My late Father enjoyed a G&T most evenings after work, with a couple of ice cubes and a generous slice of lemon, “on the rocks”. I now have my Dad’s old desk in my writing den. The first mystery is, why are there always anonymous old keys in every desk? In the small top left hand drawer are at least a dozen keys ranging from the frankly enormous to the annoyingly small. Two modern keys are labelled in my Mother’s neat handwriting “Front” and “Front”. I don’t know what happened to “Back” but I guess that the keys are to the last house she owned, a cottage in Oxfordshire, which was as cute as it sounds, thick stone walls and a view of the village church from the little window half way up the staircase.
My parents owned this desk from my teenage years. It may have been inherited from a great aunt or they may have bought it. Sadly that bit of family history is not documented. But I connect the desk mostly with my Father, who would sit at it to pay bills. He mistrusted direct debits and would rather fill in little giro slips and post them with a cheque than allow a company to decide how much money to take from his account. Even if it made his life more complicated. Another age? For sure.
Sitting here typing I have just reached down to look into one of the large drawers of this desk. In it I found my Dad’s stamp collection and a small box with memorabilia from his WWII days in the Merchant Navy. Dad was a radio operator and I have discovered his Certificate of Proficiency and a document showing the vessels he served on from 1939 to 1945. The box includes postcards he bought as souvenirs of the places he visited, mainly New York, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Cape Town and Port Sudan. Other postcards have been made from black and white photographs of unlabelled ships on fire, where turrets lean at an angle and smoke billows all along the deck. Most poignant is a postcard addressed from my father to his parents, sent from Cape Town. Dear Folks, We are bound for Singapore, which is a 3 weeks trip. Be home (if at all) by about Sept or Nov. Love Derek.
I don’t know if his “if at all” referred to whether he would get leave or if he would be a war casualty. I cannot imagine how his parents dealt with such uncertainty.
Whilst settling this old desk into its new home, I also unwrapped an old painting and have put it on the top of the desk. It used to hang in my paternal Grandparents’ house and later in my parent’s house. It portrays the Les Hanois Lighthouse off Guernsey, built to warn shipping of the treacherous rocks nearby. The lighthouse still stands although of course it is automatic now. This painting is entitled August 89 and at that time, twenty or so years after its construction in 1862, a lighthouse keeper would have been stationed on this rocky outcrop. The painting was (I think) brought over from Guernsey by my paternal Grandmother when she left the Channel Islands to come and live on the mainland. The painting needs some repair work now but its fond family memories wrap around me as I type. Dad is with me whether on or off the rocks!