The Gentle Old Man
Six years old and it's Five-O-Clock.
This is the high-light of my day.
With my younger brother and sister
I wait at the bottom of our road.
Anxiously we wait,
looking to the bend at the bottom of the hill.
Suddenly we all three Start!! …. It's Him!
The Old-Man with his chin nearly hitting the handlebars
as he pedals his old bike up the hill.
When he sees us, a big grin stretches from ear-to-ear.
The old cloth cap resting precariously on those pixie-ears.
The dew-drop that always seems to be dripping
from that old Roman-Nose.
C'mon Dad …... Pedal Faster!
One of us sits on the crossbar,
another on the handlebars,
and the lucky one gets the saddle.
The Old-Man now pushes us up our motley old flint hill
to tea-time at home. (Dinner for him).
The one who gets the saddle is fortunate indeed,
the others have a bumpy old ride for sure,
but we don't complain,
he's 'Our Old-Man'.
At the dinner table we get to hear the full account.
Every action, every flower and tree planted.
Every bush cut, every Squirrel or Jay he's seen.
All the while slicing his rhindy old cheese
with his old bone-handled gardeners knife,
held in a hand that seems made of thick black leather.
Every now and then, he pauses,
pours a little of his hot tea into his saucer,
then slurps it down,
giving a gratifying Burp! At the end.
All this takes it's toll on Our Old-Man
and he asks one of us to run down the corner shop.
One single razor-blade will have to last the week.
He'll rub it inside a glass each night to put back the 'edge'.
On return he's fast asleep in his faithful old 'windsor chair',
the smouldering Woodbine dangling from his mouth
and the smell fills the kitchen, what a gentle Old-Man?
Well …... until the fag burns down to his lips,
the air's a bit blue then.
Later as he sits, sketching 'fluffy people' with 'fluffy hats',
'fluffy sticks' and 'fluffy pipes',
'Wake Up Little Susie' comes on the radio and the BIG Grin is back!
The glint's in his eyes,
and out come the Old-Spoons to play along.
Then it's Hide-and-Seek, chasing us round the sofa
while Mum tries to do her sewing.
No Telly …. Thank God!
Or we might never have 'known' the gentle 'Old-Man'.
Twelve years old now and it's 10 pm.
I've just got in, and OH! How I hate that Old-Man?
I wish he'd die or something.
He actually thinks I should be in by 8 pm!!
And it's still just light outside.
Why does he always want to know what 'I' am doing?
Where I've been and WHO with?
What business is it of HIS?
I'm only his Son – not his pet dog.
Why should it bother HIM?
Stuff him, who needs him anyway?
School, what a draaaaaaag?
They don't seem to be able to tell me anything
that I don't already know.
I've got a Job instead,
It pays 'more' than the 'Old-Man' earns.
Serve him right – the miserable Old Git!
UH-OH! ….. I've been caught nicking.
Reported for bunking school and working.
It's alright, I'll blame it on the 'Old-Man'.
After all, he keeps nagging me,
getting on my back all the time,
it's bound to have an effect.
How can it be 'MY' fault??
I don't believe it!
They've put me away!
A care order until I'm 18 years old.
Still, I won't have the 'Old-Man' moaning at me,
telling me how to behave, what to do,
who to see, who to avoid.
That's good …... isn't it??
It's funny, I seem to be missing the 'Old-Man',
I keep remembering the 'good times',
when he'd take me up the fields on a freezing night
to pick dandelions for my rabbit and guinea-pig.
The time he took me on a pub outing to Southsea.
When we walked late at night to the next village
to see his long-lost sister he hadn't seen for decades
but who died just two weeks later.
HUH! …. Even those needle-sharp whiskers
that used to hurt us when he'd kiss us goodnight.
How did I ever forget the 'Gentle Old-Man'??
A letter from my Mum.
She's left the 'Old-Man'.
It's not his fault, she's going through 'the change'.
Feels she's missed out on life and is going to find it.
But the 'Old-Man'?
He cries, and cries, and cries some more.
The 'Gentle Old-Man' - He's breaking.
The 'authorities' don't know yet,
and they're letting me home for a few days.
I walk into our house, it's unlocked as always.
There's the 'Old-Man' stooped over his football pools.
He can't read, but he'll spend an hour or two studying them.
He'll then get the woman next door to fill in his details.
The crosses he can manage quite easily.
Especially the 'X' for no publicity.
He grunts towards me, asks if I'm OK.
Probably thinks I'm looking for another argument.
We sit looking at each other for what seems an eternity,
then he gives me two-bob which I knew he couldn't afford.
But I took it anyway, he seemed pleased and smiled.
I noticed the place was filthy, and so was he.
He was so white, thin and the 'sparkle' had gone from his eyes.
They were now a dim, glazed blue,
set in pale cheeks once rosy.
Topped now with yellow hair, once white.
I only saw him once more.
On his trusty old bike.
We both looked, knew one another,
but were such complete strangers by then.
We didn't even smile.
I went to stay with Mum for the next few days.
A year later and I was called to the Super's office.
It was early morning, just before school.
“Your Father has Died”.
“He'd apparently been ill for some time
but was too afraid to go to the doctor,
he thought he'd lose your younger brother and sister”
“It was cancer. He was admitted to hospital last night,
he died early this morning –
Do you want to go to the funeral?”
I replied “No, I don't think I will”.
(I couldn't face the finality of it all,
I wanted to remember him by that last glance we exchanged.
Where we both seemed to know what the other was thinking).
“But he 'was' your father,
You can't hate him 'all' your life”
I couldn't believe that 'that' was the impression I'd given
and so the next morning I changed my mind.
What a funeral?
Only five or six people.
Only immediate family,
where were his friends?
Those he spent many happy hours with at the pub.
He even had the nick-name 'Happy'.
It seemed they were fair-weather-friends,
who deserted him when he could no longer go to the pub,
either because he had to look after the Young'uns,
or because he was too ill.
Though he did work up until the weekend he died.
Did no-one else notice his passing?
Mum/ She was seriously ill in hospital herself.
So …. it was a Paupers funeral for 'The Gentle Old-Man'.
Plain, unvarnished coffin,
slipping quietly through the curtains,
to be swallowed by the 'Eternal Flame'.
What a Gentle 'Old-Man'?
Please check out; 'Visions Of The Future Past'