I got off the plane at Heathrow last Tuesday morning and discovered that my iPhone utterly refused to receive any cell data signal in Britain.
I’m expecting this to be pretty beneficial to my cell phone bill—the last time I was home, for five days in 2011, my Android and I racked up a hundred forty bucks in data roaming charges—but it did mean that during my trip, I was completely cut off from the Internet or iMessage except when I could connect to wifi.
This was mostly fine. Mostly.
Our hotel was in Borehamwood, just up the street from the Elstree & Borehamwood train station, so on Wednesday my mother and I decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery. As we left the hotel room, my mum said, “And you know where we need to get off the train?” and I casually said, “Yeah.”
Reader, that was a lie. What I had was a superficial knowledge of London geography (I can group a list of Central London landmarks into general categories like “this is in Westminster”, “this is in the West End”, “this is in the City”), and a reflexive assumption that, if I get lost, I can check for info on my smartphone.
Except that day I couldn’t.
We got on the train, and I checked the on-board map to figure out where we should get off. What we should have done was get off at St. Pancras, so as to take the Tube from King’s Cross to Charing Cross, or else get off at Blackfriars to take the Tube to Embankment. But I knew that the closest two stops we’d get to Trafalgar Square would be City and Blackfriars, so I had us get off at City because the picture of London I had in my head was one in which the City is close enough to Trafalgar Square for us to walk it.
(It’s close enough that I could have walked it, on my own, if I had the familiarity with the geography to know where I was going. Figuring it out along the way and with my mum in tow, nope.)
So the upshot was that we emerged from the train station into Holborn Viaduct with no blessed idea how to get to the National Portrait Gallery, beyond perhaps, “figure out which direction is west”.
It wasn’t even that harrowing, in the end. I managed to figure out which of the many bus routes that passed us would head to Trafalgar Square. (The trickiest part of that was making sure we got on a bus headed in the right direction.) After visiting the NPG, we decided to head to Bond Street to visit the shop that sells my sister’s jewelry, for which we got directions from the nice lady at the Trafalgar Square Waterstone’s. (The trickiest part of that was that she told us to follow Cockspur Street and Pall Mall to Regent Street, but it turns out that Regent Street isn’t actually “Regent Street” at its intersection with Pall Mall; it is in fact “Waterloo Place”.) Then after we got to the end of Bond Street, we turned into Oxford Street for some shopping, before taking the Tube back to King’s Cross and the train home.
But I felt a real disconnect, especially for that first quarter hour after we left City train station and had to figure out which end of the station we’d left from and which bus to take. When Lisa and I spent a couple of days in Paris in 2009, for the first three or four hours or so, I was really disconcerted by the fact that I was somewhere where the conversations and signage that surrounded me was completely unintelligible to me. I had a somewhat terrifying sense of isolation and helplessness. Briefly in London last week, I got something of the same experience, just from not being able to pull up the internet on my phone.
Back when I was in high school in Florida in the 1990s, every weekend my dad and I would go down to the Rose and Crown English pub (funnily enough, owned by a Scot) in Largo and watch the Premier League match of the week. This was back long before the days of Fox Sports World (which went on to become Fox Soccer Channel and is now Fox Sports One), when the Premier League’s North American broadcast rights were owned by Setanta, and the only way to see a league match was to go to a bar or restaurant that was a Setanta subscriber and pay a mandatory twenty-dollar cover charge for the privilege.
(It’s never occurred to me until I just wrote that paragraph, but that means it cost my dad forty to eighty bucks a week for the two of us to watch the football: twenty dollars for each of us, potentially doubled if we decided we wanted to see both the Saturday and Sunday matches on a given week. And that’s before you factor in the costs of our English breakfasts and however many pints he had.)
