So, both my mum and dad have their birthdays in February. Having grown up as a family in Bournemouth they have been happily retired in Cornwall for over ten years now. I call them sometimes but not enough, I rarely send them cards, I rarely send them gifts, I rarely tell them how much I appreciate what they’ve done and still do for me, and I never tell them how much I love them. Better late than never, and at 46 years old it’s embarrassingly long overdue. We were never a family who hugged, who kissed or who verbally expressed our love for each other, but not for a moment did I feel anything other than completely and utterly cherished. It’s about time I told them exactly how much they mean to me.
I think I could go so far as to say my childhood days were idyllic. It wasn’t until I passed my 11-plus exams and went to grammar school, meaning I had to think for myself, make decisions for myself and deal with pubic hair, girls, algebra, science and being a growed-up that my blissful, carefree existence began to change. Life’s easy when you don’t have to make decisions for yourself, huh? This may sound like I was a spoiled brat until my voice broke; well my brother and myself never had the best football boots, cricket bats, track suits (and I’m sure we asked for them) or best of anything really, but if feeling truly and utterly loved and supported means I was spoiled, then yes I was. See, spoiled kids in the ‘traditional’ sense are over-indulged with material gifts, which rather than acts of kindness only lead to selfish behaviour. My parents, thankfully, would never let me get away with that.
One virtue both my parents possessed which has taken me far too long to inherit is “if we can’t afford it, we can’t have it”. They both worked incredibly hard, sacrificing so much to support our needs; my dad six nights a week for as long as I can remember, my mum part-time whilst, well… being a wonderful mum. As brothers we were sport obsessed, so equipment costs ran high, but despite (though now I’ve learnt it’s actually ‘because’) being financially prudent, we never went without. We live in a horribly consumerist society, and whilst I’d happily say I have never been overly driven by material needs, I’ve all too often accepted credit if it gets me what I ‘want’. There are plenty more deserving organisations, causes and charities in the world who I could be giving my money too each month, yet it’s Barclays who until recently seemed to be benefiting the most from my charitable nature. Not Barnados, Balls To Poverty or the British Heart Foundation. Bloody Barclays. Mum, dad… I’m learning, and maybe one day I’ll be able to repay every single penny you’ve ever lent me, in kindness if not in cash.
I have three earliest memories; one is a clear, precise moment, the other two are more vague, not of a specific moment but memories born of beautiful repetition. My first memory: I remember the first time I went to ‘big school’. I was five. I remember walking across Kings Park playing fields, holding hands with my mum until we were about 100 yards away. I was crying. When my mum let go of my hand I cried even more. I loved junior school but I’ll never forget the sheer dread I felt at that moment. Second: Mum, I always, for every blissful second, loved you caressing my head and gently stroking my hair. Since those many hours I spent falling into a beautiful slumber in your arms there is nothing that makes me feel more relaxed than a head massage. You will be pleased to know that one of the many ways in which Michelle makes me happy is by doing exactly the same thing; the kind, considerate, beautiful person that she is. Third: Dad, I remember being in your arms, and finding much comfort in nibbling away at your fingernails. Not biting them so they break, but I remember marvelling at the size of your hands how your nails seemed so indestructible. Maybe that’s why I bit my nails as a boy, and maybe that’s why I don’t now.
For quite a few years after I left school there were time when I, rather stupidly, wished I had a more ‘unconventional’ or less ‘easy’ childhood. Other people my age who had not been so settled, who had been through a tougher upbringing experiencing change or family disruption often appeared more confident and mature than I felt. But as life went on I met so many more people who had lived through a troubled childhood, whose parents had split or had been a disruptive influence, who would have given anything for my ‘easy’ early years. Now, more than ever, I have nothing but admiration and appreciation for the way I was brought up. Mum and dad, thank you for being so loving and caring, and for supporting me with the things I enjoyed. My passion for sport may have affected my schoolwork, but rather than focusing on the negative you supported and encouraged me, seeing the enjoyment it gave me and allowed me to make my own decisions and learn from my own mistakes. Yes, I failed most of my exams but then I succeeded in something far more important – being happy – and that was purely down to you.
My childhood days are filled with memories of music and sport, of successes at junior school, failures at senior school. But the older I get my most happy memories are of those spent at home, spending hour after hour playing games – Subbuteo, Scalextric, Totolpoly, Monopoly, Risk, Hotel, and endless hours of card games and Mahjong – playing together, as a family. Our collection of board games was a cupboard full of happiness; if I wasn’t playing sport outside we were playing games inside. We never went abroad for our holidays, but those weeks spent cycling in Devon and Cornwall were, like the rest of my childhood, idyllic. These pictures show it all. We enjoyed the outdoors; the sunshine, the rain, pooh sticks in Bournemouth Gardens and the Noddy Train at Hengistbury Head. You taught my how to enjoy the outdoors, how to enjoy life.
I could recount endless happy memories, but there are two that I remember the most. Dad, I was 13 years old. I was picked to represent Queens Park Juniors at the Bournemouth Junior Golf Open. For an hour or two tee shot after tee shot was hit long down the middle of the fairway. I practised on the putting green, waiting. You also waited. A nervous wreck, with my whole boy shaking, I too hit my tee shot long and straight. I strode down the fairway, looked back at you and we waved to each other. I felt so relieved, so proud that I’d not let you down. I felt ten foot tall. Mum, I was in my late teens and I became a vegetarian. I was the fussiest, most pernickety and demanding person anyone has ever had to shop for. But you never complained, never refused, never said no to any of my dietary demands no matter how ridiculous. My diet, as with my fitness in the following years became an unhealthy obsession, and you simply supported me, knowing how important both were to me.
Mum, dad… as an adult I hope I have made you proud. You have continued to support, guide and encourage me. You have allowed me to make all of my own decisions, knowing that I have at times made life hard for myself. But you both know I can’t resist a challenge. I know when I was much younger you used to say to me “If anyone asks what religion you are, just say you’re Church of England.” Thankfully I never had to. I’m not sure if you ever said this: “If anyone asks what you want to be when you grow up, just say you want to be happy.” Well, I have been happy all of my life and for that I can’t thank you enough. To see you cry with happiness when you came to our wedding and knowing how you feel about Michelle means the world to me. I love you both so much.