Father with son: Building together (part 2)

In the second of two posts about learning from my father, Derreck Parkes, I retell a piece of family folk-lore concerning the building of his garage in the 1960s. This post is taken from my tribute to my Dad at his Celebration of Life, following his death in January 2020.

Ever the engineer, Dad decided to install a rolled steel joist, just in case he needed to lift an engine, as engineers do. In those days, one did all the jobs yourself, and when necessary, one conscripted one’s son, aged 14.  

And so it came to pass, that the said steel joist was delivered; to the driveway, some 25 yards away from the construction site. The duly conscripted son, obedient to the last, together with his visionary father embarked upon re-siting the vast chunk of metal to where it could be inserted into the brickwork, lining it up at right angles to the wall. 

We were about to start the lift when Mum called us for lunch, but Dad, ever the optimist said, “We’ll just pop it in now then it’s done before we eat”. 

Fair enough, I thought having caught his easy pragmatism. And so we started to lift the wall end of the beam, a few inches at a time. Once lodged at the opening in the wall, I thought it was just a matter of levelling the joist and pushing it into place. 

However, as we pushed, it began to slide at first but then got stuck. So Dad said, “You hold it there, and I’ll nip round to the other side to free it”. Now the only problem was that with both arms aloft I now bore the full weight of the beam and I began to sink into the lawn. 

Seared in my memory to this day is the vision that before lunch, I was 6 foot 4 and slim; after lunch, I was 6 foot and obese. I’ve never recovered, which is why I am as I am to this day!

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Father with son: Building together (part 1)

The sins of the son shall be upon his father?

In January 2020, my Dad died at the ripe age of 93. In this two-part blog, I write about my vivid memories of helping him build his garage in the 1960s.

My dad built his brick-built garage, one small piece at a time. Back in the mid-1960s, he could not afford to buy the concrete for the base in one purchase, but he could buy and persuade others for oversupply. Perhaps four or five such pourings made the garage base complete; bricks came in small batches too, as money allowed. Dad was not a builder, but he was an engineer and knew how to make accurate measurements, except for one unforgettable incident.

Frugality was the dominant theme of British civilian life from the war period until the mid-sixties, though many of the “veterans”, that is those born between the two world wars, never quite broke free from the constrictions it placed on every area of life. For that generation, thrift was in their psyche from birth. Dad did eventually break free of its stifling power in the second half of his life.

Brick-work starts with the corners. Get the corners right, and all else follows. As Dad laid bricks, I would stand with him and watch. To me, he seemed like a proper brickie. The corners came along well; the rows followed.

Everything was going well until Dad told me off one day. I don’t remember what it was about, but I felt angry. Revenge was on my ten-year-old mind. In a quiet moment, I slipped out of the house and moved his line up a row of bricks at one end so that the string now sloped. The gentle upward slope of the line was not apparent to a casual glance. Having done my deed of sabotage, I forgot all about it. Why shouldn’t I? I felt better now.

Later, to my horror, Dad was laying more bricks. It is clear that the row started well, level to the undiscerning eye, but I could see that the mortar gradually became thicker. That is until the middle of the row when Dad discovered his mistake. I say “his mistake” because that is how he relayed the error to my Mum. As he told my Mum of “his mistake”, I froze with a mixture of horror and fear. Suddenly my small act of rebellion escalated to fear as I wrestled with “Should I tell him?” and “What would happen if he suspected me?” I decided to tough it out and hope that he never suspected me of ruining his work.

Evidence thwarts toughing it out. A recently discovered photo shows the thickening mortar as the row progressed. It also shows the point at which Dad got some revelation and realised that the line was not level. From the point of realisation the cement joints then gradually returned to the usual thickness.

I wanted to vent my anger; not to create a monument to it. Consequences of our actions are sometimes more abiding than we intend.  To this day, I feel mildly guilty that my act of rebellion remains evident in his mistake.

Some years later, I confessed to my Dad, and he saw the funny side of it, but my act of sabotage has left evidence. I never understood why when discovering his mistake that he did not redo the row. Mystery.

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