We watched the matches with a crowd of other expats who were mostly male, mostly white and mostly British or Irish. We had a fairly broad spread in terms of age, but I, in my middle teens, was the youngest by probably ten years. And it was a fairly regular occurrence that the crowd would, whenever the referee blew for a free kick, raise their voices in discontent, as they seemed to feel that whatever perceived infraction the ref thought he had seen was not, in fact, a foul.
This wasn’t necessarily partisan; there were lots of instances where supporters of both sides seemed to think the ref was taking too hard a line. It always confused me, because it generally seemed to me—and, significantly, to the commentator on the TV—that one team clearly had fouled the other. This was my introduction, though I didn’t entirely realise it at the time, to the fact that football is an evolving sport, and that one of its most visible evolutions over the last, oh, twenty-five years has been a dramatic shift in the line that separates a tackle and a foul.
The amount of physical aggression allowed a defender attempting to tackle an opposing attacker has been drastically curtailed, while the expectations upon him to maintain control of his own body and to look out for the safety of his opponent have been inversely raised. This happened initially in order for football to place an emphasis on technical ability and individual flair, and then continued in the name of player safety. What would have been a good, solid, exemplary tackle in 1990 would be penalised with a free kick in 1995, and would get you a yellow card in 2000. What would have been a good tackle in 1995 would get you a yellow card by 2010. And that excellent tackle from 1990 will get you not only red carded nowadays, but then slapped with a multi-match ban.
I remember specifically my dad talking to one of his friends at a party during the 1998 World Cup. The friend was expressing how impressed he had been by Marcel Desailly, who (like most of the France team from 1998) had been virtually unknown to British football fans prior to the tournament. “You always expect him to foul [when he goes in for a tackle],” he said, “but he never does. He has such long legs, he always comes up with the ball!”
That was the moment that it struck me: my dad, and his friends of his generation, felt that if you came away from a tackle with the ball, then you hadn’t fouled. That was, for them, the only requirement. Whereas it seemed obvious to me that that was wrong: a tackle is when you get the ball first. It’s perfectly possible to foul a player before you get to the ball, by going through him to get to it, and when you do so, then it doesn’t matter to me if you come away with possession—you’ve still fouled. But if you can contact the ball first, then (barring certain easily-quantifiable caveats, like tackling from behind, or coming in with your studs up, or attempting to take out your opponent’s legs with your trailing foot) your tackle is clean.
Essentially, I realised at that time, they had a definition of football that they had been taught when they learnt the sport, but the definition that was now being used by the governing bodies and the broadcasters—the definition I had been taught—had moved past that.
Well. I’ve got to tell you that over the past year, I’ve had to face up to the fact that the presentday definition of what’s a tackle and what’s a foul has now definitely moved past me. Now, as commentators have explicitly reminded me at least a dozen times during the first 56 matches of this World Cup, the standard for a foul isn’t about when or whether the defender made contact with the ball, but rather whether the force with which he came in didn’t show sufficient respect for the attacker’s safety. There’s a fairly low threshold for physical aggression which, if exceeded, will concede a free kick to your opponents regardless of any other aspect of your tackle.
Football has moved its definition of a foul to a new place, and I simply can’t move along with them. I cannot watch a defender slide in from the side at an attacker sprinting forward with the ball, see him display the incredible precision necessary—with ball, defender and attacker all moving at fifteen to twenty miles per hour in different directions—to slide the side of his foot over the top of the ball before his momentum slams him into the attacker’s legs, and have any reaction other than, What a bloody inch-perfect tackle. Wow.
Nigeria received a yellow card—during their match against Argentina, I think, though it might have been Bosnia—that prompted the commentator to say, “Well, let’s put it this way: twenty years ago, that was a great tackle.” And I said out loud, “It should still be a bloody great tackle now.” For two or three years now, but increasingly over the course of the last season, I’ve found myself snapping at the television, “Oh, come on—he got the fucking ball!”
