What’s His Name – Pilchard?!
In a lot of ways, my dad was a bit of a one- off. All of my family have inherited one or two of his characteristics.
I can’t tell you everything about my dad in one blog. I literally have enough material to write a book about him and his stories.
Albert or ‘Albie’ as he was known to his parents, was born in London, within the square mile and the sound of Bow Bells, making him a true Cockney. He was the second eldest of six children. By the 1930s, Albie’s dad had made the decision to move out of London into the suburbs. Albie’s dad (also called Albie) qualified this decision on the assumption that, if the family stayed where they were, his son Albie would ‘end up in the Scrubs’. For the uninitiated, he was referring to Wormwood Scrubs, the prison.
My dad was unfortunate enough to be 19 years old when the Second World War started, which meant he was conscripted into the RAF. He was trained as an armourer and was involved in the D Day landings. His varied and amusing stories about the war would easily keep me in blogs for months. Of course, lots of these stories would be repeated time and again over the years, but in true dad style, he would tell them to you anyway.
He was eventually trained to be a gunner on a Lancaster bomber, but the war ended before he saw an active service. His own description of this experience was that he spent most of the time ‘shitting lumps’.
Many tried and tested stories could be elicited from my dad with just one or two key words – for example, if anybody mentioned Pele, the footballer, my dad would explain why Pele was not the greatest footballer of all time; he had a particularly raunchy story about Petula Clarke underneath a male dancer on top of a grand piano in a practice room at The London Palladium.
Dad’s Inexplicable Dislike of Certain Celebrities
Like most dads, he reacted very badly to certain people who appeared on the television for no rational reason. Here are just a few celebrities with dad’s verbal reaction when they appeared on screen:
Terry Wogan – completely useless idiot.
Jimmy Young, radio presenter – a f***ing crawl arse. (Sycophant).
Rod Stewart, singer – a f***ing layabout.
David Essex, singer – a f***ing layabout. With an ear ring.
Dad’s Practical Jokes
This section could have been titled ‘never get in a boat with dad’, but for some reason, I never learned. One of the most terrifying experiences of my early childhood was going in a swing boat with my dad. For those of you who don’t know what a swing boat is, it’s basically a boat that’s a swing. Two people sit facing each other in the boat and pull on a rope in order to get the boat to swing. My dad loved them and would pull on the rope with gusto, until the boat sailed back and forth. But he didn’t stop there. He would keep tugging on the rope until the swing boat was at right angles to the ground and his child passenger was screaming, pleading for him to stop. This only urged him on more, furiously heaving on the rope until you truly believed it was going to completely circumnavigate its moorings.
He was no better in a real boat. Memories of my childhood experiences returned many years later when we went to Majorca. The hotel had a boating lake and Lady Barton St Mary suggested a gentle trip across it. My dad immediately volunteered to row said boat. Now, for whatever reason, I decided not to tell Lady BSM what was coming, but gallantly offered to come along for the ride. Sure enough, upon reaching the middle of the lake, my dad looked earnestly into Lady BSM’s eyes and said, “Do you think this boat’s safe?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Lady BSM, reclined on the seat facing my dad, at which point he started to rock the boat.
“Erm, don’t do that,” she said, calmly, “we might tip over.”
“Nah! Safe as houses!” declared my dad, whereupon he started to rock the boat so violently that we had to cling on for dear life. Poor Lady BSM, not aware of such behaviour, reacted as any normal person would. I think that I’m still slightly deaf from her screams to this day.
I can’t even begin to tell you the time we visited the GPO Tower as it was then called (The BT Tower) when I was 6. Upon reaching the top, dad thought it would be a good idea to dangle me over the edge. This was in the 1960s when health and safety regulations didn’t exist. Being held out of a building 600 feet above the ground is something I don’t want to repeat in a hurry.
Dad’s Famous Outbursts and Sayings
a) The wedding
At the wedding of my second cousin Elaine, all my family stood respectfully at the back of the registry office watching the ceremony unfold. The registrar had reached the point where he asked the young man who was marrying Elaine the important question.
