Here's an interesting challenge...I've been asked to perform at the Meow Kacha caberet night this Saturday, (being held at the Scooterworks, 132 Lower Marsh, Waterloo, London SE1 7AE if you fancied popping along), the event is titled 'These Be The Verses' and the theme is fatherhood and relationships... meaning I had to write somethign brand new, reflecting something unique about my relationship with my Dad. It's been quite a tricky ride, because I kept getting sidetracked by emotional baggage, and though I'd love to be the kind of comic who can talk about weightier personal issues with wit and warmth, I'm not quite there yet. That said, this is the kind of comic I want to be so it was worth having a crack at. Below is my work-in-progree first draft, I thought it might be interesting. It needs more jokes, and the ended will probably change -it doesn't quite ring true enought for me yet- but It's a start...
Christmas 1990, and my 4 year old sister has just got the most amazing Christmas present ever from her Daddy. Big blue eyes are shining from beneath blonde curls, her little mouth locked in an awestruck 'O'. It's a whole toy Kitchen, and it's literally twice her height, complete with plastic fruit and a breakfast bar, a coffee pot, and real cereal packets. It is 5ft by 2ft of plastic domestic joy, and it comes in a cardboard box that is, if anything, even more exciting than its contents for sheer potential playability. The thing is, we're poor. Really really quite poor. We'd lost our house in the recession...which if anything makes this story bitingly relevant, rather than fleeting nostalgia...and we're living in a rented 2 up 2 down in Leicestershire. But that was okay, because like so many of that years gifts the Kitchen had, to quote my Dad, "fallen off the back of a truck". I'd got a Liverpool shirt, as I was in one of my periodic phases of denial about hating football. I hate football, It's shit, but it made Dad happy that I tried. That came off the back of a lorry too. I forget what my brother got, but it was probably truck-back-based in origin as well, as was most of our furniture.
We had a lot of things that had apparently fallen off of the back of Lorry's. It was sort of natural actually...Dad was a lorry driver, a lorry driver with slightly dodgy ethics when it came to his load.
Well,I say Lorry driver...that's what he did. Technically, In the eyes of the law he was unemployed. But then my Dad always had this knack of claiming benefits while still maintaining full time work, it was a knack he had developed into a master art form of deception. We were all drilled with strict instructions that if anyone ever called the house asking for our Dad we were under absolutely no circumstances to tell anyone he was at work.
There's an interesting argument about role models. How can you grow up with a decent grasp of what's right and wrong when your father-figure's take on the law is so morally grey? Sure we were poor, genuinely struggling. We'd had to move in with my grandparents for a month, we'd had to sell the car and by a cheaper one, we were living by the skin of our teeth. Dad was only doing what he could to support his family, surely? If a man steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, is that wrong? What if they're not actually starving, just a bit peckish? And okay if a man steals a loaf of bread he'll feed himself for his day, but let him steal a Kitchen and he'll feed himself and his family for a lifetime. And, okay, maybe that Kitchen is made of plastic and aimed at 4 year old girls but the principle still applies. It's sound.
We never felt what Dad was doing was wrong. Our Mum was and indeed still is quite a moral person, and took great pains to instill in us a strong sense of right and wrong. Instead it felt cheeky. It felt like he was getting away with it. He was Del Boy. He was Arthur Daily, playing the system to get what he wanted and winning. It wasn't wrong, it was about bending the rules, often to a state of elasticity that defied conventional physics.
It all seemed a bit of a joke somehow, not quite real. I remember being 14 and hearing on the news that a Timberland clothing warehouse in Nottingham had been burgled and thousands of £'s worth of merchandise had been stolen. This wasn't a massive shock to me.... Dad had had me selling Timberland Jumpers at my school for a £10 a pop for the last week. I knew he had nothing to do with the robbery itself though. He skirted the edges of other peoples crimes. He'd gone out "to see a man about a dog" and came back with some jumpers. He always knew a man who knew a man, that would invariably end up with my Brother and I going out with him on a freezing saturday morning selling car covers, or Christmas hampers, or on one occasion boxes of sweets that had literally come out of a big box from the tip that Dad had been delivering too.
The thing is, despite all of his faults, as a child I completely idolised my Dad, in a way you only can with someone whose hardly ever there and whose faults you're largely blind too. I envied how easily he could make friends, how easy going he was, and also how fearless. I'd go to school, or talk to my Mum, and I'd learn about right and wrong, but this wonderful person I knew became a voice in the back of my head, saying 'you don't always have to do it their way'. I learned the black and white, but Dad taught me there were shades of grey.
As an adult, I've hardly become Del Boy myself. I don't know a Man that knows a man. Most of the men I know don't know any Men at all. And I know that Dad's point of view was slightly warped. He wasn't trust worthy and so never really trusted anyone, where as I'm naieve and trusting to the point that it can often be pathetic. But I like to think that some of the best of him has ended up in me. He's always there, as a little voice in my head. Literally sometimes, when he rings me and tells me how to live my life. He's not changed, only last year he turned up at Mums saying "I've got a boot full of meat, do you want some?". Fundamentally I play by the rules, pay my taxes, and get by. But I'd like to think that on some level, I've never forgotten that sometimes you can bend the rules. That somewhere is a man that knows a man who can get you what you need. That sometimes somethings can fall off the back of a truck and not be missed. Dad can get away with it, and if it makes a little girl smile at a plastic kitchen, it's probably okay.