Roger always had a beard. Not born with it, obviously, but by the time I came along his beard and moustache were well established. But there were still razors and paper wrapped blades and a brush that lathered up the soap. He smoked a pipe with briar scents that he lit up on the back door step or secretly down in the cellar. He prodded it and tapped and puffed clouds of sweet smoke that covered the sulphur of the swan Vesta matches. He kept screws and nails in the used tobacco tins and they were part of his domain in the cellar. Saws and drill bits, wood shavings curling out of planes. There were projects for the home and for fun. He wore Hush Puppies and suits from Burtons on the Kilburn High Road. He went to work on the bus and read the Guardian.
He got a promotion and new shirts came in. Folded like origami in boxes, with cardboard collar supports and pins. He wore ties of soft woven wool in greys and purples, secretly held in place with a gold safety pin. He smoked Embassy cigarettes and carried a lighter which he refilled from a yellow can, kept out of reach of children. He got the overground train to work and read the Guardian. He did the crossword. He got a subscription to the Architectural Review. It arrived every month in a paper wrapper. It marked time passing, months filling the bookshelves stacked into years. He tried new things; pottery and fencing, curry and 3D puzzles.
He took another job and had suits made, 3 piece suits in Prince of Wales check. Optical illusions like Bridget Riley. He got Loake shoes and a briefcase. He read the Guardian and knew how to furl an umbrella. He ate extra strong mints that he shared with the dog, Ricky, his new companion. Every night they walked the neighbourhood and took trips to the pub. Hampstead, darts games, companionship and holidays. Together they discovered the canals of Britain. Roger wearing hand-stencilled tee shirts bearing the name of the boat he had hired. Ricky wearing the leather harness Roger had constructed for him – his “bra”. That meant he could be hauled out of a lock if he fell in at a tricky moment. They gave up smoking and ate more extra strong mints. They read Joseph Conrad and Dickens and did the crossword.
The next step was the ski suit. Somewhere in his 40s Roger joined friends on annual skiing trips. He hired salopettes from mysterious shops in Earls Court and bought himself padded jackets from C&A. He sported fleeced socks and gloves that clipped onto your jacket. He discovered Beaujolais Nouveau, fondue and independent travel. He did the crossword and…………
And then he went off piste. Roger stopped. He stopped working. He went into the office but couldn’t see the point in it all. So they asked him to leave. He signed on the dole and sat doing the crossword. My mother fumed; so he went on a cordon Bleu cookery course. Of course. He learned to cook lamb with haricot beans and things in rough puff pastry. He still had a beard but he didn’t wear a suit. He wore brick red v-necked jumpers, viyella shirts and Harris Tweed jackets. He took a job in an American finance company in Mayfair. He read the paper, did the crossword and dabbled in the stock market. His Dad died, the dog died, his wife died. He went to concerts and the theatre. He moved to Belsize Park and listened to opera. He joined a group of French/English walkers. One year France the next England. They appreciated his cooking and valiant French. He made the effort of translating his puns into French. Bien sûr.
When Roger retired his horizons expanded. He and Nina travelled Europe together. Walking and eating, going to Opera and music festivals. He shopped at John Lewis and M&S and Clarks. He read book reviews and tried new authors. The women at Daunt Books recommended books to him and he suggested novels for them to stock. He joined the Geological Society and went on field trips. He had a fossil hammer and uncovered the past. He went on Ramblers Association Holidays to Afghanistan and India. He took a short walk in the Hindu Kush.
When New Labour got into power he felt betrayed and joined the Green Party. He stopped reading the Guardian and took up with the Independent. He started a new crossword. He got a manbag and occasionally wore a silk scarf that he called a neckerchief. He went to adult education classes and studied Shakespeare and Dickens and English Poets. He gave up shoes and only wore sandals. The Architectural Review was only available on line. Most of his stocks went into liquidation.
I went to meet him in Camden Town. He was wearing on old tee shirt, the stencilled “Beeston Castle” fading across his chest, shorts and neon orange fleece ski socks and sandals. Things were changing.
In the care home he wore pyjamas, familiar faded colours . His name tag sewn inside as if he was at boarding school. The staff suggested track suit bottoms I hunted for the soft brown cords that fitted his shape. Other lost souls would walk in and take his things. He would sit and watch his slippers disappear down the corridor, not knowing. On the list for “the visiting barber” his beard and hair were shorn. I raged, he didn’t notice. It grew back. I sat in a chair, waiting, and struggled with the crossword.