if he'd been shopping, or I would bring cake from home.  And we'd sit in the front room, he in his fireside chair, I opposite, near the window, and we'd mull over the latest news.  Sometimes we solved problems - he needed a new vacuum or he'd lost ground in some way - was a bit wobbly, needed to think about giving up driving, or one of his outings.  Always we talked about his grandchildren and the rest of the family.  I would tell him a little about my writing.  He was my greatest fan.  He had all my novels on my shelf and he read them on a loop.  He always said:  'I don't know how you do it,'  and I would say:  'It's my job, Dad.' 

As he grew frailer I grew more bothered.  It was harder to leave him.  Sunday visits became trickier - he was less mobile, we could take him out less.  But he hung on at home until six months ago.

And now this constant in my life is gone.  97 years snuffed out.  It's autumn and the leaves fall and part of me is rested by this knowledge, that there isn't an old man longing for me to arrive, waiting for the doorbell.  And part of me, the orphaned part, knows there has been an extraordinary and seismic shift I have only begun to comprehend.

The world is a remorseless place for a wobbly old man.  Everyone rushes past.  He left a planet full of bad news and crowds addicted to a technology he couldn't share.  But he'd detached himself.  He had stepped away until he was hardly bothered at all by any of it. 

He has made me think that politicians, writers, all of us, are forever asking the wrong question.  We should not be saying: What world do we want to live in?  But:   What world do we want to die in?  Would we not be rather gentler if we worked out the answer to that, a little less short-sighted, a little readier to sit back and think for a while about what really matters?


  1. I wish I had your gift for words so I could tell you how much this piece resonated with me. I do sincerely feel for you in your loss. My dad is 94 and has been in a care home for the last nine months. He is cut of the same cloth as your dad ~ the little rituals you describe echo the visits I made to him in his flat before he moved. I fear I shall know his loss soon. But as family we keep our memories close. May God bless you xx

  2. Thank you, Rosy. I was very touched by this response. And I wish you and your dad extremely well.