Its 2 years since my father died.
Looking at those words feels like looking at a piece of fiction. I still haven’t really engaged in the grieving process, I’m just…frozen. Even though I kind of spent years trying to prepare myself for it. Him having retired to live in another country made it more bearable, because I’d got used to not seeing him every week.
Growing up, I was a daddy’s girl. He was part of that great generation that travelled from the Caribbean to England at the request of the British government after the war (World War II) to help ‘rebuild the mother country’. People nowadays are unaware we were invited. It was a long journey, by boat as it was before commercial flights. Into a strange, and often hostile terrain. I can remember as a small child, seeing the signs in front windows, about rooms to rent, but warning no dogs, no coloureds, no Irish…
He and my mother had planned to return Home after 5 years. Instead, their marriage didnt survive. But he remained a constant (saw him 2-3 times a week) presence in my life, and due to both parents’ belief and encouragement (e.g they bought me a complete set of encyclopaedias- which must have cost a fortune at the time. My mother sent me to ballet lessons, despite having only ever seen it on the telly). I got a good education and made the painful journey from poor(ish) working class to professional (lawyer) whilst also developing creative talents. Music (I got a scholarship. Dad reminded me that Yehudi Menuin came to our house to try to persuade them to send me to his music school) Writing (I was for a number of years a performance poet, and got published in a number of anthologies). They didn’t encourage the fashion design, though. That was because they both sewed for a living. Dad was a master tailor, who also designed and made incredible hats.
Coming from a people who slavery had marked, affecting how children were treated -hard physical chastisement was very much the norm, and dreams of future greatness were quashed in the name of pragmatic survival- I was aware that my parents were very different from those of my contemporaries. Openly affectionate, very encouraging. Dad could never smack me. He’d been beaten so much and so badly as a child.
He used to come back to England every year, stay with us at my house for 2-4 months at a time. Some of my fondest memories, are watching WCW wrestling and Walker Texas Ranger on a Friday with him, and my son. Then all of us going to the fantastic car boot sale in the school grounds in the street next door on a Saturday, wandering about for hours. We were both car boot junkies. His dry wit, astute observations, and sheer bloody mindedness, his doting on my son, his dearest grandchild who was struggling with a learning disability, made those family times special.
When he stopped coming over every year, our contact was by phone. I was desperate to get him to use skype, but… anyhow, something made me decide I had to go visit him, and I got on a plane after a friend invited me to her wedding in the same country that he was in. It was a shock, when I saw him. He was – finally- old.
He hadn’t become old in his 60s, 70s or even early 80s. But at 89 his spirit, his vitality was gone. I saw it in his eyes. A proud man all his life, he was somehow shrunken in spirit, even though physically he looked at least a decade younger (something i inherited from him). His interest in politics was gone. He spoke very little. He dozed, or was introspective.
As always, his inherent charm and charisma meant that those around him- family, friends, people in the nearby countryside town, even the bloody family pets-still gravitated towards him. I decided to pester him into engaging, saying I’d flown 10,000 miles to see him, so he’d bloody well better talk to me! Which would cause him to snort, and laugh. I cherish the time I had with him on that visit, told him to hang on, that his grandson -who adored him- would be coming to see him early next year (it was summer) My son had not been well enough to travel.
When I said goodbye to him at the airport, I wondered if I would see him again. But that’s something that I used to wonder every year I said goodbye when he used to fly over to visit me.
Six weeks later I got a phone call. Because of the time difference, I knew someone calling me at 8am my time, from the Caribbean, could not be good news. He’d had a heart attack, collapsed and died a few hours before. I just about registered the news, then went numb. I’ve…stayed numb to the grief ever since.
I flew back out for the funeral, and I spoke words at it. But the most important ones I spoke came from my son- still not well enough to travel. What do you want people to know about your grandad? I asked him. I knew it was important to my son to have some input. And the words he gave me to read out, were epic:
“He was wise, funny and supportive. And he was cool, always cool.”
Clyde Bruce Prescod: January 28th 1925 – August 30th 2014