Rutland columnist Allan Grey discusses the wonders in his dad's Filofax
I lost my Dad nearly two years ago. After Mum died in 2011, albeit a Londoner, Dad lived the final couple of his 93 years in the beautiful Crown House residential home in Oakham, and loved it so much he wouldn’t step out of the front door, he always felt safe and excellently cared for there; nothing I could do or say would ever tempt him outside, writes Rutland columnist Allan Grey.
Then one day he had a fall and was taken off to A&E at Peterborough City Hospital, and he faded away a few minutes after the lovely lady and I arrived; he just decided to call time on the whole nine yards.
My dad was a quietly proud man, an unemotional man, a man of numbers, of facts, of small details, he kept meticulous records of everything from the family finances, to details of every game he’d played at his bowls club over many years, to the birthdays and anniversaries of all his family and friends, along with many family photograph albums, all annotated from before my brother and I ventured along in the late 40s and early 50s. After national service in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, my Dad was an accomplished engineer throughout his working life, helping me to follow in his footsteps.
After his move into Crown House, the family home was sold, the funds invested and all the memorabilia moved up to Oakham, but largely left untouched until his passing. Only then did we discover the treasure trove he left behind. Records of virtually every transaction made on keeping family and home together over his final 50 years, many photograph albums, medals, jewellery, newly minted coins and much much more beside, all neatly stored in many boxes. The jewel in the crown though was his Filofax, a small, lovingly worn leather affair. Nowadays we have our smart phones, our iPads, my Dad had his Filofax, stuffed full of an amazing conpendium of his life’s details, contacts, distractions and memories.
Most surprising however, was evidence of his love of poetry, of prose and of humorous or philosophical quotations, his Filofax is full of them. I always knew he could recite a number of well known poems, his party piece being, “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God”, which he could still deliver faultlessly until his final days, but in the Filofax are many more, all recorded in small but beautifully legible handwriting.
For me it’s his selection of quotations that most amuse, that give me an insight into his quiet but undoubted sense of humour, and his outlook on life. Many of them are timeless, as apposite today as when they were written. From German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: “The one thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history,” before Dad reminds us of the shortest verse in the Bible: ‘Jesus wept’, John, Chapter XI, V35. There are verses from Rudyard Kipling, William Shakespeare, Robbie Burns, George Bernard Shaw, and Rupert Brooke’s 1914, ‘The Soldier’, which appears in full, all hand written, obviously having been read, appreciated and carefully copied into the Filofax.
There are many quotations, like those from Harry S. Truman: “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen”- something Dad practiced effectively for most of his life. From Harold Wilson: “One man’s wage rise is another man’s price increase.” From Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.” From JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” From Benjamin Franklin: “In this life nothing is certain save death and taxes,” and from Mae West: “It’s not the men in my life that count, it’s the life in my men.”
And there’s more... From Abraham Lincoln: “It’s better that people think you are a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” From an inversion of Karl Marx’s religion is the opium of the people: “Communism is the opiate of intellectuals, with no cure except as a guillotine might be called a cure for dandruff.” From Ernest Hemingway: “Any man’s death diminshes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” From Churchill: “Tact is telling someone to ‘go to hell’ in such a way that they look forward to the trip,” and finally: “As one grows old, three things happen, first your memory goes, and I can’t remember the other two”.
Dad also makes some pertinent observations, like, “if at first you don’t succeed, then sky diving’s not for you”, and “why is there only one Monopolies Commission?”
He quotes the definition of a committee as “a group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary”. So true, and even recognises that Mum often treated him like a clock: “If she wasn’t putting me right, she was winding me up.”
I regularly leaf through this wonderful memory of my Dad, and still I come across things I hadn’t noticed before, like the words of pride written in preparation for my 50th birthday card, like the final words Dad delivered at my Grandfather’s funeral back in 1990. He was also a keen bowler: “The last end played, the last wood bowled, time to rest, time to sleep, time for memories.”
Little did Dad know, but he also wrote the final words of the eulogy I delivered at his funeral, words of love for his wife, his family, his life. They weren’t his original words, they were written by Leo Marks for his wife Violette Szabo, a famous SOE resistance fighter, executed by the Germans in 1945, but they were lovingly handwritten in the Filofax, waiting to be found and heard again. I have already decided I would like these words recited following my appointment with the abyss.
The life that I have is all that I have,
And the life that I have is yours,
The love that I have of the life that I have,
Is yours, and yours, and yours.
A sleep I shall have,
A rest I shall have,
Yet death will be but a pause,
For the peace of my years, in the long green grass,
Will be yours, and yours, and yours.
My Dad’s Filofax, worth nothing, but absolutely priceless.