the old geezer
I went to the old Yorkhill hospital, a visit to the dermatology department. I felt a bit of a fraud, especially now with Covid-19. The nurse put a gun in my ear, not to shoot me, but simply to take my temperature. Apparently, I was normal. I’d a mark, a small raised island on the shin of my left leg. It’s been there since last year. I noticed it again when I started wearing shorts. Old guys shouldn’t be wearing shorts. They should be wearing trousers called flannels and checked shirts. I keep forgetting I’m old.
Da was the same, no shame. He’d wear shorts and a shirt open at the waist with a gold crucifix around his neck. He’d walk everywhere, even to Parkhead and back to watch Celtic. That’s about 25 miles. And he’d go jogging. I thought it was funny, a spluttering, red-face old geezer going jogging…Until thirty years later, I go jogging too. Two gears when running, slow and slower. The same face as my da.
I’d Roger’s wife, a childhood neighbour, chuckling as she told me a story about my da. How Rodger had left the electric hedge-cutter out the back garden. While he was away for lunch, Dessy, my da, started cutting their hedge. It’s massive with waste ground at the back.
Rodger’s wife told me, ‘he tumbled down the slope, while cutting the outside…I miss him every day’.
I quickly changed the subject. ‘I suppose he cut through the wire, while he was cutting the hedge. He was ay daeing that.’
‘No,’ Rodger said.
‘Our daughter’s always doing that.’ She laughed, ‘the wire gets shorter and shorter…You’re da was a character’.
I couldn’t disagree with that.
The dermatologist prescribed a cream, Aldara, for superficial basal cell carcinoma. He gave me the usual ‘nothing to worry about’ speech. I was more worried about wasting his time.
Aldara is also prescribed for genital warts. The chemist probably thought I was a bit of a character too. Or an oddball as they used to say. As we used to say. Both are true.
My da died of skin cancer. Fit enough to get out of his coffin and carry it to the graveyard, wondering what all the fuss was about. It would save money as well. I’m guessing, like the rest of us, he didn’t think he was that old. There’d be another few years in the tank – yet.
In his teenage years he’d been a soldier in North Africa, shipped to Sicily in the biggest second world war military operation prior to Dunkirk. He fought his way through the heel of Italy. The Gothic line, with seasoned German troops dug into rock and always higher up. A bullet didn’t have his number on it. He came back whole and hearty. Demobbed.
Wife and five kids (first boy stillborn as was another, unnamed, untalked about).
Da wasn’t interested in working overlong. Shipyards gone. Building game, gubbed. In the sixties he could punch the gaffer and have another job by noon the next day. In the seventies, he used to go out with his cheese sandwiches, kidding on he was going to work. He’d hide bills from my mum, ‘so’s not to worry her’, even though he’d been paid off. He was unemployed for years and liked to retreat to the back room with his stash of books. That’s me again. It’s hard to imagine it, even though I’m nearer sixty, which used to be called retiring age, but now we’ve been told we can work forever.
My mum asked me to shave him before he died. The Macmillan nurses were coming in. They thought he was great. Everybody thought he was great.
‘Alright,’ I said to Mum. ‘I’ll dae it.’
I’d do anything for her. I boiled the kettle and got a Bic razor. Da still had enough strength to totter into the toilet. He’d have done anything for my mum too.
I splashed water on his face and rubbed soap into his cheeks, under his nose and chin. He wasn’t one for kisses and hugs. It had been decades since I’d touched him. Dipped the Bic into mug with boiling water and played at being cut-throat barber. He pushed his tongue past the bottom palate of his teeth and into the lower lip. I shaved the hard to reach bit that way at the corner of the lips.
‘That’ll dae,’ he rubbed his chin and dabbed the soap away.
I handed him a towel and he leaned forward and peered in the mirror, short-sighted, with greying eyes. He went back to his room, back to his bed in the reading room, the dying room.
Like my da, I sit out the back too. Books and papers, splashed around me. SportsDirect mug that takes two cups of tea at once. Da used a pint glass from the pub as mug for his tea, never had it away from his lips. I’m the same. I drink so much tea that if anybody mentions the word toilet, it’s a reflex, like my next door neighbour’s dog barking through the slats of the fence at a passer-by. I need to go. I’ve got to go. I’ve books in the toilet too, piled on the ledge.
Don’t let that gold crucifx my da wore around his neck fool you. He was a sun worshipper. A blink of sun and da would be outside, picking daises so he wouldn’t need to mow the lawn. A waving hand, a word of everyone in passing. A mug of tea in a pint glass. A book to read. He coated himself in Vaseline and fried. His face glowed like a purple-coloured-ice-slurppy drink from a vending machine. He’d beg to go to Malta, every year, ‘one last time before I die’.
My sister Jo, paid for it to give my mum a bit of peace was her cry. The closest he came to dying was from heat stroke. His crony, my Uncle John, went with him. He too couldn’t resist sunshine and a good Catholic county where they fed you with cheap drink. Da was a great swimmer. Uncle John told us instead of walking he’d swum across a bay to get to some hotel. Half-drunk he was told there was a shark in the bay. Da swum it, anyway, it was only a fish. I often wonder what that shark thought of that strange new purple-faced thing, breast- stroking and puffing in front of it. Da came back, with a new shade of deep fried tan. I was voting for the shark.
I often get reminded, you’re like Dessy, you’re just like you’re da.
‘You must have loved him,’ people say.
‘Nah,’ I shake my head.
I never knew him. But as I get older, I get to know him a wee bit better.