My father, Bob Monk, died last week at the age of 81.† You wonít have heard of him.† He was no one special or famous.† Just an ordinary chap with perhaps only his mischievous sense of humour and a passion for keeping old bits and pieces to set him apart from anyone of the same age.
All my family is mourning for a kind and loving man but for me especially, I grieve not only for the loss of my father but also for the loss of one more of his generation.† Quite apart from his wartime service, my father always seemed to me to come from another age when morality, decency and service were so much more part of everyday life.
What was he like, my Dad?† I think the quality most people remember about him was his mischievous sense of humour.† He loved silly games, riddles and practical jokes.† Whenever he and my Mum went out socially heíd be the life and soul of the party and it wasnít unusual to see him acting the fool if the occasion was appropriate.
He always loved popular music from the days when you could understand and remember the words.† From an early age he encouraged all his children to learn to play a musical instrument Ė in my case taking me along to join the local brass band when I was just nine years old.† Itís a wonderful thing to learn to play music as a child and I owe my own musical career to his help and support.
He was wonderful with children, especially when they were young.† I think he loved playing with his grandchildren as much as he did with my brother, sister, and I when we were little.† The older he got the more he liked to talk to the youngsters and encourage their learning.† Thank goodness he didnít just rely on the TV to entertain us when we were all so young.† What a pleasure to go to bed each night knowing that there would be a story from his imagination that would enable us to use ours.
Our family comes from Market Harborough. My Dad was born in India soon after the First World War as my Grandfather had served there for the duration.† Along with his many brothers and sisters the family arrived back in England when my dad was eight years old.† He had a normal schooling and left, without qualifications, at fourteen.† But he could manage mental arithmetic far better than children can today, and he still completed the cryptic crossword in the local paper regularly even when he was a pensioner.† Somebody must have taught him well at that school.
When the Second World War broke out, my Dad was seventeen years old and already in the Territorial Reserve of the Leicestershire Regiment.† He was called up immediately, and was then in action the following year when he was captured at Dunkirk while his company held off the enemy forces to allow others to escape. The Germans forced him and his fellow prisoners to march back through Germany and into Poland where he spent five long years in a POW camp.† He never talked much about his experiences until very late in his life.† What I do know is that the friendships he formed with his pals there lasted a lifetime.† Who among us today can image the depth of comradeship that would have been forged in these circumstances compared to some of the friendships made today?
After the war my father met and married my mother and moved to a small village in the countryside, where they were to stay for fifty years.† Being brought up in these surroundings provided a wonderful childhood for me and my siblings and room for my dad to lovingly tend his new garden.† Money was tight in those days so, like many families, we grew as much as we could.† Every meal seemed to be accompanied by peas, beans, potatoes, carrots and an endless variety of homegrown vegetables.
My Mum would grow all her flowers and together with the other villagers there would be entries galore at the end-of-summer fruit and vegetable show as everyone tried to produce the best display and compete for the small prizes.† Sadly, at the last show I attended recently, there were hardly any participants and very little produce on display.† When I asked one local why they hadnít joined in they replied that it was quicker to buy their vegetables in Sainsburys.† I thought about that on the way home and wondered how they would spend the time that they had saved.
So my Mum made our meals with the bounty from the garden and meat from the travelling butcher that used to visit twice a week.† No microwave or ready-made meals for us.† She seemed to have time to do all this as well as look after us all.† I suppose itís amazing how much you can do if thereís no daytime TV and are prepared to work hard.† I sometimes wonder how much time the nation wastes by listening to the same news dozens of times a day.
By todayís standards my parents were poor but only because it would appear that todayís standards mean the non-stop accumulation of consumer goods.† Like most of his mates, Dad never needed to go shopping very often.† My parents even managed without a credit card for the whole of their lives.† Can you imagine such a thing!† If they wanted something they saved up for it until they could afford it. Just think how much money they saved during their lifetime by not paying interest on anything.† So my father was never rich Ė he never even owned his own home.† But wealth comes in different forms and he and my mum would count themselves fortunate indeed to have had a loving, happy, and faithful relationship for 54 years.
Although we werenít well off when I was a child my parents hid it well and we never felt that we were missing out on anything.† When we had the first falls of snow in the winter of 1963 and I clamoured for a sledge, my fatherís first thought wasnít to rush off down to the shops to buy me one, but to make me one.† Off he would go to the old washhouse behind our cottage and there he would sort though all his carefully preserved nails, screws, hooks, and rope (in old coffee jars and biscuit tins).† In no time at all I had a sledge with nicely sanded-down runners and a proud dad watching me as I trudged off through the snow.
