Knots and problems

I was never a person for Union Jack bunting. When I lived in Northern Ireland, it marked out an area as Loyalist and always had associations with the tensions of the marching season. In England, Union Jack bunting seems to be an altogether more benign phenomenon. It doesn’t really seem to symbolise anything other than an attempt to celebrate an occasion.

There was a box of bunting in my classroom, left by my predecessor, a history teacher who had made much of the centenary of Armistice Day in 2018. After school on Thursday, I thought it might be a way to mark the anniversary of VE Day, so gathered it up and brought it home. There was lots of it. I hung it along the front of the house, upstairs and downstairs and it seemed to make the place more jolly.

Taking it down this evening, I stood unpicking a knot. “What sort of knot is that?” Dad would have asked.

He would have been right. He always shook his head at badly tied knots. I never attempted anything more complicated than a reef knot, and even it sometimes ended up as a granny knot. Dad tied hitches and bowlines and numerous other knots I could not have named.

If skills and gifts are hereditary, then it is my youngest sister, who can do everything from installing storage heaters to the most intricate handicraft, who inherited all of Dad’s dexterity.

There was nothing to which he would not put his hand. Derek, a neighbour on our road, recalls Dad as the person who could be called on to fix the washing machine when it was broken.

Dad was always there to answer problems. Once, when the car would not start, I phoned him from the west coast of France. We went through a number of checks, before he said bluntly, “your battery is flat.” A kind French neighbour drove me to a garage and we bought a new battery, the kind neighbour ensuring the garage was not paid a franc more than was due.

Dad would have enjoyed VE Day, not the official observances, such as they were, but the opportunity to revisit his memories of the time. He would have recalled the events of the day and the mood of the time and the pure joy that would have filled the heart of an eight year old boy.

Dad was eighty-three and eighty-three year old people die, so it is silly to wish that he might still be able to criticise badly tied knots.

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