It was a kids’ TV programme competition about what was great about swimming and I suppose they wanted to get across some aspects of being safe in the water. I took my notebook up to my bedroom and laboured over my poem.

There was a lot of crossing out and several false starts, but at the end I had it – not very smooth, but I’d forced all the rhymes in.

I took it downstairs and showed it to Dad, sitting in his usual chair by the window, opposite Mam’s.

“What’s it for?” He asked.

“Blue Peter competition,” I said.

He read it, and then turned it over and scribbled something on the back. A doodle of a swimming costume and a few lines:

“There’s nothing you can swim that can’t be swum. It’s easy!

“All you need is trunks, da, da, da da da!”

I went quiet and thought, that’s easy for you.

Dad taught (me) English – Auden, Heaney, Shakespeare, Ted Hughes. He got us to act bits out. I got to read the part of John Proctor in The Crucible, and the other kids didn’t hold it against me because they liked him.

He was intelligent, kind and funny, and – strangely for a teacher – popular. For years, women with shining eyes would approach me in pubs.

“I love your Dad!”

I was the one back at home when he got cancer and I took him to the first meeting with his consultant. The guy used big words and slung his knowledge around like bullets. His big brain had pushed out most of his hair. Dad didn’t take in a single word. I asked the consultant if he would send us a written copy of what he’d said.

“Of course.” He almost smiled.

Dad got the letter and read it in his armchair – Mam’s chair was empty now. At the next consultation, Dad handed him his letter back, marked and corrected neatly in red.


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