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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My Dad: 1926-2020 – A tribute

Dad and mum, with grand daughter Hannah and three great grand children, 2016.

I recently lost my Dad, Derreck Parkes. At 93, he was worn out and faded away peacefully on 28 January this year. Since it was clear his life was drawing to a close towards the end of last year, I prepared for his loss, at least to some extent. Losing my Dad has caused me to reflect on his qualities as a human being, and his impact on my sister and me as a father.

What’s important here is not the year he was born, 1926, or that he died in January this year; these are mere markers of a life well-lived. No, what matters is what his life contained in that little dash between the two dates. If you are a bit nerdy, like me, you might be interested to know that he lived for 34,068 days.

As a devotee of the “Full English” breakfast, he got through a lot of bacon, quite a few sausages and eggs, and a few punnets of mushrooms, and a pallet or two of butter beans; sadly I can’t give you an exact number since there are no records, I would have liked to, but I’m sure you understand.

After breakfast, there was a life to live. That life started in Nottingham on the 20th October 1926. It was a cold, cloudy and dank day; October was unusually cold that year. The General Strike of 1926 had left the Nottinghamshire miners with a bitter taste in their mouths. Dad often spoke about the General Strike, but his earliest memory is of a trip to London with his aunt Mable to see his Uncle Billy. Dad thought this was 1930.

Later, during the war, Dad was in a reserved occupation. From 1941, he served his apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, Derby in the Merlin experimental department as part of a team that was trying to squeeze more power out of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Dad was proud of the fact that they achieved a power increase from 1,000 horsepower in 1941 to 2,200 horsepower towards the end of 1944. Later, in 1961 he became an author with Rolls-Royce writing the overhaul and repair manuals for jet engine servicing. He finished his career in 1989 writing for the RB211 the first commercially produced three spool by-pass jet engine. I remember feeling very proud of my Dad’s contribution to the RB211 engine on a demonstration fly-by of the Lockheed TriStar around Derby in 1972.

The greatest crime committed against my Dad, Derreck, was that he remains to this day the unacknowledged author of the Rolls-Royce publication The Jet Engine. In keeping with his character, he bore no bitterness.

He met my Mum, Dorothy, in Paris in 1948, an adventurous excursion at that time. She admired his suede shoes; he loved her hair. Mum said “ I’ll have him”, my Dad, ever the one with a handy chat up line  said, “Have you got a day off school?” They quickly discovered that they only lived about 3 miles from each other. One thing led to another, and they married in October 1952.

On the day that Dad went to buy the rings, with Mum, he diverted into an engineering workshop in Nottingham and bought piston rings for his dismantled motorbike. My Mum never quite forgave him, for putting piston rings on the same level as an engagement ring. But to Dad, they were both just as functional and to be useful both need to be kept well oiled. Despite early ring trouble, their marriage was to last 67 years. I was going to tell you that their marriage lasted 25,573 days, but I decided not to include it because I thought you wouldn’t be interested.

As a Dad, he took me to my first Forest match on 13 February 1965. At the City Ground, we went in the poplar stand and paid half a crown to watch Forest play Stoke. Sir Stanley Matthews was at the end of his career, aged 52, he turned a reasonable performance. Forest ran out 3-1 winners that day, but more importantly, I became bitten by the life-long disease of following the Tricky Trees. I am still thus afflicted, remaining ever hopeful of better days.

Football was always a regular talking point between us. Indeed, while in the hospital during dad’s final days, he had been unconscious for some days, or was he sleeping? I found it hard to tell, but he suddenly came to and asked me what it was with Forest losing 4-0 to Sheffield Wednesday at the City Ground. How he remembered this fact in a coma, I’ll never know, but the pain of defeat must have been foremost in his mind.

His mark on my life is indelible, and I shall be forever grateful for all the experiences we shared and the values he imparted to me. I shall miss him; no, I already miss him, but I am confident that his faith in Christ has reserved him a place in the realms of heaven.

Quietly, the unseen hand of God was at work, softening his crust and improving his understanding so that he could embrace the love of God. At what point he came to faith, I don’t know, but I can say that his faith was real and secure. As he lay dying in the hospital, I asked him if he felt the presence of God, and although mostly unconscious, he grunted an acknowledgement.

Only a few days before he died, I reassured him that everything was taken care of at home and that all was in place for Mum; I then said to him, “Dad, it is OK to let go of life if you want”. He finally let go at 10:00 am on Tuesday 28 January this year.

