My earliest memories of Dad are of a loving father who would unexpectedly bring home toys after work: soft toys, and on one occasion a rubber bone for me to cut my teeth on.

Later, there were model cars and other mechanical devices that he wanted to play with himself. I inherited Dad’s huge Meccano set, but I did not have his patience for constructing complicated objects, such as cranes with clockwork motors. Dad could draw and paint in watercolours, and loved model-making and tinkering with train sets even more than I did. Eventually I had to move to the spare bedroom because the train layout had become so extensive.

Dad was kind as well as ingenious

He and Mum would always welcome my friends, feeding them and giving them a bed or a lift home when necessary. Aware that the life of an only child can be lonely, they would offer to take a friend with us on holidays to the Isle of Man, Wales or Scotland.

I had a happy childhood although Dad, like many of his generation, had a fear of spoiling his son by giving him everything he wanted. When I became a teenager I started to challenge him, becoming predictably surly and uncooperative. There is a Glasgow expression “keep the heid”, meaning “don’t lose your temper”, even when provoked. I saw him angry just once, when I was being cruel to my mother, causing her to cry. Although at 13 I was already taller than Dad, I allowed myself to be shaken violently by the shoulders because I knew I thoroughly deserved it.

As I got older I sensed that Dad thought I had taken a false step here and there, and perhaps he was right. But he was quietly proud of my academic achievements – even if he would have preferred me to become an engineer. He could never fathom why I was wasting my time with Latin and Ancient Greek.


My father followed two simple rules in managing a household: never pay anyone to do something you could do yourself and never throw anything anyway if it could conceivably come in useful later. During my childhood these principles produced impressive results. I watched on as he designed and constructed kitchen cabinets in our garage with his Black and Decker drill, jigsaw and sander. He made table lamps, tiled the bathroom, hung wallpaper, fitted internal doors, and re-plastered the wall after installing a gas fire. My friends were impressed; it was the heyday of DIY (does anyone else remember Barry Bucknell?) but Dad took it to stratospheric heights. Formica, Fablon and hardboard sheets were everywhere, but was all done with taste. Dad loved making things, and they invariably fitted and worked because he was, first and foremost, a draughtsman. In later life his bodging became rather eccentric; his electrical installations were unconventional, to say the least. But they always worked.

My last photo of Mum and Dad, taken in September 2022 at their care home

Dad was a pioneer of recycling. As the years went by, our home became a repository for biscuit tins, expired credit cards and plastic ice-cream cartons, and it was amusing to see him writing with coloured pencils that had belonged to me at primary school. It’s also true that Dad was careful with money. But that was because he wanted it to be there when it was needed; he was very generous when he felt like it.


My father was not a religious man. He believed in the truths of science and rationality, and was well read in the fields of astronomy and biology. He also believed in the essential good nature of ordinary people. As he saw it, we humans sit precariously on a small planet at the edge of a galaxy in a vast universe. From that perspective the Earth is little more than a speck of dust, and those who act as if they were of supreme importance are ridiculous, and often dangerous.

Listen to other people, treat them with kindness, and always do your best

Like his own father, he was a good and generous man. I keep trying to follow his example.

2 thoughts on “Memories of Dad

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