This isn’t a demand that football go back to where it was fifteen years ago, or a declaration that I’m any less engaged with the spectacle of football than I was when I was a teenager—how can one possibly complain about the how the game is played today during a World Cup finals that has given us van Persie’s header against Spain, Cahill’s goal against the Netherlands, Ochoa’s game against Brazil, Howard’s game against Belgium, or pretty much any touch of the ball James Rodriguez has had?
It’s just an acknowledgement on my part of the fact that, in this aspect, the world has left me behind.
My mother visited last week, and since it’s the first time we’ve seen each other since she went to my grandfather’s funeral, she brought with her some of his effects.
Amongst other things, there’s a number of mementos from his service in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. I was really excited by all this; I dedicated A Traitor’s Loyalty to my grandad specifically because it was his stories of his wartime experience that first got me interested in the topic.
I’ll start with the photographs. There’s one of my grandfather and the men with whom he did the flight engineer’s training course in the summer of 1943. There’s another of him with three comrades, only his head has been torn off; the note on the back says that his head can be found in my grandmother’s gold locket. (I love it so much.)
There’s two pictures of him with his flight crew: one taken right after the conclusion of an “operational flight”, with them still in their flight gear, and this more formal one, in which my grandfather is second from the right in the front row:
And a photo of his whole squadron from May 1945, commemorating the German surrender. He’s second from right in the fourth row back:
There’s also a number of newspaper clippings, wherein my grandfather has carefully cropped news photos of Halifax bombers, the specific type of bomber he crewed. (That’s a Halifax his squadron are adorning in the picture just above.) For me these are particularly fascinating because of the little snippets of news report on their reverse side. One from October 1945 has half the headline and lede from a story that appears to be about a debate over how much of a voice “the dominions” (at that time, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) should receive in the Allied Powers’ peacemaking process. Another has the first two, contextless sentences of a news story: Before the war, the precise location of Casablanca was probably known to few Britons except the bright lad who was top in geography. Now it is almost as familiar a name as Brighton or Birmingham, though it would perhaps be difficult to say whether Winston Churchill or Humphrey Bogart is chiefly responsible for this improvement in our education.
And there’s his log book, wherein he had to record all his flying hours. Every mission he flew is in here, from his first on 20 August 1943 (the only description of the mission is “circuits and bumps (dual)”) through to December 1945, with a break between May and September 1945, during which he was “posted to Dallarchy, Morayshire, Scotland” for “lectures on flying against the Japanese”, in preparation after the German surrender for his redeployment to the Pacific theatre. Each flight lists the pilot, the specific aircraft, and the nature of the mission:
By December 1945 he’d been posted to a meteorological squadron—essentially busywork while he awaited his turn to get demobilised and discharged, and as such his records become sketchier. But he does record a couple of flights he took as a civilian after the war, such as when he took my uncle with him aboard an aircraft listed as “Comet Dove” and flew as “Passenger” in September 1957. (I love it so much.)
And my mother brought a small packet of medals, which she had assumed were my grandfather’s campaign medals. One of them indeed was his, a service pin for No. 58 Squadron, but I realised pretty quickly that the others couldn’t be—because they weren’t from the Second World War, but rather from the First.
They were at first puzzling, because they were inscribed as belonging to “Gnr. A. Massey RFA“. The obvious assumption would be that these belonged to my great-grandfather, my grandfather’s father. (My mother’s maiden name is Massey.) But my great-grandfather wasn’t “A.”, he was “John”. My uncle recollected that John Massey’s middle initial was A., so there was a hypothesis that perhaps he had enlisted in the Army using his middle name. I’ll admit I was unconvinced by that and thought it was more likely these medals belonged to a different male relative, perhaps one who had been killed during the war and whose medals had passed to John Massey, then to my grandfather Alf.