In the final analysis, we can say Dad matured and mellowed through life just like a good wine, and that he finished well. For this and so much more I will be eternally grateful, and in writing this tribute, I hope that it will speak to a future generation of the positive influence that a father can have on his family.

As I finish, I would like to propose that his epitaph should read:

“Derreck Parkes, a man of integrity who loved people and invested in them”.

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Journalling: Write for your life

When I was at a crisis point not many years ago, a wise Anglican minister friend of mine, suggested that I keep a journal. He said that it might help me to express myself in new ways, and thus help me to resolve some of my mental anguish. I ignored his advice. That is until yet another episode of soul-numbing depression struck. Then the idea of journaling popped right back into my mind.

I took hold of a notebook and started to scribble. I enjoyed writing about what I did and how I felt, but after a couple of months, the journaling began to get displaced by my recovery. My thoughts had turned to work, and it was not long before work had taken over again. And then the journaling stopped. I did not have the energy or steely commitment that I needed at that time to continue writing.

By 2016, I realised that I needed to stop working permanently and so resigned my role as a Baptist minister. I experienced no grief, found that I could let go of the emotional investment that I had made in the project over 30 years. In fact, it was a huge relief to hand the work over to a younger and competent successor. The cost of the work was too high for me, and I was defeated, overwhelmed, and had developed pneumonia. This time I knew deep down, my time was up; I had nothing left to give.

At first, I was bereft of purpose and direction. The vast hole that my role as a church minister had hollowed out of me left me in the desert. In this featureless desert, there was no map, no landmarks and no one else to guide me through the most testing time of my life.

After only a few weeks, I noticed that I was genuinely grateful for the privilege of not having to work. That was my first joy – and what a joy! No work. But, of course, it unmasked another issue; what was I to do with the blessing of not having to work?

Some six months after resigning, in December 2016, I started to write again. I had already realised that I wanted to explore other parts of me that had become subsumed by work. The more I wrote, the more I found that I had a renewed commitment to writing. Why not? After all, my father was an author for Rolls-Royce Aero, and he always encouraged me to write. Maybe it was in my genes, or was it his deposit in my life? Now was the time to find out.

At first, I did not know what to write. So, I started with what I did know; that is, what I did, and how I felt. While writing in this way sweeps away the surface issues, I soon began to find I tapped into something deeper within me.

As I wrote, I uncovered new desires that had been in the shadow of my professional busyness. These included regaining dominion over my mental and physical well-being. I was unfit, overweight, diabetic, and had high blood pressure. In my head, I was slim, fit and still batting at cricket for the county youth team. My perceived youthfulness is the nature of self-deception!

I knew my mental state was fragile, and I received some helpful mindfulness coaching from the community mental health team. Through 2017, my condition improved. Writing my journal, now renamed my Commentarium, led me to start some new activities.

Whether these are permanent fixtures in my life, I don’t know, but here are five guides that I have found helpful in my quest for healing and wholeness.

1 Use Your Natural Talents

My talent for research awakened again, and I found that I opened a new chapter in researching my family history. I joined my local family history group and a similar group from the village of my ancestors, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire.

2 Find Replenishing Projects

I threw myself into project management in rebuilding our home. A vast amount of work needed doing when we moved in, and I enjoyed negotiating the contracts and overseeing the work. The work is mostly complete, except that there are always walls to knock down and rebuild.

3 Rebuild Your Mental Health

My mental support mention earlier gave me the skills I needed to keep me mentally secure and increased my self-awareness. One of my main difficulties was that I paid insufficient attention to “self-soothing” during my working years. I continue to apply those skills to this day.

4 Regain Your Physical Fitness

If one is overweight, diabetic, with high blood pressure, then one is unfit. I was unfit. There are many ways to change the situation; many diets and exercise regimes help people like me. The critical thing is to find the right activities for you; walk, cycle, run, get a dog. But get moving. I walk three days a week. Use weights and do core strength exercises two days a week. I have two days a week rest. While I follow a particular diet, Each day I eat in an eight-hour window. My eating motto: Never before eleven; never after seven. It works for me.

5 Enjoy What You Have Now

Over the years, I have wasted a great deal of energy hankering after things I do not have. Energy expended in this way is draining, or at least I found it so. Accepting where I am right now, with what I have in my hand at the moment leads to a contented life. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have now, rather than to crave for  what we do not have.

