The Living Years

Thoughts of a painter

Being caught unawares

This has been in my head for a very long time, but I’ve resisted the urge to write it until now. In some ways it’s almost too painful to write and yet, it’s worse to keep it in. In reality it’s only thoughts of a long gone past, but sometimes these things haunt you which means they catch you unexpectedly; today they caught me in such a way. My sister posted some photos of us as children on Facebook; some I’d never seen before and there were also a couple of photos of my mum and dad on their wedding day. That’s where the haunting began.My dad pops up in my mind on rare occasions. I hardly knew him in truth. My mum met him in the late 1950’s and almost immediately he was sent away to Malaya to fight in the conflict we had over there at the time. I know he was a boxer, and in trouble a lot. When he came back from Malaya my mother and he married and I was the first product of that union in 1963. My sister, Wendy, came along in 1965. By then the marriage was over and my dad was having an affair with a woman who became his second wife. I have 2 half brothers from that, but only met one of them once briefly and I’ve never met the other two at all.

Memories and the consequences

In 2002 during a Tony Robbins seminar a memory came to me that I’d never had before. I was at the top of a small flight of stairs in our family flat in Kettering Street, Streatham. I was desperately upset and pleading with my father not to leave. I remember saying ‘Daddy don’t go’ and crying, but of course he did. I was two. I checked with my mum if that was what happened and she said it did. We bury our pain very deep, but sometimes it stays there. The result of this was asthma, triggered by stress. I still have it, but it’s very mild.


For the next few years I saw quite a lot of my dad, as I remember. He was a talented painter and decorator with his own business. I can remember going into nice London houses where dad worked and he took me, and sometimes Wendy, on jobs. Health and safety was a bit different in the 60’s. I remember his van. I also saw my first ever water bed at one of the houses we went to. I remember a bonfire party we went to at his house and a jumping jack chasing me up a garden path, bloody thing. My mum met my step father and married him in 1971 – they celebrate 40 years married together this November. That was the last time I saw my dad for about 20 years. He looked after Wendy and I that night at his house. I know I didn’t think that was the last time I’d see him for a long time, but that’s what happened. We, as a family, moved to Irchester from London and my dad never took the time to come and see us. I really don’t know why. As a parent I find it really hard to reconcile, but he let Wendy and I go. For years I hated him; for giving me asthma, for letting us go, and for not loving me.

A reunion … of sorts

One day, in my late twenties I decided I wanted to see him. Wendy had stayed in touch with him for a few years previous and it was arranged. Bizarrely he now lived in the old flat in Kettering St and that’s where I met him. The years had not been kind. A long time alcoholic when I saw him he was shaking, as that day he stayed off the booze. His hair was white. He was in his late 50’s and a bit of a mess. I felt quite sorry for him, but we live our lives and reap it’s rewards and consequences. We spent the day together and all was pleasant. As I drove home I resolved to see him again, but I never did. He would sometimes phone the house when I wasn’t there and talk to my girlfriend. He always phoned when I wasn’t there, he knew my teaching schedule. I knew that he kept up with my progress when I was stick-fighting as he told Anne-Marie (the girlfriend) that he read the reports in the martial arts press.

An unexpected phone call

One afternoon in late 1998 my mum phoned to tell me he’d died. I was shocked at first, but the more I learned the more pity I felt for this man who had helped to bring me into the world. The alcoholism had got worse and he eventually stripped all the electrics out the flat, sat in a chair in the living room and drank himself to death. No-one knew he’d died until the neighbours called the authorities because of the smell. He was rotting and the house was in a disgusting mess. I’ve never visited his grave, I don’t know where it is, only that he died a lonely pauper, a man who squandered a talent that he never passed to me: that he was good with his hands and useless with his thoughts. I’m pretty much exactly the opposite.


One trigger is when I hear the Mike and the Mechanics song ‘The Living Years’, especially this part:

“I wasn’t there that morning

When my father passed away

I didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit later that same year

I’m sure I heard his echo in my baby’s newborn tears

I just wish I could have told him, in the living years”

He helped me to strive for more, to make the most of what talents I do have and I have tried to be a good parent to my natural born child and my two stepsons. I’m aware I didn’t always do it right, but they won’t have to worry about me drinking myself to death and they know I love them. As children it’s all we crave (acceptance from our parents) and as a parent it’s what we want – that our kids grow up happy and that we helped. His name was Derek and he was my dad.