But! Whoever this mysterious Gunner A. Massey was, his service number was inscribed on the medals, which I figured out only when I researched the medals online. (I had seen the number on one of the medals but hadn’t realised it was his service number because it’s only five digits long. I figured it was an individual number for the medal or something. I mean, all the numbers by which we’re identified today, does it seem at all reasonable to you that an army serial number would only need to be five digits long? I’m guessing that in A. Massey’s case it’s a reflection of the fact that when he enlisted in August 1914, the British Army was an organisation with fewer than a hundred thousand members.)
Anyhow, I figured the service number would make A. Massey a fairly easily searchable individual, so I set out to find what I could about him. And I should pause right here and say a big thank you to Kris, because most of what I’m about to say isn’t stuff I found at all, but rather stuff that she did. I would still be entirely in the dark if it weren’t for her, and I’m really grateful.
One thing I learnt yesterday: the service records of only forty per cent of the British Army’s First World War soldiers are still extant. The other sixty per cent were destroyed by a German bomb in September 1940. But I also learnt that his service number belonged to a soldier who served in the British Army during the war under the name Alfred Massey (my grandfather’s name, though my grandfather wasn’t born until the 1920s). His medal card gives a “qualifying date” of 16 August 1914, which I think is the date he enlisted in the British Army but might possibly be the date he arrived with his unit in France or Belgium. Either way, his involvement in the war began very very shortly after Britain’s declaration of war against Germany on 4 August.
Kris then discovered that Alfred Massey married my great-grandmother in Sunderland in 1915, at which point we knew that either Alfred Massey was my great-grandfather John or else my great-grandmother had a weird habit of marrying Massey men from Sunderland. It was when I saw Alfred Massey’s entry in the 1911 census that it all made sense.
In 1911, Alfred Massey was sixteen and living at home with his parents—including his father, John. So it would seem that my great-grandfather John Alfred Massey went by the name Alfred as a young man, when his dad was John, but then later on, after he had a son of his own named Alfred and after his father had presumably passed on, he became John.
There was also some additional family detail Kris found that I had no knowledge of and am so pleased to have, but I won’t go into it here, because I want to finally take a moment to talk about the actual medals themselves.
What you’re seeing there, from left to right, are the 1914 Star (or Mons Star), the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal, also known as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. The British War Medal and the (British version of the) Allied Victory Medal were, broadly speaking, awarded to anyone who served in British uniform overseas during the First World War; about six million of each were issued. The 1914 Star, however, was rather more restrictive:
This bronze medal award was authorized by King George V in April 1917 for those who had served in France or Belgium between 5th August 1914 to midnight on 22nd November 1914 inclusive. The award was open to officers and men of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces, doctors and nurses as well as Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who served ashore with the Royal Naval Division in France or Belgium.
. . .
It should be remembered that recipients of this medal were responsible for assisting the French to hold back the German army while new recruits could be trained and equipped. Collectively, they fully deserve a great deal of honour for their part in the first sixteen weeks of the Great War. This included the battle of Mons, the retreat to the Seine, the battles of Le Cateau, the Marne, the Aisne and the first battle of Ypres. There were approximately 378,000 1914 Stars issued.
So this essentially means that Gnr. Alfred Massey was part of the initial British Expeditionary Force, the Old Contemptibles, so named because of the Kaiser’s (possibly apocryphal) order of 19 August 1914 to “exterminate the treacherous English and walk over General French‘s contemptible little army”. (Spoiler: the German army found itself unable to carry out such an order.)
I had no idea of any of this.
(I should note that my great-grandfather’s Mons Star does not bear the additional clasp indicating that he actually came under enemy fire during the 5 August-22 November period; apparently slightly fewer than half the Mons Stars do.)
So! I know a lot more about my family history now than I did two days ago. And I’ve got a new bunch of family heirlooms to tuck away and hopefully someday to be able to teach my own kids just how precious they are.
I opened this post by mentioning that I dedicated my first novel to my grandad. Somehow when the novel got reissued last year, the dedication didn’t get included in the new edition, something I didn’t realise until my grandad’s death at the end of the year. So I’ll close by repeating it here:
For my grandfather, Alf Massey (RAF 1940-1946), who first introduced me to British spies, the Second World War, and so many other elements that make up this story.
