STOPPING

‘All the way up the valley was water.’

I grunted. I had told him that. Part of being a Dad is listening to your own stories, hearing your own thoughts, recognising you, being played back at you. It starts off being cute. A five year old telling someone about how electricity can’t leak out of a plug socket because the electrons don’t flow unless there is a circuit, makes everyone smile.

It takes commitment to listen to the same story for the twentieth time without the smile becoming a little frozen. Imagine that experience repeated for several hundred stories, aphorisms, ideas, thoughts, feelings, nuggets and gems of ‘wisdom’ and you begin, perhaps, to see why I grunted.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested. I was. I had been. I suppose I wanted him to tell me things I didn’t know. I loved finding out new things and, yes, repeating them with little or no embellishment to anyone who would listen. When I was young of course, that meant my mother and father most of the time. Yes, you presume correctly; the people usually who had told me the thing in the first place. Now that gave me an insight into the need for tolerance. I’d driven people mad too, so I should probably suck it up now.

‘Ships used to come all the way up here, even before there was a castle.’ He said.

I smiled as we walked across the flood plain. ‘How deep do you think it was then?’

We walked on to the bridge and he stopped half way over, looking upstream, the narrow, murky water below barely glimpsed through the grasses and reeds. Something moved through the undergrowth, the sound drawing our attention from the view up the valley.

‘Something down there.’ I said

‘Maybe a bird.’

‘Possibly. Too much noise for a water vole.’ That made me think of a new tack. ‘I wonder if they get mink here?’

‘Probably a rat.’ he said dismissively.

That was unexpected. It was a much more likely explanation than my flights of fancy.

‘What’s a mink?’ he asked.

So I told him as we walked across the bridge and through the gate.

He nodded.’ Can we go up the hill? I want to take some photos of the valley.’

‘Sure, it’s a lovely evening for it.’

‘It’s a lovely valley. When I came here with Huw in the floods, it was about five feet deep on the flood plain I think.’

He hadn’t let it go of course. He had his thoughts on the valley and the floods and he was going to tell me them regardless of distractions from mink, rats, voles or birds. To be fair he was answering my question. We walked up the side of the valley for a better vantage point.

‘That’s a storage warehouse at the base.’

A brick building, warm red brown in the evening sun, peeped from among the trees on a distant hillside.

‘I don’t think they’d have got ships that far.’ Small joke.

‘The tunnelling drained the aquifer before they built that.’

‘Right.’

‘The water that sustained the lake here drained away.’

‘I think that might be the ammunition factory rather than a storage facility.’

He took another picture.

‘I’m done. We can go back now.’ he said waving his hand towards the bridge.

Memes. Dawkins characterisation of viral transmission of ideas, phrases, gestures. That was the really unsettling thing about fatherhood. Seeing yourself part replicated, however imperfectly.

‘I’m done. We can go back now.’ My father reverberated, words and gesture across the decades. The building blocks of syntax, concept and movement flashed before me. Him to me, me to the grandson he never met but whom he shaped by onward transmission of more than genetics. How far back did it go? A shudder ran through me.

‘You okay Dad?’

‘Yes thanks.’

We turned and walked back down the way we had come, and there was a repeated scream form the trees ahead.

‘What’s that?’

I scanned the tree line but couldn’t see anything.

‘There it is!’

His young eyes outranging mine easily.

‘What is it Dad?’

I stared as he pointed me in right direction.

A large white blob sat near the top of a tree.

‘It’s a bird of prey. Looks too bright to be a buzzard but it’s big.’

He took a photo and as my brain caught up with what I as seeing it flew gracefully across the valley to another stand of trees, silently, majestically with two powerful beats of its wings.

‘What is it?’

‘Barn owl’

‘In the day?’

‘It’s late and they do hunt in daylight sometimes.’

‘Cool.’

I thought about telling him of the reputation owls have, especially in Wales, as birds of evil portent. Of Blodeuwedd in the Mabinogion and her fate. But I stopped. Some memes don’t need passing on. Some prejudices however ancient and unintentional need an antiviral.

‘It was wasn’t it? Let’s go home and show Mum.’

‘Really cool flight, so quiet and big.’

‘Yes.’

  1. ‘Those ships must have been shallow to get up here.’

Distractions

I’d like to say that I haven’t had time to post anything here recently because I have been following my own advice and writing hard. I can’t say that in all honesty. I have done some work on the next part of what now looks like being a collection of modern fairy tales following ‘Wolf!’ (and perhaps including it). The second story is a modern twist on Cinderella. I have an outline for Hansel and Gretel and the other one (it’s looking like a four story book) is between the Pied Piper and Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the moment.

However, the real reason for my absence has been school holidays. As the ‘work at home parent’ it makes sense for me to be looking after the children. To be fair my thirteen year old daughter requires minimal intervention beyond me saying ‘No’ at various intervals in her conversation and the odd peace keeping foray between her and my six year old son. He, on the other hand requires more input. Sometimes, when I have an idea and sit down to scribble it down or type it up (write down, type up?…interesting), this can be a bit of a pain. On the other hand he is great fun and often provides a different perspective on the world.

Last week we went to feed the ducks at the pond in the local castle grounds. They didn’t want to play, so the fish got the bread and we went further afield. We ended up at the village where my daughter went to school. The school itself is now houses. This wasn’t the only change. The paper mill has shut, the railway line that still bisects the village main street has been shut and the four level crossings are all permanently open to traffic. The traffic lights on the bridge that gives entry to the village are even slower now however, as there has been a new housing estate built whose entrance is right next to the bridge. There is also another rail line that used to serve a naval arms store which is closed and overgrown. My son wanted to know all about this, but mostly about the railway lines and why and when and how they were shut. I told him but as I did I realised how quickly this had all happened. Six years ago it was all open, the school, the mill, railways, and the housing estate didn’t exist. To me this was a rapid change. To my son of course it is just how things are.

I expect some of this surprise on my part was just getting old. Things that seemed permanent when I was six had on reflection only happened recently. Television for a start. On the other hand I am convinced there is an increased pace of change, and not just in relation to communications. We seem to be moving to the US model: if a building last more than 25 years it acquires heritage status. Not many do.

The other thing my son’s presence helped me reflect on was related to this week’s Sins of Literature. This second programme looked at the supposed isolation of the writer and the balance between needing to be cooped up in a world of your own, writing your imaginative existence down, and experiencing sufficient of the world to have something to fire that imagination. My son certainly helps me maintain an involvement in the world, for which I am very grateful. It can be distracting when he wants to play at airports or drag me off on an afternoon’s walk but it is a rare day when this doesn’t afford me time to reflect or offer a useful insight into something I would have ignored from my lofty adult perspective.