Saturday, 3 August 2013

Me and dad

There were two ways to walk to the town; usually it was by the road. But some days, when time stretched ahead without limit, when the mood was on for adventure, we would go over the fields.
"What took you so long?" "We came back over the fields."

My dad first took me all the way to town over the fields. We started on the concrete road as it was known, a farm road for tractors which intrigued by its expansion joints that oozed molten tarmac on hot days. The concrete road was well known to me, but once we left it the terrain was unfamiliar. We walked a winding narrow track that at points was so overgrown we took to the edge of the fields and hugged the hedgerow. This eventually opened out to a wider dirt path bearing off to the right.

"This is the old canal." Water? In striking distance of home and I never knew it. Still and green. He took me by the hand to the edge and we threw stones to make big plop noises. "Come and see this. Quick." It was always urgency with my dad. He lay on the ground and I followed, both on our bellies, smelling the faintly damp grass and warming mud, hearing the small sounds on the water. We watched a colony of ants moving house. Long wiggly lines of them, each carrying a white egg the size of its own body. He told me all the heroism of ants. His face was very close to mine. He was absorbed. He was my dad.
"Come on then."

The canal ended soon and gave way to grassland. The walk started to feel long. We were in a hinterland, neither village nor town, not field or lane, a bit featureless I might have thought had I known such a word. But then I spotted the blockhouse where he would tell me something exciting about enemy and bombs and blackout. I would say "Were you in the war dad?" and he would stand to attention and salute, so I wouldn't know the answer.

I stroked the cows waiting to die, walked quickly past the slaughterhouse with its meaty smell of life and death. At some point we stopped and he rolled a cigarette in his big fingers, sticking it in the side of his mouth as he struck the flint of his lighter several times to get a long petrol flame. Then I would watch as the fragrant blue smoke was sucked back sharply and released with a satisfied sigh. He was my dad.

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