The person in the family that I saw the least of was my father. I guess this was the case in most families back in the day as practically all our dads had jobs and when we got up in the morning to go to school they had long since departed to go to whatever employment they were engaged in.
My dad had various jobs from working for British Rail in the parcel delivery dept to working for a company called Plyglass who manufactured double-glazing in the town of Irvine. The few times that we spent together were looking back, very precious to me for the years go past too quickly and times change, circumstances alter and before you know it you are an adult yourself with your own set of troubles to deal with. However the times I remember looking back now that he too is long gone are viewed with happiness.
My earliest memory of my dad was when I was a toddler barely standing holding on to the sides of the sink in the scullery watching him turn around to my cries that he was going fishing without me. If I close my eyes I can still see him standing there with his split cane rod and basket by his side turning back to me to try and reassure me that he was coming back. As time went on memories resurface like snapshots in an old photo album like hanging on to his hair as I got a lift on his shoulders back home from grannies house and he would pretend to loose his balance having me believe I was going to be dropped into a neighbours garden. He would also perch me on the crossbar of his racer holding on to the saddle as I held on to the handle bars thinking I was in full control even though my legs barely touched the peddles. Times we spent fishing along the river Irvine we among the most precious. We would walk from our home in Springside a distance of maybe two miles to get to our spot next to one of the weirs that straddled the river in the endless hope of landing the big one instead of the countless eels and bike frames that we usually hooked. As we sat there we never said anything to each other just content with each others company as morning turned into afternoon then too quickly into evening and the midgies would come out eating us alive. It was then that my dad would take out his secret weapon in defence of those pesky flies in the form of a pipe. Now I’ve never smoked and don’t intend to start but if I did it would be a pipe as the smell of that burning Virginia flake is the closest thing to heaven for me and is the one thing that I would gladly sit in the company of if someone were puffing away on his briar.
I was once sitting in the front garden of my home here in Newcastle and was working on a painting called “Feed the Birds” and in that scene there is a father holding his son in his arms feeding the swans on the Forth and Clyde canal. When it came to the point where I was working on the figures I suddenly became aware of that smell of burning Virginia Flake which at the time was the strangest thing as dad had passed away more than a decade before. It was an experience that was toned with a host of emotions and couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. All too quickly time passes and the big burly man you remember as your dad turns sadly to an image of an old man struggling to breathe on his deathbed whose body had been ravaged by the effects of 30 years of Parkinsons disease and latterly by prostate cancer but his death was a kind release for him for his suffering had come to an end and for me turned into one of the most challenging times of my life.
After the two years of a complete mental and physical breakdown I emerged from it a stronger individual and was able to master my grief by means of my art, using all the memories that had be given me in that small family unit in that equally small village of Springside and its inhabitants turning what I remembered into paintings of a bygone era and a happier one.
So thank you dad for all that you gave to me whether you realized it or not that the memories you gave to me I will cherish all the days of my life and if the paintings that I do make you the viewer feel the same way about your own personal history well it makes me doubly glad. So I raise a glass to you dad, Cheers