My Father In Reflection
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
I admired what my Father did for the Tigers, although l got sick to the back teeth of hearing about the bloody woman Jeanne. I had to nurse him mentally through the continued talk of suicide, and find her, find her, you must find her, l have made such a terrible mistake!
I tired of hearing him slating my Mother, that he wished he had never married her, that she was no good for him, that he never loved her. I would remind him often in the start of the milleniumthat as much as he berated his ex-wife, he had not been an easy person to live with, and whilst l was not defending my Mother entirely, l could speak freely as his Son. No woman deserved to be struck, mentally abused, cheated on and subjected to his behaviour.
My Father and l as a relationship had never been strong, even when we were both younger and growing older in the family home. My Sister had always in his eyes been the better person, so l was very wary of him.
I do not doubt that my Father loved Jeanne or at least believed he did, l doubted his reasons for not moving on, because l recognised one particular behaviour that he was clearly displaying and that was guilt.
Influences on Life
Reflection 2001/Penned 2005
I was close to the end of my endurance. My shirt was clammy and the inside of my hat slippery with sweat. My five-day beard was rough to the touch, my skin itchy and provided clear evidence of my not having showered for a week. Worse, I was tired, with a weariness that was etched into my being. My heart pumped and my thighbones seemed turned to jelly.
The path was a tangled mess of smooth rocks, slippery grass and twisted outcrops of tree roots. We were above 12000 feet, not high enough for oxygen, but sufficient to make the chest heave with only slight exertions. I stopped at a small break in the trees, breathing hard. My guide’s smooth 25-year-old face was strained with anxiety. A long, long way below, the Ganges lay like a silver snake slithering slowly to the sea. A tiny breeze shivered the trees, cooling the sweat on my face and fluttering my shirt.
“Thank God. Maybe two more hours and it will be all over. Will I make it?”
“Are you OK, boss?”
Christ. Can he read my thoughts?
“Yes,” I smiled. “Absolutely fine.”
“OK to go on?”
“Absolutely.” We plunged into the forest of scented oaks and silver birches, my thigh muscles almost audible in protest. “Why are you here, you daft bastard?”
Why indeed? I was a 63 year-old insulin dependant diabetic, not especially fit, trekking the Himalayas for five days and over 50 miles to raise money for endangered tigers. Ten years ago I thought that tigers were big pussycats in striped coats. Now…..
Well, it was down to her, Jeanne. She had started it. Started a lot of things if I thought about it and I did, every day. I had met Jeanne in 1990 and we lived together between 1991 and 1996. She had been into the Chinese horoscope. I had been born in the year of the Tiger she told me and this kindled my interest in the big cats, an interest that grew into a passion. So much so, that I was nicknamed ‘Tiger’.
We staggered down to the small footbridge over the infant river and joined up with the rest of the team.
“How are you?” enquired Nidish, chief guide, eyes clouded with worry.
“Knackered. I hope those dammed tigers know what I am doing for them.”
Nidish smiled and put an arm around my shoulders. “No, they don’t, but you do and that is what really matters.”
Later in camp we finished the last of our whiskey, a prized smoky Laphroaig tasting of peat. Nidish proposed a toast. “Here’s to the tigers.”
We raised our cups. Silently I said “And here’s to you too, little Biche.” It had been her idea that we do something for endangered species, especially tigers, other than donating money. A friend told me, “Don’t go. She’s gone; she’ll never know.” True, but a promise is a promise and I would know.
Jeanne had taken me up those mountains as surely as if she had been with me. She influenced my life in so many ways. She loved deer, so I still don’t eat venison. We used to go to Richmond Park to visit ‘her mates’ as I called them. I still do. She loved England and through her I developed a love of France. It was a strange thing for a British patriot to do. This man, steeped in the lore of Crecy, Agincourt, Blenheim and Waterloo, defending les Français and their country against his fellow Brits. In 2002 I bought a house in France.
But most of all, my love, you changed me, for good and for evil. You left a more caring man, capable of giving and receiving love. This man co-exists with a cynical, critical man, deeply suspicious of women. A man, who in the last nine years has been a total failure at making any kind of relationship with any other female.
“Forget Jeanne” my wise and beautiful sister-in-law told me. I wanted to scream “But how?” How do I forget the five years we spent in Camelot, or at least, I spent there? And why should I forget? This was the happiest, most fulfilled time of my life. OK, she didn’t feel the same at the end, but there is no law which says you must only love one who loves you. As Professor Henry Higgins sang “I’ve grown accustomed to her face.”
When we split up I knew there would never be anyone else. I tried, God knows I tried, but after going out with perhaps fifty ladies I knew it was true then and it is true now. People were dismissive. “Of course there will be someone else. There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Indeed, and plenty of clichés. But I knew and I still know. There will never be anyone else. It is not a choice, not something within my control. It is part of what I am. I had five good years with Jeanne, more than I had in thirty years of marriage. And that is enough, almost enough, because I know, and that is what really matters. I even dedicated a poem to her.
In your shadow,
In middle age
From a male
Into a man.
Now you’re gone,
Lost in sadness
Small boy drowning
In your shadow.
Written by my Father B.M