First published in Carlisle Living October 2017
In October 1970, on my dad’s 33rd birthday (imagine, my dad so young!) he caught 33 fishes. I remember him unwrapping a bundle on the shores of Loch Nell to reveal a silvery shoal of fat little trout. As usual in Scotland in early autumn, there was a faint revival of summer before the mist and rain set in. The light was golden. To me – aged five – it seemed miraculous, Biblical, even, that my dad – the same age as Jesus – had cast his line and caught a fish for every year of his life.
It’s possible you know my dad. He might have been the solicitor who handled your mum or your nan’s divorce back in the day. More recently, if you had kids at Belle Vue, he was the lollipop man at the crossing on Beaver Road. You remember him? I thought so.
Born in Beckenham, the heart of suburbia, my dad is no suburbanite. When he met my mum – a streetwise Glaswegian girl – at a party in Hammersmith in 1961, he recognised a soulmate. He gave her a lift home that night, but didn’t get her address. In a bid to see her again, he sent a letter with his phone number addressed to ‘the third house east of Gillette Corner’. I owe my existence to the orienteering skills of the Post Office, because the letter arrived and my mum and dad have been together ever since.
He’s one of a long line of what Jessie calls ‘charming Ledger Boys’. My dad, his dad before him, my uncle, cousins, brother and my own son Tom – who’s a Ledger in all but name – are handsome Alpha males with a decidedly non-Alpha self-deprecating twinkle: sporty, well-spoken but with an inexplicable tendency to the haphazard. In his youth, my dad was a deft, ferocious scrum-half who never dropped a pass; he’s a skilled carpenter, fashioning dovetail joints and inlays with precision, but still, he’s mysteriously accident prone.
For instance, there’s the time he set himself on fire in court by lighting his pipe for dramatic effect while cross examining a witness, replacing the not quite extinguished match to a matchbox and sliding it into his pocket – only for it to explode 30 seconds later. There’s the fracas he caused on a train when he thought he’d left his wallet in a recently vacated compartment. From the platform, he tapped on the window and pointed. Another man mistook his gesture and snatched a brand new pair of leather gloves from a fellow passenger’s lap shoving them through the window just as the train pulled away from the station. And oh my God … his cars … the most spectacular was one with faulty central locking. He could only get in and out either through the boot or the sunroof. He had to wind down the window and ask unsuspecting passers-by to open the boot so he could slither nimbly through the car and emerge like an escapee from Good Fellas. Either that, or he’d pop out the sunroof like a demented showgirl from a car-shaped cake. Of course, the joy of these tales – and I could tell you a hundred more – is that my dad’s real gift is not that he’s survived disaster, but that he tells a great story at his own shambolic expense.
He’ll be heading up to Loch Nell again this month to celebrate his 80th birthday (imagine, my dad so old!) and although I doubt he’ll even attempt to catch 80 fishes, I hope he’ll take my birthday wishes with him, up there in the golden sunlight on the lochside. From all us – to Dad, to Grandad, to Pete, to Rocky – happy birthday old lad!