When I stood up to give the eulogy at St Mary’s church in Bideford I was in two minds. After all, part of me had known since I was six or seven years old that this moment would one day come, so I couldn’t say it was unexpected. But on the other hand, who was I to stand up and make sense of someone else’s life? If anybody could do that, he should do it himself.
If my father had been there that day he would probably have tilted his spectacles up on to his forehead, shrugged, twizzled a raised hand in the air, and told you that he’d had a good life.
He might have told you about growing up in the Depression, when the only meat available was rabbit. So much so that in later years he couldn’t touch the stuff.
He might have told you about growing up in Taunton, and every summer getting the train out to Barnstaple and Braunton, then a taxi on to Saunton where they lived for a month in a beach hut amongst the dunes.
He might have told you about playing there with a kite, which had a special mechanism that enabled you to raise a toy soldier high up into the air, and then release it on a parachute and watch it float down, before dashing off to find it in the dunes.
He might have told you about his time in National Service, serving in the Tank Regiment, and the ‘jolly japes’ they all got up to(!).
And possibly, just possibly, he might have told you about the thirteen years he spent as a tea planter in India.
He might have told you about the time a cobra took over one of the huts, and the workers called for him to lie in wait with a rifle, waiting for it to poke its head up from between the floorboards.
He might have told you about the great Assam earthquake of 1958, with a magnitude of 8.7, the greatest ever recorded in the Himalayas, when the bungalows on their concrete foundations rode the waves of the earthquake like boats on the sea.
And he might have told you about how, after one particularly good party, he woke up the next morning in his car 40 miles away. With no memory of how he had got there! And how he then looked down and realised his trousers were on inside-out!
But my father wasn’t at the memorial service, and so I instead got to share some of my memories of him.
I remember, as a very young child, a seemingly magical man who was able to flip a fried egg over from one side to the other without breaking the yolk.
I remember one Christmas, when I was six or seven years old, him lifting me up to shoulder height, putting my head up amongst the decorations.
I remember sitting inside the car on frosty winter mornings, with the engine running, while he stayed outside, scraping the ice off all the windows, ready for the school run.
I remember a man who, when I was about ten years old, raced me across the beach at Croyde, and would he let me win? No he would not!
And mostly I remember him pottering about the place, working on his cars, gardening, building us a go-kart, helping us to paint our bicycles.
In the last few months before he died we talked, briefly, about whether he might want to leave Bideford and move in to live with me. He thought about it for a while and then he said that he thought he would rather not, because he would miss his friends. Seeing all the people who had come to his memorial service, I think he made the right choice.
And of course it is the choices we make that show us who we are.
In my father’s case, I think that this decision, to stay on his own home during what was at times a quite difficult period, shows that he chose to engage with life. Right up to the end he kept himself busy. In the very last week, when I went to visit him in hospital, he told me: “When you get home Finn, there’s a box in the sitting room. Don’t open it! There’s a clock inside that I’ve started to take apart for cleaning.”
And in a wider sense my father was an Adventurer. Someone with a positive attitude, who is always exploring, going to new places, trying new things, trying to make things better.
He loved India because he was an Adventurer.
He loved organising his cross-country car rallies because he was an Adventurer.
He loved his model ships and his steam trains and his cannons, tanks and clocks because in another way they were an Adventure too.
He loved India.
He loved people.
He was self-reliant, completely honest and truthful, and he engaged with his life.
I’ve known since I was six or seven years old that this day would one day come. And there is nothing I could have done to change it.
But they say that when you die your life flashes before your eyes. And I think in my father’s case he made damn sure his was worth watching.