Tuesday, June 17, 2008


My father comes for the weekend.

He climbs the staircase one step at a time, counting as he goes.

(my father's earliest memory is of the underside of a heavy utilitarian oak dining table as he his mother and grandmother listen to the bombs raining down on Wimbledon station a few hundred yards away)

My father is suddenly older. His joints ache. He has slowed down

He draws level with me; I am waiting on the landing, aghast as he ascends, slowly counting like a slightly unstable toddler. "Always count the stairs in a new place", he tells me. "You never know if you're going to need to get out quickly in the dark."

I wonder how that would help him in high rise hotels he visits in the Far East and America. Is it for me, this elaborate display and the inevitable moral lesson accompanying it? Or does he spend his nights in these air-conditioned far-off places in abject misery and fear of being trapped in a fire? One thing is certain, and that is that with his knees in the state they're in, he is not counting his way to the 26th floor of any building. Maybe she is made to request a first floor room every time.

He somehow seems more vulnerable yet still not any more likable. He is less abrasive, less acerbic, but it is as though these tics (let's be frank, that is what they are; witness his refusal to trust level crossings to be telling the truth, causing him quite justifiably in his eyes to screech to a halt in front of every one; what news story, what personal experience has caused this perilous habit- he is far more likely to be shunted from behind by a startled driver than to be mown down by a speeding train)- these tics appear to have taken the place of the deliberately challenging unpleasantness.

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