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Daylight Saving Time? 3 Reasons to think again

A close up of a clock

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Twice a year, the United Kingdom goes through an utterly pointless ritual. The country is not alone, 70 other nations, also follow this ritual. In the small hours the last Sunday in October, we put the clocks back one hour. And, reverse the routine on the last Sunday of March. Fiddling with the clocks does not save time and makes a significant impact on society. So, here are three reasons to reconsider Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Reason 1: Changing the clocks is messy

The European Commission proposes to end seasonal changes by 2021. If ratified, member states will decide for themselves whether to opt-in. Here in the UK, there is as yet no sign of the UK Government making a response to the proposal. Even though the UK is likely to have left the European Union by then, the project will prompt a response from the UK Government.

I am old enough to remember when the UK decided not to change the clocks at all. From the Autumn of 1968, the clocks stayed on British Summer Time for an experimental period that ended in 1971. An hour was sliced from the mornings and returned to us at the end of that day. In the winter period, that is significant. It meant I went to school in the dark, but it also determined that it did not get dark in December until 5 pm. Effectively the summers stayed as they had always been; the main effect was to shift an hour of winter daylight from the morning to evening. I heartily approved of keeping the clock fixed through the year; it makes sense.

Back then, in the dark ages, the public made a mixed response. The further north one is, the more significant the impact. For example, in the far north, the Scottish Orkney Islands sunrise on the Winter Solstice is 09:05 and sunset is 15:16. I suspect that the UK Government will hesitate to conform to adopt the European proposal to dispense with seasonal clock changes for fear of provoking the Scotts independence claim.

It is an inescapable astronomical fact that the further north one is and the further south one is, seasonal clock changes gradually lessen their impact. The most significant effect in the Northern Hemisphere is between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer; similarly for the Southern Hemisphere. For a full list of who does what and when click here.

Reason 2: Changing the clocks affects mental health

Shifting an hour of daylight may seem like a small matter. But, there is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that it makes a decisive impact on mental health. I am one of those for whom the shifting hour is likely to plunge me into a hearty bout of winter depression. At first, when the clocks change, nothing much happens to me. The only exception is that I can feel that I am suffering a mild form of jet-lag for a few days.

Then as Christmas approaches, I start to tumble out of control into my very own black hole. I show all the classic signs of depression, sleep disturbances, low mood, loss of emotional energy and worst of all, my self-talk becomes black and accusatory. Black accusatory self-talk erodes my self-worth, and I sink further into the hole. Before long, I can’t sleep at night, and can’t stay awake in the day.

Fortunately, I have harnessed several defence mechanisms. The first of these is an obvious choice. When the sun shines; get out and walk. The second line of defence concerns shining a very bright light into my ears. Yes, you read it right!

Research from the University of Oulu, Finland in 2007, suggested that when the ears receive trans-cranial light, the brain uses the light in the same way as when full-spectrum lighting enters the brain through the eyes. Published in 2018, researcher Antti Flyktman, submitted his doctoral dissertation that verified the original research and extended our understanding of the processes to include evidence that light shone through the skull, albeit in mice, provides beneficial stimulation. At a future date, it may be possible to subject our heads to light treatment and receive the benefits enjoyed by in-ear applications.

Based on the research, I purchased a “Valkee” light-pod. I place ear-pieces into my ears, in the same way as ear-pieces for audio, and apply a preset light treatment from the iPod-shaped unit. The procedure takes only twelve minutes.

Since I first started using the treatment, I have been less depressed during the winter months than the awful depression that I experienced before I used the remedy. There are many detractors about the use of light in this way, but I can say that I feel that I have had fewer symptoms than when I have not used it. There is no doubt in my mind that changing the clocks plays a part in the winter blues.

Reason 3: Changing the clocks increases road deaths

The most vociferous proponents of abolishing DST come from road safety organisations. Over the years, a substantial body of data demonstrates that fewer lives are lost in accidents when the evening is lighter than when the clocks go back each autumn.

When the evenings are lighter, there are fewer deaths caused by road traffic accidents. According to the British organisation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), following the 1968-1971 UK experiment with all year round BST, roads were safer. Fewer deaths, (-11.32%) occurred in the two weeks following the change of clocks to BST and an increase of (+18.83%) deaths in the two weeks after the return to GMT.

More recent research suggests that all year round BST in the UK could save an estimated 30 lives.

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