Philip Larkin only needed 83 words   Leave a comment

With music by Lit.

The spectre looming over Monday was trying to think of a birthday present for Dad, without giving up and just buying him whisky.

There are two problems with buying Dad presents:

1) What do you buy the man who needs nothing, could buy anything he wanted, and does nothing except complain he’s not allowed to do anything?
2) If you find something (you think) he’ll like, it sits in the box and remains unused forever.

On the first point… Well, it’s not quite fair, if you’re over-literal. He walks the dog (the dog gets its own presents, so that covers this), sometimes even to excess. He gardens (and has every tool ever). He spends a lot of the day reading the newspaper. And not just with breakfast; by 7PM or so every day, he’s entrenched in exactly the same spot at the kitchen table (the bench actually has a hollow where he’s sat on it so much) with the Daily Express* and some beer, followed by a bottle of wine, sometimes followed by whisky, until he falls asleep.

The only exceptions are Saturday, when he eats a Chinese take-away in the living room, so skips the beer and sometimes falls asleep in front of the telly instead; and Wednesday, when he goes to the pub.

He doesn’t read books, or watch DVDs, or build his model planes or helicopters, or anything else. He walks the dog, has a shower, and then gets drunk in front of a newspaper.

Other than that, he complains that Mum doesn’t let him do anything he wants to.

Now, Mum has a high Nagging stat, and the notion that people might not want, or care about, the same things that she wants or cares about is so alien to her as to be inconceivable. It is – from her point of view – only right and proper that people will do the things she wants doing. Pferde ├╝ber alles.

But he does spend about a quarter of every day doing almost nothing. OK, he likes to read the paper. Fair enough. But nobody’s forcing him to spend five or six hours doing it! I don’t think anyone would expect the Daily Express to provide that much entertainment** each day.

He doesn’t even do the crossword any more.

He “doesn’t have time”.

Although when you drink half your recommended weekly alcohol allowance every day I suppose things do take longer.

Gah. He seems to enjoy deliberately going out of his way to be miserable, to have something to get really impotently angry about. Maybe that’s what he really likes? Being miserable, angry and hard-done-by? That would explain the Daily Express. If so, I should’ve just keyed his car for his birthday. That would’ve kept him going for weeks.

Either that or he’s never thought to look at his habits, figure out where his time goes, and what he can do about it. That maybe he could spend it more enjoyably. That he might have some control over the things he does.

Ultimately, though, this is the tip of the iceberg. The fundamental problem is that he is married to, and lives with, my mother. Dad hates and resents that Mum demands he do things he doesn’t care about, that she vetoes any vaguely sensible decision about the house he tries to make***, that he has to support her and pay for everything whilst she makes everything more effort and expense through her stupid ludditism, and that she berates and belittles him at every opportunity, taking everything he does for granted. You can’t really blame him.
Mum hates and resents that she occasionally doesn’t get her own way (even if it always ends in stalemate rather than his winning); that she has to look after him and do all the household cooking, cleaning and whatnot, other than loading the dishwasher; that Dad takes forever to do anything, whilst spending much of the day doing nothing, and that he doesn’t do everything she demands the instant she demands it; and that she considers dad miserly (major case of pot/kettle, and not entirely fair; who pays for all her food and drink when they (admittedly, rarely) go out or have a take-away? Who buys the copious supplies of booze in the house?), and that he keeps the household budget purse-strings unnecessarily tight (which seems hard to justify) – really, she resents that he doesn’t let her spend all the money as she sees fit; and, finally, that he is embittered, angry and miserable, and also deaf (all of which are quite true, at least when he’s around my mother or, to a lesser extent, sister).
She (and everybody else) used to complain that he’d sit, in the kitchen, with the newspaper, the television blaring out, getting angry at any noise or disturbance to his viewing caused by such activities as cooking or cleaning (“I must be being unreasonable”, he once sarcastically whined at me whilst I was cooking, at which I exploded and angrily, loudly, and with more than my fair share of expletives, pointed out that he was in the kitchen. He complained he had nowhere else to go; I equally angrily, loudly, and rudely pointed out there were two other rooms, both with better televisions, neither set aside for necessary activities, into which he could escape. He sat in miserable, angry silence until I finished cooking). Happily, the kitchen television, already on its last legs, was finally killed off by the digital switch-over, and due to a standard mother/father disagreement has never been replaced.

