Dad, Dates & Nana Mouskouri
Just finished watching “Greek Odyssey” with Joanna Lumley. Before I get too into this blog, may I just say that if there was a school that employed Billy Connolly and Joanna Lumley to teach, I would send our children there. They would be fascinated, motivated and enlightened. I don’t know if it is to do with their natural performing abilities or with being free from having to deliver a set curriculum but I could honestly listen to them all day, learn a lot and never get bored.
My Dad loved the young Joanna Lumley. He would sit in his chosen armchair watching her through half-closed eyelids; pretending to be less than interested yet ever watchful lest he arouse the wrath of my mother. After 40 odd years of marriage and 7 children, I can’t blame her for wanting to remain the centre of his attention.
Tonight’s Greek episode saw Joanna visiting the giant amphitheatre at Epidaurus (definitely one for the Piglet Bucket List) with an older but still very regal Nana Mouskouri. Joanna persuaded her to sing Ave Maria unrehearsed. The voice was older, a little shakier perhaps but still as true, clear and evocative as I remember. Suddenly I found myself tearing up.
Why? Well, I would stand with my Dad in the “good lounge” – the one with the white sofas we were not allowed to sit on – at our suburban London home and sing our own version of Ave Maria while my mum played piano. Dad would choke every time and need a cuddle and a back slap to clear his throat and keep going. Nana’s singing and Lassie films were guaranteed to have the two of us bawling and clinging to each other while my mum, ever practical, tsk-ed at us from behind the ironing board.
I lost my Dad to the dreaded dementia years ago now. It was a long and distressing decline in a once huge, strong presence in my life. I lived my teenage years watching him lose the ability to chat, to concentrate, eventually to swallow and walk. Being the last child still living at home, I’ve “baby-sat” my own Dad while my mum had a much-needed few hours off. We’d watch the Two Ronnies or Dad’s Army and we would always laugh at the same places. We adored the “Charlie Farley & Piggy Malone” sketches the most. No more Lassie’s at that time – he would get too upset. I’ve bathed my Dad and fed him, put him to bed and listened all evening – nervous and panicky – in case he fell or woke up screaming as he often did. I’ve never told anyone outside the family that before. I was only 18 at the time. The evenings I was responsible for my father all those years made childcare for my own two children seem like a walk in the park when it came.
Dad died eventually after five or more agonisingly slow downhill years. I was glad at the end, relieved for my exhausted mum and grateful for his peace at last. Yet I miss him every day.
Nana singing tonight brought him back to me for a brief time. He was practically in the room. I remembered the man who waltzed my mum around the kitchen wearing a hankie on his head (why!?) and was truly rubbish at darts. The man who served in the Navy during the war then worked two jobs for many years to feed his large family. The man who insisted we buy a box of flipping “Eat Me” dates every Christmas! No-one else liked them; he’d eat one or two at the most and the rest would get chucked out in January. The man who was as daft as a brush with me, but so clever. A good, principled man. My Dad loved to hear Nana sing and, tonight, she sent him back to me for a brief while. Thank you, Nana.