“Do you, Paul Pritchard, take Elaine as your lawfully wedded wife?”
There was a slight pause, enough time for my dad to ask in a loud voice, “What’s ‘is name? Pilchard?”
The rest of the wedding service was spent with fists stuffed in mouths and tears streaming down our cheeks. The poor man was forever known as ‘Pilchard’.
b) The pregnancy
Suzanne and Simon, his grand daughter and her husband, took him out for dinner to tell him some good news.
“Grandad,” she said, smiling, “I have some good news. I’m pregnant.”
My dad looked startled for a second before saying, “Who said that??”
c) Praise Indeed.
During a family stay in a hotel, Dad described my sporting achievements to Young Mr Raggett, my lovely niecey’s (as then) husband to be. Dewy eyed, he told Simon about all the times he’d witnessed me scoring goals and tries, winning athletic races, representing my school and my county. I did my best to look modest as my dad summarised.
“All in all, Simon, that boy…,” he said, pointing at me, “when it comes to sport, is … quite good.”
To give Young Mr Raggett his due, he managed to keep a straight face at this underwhelming critique of my sporting career.
I comfort myself with the fact that dad had taken a few drinks on board, which was clearly evident very much later that evening when, upon returning to his hotel room, dad dropped to the floor and adopted a commando like crawl into the room on his knees and elbows in a vain attempt to escape the attentions of my mum, who’d retired to bed at a reasonable hour.
“Albert, what are you doing?” we could hear my mother say as the door closed behind him. It’s worth pointing out that he was in his late seventies when this occurred.
When I was 18, dad crashed into my bedroom at one o’clock in the morning after having refreshed himself at my mum’s company’s dinner dance. Blurry eyed, I looked up at him swaying over me.
“Yes dad?” I asked timidly.
(Being woken up early was not a rare occurrence. Dad worked shifts. When his car wouldn’t start, he’d haul me out of bed and make me push it down the road until it did. This could take several attempts, but eventually the car would spring into life and he’d roar off, waving out of the window, leaving you up to half a mile from home at five in the morning in your pyjamas.)
“You should ‘ave been there tonight. This woman had a really low cut dress and enormous headlamps!” he grinned.
Mum didn’t speak to him for a couple of days.
Mum and dad visited me when I lived in Brighton. We spent a pleasant afternoon on the pier, where one could investigate the antique amusement arcade. This involved buying old pennies, which enabled you to try the various amusement machines. Dad was rather taken by a ‘test your strength machine, where you had to try and push two handles together and register a score. Rather proudly, he pointed out that the strongest category was ‘plumber’ ( his trade). Unfortunately, his attempt only registered a score of ‘ledger clerk’. So, taking a deep breath, he inserted another old penny and with all his might, squeezed as hard as he possibly could. It was at this point that the elderly machine decided enough was enough and fell into two pieces, leaving dad holding the now unattached handles.
I looked around to see if anybody had noticed the sound of splintering wood and clattering metal.
“Dad, maybe we should tell somebody what’s happened and … dad?”
I’d looked back to discover that my dad was no longer there. Instead, I could see him running down the pier as fast as he could. I hastily put all the pieces in a neat pile and ran after him. Sorry, antique amusement arcade.
As I say, these tales only scrape the surface. Dad hanging off unsecured scaffolding, dad throwing a hammer through the kitchen window, dad mercilessly teasing young children, either to their delight or disgust.
So, there will be more to come. His sayings still stay with me today. When I complained about being so skinny, he used to say that’s how I could run so fast, a useful talent when playing rugby.
“You never see a fat greyhound, son,” he’d tell me.
Dad taught me a lot about how you should live and, when the time came, how you should die. He’s not entirely gone, though. Every day when I get out of bed, stagger to the bathroom and look in the mirror, there he is, staring back at me. Quite good.