So they hate each other. It’s hard to countenance the idea of Mum treating any human with a degree of affection, but to most she is civil**** (albeit only to their face, if they are a member of one of the many, many groups she not-so-secretly despises); to my father, she shows nothing but loathing, contempt, scorn and derision. There is not a single sign that she may ever have liked him, even years ago. Dad also hates my mother, but the really sad thing is that you occasionally see a little sign that he still cares for her, and wants to get on. I’m sure he knows that these will be met with even more scorn than normal.

You might think they would just divorce, and live possibly even happily ever after. People – myself and my sister included – have been suggesting this for at least fifteen years. I don’t think you can get somebody an E.Z.D.I.V.O.R.C.E kit as a present, alas. But Dad won’t, on the grounds that he thinks Mum will absolutely take him to the cleaners in the courts (she’d certainly do her best). Mum won’t, because she’s afraid that no court in the land could unravel Dad’s Byzantine finances, and so she will miss out on what she views as rightfully hers.

I don’t think these are the real reasons. I think Dad is terrified that he wouldn’t be able to look after himself, that he wouldn’t know where to begin with normal household cooking, cleaning, shopping and what-not. Also, that he’d lose everything he’s worked for for the last decades.
And I think Mum is scared that she’d have to support herself; that her part-time job wouldn’t be enough to keep her and her horses, never mind the pension she’ll be claiming in a couple of years. And, of course, she’s terrified of missing out, especially when Dad finally snuffs it.

And so they remain together, in comfortable, moneyed, squalid misery.

It is so very, very stupid.

On the second point (points! Yes, there was. Dad’s birthday present, remember?), the unused presents. Over the years he’s received from people (others, joint presents, and me) things that he really should like. The first I remember was a teasmade, so that he could be woken after night-shift, with a cup of tea, even when nobody was in the house. Still in its box, never used. We got him a USB record player, so that he could convert all his old LPs and listen to them – he likes music in the car (but only in the car, or Mum complains). Not tried once. He treated himself to a fancy digital SLR camera, so he was given a digital photo frame so he could show off the pictures without printing them. Same fate – and the camera fares not that much better. At least all these would still work; he was once bought a voucher for a flight in a hot-air balloon (or maybe a glider, I forget), but it sat in the card until it expired.

I want to buy him something nice, that he’d like. He has spent plenty of time and effort fixing my house; carpeting, fitting door-frames, fixing floors and skirting boards, re-plumbing the boiler and making and fitting parts to fix the kitchen sink’s tap are only a few; so I’d like to give him something in return. But you resent it when you know it will just be unused. Why waste the money? Nobody benefits, aside from maybe some nebulous notion of “the economy”. It just feels stupid.

So, ultimately, what can you buy the man who just reads the paper and gets drunk?

We’ve tried asking him what he wants, but he never suggests anything. And then the other year he was annoyed that nobody picked up that some old musician had a new compilation CD out. It was advertised on the telly, apparently. I can’t watch telly, so don’t know how I was supposed to know. He could have just said.

Eventually, I stopped worrying, gave up and bought him a fancy bottle of whisky. It was that or a newspaper subscription.

Supporting high-functioning alcoholism seemed less bad than supporting the Daily Express.

* Tragic, isn’t it.

** That’s a weird word to use in this context.

*** The other year, he built a second floor onto the extension at the back of the house, for expand the upstairs bathroom into. It was all finished, bar the window, and knocking down the formerly-external wall seperating the bathroom with the new, empty space. Unfortunately, Mum hates uPVC windows (even more than she hates double-glazing; she is a terrible luddite, and loathes anything devised after about 1955, or anything efficient or easily-maintained), and so refuses to have one installed. Dad refuses to have a wooden one installed, because – like all the other windows – it’ll just rot away and need replacing in a few years, so what’s the point? And so it has sat like that ever since, a plastic sheet keeping the rain out. And will probably stay like that, until one of them dies.

**** She seems to get on well enough with me, most of the time. But considering what she says about my father or sister behind their backs – and, indeed anybody else she feels like disparaging – I can only imagine what she says about me behind mine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s