(A Knight’s Tale (98: 1987 Part One)

1987 was a momentous year.

It must have been some time in 1986 that my desire to move out of London for the first time had been crystallised by a menacing incident in Tooting. Having been concerned about my two youngest children’s schooling being in a vast comprehensive school I was already thinking about it.

I was walking home from Tooting Bec underground station along Tooting Bec Road to Gracedale Road quietly smoking a cigar. Five young men approached me in line across the wide pavement, allowing me no room for manoeuvre. Sticking to the fences on my side, I faced one who silently squared up to me. Raising the glowing cigar level with his face I asked “Where am I going to go?”.

Nothing more was said. After what seemed an age, but was probably instantaneous, my prospective assailants made space for me to continue on my way. With some difficulty I took care not to look back. But my mind was made up.

We began seriously considering a move, seeking assistance in research from friends and relatives who lived some way from the metropolis. With Giles and the Kindreds both living in Southwell in Nottinghamshire Jessica, Sam, Louisa, and I spent a fortnight’s bed and breakfast holiday in the nearby village of Kersall We had decided to stay up there for a fortnight and search for a house.  My discovery, with my friend Giles Darvill, of Lindum House advertised by Gascoigne’s estate agency in Southwell, was the result.

Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of our hostess, which is a pity because she ran an excellent establishment, and was instrumental in a campaign to save her hamlet’s famous red telephone box from extinction.  She carpeted the box, and kept fresh flowers, a visitors book, pencil, and various telephone books inside it.  It was regularly cleaned and sweet-scented, and received many visitors.  Unfortunately it wasn’t profitable and whichever of our enlightened telephone operators was responsible for this treasure wished to close it.  The battle to keep it functional continued into 2008, later residents having kept up the continuing care.  I do not know the outcome.

Perhaps because of our focus on selling our own house and buying another, we had not visited my parents in Hampshire’s Horndean for some months. I was shocked to see my tall, strong, father a shadow of his former self who did not join us at the dining table because he didn’t “require very much”. My readers will already have realised the same as I did. I persuaded Mum to get him to hospital. Despite surgery, he was dead from stomach cancer six weeks later. I was able to say goodbye but was not there at his death with took place ten days before we moved. He returned home for his last days. A further shock was how easily, with Joe’s assistance, this featherweight was turned in bed.

In December 1985, Dad was happily playing with Sam and Louisa. The first of these photographs is the one from which I took my pastel portrait.

Like me, our mother thought about him every day for the next 34 years.


  1. When everything is fine we never think about to be late, but all the time are late to enjoy time together with loved ones. At least, I have that kind of experience and regret a lot.

  2. An interesting post, Derrick. Too sad your farther went so quickly! He was a handsome man. Those are sweet photos with him and your children. I am sure you moved and never looked back! :>)

  3. I can understand why you wanted to move.
    That is such a sweet series of photos of your dad with Louisa. It reminds me of my father-in-law. I don’t know about your dad, but my father-in-law showed a side with his grandchildren that he never showed with his children. I’m glad you got to say goodbye to him. ?

      1. My father-in-law was very much interested in children and grandchildren, and there was no doubt about his love, but he was more much relaxed with his grandchildren. ?

  4. I still want to share things – and so wish he could see how my children turned out – with my Dad, who died forty years ago. My Mother lived another twenty three years and I miss her daily. Not mourning, as you say, but cherished memories and the knowledge of what they would have enjoyed. This is a poignant post indeed. !987 proved to be a momentous year for us too: we found ourselves embroiled in a coup d’etat in the then Bophuthswana – events I will never forget and which made a big impression on our children.

  5. Strange that those five young men decided to let you pass without a fight. The outcome would’ve been much different if it were a woman. You were fortunate to have spent some time with your dad before his passing.

    1. Thank you so much, Rosaliene. I think they reacted to my lack of fear – in that situation no-one wants to be the first in the fray. Yes, it was important to say goodbye to Dad.

  6. I imagine the glowing end of the cigar so close to the yob’s face was instrumental in the parting of the way.
    I’m so glad you were able to spend time with your dad toward the end.

    1. I think the fact that I wasn’t afraid was the key, Sue. I really don’t know what I would have done with the cigar anyway. Thank you so much for these comments.

  7. I’m glad you got away from the hoodlums and the big city. My father was tall and strong, too. I felt he should live forever. And they do live forever in our hearts and memories enhanced by such wonderful photos as these.

  8. Those moments must be cherished by all of you. There are times when a lone occurrence from the hurly burly of life stops you in your tracks and forces you to reassess the trajectory you’ve been taking. I am saddened to learn how quickly your father faded away after you reconnected with him.

  9. Gosh, Derrick. I’m glad you could stand your ground and carry on your way, but good grief, that kind of intimidation is disconcerting. Childish thugs who don’t know any better, no doubt, and feel power in numbers. It’s equally sad to learn of your dad’s stomach cancer and rapid decline. My father died from lung cancer. It’s a brutal disease.

  10. Wonderful photos that have become keepsakes.
    He left so quickly–I am heartbroken.
    I had a friend years ago with stomach cancer, and it was just as unmerciful. Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. Your tale of your father’s wasting away immediately and strongly reminded me of my father’s last months, Derrick. Next month will be the 6th anniversary of his passing, and not a day goes by without thinking of him.

    1. Thank you so much for describing it this way: immediately and strongly. My mother died one month after her cancer diagnosis and it didn’t make sense to me because she was the strongest person I knew: in character and in body. But you’ve helped me make sense of it. I’m sorry you lost your father and glad you still carry him with you.

  12. You’re such a happy, kind person that when you demonstrate such inner toughness it surprises me. This is not the first time you’ve told a tale of keeping your cool when being attacked. I am so glad that your strength turned out to be too much trouble for them to want to engage with. What beautiful photos you have of your dad with Lousia. I know you cherish them.

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