Saturday, 20 June 2009

Ray

The small, unassuming accountant quietly unlocked the front door of his semi-detached Wolverhampton home and went inside. It was about 6am, some time in the early 70s.

"Where on Earth have you been?" asked his wife.

In a fairly befuddled state, honesty seemed the best policy, so the accountant said: "I've been out drinking with Slade."

"What? All of them? Noddy Holder, Dave Hill, Jimmy Whatshisface and the other one?"

"Absolutely. I've got these albums they brought back from America. Look."

"OK then, what do you want for breakfast?"


I may have taken a liberty or two with the story (it could have been 5.30), but it makes me smile. The accountant was my father-in-law Ray who died in Kirkwall's Balfour Hospital last week at the age of 80, having taken his battle with Parkinson's Disease to extra time and penalties.

There was a wee bit of the devil in Ray. As recently as last month, he raised one last defiant fist against his failing health, ignored a Sally-imposed ban and went on a treacherous, cliff-top walk with his eldest son Stephen to view the puffins at Westray's Castle Burrian, grinning all over his face on his return.

I first met Ray properly one Boxing Day maybe ten years ago. As a family gathering wound to a close, Sally disappeared out of the room with the words "my dad doesn't really do small talk." Left alone, we eyed each other warily before I burbled something of little consequence. I was 38 years old and I'm not sure which of us felt more awkward.

What I didn't learn from Ray himself, I quickly learned from his family. He was man of rock-solid principle and political passion, a lifelong standard bearer of the communist cause, campaigning against injustice and inequality in his own quiet way all his life. He was devoted to his wife Marion and, in hindsight, he never got over her death from Alzheimer's disease three years ago.

Partial to a pint and a glass of malt, he was keen on his music with a taste that ran from Tom Paxton to The Dubliners, Bessie Smith to Cabaret and then, more alarmingly, Dr Hook (he is the only person I've had to ask to 'turn that bloody noise down'). A big believer in audience participation, Ray wouldn't exactly sing along, but he certainly liked a good growl in time to the music.

Ray didn't believe in any kind of existence after death, but he and Marion live on through his children Stephen, Martin, Alan and Sally and an ever-growing family of some of the best people I've met.

I'm glad Ray decided to make our move to Orkney his last adventure, even if there was rather more 'last' than 'adventure', and glad that we got beyond the 'awkward' stage and got to know each other. I'll miss him. Cheerio matey.

14 comments:

Yorkshire Pudding said...

That's a lovely farewell Malc. I am glad that Ray got to see the puffins that day. His joyful, mischievous grin as he came back sounds like the positive memory of him you should fix in your mind for all time. Condolences.

I, Like The View said...

YP takes the words right out of my fingertips

many condolences to Mrs P-F

thanks for this lovely piece, so beautifully written

fiwa said...

That was so well said. My dad had Parkinson's as well, so I understand the battle. My condolences to you & Sal.

love,
fiwa

Pete said...

my condolences

smart said...

Thank you Malc, that is a beautiful tribute, will definitely be read out at Dad's Memorial tomorrow.

And thanks again for helping to look after him during his 'last adventure'. I'm sure when you married Sally 5 years ago that you hadn't bargained for having to look after an aging father-in-law in ill-health, alongside everything else you have on your plate.
You have been a star!
Martin

Rog said...

Gudbuy T Ray

Dave said...

I can't add to what they all said.

zIggI said...

I bet he really enjoyed his last adventure with you and Sal - a beautifully moving post Malc.

Sian said...

A lovely farewell, and I'm sure he was glad he got the chance of just one last adventure with you both. Condolences to you, Sal and all the family.

moreidlethoughts said...

A lovely tribute, Malc. Condolences to your family.

Sarah said...

Good for him..*raises a glass*

Richard said...

Nice tribute. It sounds like he deserves it.

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