Life's a road, as so many song-writers like to say. And yeah, we travel on and we eventually come to the end, and in between all that we take a pile of turns based on a mixture of feeling and experience. And sometimes circumstance leads us to a place where the road stops but we don't. Dead end or cul de sac? Depends on how you feel I suppose. I'm in a cul de sac. I'm stuck for a while. Certainly not a dead end. Just sitting here wondering what I can do or say, as Dylan wrote and sang. But I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything, not even myself. The cul de sac is semi-circular and comfortable. And I'm not sure what to do. Or say. I'm just sitting here thinking about someone I lost: my dear old Dad. Not a drastic end, in truth a very graceful one. Lived to 95 and slipped quietly away a few weeks ago. And all my loving sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles came to join with friends, 'to pay respect' is how it's put, but really to share some love around. And it was glorious, that love. But now they've gone back to their lives and I'm here in my cul de sac. “Do I look forward or do I look back?” might be the next rhyming line. What do I do? Cry, drink, walk, swim, eat, sing, cry again, swim and cry. Tell myself I'm not alone coz it happens to us all, and for some it's sudden and drastic and people are left in a sink hole of disbelief. But I am alone. And that's not so bad. I got my my guitar, my harmonica and my books, and they all fit pretty neatly into my cul de sac. I'm in his home, the one I looked after him in for the last three years after mum died. It's a lovely home and it's full of things that were his and hers. Right next to this desk, hanging on the wall, is his dagger – the one he was issued when he joined Z Special Unit, a secret group of naval commandos who went into enemy-occupied territory during the war. He was one of the luckier ones; being a good sailor, he mostly stayed on the boat (snake boats, they were called: done up to look like native fishing vessels). So he came back, got married, became a doctor, raised a family and had a terrific life. Sometimes he was down – deep as can be – be but mostly he was up. Not only was life his oyster, he had the full dozen with champagne, caviar and dancing girls thrown in!
Lucky guy. But now he's gone, and I miss him. I miss him more than you can miss anything. If you stood right next to a barn door and fired a bazooka or an Uzi or a cannon at it, and you missed! Well that's how much I miss! Him! Death took him when it probably should have, and as we've been all telling each other, he got the end most dream of: slipped away quietly like the Z Man he was. Brief suffering. And yes death is inevitable, but inevitability, as tragedians show us, is no solace really, unless you're a Buddhist or someone who's really okay with impermanence. I'm not okay with it, it's fucked that things have to finish. My grandpa – Mum's Dad - felt the same. Just before he died he said he felt cheated, life was great and he didn't want to just give it up. Yeah, fuck oath old fella, I'm on your side! Not that I believe we should struggle against death in the old 'Do not go gentle' crap espoused by the Welsh drunk. It's just that it...oh I don't know, it's hard. WAS HERE, NOW GONE. Dirty rotten magic trick gets played on us by that rotten motherfucker called fate or circumstance. Funny old word that circumstance – literally means to stand around. “Those of you who are waiting for something to happen, please go into the room marked 'circumstance'. There are no chairs. Just stand around and something will happen. Those of you who can't wait, well there's no special room for you. You can do stuff: build, work, run, scream, fight, fuck, whatever, you'll still end up in the room marked circumstance.” But standing around is what I'm doing, lying round too, holding a pillow marked grief. (Old French – burden). Maybe that's the name of my cul de sac: Burden Street.
The houses in Burden Street are old, inside there are treasures and pain, there'll be love and romance and sweet things, but nothing will ever remain. No, nothing remains in any street, any reality. Only crap novels and stories with happy endings. Eventually the degradation leads to a full stop.
I'm back in his house again after a delightful 5 week holiday to Scotland – where his relatives originated – and where I wandered and drove and rode and sat on hilltops in the highlands, thinking about him. I cried and I breathed. I also swam in the coldest water ever, but what a marvel it was to plunge into the Atlantic, to gasp and yelp and suck air in like I did sixty one years ago. Like he did ninety five years ago, and no doubt like he did when he trained to be a naval commando. This house is full of his and mum's stuff: paintings, photos, coats, pens, medals, membership badges, his old doctor's bag (which I use for props!), and yes, the dagger on the wall. The dagger which he posed with – holding it between his teeth! - in an old photo on the River Snake, the naval vessel he served on, disguised as a junk, with nine other blokes. In the photo he has a full beard, like many of the young men we see today. He's handsome, small, happy and fit. Really fit, as are all the guys with him. They are beautiful muscle-bound men, all smiles, all ready for action. All gone now.
On the day he died, when Sylvie - his daily carer - invited me to wash and dress his body, I saw once again the tattoo on his arm. The one he got when he was a naval cadet, no doubt drunk at the time, and doing it to fit in. A black swan swimming amidst a few rushes. Stretched beyond recognition. “Wow! Your Dad's got a tatt” was often said by friends of mine and my sisters when we'd all go swimming. In those days only prisoners and bikies had tattoos, and Dad was never proud of it. But I thought it was cool.