Saturday, 15 August 2009

Dancing like my dad

We all have a picture of ourselves stored in our mind's eye. This will generally be a much younger, more invincible model of ourselves. In arguments, we might see ourselves as stern of face and handsome; forceful and commanding. In emotional times, perhaps we picture our caring faces, radiant and beautiful, beaming down benevolently onto others. What we care to imagine might well be a million miles from reality. Why, even now I'm something more akin to Hemingway battering out scintillating prose in a Havana hotel lobby... in my head. But in cold reality, I'm cross-legged and shirtless on top of an unmade bed in an untidy room in Claptonia.

For most intents and purposes, I used to picture myself as the 19-year-old me. Youthful, perhaps a little more stylish, and full of life and adventure. Nowadays, my inner-eye is more likely to present me to myself as something akin to my dad, circa 45 years old.

I think that's a very good thing. I had a great relationship with my dad when I was growing up - though I flinch to recall my teen years. I was Harry Enfield's Kevin gone wild. I must have been a right bastard to live with, but my dad didn't seem to mind. That's what makes dads so great.

I look a bit like him - I look a LOT like my brother. But while neither of us (more's the pity!) seem to have held onto our hair like our dad did, I think we've inherited something much more valuable.

My dad was never the kind of person to pay attention to any kind of negativity or defeatism. He was almost ridiculously ambitious in everything he did - and he had the energy and bravery to follow his dreams beyond their accepted conclusions.

Before I knew him, when he was just a snip of a lad growing up in the 1930s depression, family rumours abound that he and his brother and sisters would be sent to the local market to pinch food for dinner. We really don't know we're born, you know. My dad's parents both died when he was very young, as did his half-brother, and he was packed off to live in a children's home. He never talked about it much, beyond relating the odd heartbreaking tale about spartan Christmases and birthdays as a nipper, but we've since found out a bit more.

As he went into adulthood, he came into his own. He signed up for the RAF and served in Iraq and Kuwait. Then he held down breadwinning jobs to support his brood - us lot - while simultaneously pursuing his callings in life. And this is where I like to think I'm turning into my dad...

He liked football, a lot. And greyhound racing. And athletics. But rather than spectate, jog or have a kickabout in the park, my dad would go the whole hog. He became a referee, he became a steward, then a referee's secretary, then a football league chairman, then a greyhound racer, then an AAA committee member. He'd give lectures to schools - he'd take my class for football training. He became the manager of a major greyhound track. He decided one day he'd like to be a tipster - next thing you know, 'Spinney' is giving tips to readers of the local paper...

In short, he never saw any reason to hold back. Why be a participant when you can be king of all participants?

This is the greatest legacy that my dad passed onto me - this divine sense of drive. Nothing is impossible and everything is achievable. Almost without me noticing, I started on this father'n'son path when I was still in school. I was into astronomy as a kid - why shouldn't I teach myself to an o'level in the subject? Why not build my own telescope? And why not ask Patrick Moore to help? I want to be a journalist when I leave school? So I become one. Simple as. I'm into music? Let's do a fanzine, let's do a label. Let's write for the NME. Then Melody Maker. Then the NME again. Let's manage bands. Let's get stuff in the charts.

I'm not sure what I'll be doing in the coming few years but I know I will have the freedom to do precisely what I want and to an extent that will probably be a pleasant surprise to me. I will try to look at the world both through my eyes and through the eyes of Lew Barding. Because he's somebody to look up to.

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