My father’s life was as long as a par six. He lived through two World Wars, the reigns of four monarchs and the offices of 24 prime ministers, dying within a few months of his 103rd birthday. In our family he was known as Taid, which is Welsh for grandfather as my mother was known as Nana.
Taid gifted me many things, temporal and spiritual, financial and physiological. His blue eyes for example, which, whatever they did for him, have got me both into and out of trouble, his long legs and his love of sport. Though he and my mother met and fell in love playing mixed doubles at a tennis club in southwest London, his sports were rugby and golf. He was good at rugby, being tall, lean and fast, and played for his school on Saturday mornings and sometimes for the local club in the afternoon.
Golf gave him pleasure from his teens to his eighties. It fascinated and entranced him, a lifelong pursuit of the impossible. It raised his hopes for the way a depressing series of bad shots could be followed by one of such skill and execution that it would send him to the next tee eyes blazing with excitement. He got his handicap down to six and was never prouder than when he went round Stinchcombe Hill Golf Club in Dursley, Gloucestershire, his home course, a par 68, in a gross of 71. His handicap at the time was 12. And he devoured Henry Longhurst’s golf articles in the Sunday Times each week.
When he was in hospital a few months before he died he often talked about golf. “I think I’ll go and hit some balls at Stinch tomorrow,” he said one day as his catheter glugged away beneath his bed and morphine raced through his veins. On another occasion I asked him which was his favourite hole at Stinchcombe. “The fifth” he replied. This hole is a par-4 with a slope tumbling down to Waterley Bottom on the left and a green resting on a ledge at the end. “I had a three there once.”
He had a full flowing swing. “In to out,” he would say as he exaggerated his downswing so much that he seemed to brush his right foot with his clubhead. Conventional wisdom suggests that this should have resulted in a hook but, somehow, he got his clubface square at impact. This trick was not imparted to me and I have spent 50 years trying to keep my clubhead on plane and on line.
His failing was evident more from afar than nearby – a tendency to raise his body in the course of his swing so that if you saw him from a distance he looked like a horse rearing at a snake on the ground. He putted with a closed stance, a la Bobby Locke, hooking the ball into the hole with a certainty that was pleasing when you were playing foursomes with him and annoying when you were playing against him.
Inside the door of a cupboard in his bedroom he had posted a certificate indicating that on a certain day he had a net score around his home course that was better than Ben Hogan’s gross score around his home course on that certain day. It was a badge of honour. I can still picture it more than a half century later because very close to the certificate he kept two or three boxes of Dunlop golf balls, each ball wrapped in crinkly shiny paper.
He was what modern parenting would call a hands-off father but he was as effective as the most hands-on parent. He wasn’t a great talker but he was a wonderful listener. When he was approaching 100 I drove him for a few days around the south Wales of his childhood. One night at dinner I seemed to be doing all the talking. Dusk arrived, darkness fell and still I talked. With his head on one side and a hand flicking breadcrumbs from the table, he listened without saying a word, thus making me feel that I had said my piece, which I had, and also doing me the courtesy of hearing me. As usual he didn’t venture an opinion on whatever it was that was bothering me, but he didn’t need to. I knew exactly what he thought. I could see it on his face, in his eyes.
Standing to make a speech at his 100th birthday party in the village hall, (Taid) rested one hand on a radiator and put the other into his jacket, Napoleon-like. “You know … the thing about being 100 is that everyone wants to get there, but when you do you don’t want to be there.”
Over meals, at home we talked about many things though rarely politics. That was dangerous territory. If Nana thought things were becoming too heated she would clap her hands and say: “Would anyone like a cup of tea?”
With Nana, a thousand words came and went and she could be only halfway through what she wanted to say but with Taid a grunt was worth a thousand words. If not a grunt then a rapid raising of his bushy eyebrows or a downward gaze. And when he did talk, the words were often on the money.
Standing to make a speech at his 100th birthday party in the village hall, he rested one hand on a radiator and put the other into his jacket, Napoleon-like. “You know,” he said looking around at the assembled relatives and friends, “the thing about being 100 is that everyone wants to get there, but when you do you don’t want to be there.” A man of few words and quiet actions had nailed it once again.
A friend once remarked: “I thought your father was a judge.” Taid looked like a judge. A wig might have suited his long face and covered his bald head. He controlled his emotions. He was fair and judicious and he was quietly spoken. He taught me the difference between right and wrong by setting an example just as he taught me that by swearing very, very rarely himself I didn’t need to turn the air blue when I spoke. He was proud when I owned up to a scoring misdemeanour in a junior golf competition and fell from first to third as a result. For him that was as good, perhaps better, than my winning the competition.
I wrote a tribute to Taid within weeks of his dying eight years ago and in doing so I remembered the relationship between Jack Nicklaus and Jack Grout. When Grout died Nicklaus wrote: “farewell my mentor and my friend.” I plagiarised those words as Nicklaus had probably plagiarised them in turn. “Farewell, my mentor, my friend and my father,” I wrote.
Taid, I miss you still.
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