17 December, 2013

Daddy Continued

Another thing that he did once that struck me: we were leaving a shopping mall car park in KL and it was one of those ones where you pay the attendant in the booth as you drive out. As the attendant handed him his change, a 1 cent coin fell onto the road. Daddy drove on. Then after a while he said, "That's the first time in my life I've ever not picked up money that I dropped." You can tell he is from that generation of Malaysian parents who grew up during the war and who never waste anything, especially food. He would always eat the plate absolutely clean of every grain of rice and faithfully save any leftovers to be bungkused. He was always berating us for not eating our chicken bones clean enough - just as I now berate my children.

My Dad

My father died today at about 3am Malaysian time, on 17th December 2013. He was 78. They always say that when people die, they live on in the memories of the people who knew them. I keep on thinking about all the things he used to do with us when we were little and all the other stuff he used to do that was so characteristic of him. So I thought I would write it down here, so that he is remembered. If I can find a digital photo of him, I'll post that up too.

So, in the order they come to mind: going to Port Dickson for the day. This was in the 70s when the water in the Blue Lagoon was still blue and still clear. And he would take us snorkelling and there was still coral to be seen. And he would climb us up the cliffs and point out what he said were dolphins. He always used to bring goreng ayam from the stall in what he called "the 2nd dirtiest medan selera in PJ" (not there any more!) and roti canai. And sometimes he would make fried egg sandwiches as well. You might think that cold fried egg sandwiches, with the soy sauce and white pepper soaked into the bread, do not sound very appealing, but you would be wrong. And if there is any better seaside picnic food than cold goreng ayam and roti canai, well, I have yet to come across it. He would also bring along a litre container of water, so before we got into the car, he could rinse the sand off us as best he could, but of course the back seats always ended up covered in sand anyway.

Thinking of the drive back reminds me of driving to and from Singapore when we used to visit the relatives, also in the 70s. This was before the super-duper new highway, so the drive used to take most of the day, because it was only a 2-lane highway, where you have to go into the oncoming lane to overtake, and if you get stuck behind a timber lorry, well, you are stuck for a long slow time, and you would pass lots of kampungs, with goats, chickens, children standing by the side of the road etc. And you could stop and buy whatever fruit was in season, rambutans, mangosteens, durians. Once Daddy took us on a 60 mile detour to get the "2nd best roti canai in Malaysia". So because the drive took so long, you always got to your destination after dark. We 3 kids would all be half-asleep in the back as we crawled towards the causeway in a massive traffic queue and I am sure everybody knows the feeling of security, with your parents in the front, talking about relatives' ailments and the stock market and other boring adult stuff.

It is because Daddy was such a good driver that I am a very trusting passenger now. It never crosses my mind that the driver could be endangering me. We all entirely trusted Daddy when he was driving. That is why it was so awful that as the Parkinsons got worse, he was a danger to himself and others and could no longer drive. Once, when we were holidaying in Italy, Daddy took off after a roadside stop on a bendy mountain road, but he was on the wrong side of the road. Too late he realised and there was a crash. As we all waited by the side of the road for the ambulance, police etc, he berated us for not noticing that he was on the wrong side of the road - but none of us ever bothered to look. We always trusted that he would get us safely to our destination.

When I was in the 6th form, I used to go for my holidays to stay with Daddy in his flat in Rome, when he was working for the FAO. Once we took a great long drive all the way up Italy, into Austria and Switzerland. I don't remember being very thrilled with Daddy's company then, but I look back now and it seems like such a wonderful trip. Cortina d'Ampezzo, with all the little Italian children skiing. A mountain refuge high in the Alps with huge clean white feather duvets. The Brenner Pass. The chill waters of a lake. A walled garden on a hillside glimpsed from a motorway cutting through Tuscany that is still my idea of what a paradisical garden should be, like an illuminated manuscript. Vienna, Salzburg.

Daddy always did things his own way. That meant when we were kids that nothing was ever to our minds quite right, because instead of doing it the conventional way, like everybody else, he would do the thing from first principles and come up with a substitute - usually one which he would claim was just as good, only cheaper. He had a thing about mozzarella being Italian tofu. Another one of his wacky statements, which he probably said once and completely forgot about, was that "once you switch on a light, you needn't bother to switch it off again, because you've already paid for the electricity." Thinking about this, I think he meant that there's a minimum amount that you pay for a unit of electricity, so once you switch on the light, there's a fixed amount of time that you could keep it on to get your full money's worth. However, he said this when I was very young, so the only thing that stuck in my mind was that it doesn't cost you any more money to leave the light on after you've switched it on - with the result that subconsciously I still don't switch off lights as much as I should.

He also had a whole lot of driving mantras, honed from years of driving in Malaysia and Italy. "Drive defensively" was one of them. It was him who taught me that you can anticipate the lights changing at a junction by watching the behaviour of the crossing cars, not your own set of traffic lights. And also that if you are in a strange neighbourhood and don't know where your turning is, you can see which the busy roads are by looking at the tyre marks on the road. Another useful tip if you are ever lost in the jungle, which I think he had actually had cause to use in his time working for the Malaysian Forestry Department, was that you should go downhill, because that way you will find water, and then you can follow the water out of the jungle.

I've got to go and pick up the girls from school now, so I'll post this up and continue later.

I love you, Daddy. XXX