Thursday, 14 August 2014

A little something special

So, today is six months since my Dad passed away. It seems almost impossible that it's been that long.
I wanted to write a post today in his memory, but  I was struggling to know what to write. To be honest, I feel like I've already said what I can say.
Then I was thinking about one of the last conversations I had with my Dad face to face - and it was about The Last Knight. It hadn't been long published and I had been quietly shocked that Dad actually really liked it. Not just 'my daughter wrote it so I have to like it' but honestly, really liked it. According to Mum he read it cover to cover three times or more between it's release and when he passed away.
But I digress. In this conversation I asked him who his favourite character was (expecting him to say Lance, or Cara, or Wyn) and he surprised me by saying Percy. Who I have to admit is probably my favourite character too.
So just for you Dad, a little Percy scene that I wrote a while back and I never planned on seeing the light of day. It's just a bit of silly fun, but I hope everyone has as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
The foil crinkled in his hands as he turned it around. The bright colours on the front made it hard to imagine this was some kind of food. He turned it again and shook it. The contents rattled.
Percy glanced up at Merlin. “Are you sure this is food?”
“Yes, Percival,” Merlin sighed. “It’s food. They just – do things a little differently here.”
The bag popped slightly as he opened it and the smell of some kind of fried goodness rose up out of it. He breathed in. He glanced into the bag and found a pile of thin, crisp bits of what looked like fried potato. But why were they cut so thin? He sighed in disappointment. He wanted meat, and lots of it, slow roasted over an open fire pit, dripping in grease. He wanted vegetables, also swimming in grease, but big chunks of them that he could stab with his knife. Not these strange, thin little bits of nothing.
And he was hungry, damn it. Of course, according to Gwain and Lancelot, he was always hungry. It wasn’t true. He wasn’t hungry when he was sleeping, or fighting. Just – the rest of the time.
The bag was almost too small for his big hand as he reached in for one of the ‘crisps’. It did smell good, he couldn’t deny that.
Lancelot was laughing from across the table. “Just eat it already. It’s not going to change no matter how long you stare at it.”
Percy glowered at him. It was all right for Lancelot. He seemed to have fitted into this new world quite easily, but the whole place still felt strange to Percy. The clothes were stiff and uncomfortable. He missed his armour. He felt naked without his armour. And there was stone everywhere, the forests he loved were gone, swallowed up by cities that seemed impossibly big. As for the people, he found them hard to believe. Why, just a few moments ago he’d seen a man come into the room in front of a woman, and not hold the door open for her. Unfathomable. He’d considered challenging the man for the affront, but he didn’t think Gwain or Lancelot would approve. Besides, the man had looked so small and weak it wouldn’t have been a very fair fight.
He sighed and looked back down at the thin piece of potato in his hand. He wasn’t sure he liked this new world one little bit.
With a final sigh of resignation he shoved the ‘crisp’ into his mouth and crunched down. His eyes widened in surprise as flavour flooded across his tongue, salty and fatty. Damn, that was good!
He demolished the rest of the packet in a matter of seconds and reached for another, then a third.
He only stopped when he heard Lancelot and Gwain laughing at him. He shot them a dirty look. Let them laugh.
Maybe this new world wouldn’t be so bad after all…

Saturday, 2 August 2014

24 Years Later

The 2nd of August. What a strange day. My father ‘celebrated’ the 2nd of August every year for the last 24. This will be the first year he doesn’t. As he’s no longer here to commemorate it, I suppose it’s down to me.
It always struck me as an odd day to celebrate when I was a child. Why on earth would my father want to celebrate the day? But now I’m older I think I understand. Dad wasn’t celebrating the day, he was celebrating the days, weeks and years that came after it. He was celebrating the fact that he lived through it.
For those in the know, who understand the significance of the date, you can skip this bit. But for those who don’t, allow me to explain.
In July of 1990 the Middle East was in a little bit of turmoil. Saddam Hussein had massed his troops along the Kuwaiti border, threating invasion. It was supposedly about territory, but really, it was about oil. The rest of the world didn’t pay too much attention. It’s sabre rattling, they said. He’ll never actually invade, they said. They were wrong of course.
Also in July 1990, I was on holiday in Cyprus.  We went away most summers. Kuwait could be unbearably hot those last few months of summer, and it is absolutely no fun being a kid and being stuck in the AC. And so my parents would take myself, Ian and Jo away on holiday. Cyprus wasn’t exactly cool, but it was a hell of a lot cooler than Kuwait. Dad could never stay the whole time though. He had a job to get back to. So towards the end of the holiday he would pack up his bag and say goodbye for the next few weeks. We didn’t think too much of it. After all, we’d be back in Kuwait soon enough, and we still had Mum.
Then came the 2nd of August. It was the same as any other summer day. We played in the pool. We ate copious amounts of ice cream. My older brother and sister teased me. I told Mum on them and got them into trouble. Nothing unusual. But of course, we didn’t have a TV in the holiday home, we never listened to the radio. How could we know anything was wrong?
But in another part of the world, everything was wrong. Dad had woken to a confusing, half asleep phone call from his boss.
“Don’t come to work. Stay inside.”
My father was never a morning person, so I can well imagine him struggling to make sense of it. But of course, he asked the most important question.
And the answer. I have so many regrets since my father passed away, but one of the worst is that I never asked him more about these moments of his life. Like what really passed through his mind the moment he got the reply. Whether he was scared? Whether he thought about us? Or Mum?
The reply? “The Iraqi’s have invaded. They’ve already taken the city.”
Dad was officially in a country at war. And his family were a few thousand miles away, with no idea.
Eventually he got a phone call through. He finally reached Mum at the poolside bar where we used to spend our days. I’ll never forget. How can you? I was seven years old, I didn’t have a clue what was going on, I only knew that something was horribly, horribly wrong.
I could tell you the rest of the story, but this blog post would be the size of a novel. I will write it down one day, I’ve always said I would.
But I can give you the basics. I saw my father at the end of July. The next time I saw him was at the school gates, surrounded by sobbing parents and the media, over 4 months later. With the wildest, shaggiest beard and hair.
He’d been in hiding, living in fear of being caught by the Iraqi soldiers, for most of that, but he had eventually been found and arrested at gunpoint and shipped off to Bagdad to be a part of the human shield. But in between he had helped organise convoys out of the country to get women and children to safety. He had opened his home to other men in hiding like himself, where they hid in the AC ducts every time the soldiers came calling. He had opened his home to others too. He wrote a small ‘newspaper’ that was passed around hand to hand by those in hiding and the resistance.
He was, quite simply, what every girl believes her father to be. A hero. Not the crazy, action hero type. But simply a quiet, brave man, who did what he felt needed to be done.
So this year I’m going to celebrate the 2nd of August too. Because he survived it. Because he was a brave and wonderful man. Because I got 24 more years with him, when there was a time we didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.
If only I had a Keo.
Miss you every day, Dad. Xxx

(A/N – The memories of a 7 year old child are not the most accurate…and you must allow for a little poetic licence)