Full of surprises as ever, you shuffled off rather unexpectedly. No chance to say goodbye or ask you those very things I’ve only thought of now it’s too late. Still I’m glad that you went quickly and quietly. You told me that I’d have to drown you in the sea rather than putting you into a old folks home. That would have been awkward and I’d have probably gone to prison. And ruined a pair of shoes. So I’m glad you went so fast. But it was far too early, and we’d never really talked had we?
The only serious talk I can remember having with you was when I was about 16 and your advice then was “women and drink – don’t mix them”. Advice I have studiously ignored since then with some messy consequences. You did once try to broach the subject of our common curse, clinical depression, but I was too much of an arsehole to discuss it. Told you I was ok, which I clearly wasn’t. Didn’t even ask if you were. Sorry about that. We could have helped each other a lot. Maybe. You said that you learn to live with, and even relish depression. I kind of agree with that, and have often said I don’t really want to recover. Which is fortunate, because you can’t.
I guess the thing I’d most like to have talked about is how we didn’t know each other that well and how incredibly similar I am to you. Funny, but it’s only by spending time going through your things that I’ve seen how similar we really were. How we did things in the same way. Sorting, boxing, filing, planning, organising. We’re both great at getting ready to do things but never actually get round to doing them. You had enough different kinds of glue – all neatly labelled – to rebuild Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet like me with my projects you never got round to things. Still I’m ok for glue now.
I see so much of you in me – the curiosity about almost everything, the desire to say the wrong thing as often as possible and the profound belief that what others think doesn’t matter in the least. We didn’t know or understand each other that well but I really hope you knew about these similarities. It means a lot to me that some of you lives on through me. I’ll try to keep those flags flying and to keep the anti-depressant drug makers in profit.
You talked a lot about the second world war. You were only a teenager but it clearly shaped you a lot. I never took the time to ask you about it. I don’t mean about the events themselves, I mean about what the war did to a young boy growing up on the south coast of England. You used to tell me that the German bomber pilots on the way to London would wave to you on the beach as they flew over. That used to make me cry. You didn’t know that did you?
You kept a lot of stuff didn’t you. Victorian spirit levels, maps, Edwardian encyclopaedias, photos. I cursed you enormously now and again I’m sorry to say, as I waded my way through them and boxed them up. Still they all just about fit into my flat. Another flag keeps flying. The flag of the hoarder.
I’d love to have talked to you about your relationship with Mum. Most of what I want to know may not be suitable for a letter that others might read, but you two really did screw things up for yourselves didn’t you. The two of you were the closest thing Hastings has ever had to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But with fewer diamonds and possibly more booze. Mum seems ok considering. She misses you but never quite manages to say so except – and I know this’ll make you laugh – in the context of your giving her lifts to the supermarket. She misses that. What a legacy eh.
I haven’t really cried since you went. I said goodbye as I washed up your last meal the morning after you went. I fill up now and again but I don’t think that big cry is going to happen. What you will miss of the children growing up gets to me most – you loved them so much and they will always love you. Balls, I’m feeling it now.
Well I guess I’d better go. I have things to prevaricate over and postpone. I miss you like fury and I’ll write again as there’s more to ask.
Your loving son.
PS where did you hide the fucking papers for the car? It’s been a nightmare trying to sell it!