This afternoon as I psyched myself up to make dinner, I could hear Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” so clearly in my head, I simply had to track down the CD and put it on. (Yes, we still don’t do Spotify in our house). So I hunted through the TV cabinet which is well loaded with my CD collection (mostly from when I was in my 20s). Eventually, I found the double CD and slid disc one into the player.
Those opening bars. The guitar. It burst through the room and instantly I was back in my family home. We’re preparing for some kind of occasion. The sun is streaming in through the massive picture window which my parents had found for the northern-most room. Maybe the squat slow-combustion stove (which we called Harry) is crackling. Maybe the grape vines on the pergola are deep purple and my Mum is making the family recipe for lemon cordial.
Suddenly dinner was no longer a chore. I had my accompaniment, my mental balance, and a little reason to wiggle my hips!
Music is a part of my life that has disappeared, to a large degree, since having kids. But the oldies are finding their way back in. And my love of music, interestingly, is linked very strongly to my Dad. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that. It was Mum who encouraged us to learn instruments and Mum who played clarinet and piano. But it was Dad who would sit with his headphones on late at night, listening to Queen or Pink Floyd or Frank Zappa. And it was Dad who introduced us to The Beatles, Sibelius, Dvorak, etc. We never had TV at home and so, the treat in our house was to be allowed to choose the music that was playing on the main stereo. Whoever was rostered on to wash up could generally choose the music after dinner but at other times it was a bit of a free-for-all.
Dad also gave me a love of jokes and imitating accents, and of stories about the family. In 2000, I spent nine months living with Dad’s mother and she told stories in the same way, twisted her hands around each other in the same way and had the same mischievous sense of fun.
I also blame Dad for my love of words. I remember attending a training session to join the local volunteer bushfire brigade. We were learning about knots. The guy up front was explaining that some people really struggle with knots, while other people catch on easily. I piped up, proud as punch of my pun, “So you mean, some people can knot and others can’t?”. Everybody stared at me blankly and the guy out front just nodded politely like I was an idiot. But when I got home, I knew Dad wouldn’t miss a beat.
Dad made me aware of the history of English and the background to our crazy spelling system (if you could call it a system). Dad has often told me how much his little bit of Latin study has helped his English. Now, I find myself telling my kids “I know it seems crazy to spell it this way but it’s probably originally Greek”. To them it might mean nothing (yet) but in my own head I know, that although we make fun of Dad’s few words of French which he tosses liberally into the evening meal, it’s Dad I can thank for my glancing knowledge of etymology… which in fact does help me with spelling.
It was Dad who taught us to drive as well. At the time it was a rather stressful affair. I was not a natural and I wasn’t enthusiastic and Dad’s patience tended to end in rapid disgust, or otherwise laughing disbelief. But, in retrospect, he drilled me on everything that’s essential. I remember, on a fire trail, having to practise stopping as soon as Dad said the word. I remember being constantly reprimanded for not being considerate of other cars (for instance by not sitting as close as possible to the centre line when waiting to turn right). I remember him explaining to me multiple times why it was mechanically crucial not to ride the clutch. These basic principles have served me well. I know exactly where the brake is. I do try to consider the traffic (and get annoyed when others don’t). And, although I am not mechanically minded, I realize that it pays to respect the machines you use.
It was also Dad who urged, shuffled, cajoled and drilled me through high school maths. Again, I was not a natural. But this week, as I watched my daughter take flight with vertical algorithms, I saw in her what I remember feeling – that sense of “CAN”. Numbers CAN make sense. And I CAN do maths. It was a wonderful feeling, when it hit. And it was Dad’s bloody-minded persistence that got me there.
So all this thinking about Dad evolved out of listening to The Wall by Pink Floyd while making pizza. Pretty cool, huh? Dad, I know you’ll probably read this so… thanks! Turns out you’ve taught me more than a soupçon.