Every once in a while we have what we call Taco Night for dinner. Usually it comes when Boy starts asking for it, because he really loves it. I’m not entirely sure why he loves it so much, since the only thing he ever wants to put in his fajitas is cheese, but whatever.
In fact, come to think of it, I don’t know why it’s called Taco Night, since it doesn’t involve tacos. The kids roll their cheese in fajita tortillas, while Lisa and I make ourselves burritos.
What Taco Night basically boils down to is that we cook up a collection of ingredients–we cook them together, as a family–then people get to fill their own tortillas: Mexican cheese, black beans, Spanish rice, beef browned in taco powder, queso, Tostitos and sour cream. This is all rather pedestrian, of course, and not at all out for the ordinary, but it’s turned into a family ritual, both because we make it together, and because of what comes next.
That’s the next night, when we take the leftovers and cook what we call cheesy taco pasta. We boil the pasta with some of the queso, then toss that with the beef, black beans and a sauce that’s one part queso and three parts cheddar sauce. Then we crumble up Tostitos as a topping.
And my God.
I mean, there aren’t many dishes I make. I’m a pretty straightforward cook. But the cheesy taco pasta is a frigging masterpiece.
The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 4015
Words total: 36,078
Time spent writing: 10a.m.-11a.m.; 1p.m.-4p.m.; 9p.m.-10p.m.
Reason for stopping: Football match; family time; felt like I’d put in a full day of work
Darling: From the train platform they could see the city center, across the tracks: a blasted ruin, a forest of rubble coated in a thin sheen of frost.
Tyop: I did find it pretty funny when I typed families as failies
Words that boggled Word: matter-of-factly, tsar, tsaritsa
New words used today: stationmaster, blanched, valise
I’m alone at home this weekend. L took the kids last night and headed out to take them to a weekend in Myrtle Beach with some of the many dozens of Carolinians related to her.
So when I make beefy rice for lunch and dinner today, I’ll be mixing in both corn and peas, because there won’t be anyone around here with a weird hangup about how corn and peas should never be mixed (and I don’t mean either of the kids).
And I can be naked whenever I want for the next three days, which is never, because while it’s unseasonably warm for the first week of February, “unseasonably warm” is about fifty Fahrenheit, which is still too cold for short sleeves, let alone boxer shorts. But it is warm enough to go and sit out on the balcony while I work, and I’ll get to do that undisturbed all day long.
And I can move all the chairs away from the dining room table, roll my Thomas-Jefferson-invented swivel chair up to it and take over the whole table as my desk. Man, it’s glorious.
And most of all, of course, it means I get to spend three days pretending I’m a fulltime writer without any other responsibilities. It’s come just at the right time, too, just when the new manuscript is picking up steam.
I’ll be over in the corner, typing.
The book whose current working title is The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 1265
Words total: 11,155
Time spent writing: 1pm-3pm, 11.30-12.30
Reason for stopping: Girl’s nap ended; tired
Darling: He thought he saw a curl of contempt briefly twist her lips, but he might have imagined it.
Tyop: hotels, departments stores and corporate officers
Words that boggled Word: doughboys, Russkies, Führer
New words today: hatband, roundel, septic
My mother and sisters are staying with us this week, which is making it somewhat more difficult to make progress on the current work-in-progress–shutting myself in the master bedroom for three hours isn’t exactly the action of a good host.
But there’s one way in which their arrival has been really conducive to getting work done, and that’s on A Traitor’s Loyalty. I got the second-pass pages on Friday. Having probably read the manuscript seven or eight times when it was first written and when my agent took me on, I reread it for the first time in a number of years when the contract got signed in the summer. I then reread it again last month, when I got the first-pass pages. Rereading it again now on the second pass is my job, and I’m doing it–but I confess, there are times when my eyes start sliding right over the text a little.