Like most other folk of the time, one of the things that Mum and Dad had in common is that it never occurred to them that if something was broken or worn out, they would simply throw it away.† They would try and fix it.† If clothes were worn out they were darned and mended; if grown out of, handed on to others.
Together with my Mum, my Dad taught all of us to read before we went to school and they saw nothing unusual in that.† It just takes time and patience and a sense of priorities.† They both seemed on hand to answer all our questions and help us with our games and homework.
If asked the question, I think my Dad would have said he was working class.† But, without being consciously aware of it, and along with a great many people of his time, I think he was working class with middle class values.† Let me explain:
My Dad knew right from wrong.† Iím sure he had been taught the difference by my grandparents but you got the feeling that he seemed to instinctively know it anyway.†
When he came back from the war with (some of) his mates he had no thoughts of stealing, drug abuse, and laziness.† He possessed that innate British sense of fairness and justice, and was always prepared to help someone else.
He didnít understand political correctness.† His version of it was the truth and common sense.† He used all the words he had been taught because everyone his age knew what they meant and understood each other.† He didnít need a race relations advisor or a grief counsellor.† He just treated everyone he met with respect and in the way that he expected to be treated himself.† When tragedy struck you faced up to it and got yourself through it.† He didnít need to sue anyone else for his own misfortune or if his pride was hurt.
My brother, sister and I were taught manners.† It was absolutely forbidden to swear at home (indeed, my Mum once washed my mouth out with soap and water when I was young for saying bloody.)† Iím not sure what the outcome would be if a parent tried it today; I imagine they would be hauled before some sort of social worker.† We were told it was wrong to drop litter, we didnít do it, and we still donít.†
It wouldnít have occurred to my Dad to be interested in so-called celebrities.† He wouldnít have seen the point.† What could any of them have done compared to the sacrifices his generation had made during and after the war?† Like many of his peers he was mystified why some people received awards during the annual honours list just because they were born with a talent.† Thatís no reason to receive a medal he would argue; service for your country, society or to people less well off than yourself would have been his only criteria.
My father never joined a dole queue.† He was fortunate maybe, but when he worked he saved a little in case he became unemployed instead of spending all his money each week on self-indulgence.† He did indeed lose his job on more than one occasion but worked hard to find another each time this happened.† So he laboured hard during the day for companies that made things that the country needed.
Obviously I couldnít know my dad when he was younger and, like all young people, he must have let his hair down occasionally.† But even if he had had too much beer on a Saturday night (which Iím sure he must have done sometimes!), somehow I canít imagine him abusing passers-by, scrawling graffiti, or vandalising cars.† (Mind you he did once tell me he had been fined 10 shillings for cycling home from an evening date without lights.† Fifteen miles home, by the way.)† So whenever I got into trouble in my youth (as I did) he wouldnít have defended or disciplined me because he knew that Iíd been taught the difference between right and wrong and that I had let him down.
Of course, not everything was better in the old days, but it just seems to me that so many of the values were.† The sense of decency, morality, patriotism and individual responsibility were so much more part of the British way of life when my father was in his prime.
So many things have changed for the worse during his lifetime, but he wonít have to worry about those now.† No more concerns at criminals unpunished, politicians without honour, newspapers that use celebrity gossip as a substitute for news, and vandals trampling his flowerbeds (as they did when my parents finally had to move to town four years ago).† I remember going with my father to visit my mother in hospital last year and us laughing ironically together when the first person we met wasnít a doctor or a nurse but a Bed Manager.
But how marvellous for my parents to have had so much time together and how jealous I am of them that even relatively recently they could dance with each other in the same way that they had done when they met fifty years ago (whereas I would look absurd trying to blend in at my local night club at my age, especially if I tried to dance)!
So hereís to you Dad.
Thanks for helping me ride a bike, tie a knot, drive a car, and sow a seed.† Iíve got your old tools, nails, and screws now, and whenever I make a shelf or work the soil I think of you.
Goodbye, old soldier.† Not many of you left now.† Iíll be sure to come and visit you in Gumley churchyard from time to time.
Iíve strived to live my life within the values that you taught me and I hope Iíve already managed to pass on some of them to my own daughter.† Iíd like to think that you were proud of my brother, sister and I, and all our own children.† And thanks to you and your comrades who, all those years ago, were prepared to sacrifice everything to give this country freedom and a chance for a better world.† I hope we donít let you down.