Though it’s patently silly to find it surprising when life resembles a soap opera, there’s one particular strand that makes me think, ‘A thing like that’, in the manner of Pete Campbell in Mad Men.
It’s the one where ostensibly less engaging members of the cast score an episode for themselves and run away with it.
In one’s own life, the plot turns are dramatic and egocentric: excitement, revelations, conflict.
But every now and then someone on the sidelines- sometimes mostly always old- takes it upon themselves to squire a discreet storyline, resulting in a slightly boring, touchingly poignant tribute, in the vein of Dot and Ethel thesping through their wartime evacuation Eastenders Special.
As soon as Dad could walk following his stroke, he remembered that his son-in-law’s father (ie. his oppo) is a skilled carpenter, and has crafted some fine walking sticks.
Having always been a bee-in-the-bonnet kind of chap, Dad got the idea he would like John to make him one, and wouldn’t let it go.
Why? I asked (he already has a stick), when he voiced it with clear intent one day. He replied, ‘To remember my time in here [the hospital]’, which I found curious, borderline weird.
Next, I tried to write myself into the plot by anticipating possible negative turns, where one party would be aggrieved by the project in hand: John doesn’t want to do it; John wants to do it but has different creative/financial/temporal expectations; Dad has trouble dealing with negotiations, and so on…
But it wasn’t my script. And father-in-law not only accepted the commission- he was thrilled by it.
Because these breather episodes also tend to be the ones you make a thousand cups of tea in, I won’t go into the lilac wood whittling, the phone-calls to ask about stature and initials, or the chasing of the love object’s whereabouts, or the delicate question of the recompense for its creation.
Instead, I’ll cut straight to the teary-eyed closing scenes, where the cane is produced with the merest hint of a flourish of pride. Not only had John risen to the challenge, he had thoroughly relished so doing; every chip and polish had been his perfectionist’s pleasure, each chiseled letter a meditative act- the result a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship.
Leaning at an elegant slant, the stick’s neck features an anchor endorsed by an R.N inscription embedded with the tips of two tiny gold nails, while a proudly-sculptured submarine flanked by gently-realised waves, snugly meets the holder’s grip. On its side ‘A.R.Price’ marks its ownership, a rubber foot its professional finish: as its creator says of many things, it’s a cracker.
So just one opportunity now for this sweet and random interaction to go tits up: it’s not what Dad wanted- or any other response insufficiently sensible to the skill and enthusiasm of its making.
But yesterday I took it into Dad and straight into camera (me, Mum, my sister and two grandchildren on the loose) this funny big wonky-faced bear in braces – who has never, ever missed the opportunity for a witty quip or a sarcastic jibe in his life- gripped the beast firmly in his right paw with a sense of home-coming and murmured sincerely, ‘It’s perfect’.