So enter Claire, whom I have
conned into working for freeoffered the wonderful opportunity of getting to participate in the publication of a novel by going over the second-pass pages with me. So far we’ve found two typographical errors in the first half of the book, and by “we’ve”, I mean “she’ve”. Wait.
Too bad it’s too late to rewrite the acknowledgements. But I’ve promised her an acknowledgement in the next book. Of course, I also promised my other sister an acknowledgement in the next book for giving me her Yorkshire pudding at dinner tonight.
There are, of course, people whose travel horror stories are much worse than what I’ve had to endure. People who were stranded in foreign countries for weeks because of the Icelandic volcano. The people with whom I’m staying now, my aunt and uncle, have been stranded for days in the past in Cuba and Turkey.
I, essentially, have the luxury of being stranded in a first-world, technologically advanced democracy of whose language I am a native speaker. And critically, I have a support network here. I don’t have to worry about finding the funds for somewhere to stay for an extra two nights; I don’t have to worry about it turning out that my aunt and uncle’s house has already been booked up by some of the other stranded tourists suddenly in need of accommodation.
And yet. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a trip where every single element of planning has encountered such sustained, unrelenting disruption. The refusal of the East Coast website to accept my credit card, thereby preventing me from booking train tickets in advance and costing me an extra sixty pounds. The failure of my flight itinerary on the way out here. And now, the cancellation of my flight back–a cancellation, I really do feel, that’s premature and an overreaction. JFK will be perfectly happily receiving flights by seven o’clock tomorrow night.
But my flight won’t be amongst them. I’ve now been rebooked for an itinerary on Tuesday. In addition to getting me home two days late, it also requires me to go through Chicago, added two hours to the time I’ll be spending in the air.
Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that now L has to find somewhere to stow the children during an additional two work days, I’d be ecstatic at the extra couple of days here. But she does, and that’s pretty stressful.
And it means that I can now go to the League match tomorrow between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Er, not that I finagled an itinerary change to make that happen.
Over and over again Thursday night and Friday morning, my Twitter and Facebook streams lit up with the same, repeated message. The Florida basketball team had just eeked out a win against Brigham Young University in the Sweet Sixteen, and again and again I was informed, “The Florida Gators have NEVER lost in the Elite Eight.”
If I’d only seen it once or twice, I’d have probably just rolled my eyes, or even found it mildly amusing. But it wasn’t once or twice. I was bombarded with that one little trivium for almost 24 hours, and so I ended up going through a progressive series of reactions:
1. That’s a truly useless little statistic.
2. We’re not exactly Kentucky or Kansas or a school in the Research Triangle. (Though by the time Billy Donovan retires, we might be.) We’ve been to four Final Fours, so if we’re undefeated in the Elite Eight, that means we’ve been to (quick arithmetic on fingers) four Elite Eights. Maybe the reason we’ve never lost one is because we haven’t had terribly many opportunities to lose one.
3. Well, now the math thoughts are kicking in. Let’s see.
I’m pretty sure the Gators’s first Sweet Sixteen was the 1994 team who went to our first Final Four.* Which means I should be able to go through every UF trip to the Sixteen in my head.
The next time we were in the regional semi-finals was 1999, when we lost to Gonzaga in the midst of their first great Cinderella run. Since then, we’ve been to three more, all three of which resulted in a trip to the Final Four. So counting the win over BYU, that makes us 5-1 in the Sweet Sixteen. And after the game against Butler, we’ll either be 5-0 or 4-1 in the Elite Eight.
And then we come to the Final Fours. In 1994 we lost to Duke; in 1999, 2006 and 2007 we progressed to the national championship game. In our three national championship games, we lost to Michigan State in 1999, beat UCLA in 2006 and beat Ohio State in 2007.
So let’s see. 5-1. 5-0 or 4-1. 3-1. 2-1.
