Harry built things.
All four of his sons also learned how to build things, watching and helping him. For some of us this was more theoretical than practical – I do know how to mix cement, and about sharp sand and aggregate, I’ve just never felt the need.
He also mended things. He had a curiosity which meant he found out how things worked, and so how to repair them. With four of us, all taking on his love of driving, it’s hard to count the number of cars which were nursed through MOTs on Mum & Dad’s driveway.
You may know how that curiosity cost him the tip of his finger. As a very young boy he watched a farm hand remove a stone from a straw chopping machine by poking inside it with a finger. When it was unattended later he tried the same trick himself but omitted the crucial step of stopping the machine first. That short finger was useful when he smoked his pipe because he could use it for tamping down the tobacco.
He considered studying Architecture but gave it up to help his Dad on the farm. He didn’t mind, because it meant he could work outside, which he preferred. His drawing was limited to plans and sketches, but it was a skill inherited by Phil & Ian professionally, and passed on to me and Colin as a hobby.
He met Ann, the landlord’s daughter in a pub he visited, and when he asked her to marry him, Mum said it was either her or farming. He chose wisely. He had several jobs before settling at Halsteads and staying there until he retired.
He worked a lot when we were young, doing jobs in the evenings as well as working during the day, but I particularly remember him looking after us on Monday nights when Mum was at night school learning enamelling or cordon bleu cookery. He let me and Phil stay up to watch The High Chaparral.
He didn’t cook much but he did make breakfast. Porridge for all of us in the pressure cooker – just the biggest pan there was. He used a large cast iron frying pan to cook a mean fried breakfast and on Pancake Day in a joint effort with Mum on a production line of frying, sugaring and lemon juicing which could never keep up with four hungry boys.
John Bishop recently said his dad invented the people carrier, but my Dad did that. He put four seats and windows in the back of the transit van. I’ve always enjoyed being driven, especially at night – with Dad driving, and Mum keeping him awake, the back of the van on a Sunday night coming back from Blackpool was always a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Although Ian disagrees – he says he never slept, instead watching the road with one eye and Dad in the mirror with the other.
Harry liked beer and wine. On one visit to Phil & Sue in Germany he took back a crate of empty weissbier bottles from the previous trip, worth just 6 Euros. Phil asked why he had bothered for such small change, but Dad said if he made room in the car to take the empties, there would be room to bring back full bottles.
I cannot ever remember him being angry. During a Saturday morning Sekiden pistol fight, when Mum was working at Preston’s, a favourite tiered glass vase was broken. Instead of shouting at us, Dad cut off the broken tier and ground the edge to produce a shorter tiered even lovelier vase. Which Mum spotted as soon as she got home.
He had a tremendous sense of humour, despite the adversities he suffered from GBS, which robbed him of the last years of retirement he deserved. The photograph album which you can look at later shows how often he laughed, and that he was very photogenic. He could also really carry off wearing a hat.
He was strong – he arm wrestled all of us and won. On a visit to Cambridge, a missed signpost turned a walk in Wandlebury Country Park into a marathon trek and I remember him carrying Robyn for what seemed miles until we got back to the car.
That strength, and visits every day from Ann, helped him survive six weeks in intensive care and a year in hospital. His sense of humour made friends of everyone who met him.
He rarely complained about the change of lifestyle brought on him by GBS. Instead, after years of us trying to get them connected, he finally discovered the computer and developed a new life online. Here was something I could teach him, but he was a great learner and soon had everything organised – bank accounts, bills, photographs, even Facebook. I would see “thumbOK” appear online during the day and we would chat occasionally.
Some things he actually did better. One stereotype he fitted exactly was that of the man who shopped for his wife on Christmas Eve. Many a Christmas Holiday started with us, rushing into town dashing from shop to shop looking for something to go with the tin of Roses. But now, armed only with his typing thumb and Ann’s M&S Credit Card, and instructions to Mum to sign for but not open parcels, everything was organised. He even printed out labels – all we had to do was the wrapping.
After we all left home, a visit from Mum & Dad usually involved a job to be done (too many to list but including house extensions, car ports, internal walls, sheds, ..). This wasn’t entirely selfish as Dad liked to have something to do whilst Mum shopped. Later, we could repay him a little because he always had a list of jobs for us to do when we visited him. He had always thought it through and presented the solution not the problem, along with which tool to use and where to find it in the shed.
Harry built things. I’m proud to say that best of all, together with Ann, he built a family.