AIW.

dechiricopiazza

I have known Alan all my life.  He lived with us for my first 20 years and remained an integral part of the close family structure even after he moved into his own flat.  Indeed, it was my belief up to the age of 4 that all families included an Alan.

He took the spare room in our South London flat in 1938, shortly after my parents married.  Alan was ‘our waif & stray’, my mother used to say of the callow 18-year-old youth who moved in.  Joking reference was also frequently made – by Alan, as often as not – to the ‘wicked stepmother’ who, on her marriage to Alan’s father, threw Alan and his younger brother out of the house to fend for themselves.

Behind these euphemisms lay real distress and sacrifice. His unworldliness notwithstanding, Alan possessed a keen mind and a fearsome intellect and, in more favourable circumstances, undoubtedly he would have gone on to university.  Instead, he was articled to a firm of chartered accountants and was beginning to impress when war broke out. Alan joined the RAF and saw service as a flight lieutenant navigator in Coastal Command seaplanes and flying boats in India, Malaysia (then Malaya) and South Africa.

During the war Alan kept in close touch with my mother and father, regarding them increasingly as the family that, to all intents and purposes, he never had.  Although they were only a few years older than him, he deferred to them very much as parental figures, particularly during the early years following his demobilisation and return to professional life.  To my father he accorded a deep respect and regard, drawing from him a passionate interest in music and theatre and a tolerant and liberal view of humanity unusual in those years of fierce ideological polarisation.  To my mother he gave a love and loyalty that never wavered.  His devotion was such that, although he got close a couple of times, he never married, and he remains a bachelor now. And to me from the start, he gave absolute loyalty, never seeking to usurp a parental function or stand duty as a much older brother, but simply being uniquely the ‘Alan’ that for my first 7 or 8 years I assumed to be a standard familial component.

Well into my adulthood, I never seriously questioned the nature of the unconventional triangular parenting that I received.  Somehow the roles of each of them integrated seamlessly and, on family outings, boarding school visits, annual holidays and at Christmas, Alan would be there too.  And when, in his 60s, following retirement from a senior partnership in an internationally renowned firm of accountants, Alan bought a villa in the South of France, it was axiomatic that my parents would be co-resident with him there. 

When my father died at 89, automatically Alan became my mother’s carer, taking responsibility for both the domestic and financial management of her affairs and, increasingly as her frailty increased, her physical welfare.  In this final office, right up to my mother’s death in 2008, he always deferred always to me – not out of any sense of yielding to me family prerogative because of the ties of blood, but from his entirely natural grace and courtesy. For my part, as an only child curiously blessed throughout my life by the presence of this man who came to stay, I cherished these last rituals and processes of the family life from which I came. And if I came to question the true character and meaning of Alan’s unwavering devotion only in recent years and to wonder at the balance between fulfilment and pain that, over time, it has brought, I was happy to take my place, this time at a corner of this final triangle, knowing that utter loyalty, gratitude, discretion and selflessness would inform that constancy. 

On the morning after the day my mother died, Alan and I spoke on the phone. He had left only minutes before Mum stopped breathing, unable to endure witnessing her last moments and I was telling him how simple and peaceful her passing had been. As we concluded and were saying our goodbyes, having arranged to meet at his flat the following week, he suddenly said, “She was the only woman I ever really loved”. He wanted me to know this, but no response was expected or required and no reference has been made to the declaration in the 10 years since Mum’s death. 

Alan is 95 now and still living in his flat in Central London, near Hyde Park. He is very frail and has 24-hour care. But, with lapses in moments of exhaustion, his mind is clear and still he speaks of his incalculable debt to my parents for taking him in and becoming his family. When he too passes the last fixed point of that strange, sustaining triangle will  be gone and, very late into my own life, I shall finally become the orphan who remains behind.

              AIW

Sometimes I see us
as two figures
in a landscape, empty

but for us, Chirico-still,
our long shadows
in alignment at last.

You tended
the edges of my life
from the start

the good steward,
the chatelain. But although
the hard, white lighthouse

beam of that other
indivisible love shone
high above my head,

even then its
cutting edge cast
light enough to read by.

Now my father’s dead
and my mother smiles,
lost in her sheets.

And still you radiate
(burning up hope
and your few years)

that love indivisible
whose fanatic heat binds us
in that empty place.

About Dick Jones

I'm a post-retirement Drama teacher, currently working part-time. I have a grown-up son and daughter, three grandchildren and three young children from my second marriage. I write - principally poetry but prose too, both fitfully published. My poetry collection Ancient Lights is published by Phoenicia Publishing (www.phoeniciapublishing.com) and my translation of Blaise Cendrars' 'Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France' (illustrated by my friend, the artist, writer and long-time blogger Natalie d'Arbeloff) is published by Old Stile Press (www.oldstilepress.com). I play bass guitar & bouzouki in the song-based acoustic/electric trio Moorby Jones, playing entirely original material (https://www.facebook.com/moorbyjones?ref=aymt_homepage_panel + http://www.moorbyjones.net/). I have a dormant blog with posts going back to 2004 at Dick Jones' Patteran Pages - http://patteran.typepad.com - and I'm a radio ham. My callsign is G0 EUV.
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