Well then, clearly it’s time to lose in the Elite Eight, for the symmetry.
Now, that whole thought process? I thought it to myself rather glibly, because I actually expected the Gators to win. (By contrast to the previous two rounds, where I’d gone in with a pessimistic feeling that we were going to end up being upset by, respectively, UCLA or BYU.) But when we ultimately went down in overtime, I silently thought at all the people who’d been so excited by our previously immaculate Elite Eight record, “Told you. Silently. In my head.”
It was pretty disappointing to see Florida lose that game, so to compound my misery, I hopped onto ESPN.com to see how badly I was doing in my bracket league. I’d been tied for last place after the Round of 64 and in second-last after the Round of 32. I was vaguely hopeful I’d worked my way up to third-last, or morbidly hopeful I’d managed to tie up dead last place.
Much to my surprise, I discovered that not only had I locked up second place, but that I was actually in the 97th percentile for ESPN’s entire bracket competition. And the remaining three of my Final Four teams were all in the three remaining Elite Eight games–and were in fact the higher-seeded team in each of those three games. I was looking forward to having successfully predicted three of the Final Four.
Well, thanks to VCU and Kentucky, it turns out I only predicted one team in the Final Four–UConn. But I’m still in ESPN’s 96th percentile, and I can presumably still improve on that position, since I have UConn winning the national championship. I can’t get to first place in our group, though, since my sister Claire also has UConn winning it all. But I still have the satisfaction that Claire and I were the only two people in our group to predict Kentucky beating Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen.
Obviously, I’ll be cheering for UConn to beat Kentucky in the Final Four. And I’ll be cheering for VCU to beat Butler, both because I live in Virginia and because Shaka Smart was an assistant coach on the Gator basketball team that won consecutive national championships four years ago. If we end up with a UConn-VCU national championship game, I don’t know who I’ll be pulling for. More likely it’ll be UConn–a childhood spent in large part in Connecticut will do that to a person.
*When I looked it up later, I was wrong about that part. The Gators had previously been to the Sweet Sixteen in their first ever NCAA Tournament, in 1987. As a 6-seed, they beat 3-seed Purdue in the second round and lost to 2-seed Syracuse in the Sixteen. So we’re actually 6-1 in the regional semi-finals. Whatevs. Still a good point.
When I think of my dad’s funeral, I smile.
Of course it was a horrible time. But what got us through it were the good moments. Like picking a funeral parlour because it had by far the largest capacity for the funeral, and then when the funeral came along so many people showed up that the overflow were crammed like sardines into the back of the parlour and spilling out the doorway into the hall.
(Seriously. I’ll be surprised if I have even half as many people at my funeral as my dad had at his.)
Or the laughter. Like when we picked music. There was some debate over that.
“His favourite singer was Harry Chapin,” my mum said. This was news to me; I would’ve thought it was the Rolling Stones. But he certainly liked Chapin a lot, and Mum new him better than I did.
“Well,” I said, “by far Harry Chapin’s most famous song is ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’.”
“Which one’s that?”
“It’s, er, about a dad who misses all the chances to bond with his son during his son’s childhood, so that by the time the son is all grown up, it’s too late and they’ve missed each other.”
(“Cat’s in the Cradle” is, as a friend of mine put it, “the saddest song ever.“)
“Oh, God, no,” my mother said. “No, we’re not having that. His favourite Harry Chapin song was something about ‘thousands of pounds of bananas’.”
“‘30,000 Pounds of Bananas’,” I said. “That’s, er, about a guy who’s killed when a big-rig freight truck crashes on the highway.”
(My dad, incidentally, was killed when his car collided with a big-rig freight truck on the highway.)
“Oh, bloody hell,” my mum said. “Right. No Harry Chapin then.”
We went with “Three Lions”, by Baddiel & Skinner and the Lightning Seeds. And now, I can’t hear either of those Chapin songs without laughing.