I shamefully missed an entry from the time in Australia: namely the whole point for breaking my tour of Asia to go there. My sister, Emma, lives in Adelaide; my parents were there for Dad's 60th. He doesn't like a fuss about it, but 60's a big one. So I wasn't going to miss it.
I'm intensely proud of my Dad. He's always worked hard. And everyone loves him, no-one has a bad word to say about him, bar my Nana sometimes (and undeservedly so, eh Dad?). My mates think he's cool (Dil Lalloo had a smoke with him, and still goes on about it), and plenty of people value his advice as he's so level-headed. If I end up being half the man he is, I'll be twice the man of most. I'm going to tell you two stories* which illustrate why.
One of my most vivid memories as a kid of 5 or 6 was being sat in the family car, at a long queue at a traffic junction. We were around ten cars off the main road when Dad suddenly jumped out and jogged to the junction. Impatient drivers behind started honking their horns as the queue moved and our car held them up. They soon stopped, ashamed, when they realised he'd seen a blind man with a dog stood waiting to cross. No-one had bothered to let him pass, and Dad saw him safely across the road. Things like that set me examples.
The second story is not lighthearted, and I'm just glad I didn't witness it. Mum and Dad were on a beach in Wales when a young man got into trouble offshore, and began waving for help. Everyone stood by as my Dad went running into the breakers. The lad kept bobbing under the water, and he went down for the final time with Dad only a few metres away. Despite him diving down again and again, the current had taken the swimmer.
I know he still feels guilty as he's a very sensitive soul, and it affects him to this day. The parents of the man keep in touch, and Dad's been back on the anniversary of the death to place flowers in the sea with the victim's mother. Despite the tragic outcome, he'd done all he could at risk to his own life. I'd like to think I'd be brave enough to do the same, Dad.
On a much happier note, my sister married her Aussie (Jesus...) man, Grant. I was under pressure to get the photos right, and was even more nervous than the two of them. It was the nicest wedding I've been to, a low-key beach affair; I'm pleased to say I got all the shots I wanted, bar one or two.
Emma was radiant, I've honestly never seen her happier. She's been through tough times in her life, some of them self-inflicted. As her big brother, I've had to give her some harsh home truths when she's gone off the rails. She never liked it, but I call a spade a spade...and one particularly brutal letter I wrote in her teens was screwed up, binned and then unscrewed and re-read several times. She still has it, and said she thought at the time "I'll show him" before storing it. She did show me; she went back to college and is now a sucessful and popular midwife. I've yet to see the letter again...I'd probably be mortified. But it did the trick. I can honestly say no-one deserves happiness more.
I'm intensely proud of you too, Em.
* OK, there was one occasion Dad let me down. At the tender age of nine, I learned what it was to see your idol falter and leave you crestfallen. We'd gone to Derby Baths, a huge Olympic-sized Victorian pool in Blackpool (spits) complete with water slides et al. They had the old fashioned diving boards back then (everything was still in Black & White) and the top one was a good twenty metres high. Myself and my younger brother Scott watched Dad climb the steps past the other boards, right to the summit. Slack-jawed kids looked to the sky as he confidently approached the top. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. "That's my Dad" I smugly crowed to the other kids, tilting my head to witness the expected graceful swallow-dive from the heady heights. To my utter, life-enduring horror, Dad froze; uncertainly peering over the edge of the board into the unknown. He thought the better of it...and started climbing down.
"That's your Dad, that..." grinned some fat-faced kid. I can still picture his stupid face.
It was only once though, Dad. And the story was worth telling.