In the years leading up to my 8th birthday, when we still lived in London, my father would take me out every Sunday morning for a walk. We would sometimes go to see his mother, who also lived in London, or visit one of the many parks in our area. Occasionally he would take me to the local cemetery and tell me all about the famous people who were interred there. It may seem strange, taking a five year-old on a jaunt around a graveyard, but I was fascinated by his stories.
I remember we walked past the house in Hampstead where ballerina Anna Pavlova had once lived. He told me all about her and some of the notable people he had met; about visiting famed conductor Leopold Stokowski’s mother at her home in London and seeing Stokowski’s framed photo on her mantelpiece; about the time he received a visit from Mohandas Gandhi while he was in hospital in India, and, from his vantage-point backstage at the Hackney Empire, watching child prodigy Julie Andrews singing with her parents. He told me of the time he had passed T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) outside an RAF facility, and about the well-known musicians and sportsmen who had served with him during his time in the Air Force.
He took me to the British Museum and showed me all of the wonderful things there; The Rosetta Stone, The Elgin Marbles, the Egyptian mummies and many of the priceless original manuscripts housed in the library collection and, as young as I was, he made me appreciate just how amazing all these treasures were.
Funny, the little things that you remember. During one of our Sunday morning walks he took me to visit one of the nuns who had taught him, many years before, at the school of Saint Ignatius near his childhood home in Shoreditch. I recall we climbed up some narrow wooden stairs to a small, ill-lit room where an elderly nun sat writing at a desk. My father, showing great respect to the old lady, introduced me (I felt rather like I was being introduced to God) and, keeping the interview short, we retreated back down the stairs.
I recall sometimes on these London walks he would sing songs, one of which was called ‘Molly Malone’ and I was certainly intrigued by the part where “Her ghost wheeled her barrow through streets broad and narrow.” I also vaguely remember reporting to my mother how he had once pointed out a lady waiting in a bus queue and had told me, “There’s a nice piece of crackling!” Dad was a Londoner through and through and often used Cockney rhyming slang in his speech which of course I used to imitate.
I realize now that he must have missed London quite a bit after we left there, since I don’t remember spending so much time with him after that. He certainly showed no inclination to go for our Sunday morning walks. There just wasn’t the pride or the interest in the town to which we had moved but he knew that if he wanted to make a better life for us it meant finding another, more lucrative job somewhere else. How much more of a wrench must it have been then for him to leave England after his retirement and come to live in America. But such was his desire to keep his little family together that he was even prepared to make that sacrifice for me. Thank you, Dad. I miss you and our Sunday morning walks.