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It’s a bit late in the day – as the saying goes – for me to be concerned about me Dad. But “better late than never” as he would say.

Percy weren’t much of a conversationalist, careful and matter-of-fact in his ways, given to making statements often in the form of aphorisms rather than as dialogue. “If you have to hurry you left too late” was his favourite. He was never late for anything, up at the crack of dawn and off to work at the factory. On time every day.

I’ve been rifling through the family death certificates, a morbid way to spend this rainy March afternoon. Here it is, a certified copy of an entry in the Death Registry. August 21st, 1985 Percy died, Bronchopneumonia and Cerebrovascular disease the reasons given. Must have been too many fags that were his eventual undoing. Or boredom.

The “care home” where he’s incarcerated, been moved to – wicker chairs on the lawn, a tartan blanket over his knees to ward off the chill, weak tea and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts removed – costs £500 a week. Such a luxurious way to kick the bucket.

Percy had a serious stroke, fell down in the street coming home from the pub. Hurried in an ambulance to Southmead Hospital. He’s in Ward 7. The three other occupants look as though they’ve not long to go; one mimicking a Frankenstein movie set, tubes protruding from every orifice, and another, gruntin’ n’ groanin’ as if an avant garde symphony. Death abounds.

Hopefully Percy is unaware of his fellow sufferers.

Several large pillows prop him up, his head and shoulders visible outside the grey blanket. The metal-framed bed is painted green, this hospital’s favourite colour. The sides of the bed can be raised and lowered like a child’s cot. So he won’t fall out. He’s empty, is Percy, nothing showing in his eyes, as still as can be, barely a sign of breathing evident. “He can’t hear you” sez Lil. “Or speak”. We’ll see about that.

I’m not convinced he’s comatose, in a state of prolonged unconsciousness, unable to respond to external stimuli, robbed completely of his bawdy self, that despite the negative medical prognosis of Doctor Banausic, I suspect there’s life left in the old fella yet. Behind the mask can be detected the occasional facial twitch relieving the rictus of a sardonic smirk, a faint glimmer of recognition in his opaque eyes.

Percy always had a fondness for the populist tabloids. Every day in the Mirror he saw himself, a working class bloke, characterised in the popular cartoon strip character Andy Capp. On Sundays it were always the News of the World, the pages filled with juicy innuendo; celebrity based scoops and a fondness for sex scandals – vicars a specialty.

There’s no obvious indication that he can hear me reading out-loud, perhaps not interested in the Hippies clashing with the police at Stonehenge, the Air India crash, IRA bombings and the like, looking for relief in a story of a Swansea sex shop murder more likely, a member of the gentry, randy and exposed, so to speak; or something horrible happening to his dreaded enemy Margaret Thatcher as she overpowers the Mineworkers Union, bringing about her consolidation of the so called “free” market program. Its curse still felt today.

I fancy there’s a chortle deep down in his chest, fanciful perhaps, desperately hoping for communication, leaning in toward the faint gurgle trickling from his mouth, hearing him say the last words he would ever utter. “eefinksee’sbleedin’kojak.” My shaven head his focus.

Walking Away-9
My father was a Marxist, and I can remember him when I visit Karl’s grave in Highgate Cemetery. Unfortunately it closes at dusk, and I always seemed too busy to arrive on time. Close, but not close enough. But that’s not the shame of it, my casualness concerning Marxism, no the truth is much more humiliating, the truth that seems to have been successfully hidden from me.

I had always believed that our family were socialists. Percy leading me to understand that Christianity was the deception the controlling class played upon the poor and uneducated. That the ideologies of intellectual leaders as powerful as Bertrand Russell were the principles on which we based our lives, that him writing “What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite” – has been my canon.

I’ve spent my whole life thinking that the church was of no consequence, of little use to anyone but the feeble minded, so to discover that I was baptized at the parish Church of Saint Philip & Saint Jacob – locally known as Pip’n’Jay – within three weeks of my birth is mildly shocking.

Percy, the zealous socialist, a card carrying party member, was baptized at the Church of Saint Agnes. The prayer said over him reads: “Grant O God that I thy child may never be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world and the devil; and to continue as Christ’s faithful soldier & servant unto my life’s end; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”. Amen indeed.

It seems though that neither of us were confirmed, never returned to the Bishop. I suppose that’s something.

He was determined that his sons would be educated, not spend their lives in the drudgery of semi-skilled factory work as most of our kind. We were fortunate in that the Socialist system that had taken over after WW2 provided this opportunity. It was no longer necessary to be from a certain class to get more than an elementary education. The three years at a technical school leading me to a long ago abandoned career in engineering.

He was a frugal man, Percy was, affixing notices that read TURN OFF on all the electric light switch covers. There were routine chores  he did about the house. On Sundays he would gather all our shoes together, take them to the scullery and polish them with black Kiwi boot polish. He’d leave them in a row on the draining board. Well-cared for shoes that had to last until they were outgrown, preserved for another week.

Colston Willmott is not my given name. A conglomeration of Percy’s middle name and my mother’s maiden name creating a new, more interesting identity. Colston Willmott. Two ll’s and two tt’s.

Beholding: For My Father
A Film by Colston Willmott

James Munro (Concertina & Recordist)
Bill Smith (Voice & Toy Melodeon)

Images: Visual Illusions
Patrick Perry (Accordion)
Sarah Du Plessis (Mouth)

Family Photographs:
Peter & Julie Smith

Highgate Cemetery:
Sheila Macpherson

Filmed: Canon PowerShot S100

Edited: Quick Time Player & iMovie

Additional Techinical Support: Micky O’Hara

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