Friday, September 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Bert!

My father, Albert William Oatley known to most as Bert, would be 103 this week.

Despite being an older Dad to me (he was 56 when I came along and Mum was 40), he was always full of fun and mischief and tall tales. I'm pretty sure I get my sense of humour from him, at least I think I have a 'GSOH' but maybe my friends just think I am weird.

Dad never travelled outside the U.K., although I took him to South Wales for a weekend once. His family bought him a car when he was quite young. I think it was before he was 20. It would have been quite abnormal in 1925 to own a vehicle. He'd had polio as a child which left him with a 'gammy leg' (his description). Cars were his life.

In the 1930's he ran a "High Class Car Hire Company" from Cecil Ave., Wembley (he was the Chauffeur). I have some letter head paper stating the phone number "Wembley 2346 Day & Night". In the 1970's I went to school in the same street.

He must have enjoyed driving the hoi polloi to the races and suchlike - he was full of tales of those times. His stories include carefully following the tram tracks home one night in a thick 'pea-souper'. Close to home he was surprised by people shouting and hollering at him. He had followed a branch line into the depot building and was driving over the tram inspection pit!

During WWII he was an air raid warden and ambulance driver in the Wembley/Harrow area of North West London. Some members of his family (aunts and cousins) died in a direct hit on their house in Sudbury Town. He worked until his seventies, the last job as Supervisor of a maintenance depot that looked after a fleet of those little blue-green invalid vehicles that you used to see around England.

He had a remarkable skill - he could diagnose most car engine problems simply by listening and smelling. People would leave their engine running and Dad would poke his head out the kitchen door and tell them which spark plug to change!

I remember as a little girl bouncing up & down on the sofa under the front-room window of our council house trying to catch sight of his 1950's pale green Ford Popular arriving home from work. Then I would bother him all evening with unanswerable questions like "why is water wet?" which he always tried to answer. One time we drove past a field with cows in and he said "Look at the pussycats" and we had a big discussion about what they were called which kept me entertained.

I think about him, and his life from 1905-1987 lived solely in one part of the country, with no knowledge of the strange new world to come - his high-tech pride and joy was a record player that would lift it's own arm up at the end of the side - and I wonder if he's paying attention to this blog or even if they have broadband where he is....


mariSh said...

Are we the long lost sisters?! My father's name was Albert too...

Anonymous said...

Yes you are the long lost sisters...both crazy and fun.

Richard Naki said...

I just thought there were some lovely thoughts in your piece Mandy and I'm sure you're dad would be as proud as punch and as pleased as ..... well, whatever the word is.... that he's so warmly remembered.
When I was at school one of the boys in my class had a father who was in his 80's, and it always intrigued me how they reacted at home. I know they didn't play a lot of soccer with each other, but they did have a full garden-size model railway. They even lived in an old converted railway carriage.
Enough of that...

Amanda said...

Thanks Richard.
Ms Anon. I think I know who you are!! Come on - fess up?