“How are you, Dad?”
“Not well, Skip.”
Spending most of the winter in hospital, Dad wishes to be nowhere other than his own armchair. Conversations with the ward staff only bring a re-emphasis of the need for him to remain a patient. “He has not been sufficiently stabilised,” comments one nurse.
It is years since he last called me “Skip,” perhaps forty-five or fifty years. It was his nickname for me when I was a child. Dad served in the Fleet Air Arm. “Skipper” was a term of affection: shortened to “Skip,” it became my name, perhaps used more often than “Ian.”
Skip was the name that went with Saturday mornings in the days when he worked five and a half days a week. In times before terrorist threats existed, I was allowed to accompany him onto the naval air station and to move freely in the hangar among the jet aircraft that stood with folded wings and open cockpits. The half-days left me with a profound sense of caution, an awareness that there were places where children did not run around and where they should take careful note of hazards. In memory, there was a tangible sense of fear at catching sight of striped the yellow and black handles above each cockpit seat, to pull one would fire the ejector seat. Of course, the seats would have been disarmed during maintenance periods in the hangar, but no-one would have persuaded a small schoolboy that there was no danger.
Skip was the name that went with the hours we spent fishing. Fishing might be on the banks of the River Yeo, a few minutes from home; it might be on the harbour wall at Lyme Regis; or it might be from the beach st West Bay. My Dad would explain that a different rod was to be used in each location. There was a light split cane rod with a cork float that was used on the river bank. A short, boat rod was used to fish from the harbour wall. At West Bay, a long, beach caster rod with a multiplier reel ensured the heavily weighted trace travelled many yards out into the sea. Skip always delighted in such moments.
Skip was the name during the many, many journeys sat beside Dad in his car. It was a time before seat belts, a time when there was no prohibition on small boys sitting in the front seat. Dad always had tales to tell, stories that lingered long in the memory of the boy.
Perhaps, deep inside, Skip lives on.