Mum and Dad
So, Kev isn’t my leading man. Who is? Well, I suppose I am of sorts, Sally keeps popping up but there are two very obvious candidates that I have overlooked. I have finally worked out who the other two central characters in this piece are, the real heroes of this big old mess. They are, of course, my parents.
I say of course but it took me a while. Like most sons and daughters I rarely notice my parents. What I mean (narratively, at least) is that I have been treating them a bit like wallpaper. You know … they were just there. And once again, of course they were just there. They couldn’t not be there. That’s just the way they are.
I do realise, however, that although this sort of behaviour is pretty common it is far from being the rule. Not all parents are as ace as mine (Kev’s parents barely ever showed) and really I should have been delighted that they continued to turn up every day but it never struck me as anything special. I just expected it really.
I guess it all comes down to this: parental love is very easy to take for granted. I’ve been happily showing you round the ward, introducing you to everyone but I haven’t taken the time to really give you the low down on my folks.
It’s about time you met them properly,(fanfare) so let me introduce you, boys and girls, to Linda and John Parkin (yes they have first names and everything!).
Born to working class families in Doncaster, they met at school (childhood sweethearts!), got together, married young, had two kids (I have an older brother) and because of my father’s job, slowly made their way down the country.
I would now say they are middle class but with roots. Their accents have softened but they still have a distinct Yorkshire twang. They do still lean towards the left politically but they drink Earl Grey and haven’t said ‘Eee by Gum!’ in a long time. Middle class then but with a good old proper bread and dripping, northern memory.
They now live way down south in the beautiful town of East Grinstead (at the moment in the story I am in Heyward’s Heath Hospital just up the road), are retired and have a comfortable life.
So, my Dad, what’s he like? Well, physically at least: I am him. He’s a little bit taller than me but still short for a bloke, a bit plump, used to be ginger and is pretty harmless looking. And that’s me in a nutshell. I could easily be describing myself. When it comes to looks, I am my father’s child.
He is dabbling with grumpiness in his old age but generally he is a quiet, generous, gentle soul who loves to feed people and to top up their wine glasses. A nice bloke who, if you met him for dinner, would insist on paying.
He likes to treat people and himself. Let me tell you about something that happened just today (I’m down at the homestead writing). It’s just after Christmas, my Dad put on a lovely spread and we have all swollen somewhat. Whereas my mother (an old P.E. teacher) is dedicated to the January diet, my Dad just popped out and got (just hours after my mother left to visit relatives) a big box of posh chocolate biscuits.
I, feeling plumper than I would like, told him off but did watch exactly where he put (hid) the box. Those biscuits will be getting a late night raid. What can I say? I’m his son. Us Parkin men just can’t help ourselves.
I have, however, been for a jog today and in that respect, I guess I am my mother’s boy (a bit at least). I’m also her child when it comes to meeting other people and showing off. Whereas my Dad tends to keep himself to himself my mother (given the right circumstances) is a bit of a social explosion.
A keen sportswoman she plays hockey, stoolball (it’s a real game, I’m not making this up. There isn’t a Bristol Stoolball Chart) and badminton. She used to tread the boards and has starred in Am-Dram and Panto. She likes a good boogie too and it is not unheard of for her to pull off some break dancing moves on the dance floor.
Actually I’ll tell you a quick story about my Mum’s dancing.
I was16 and we were on holiday at a campsite in France. We were at the disco and my mother DEMANDED a dance. I knew I was going to have to step up. My Dad would rather die and my brother was no use so I shrugged my shoulders and took her on to the dance floor with a grumpy teenage slope.
Little did I know that I was walking into a trap.
My mother was a bit drunk, feeling flamboyant and so started to jive. I, like a fool, jived back. With my mother ‘jiving back’ doesn’t involve much: sticking out your hand at the right moment, a vague sense of rhythm. I may have been the man but I was definitely not leading.
Slowly, to my horror, a space cleared on the floor and we were soon surrounded by drunken French youths who clapped and cheered us on.
This was a red rag to my Mum’s jiving bull.
Before I knew it she was bouncing off my hips, disappearing between my legs and playing up to the ecstatic crowd. I begrudgingly indulged her, provided a hand to twirl on, moved my feet in time and prayed for an early death. I tried to disappear as soon as the song finished but the drunken crowd demanded an encore and Mum was only too happy to oblige. I can still remember the slowly creeping sense of crushing adolescent embarrassment. I tried to console myself with the fact that at least we didn’t live in this country. My mum, at the end of the dance, bowed for Christ’s sake.
So that’s my mother. The life a soul of the party.
She has another side however. I’m not sure if she gets this from years of teaching or competitive sport but she has a fierceness. If she tells you off you know about it.
It is with this fierceness that she loves me.
I have always felt my Mother’s love but at this moment in the story it is even stronger than ever. It has a force to it. A power. A will. It could knock you off your feet.
As an adolescent boy it used to infuriate me but now, as a man, when I do occasionally feel its strength, it breaks my heart a little.
I can feel my Dad’s love too but just in a quieter more discrete way. He wouldn’t want to make a scene.
I am introducing you chaps because I think it’s important you know them a bit more. Maybe like them too. It’s important that you know they are good people (let’s take that for granted, as I always have) but more significantly, I want you to know who they are, to get a feel for them. Because before we go on much longer, we will have to go back, back to the dark stuff. To the real hard slog of this story. And I’m not really there … not during the early days at the hospital and not before the accident …not really …
So … it is time you will spend with them when we travel back to the whys and the wherefores and that terrible telephone call early one morning.
You will see the casualty ward with them, the drips and the tubes, the machines moving with my breathing and then a little further back to … to … I don’t really know…
I don’t know.
It’s so very dark. So dark that I can’t see.
But they did see it. They saw the whole sorry story right up to that moment, that ghastly moment …
I can’t … I just can’t place it …
Even now it’s so hard to imagine, to draw a picture in my head.
Was I resigned and happy? What did I look like? Was I sad?
Did the wind blow my hair? Did I look down or did I just look to the horizon?
An unseen moment lost somewhere in the past, somewhere in the back of my head.
As I try to trace it across my mind’s eye it’s no use.
And nobody can help me.
I was alone.
Did I look to the sea?
Did I look to the sea and smile?