The Rent Man Cometh

When your Dad is dead and gone, there isn’t much you can do on Father’s Day. Cards seem foolish and a phone call would either be pointless or very strange indeed, such that one would rather hope for the former. Even the customary annual bet on a soccer tournament would bring little pleasure and even less if, for the first time ever, it actually paid out. There is really not all that much you can do.

Except remember.

So here’s some random things about Eddie Snr. Things that may not be written down anywhere else. A small act of remembrance for a guy who was a very good man and, in terms of the day that’s in it, a very good Dad too.

Dad was the ‘Rent Man’ for the local authority for our part of town. When he had some heart trouble, around the time I was seventeen, I spent a long hot Summer doing the Rent Man job myself. That was how I learned about all the little kindnesses he did on his weekly round of the council houses. 

For instance, one particular woman used to call to our house on Tuesday evenings, every Tuesday evening, promptly at seven. If Dad wasn’t there, she would leave a five pound note for him, neatly folded into a tiny rectangle. I thought it was her rent but it wasn’t. I found out what it was when I did the job myself. Every Monday morning, while on his rent collection round, Dad would call to this woman's house and give her a fiver then, on Tuesday, she would come to our house and give it back. Her husband, you see, had a drink problem and, over the course of every weekend, he would find, and drink, every penny in the house. So, on Monday, when all the money was gone and the husband was in his bed, Dad would give her the fiver to tide her over until she got her weekly social payment on Tuesday. Then she gave it back. This frustrated me for a little while. 

“Every Monday you give her the note and every Tuesday she gives it back. Why don’t you just let her keep it one week?” 

Dad explained it to me. If the fiver was in the house at the latter part of the week, when the drinking was bad, it would be found and spent. Having it between Monday and Tuesdays when the drinking was quiet after the weekend and when there was no money around, was the saving grace. I carried on this practice during my own Summer. It actually seemed to work well.

That was typical of Dad. He was always quietly doing stuff. Nice stuff.

Many other things spring to mind whilst recalling this. Silly things.

How he would bring comics home on Friday night and we would lie on the floor and read them.

How the altered accents of the poor American Emigrants bugged him whenever they came home to visit. How he would sit out on the stairs and say “Riight, Riiiight” to himself until he calmed down a bit.

How, when fishing out on the lake, he could do a wee out the back of the boat and never ever hit the outboard motor.

How he would extend his left arm away from his torso to counterbalance the weight of a petrol can carried in his right hand.

Brylcreem and Old Spice.

Always managing to get a second dessert at Weddings.

How he went to the cinema seven nights consecutively to see ‘The African Queen’ when it came to town.

How he stayed up all night looking at the river on the night before he got married.

How we were never supposed to make him angry and how we never once saw him angry.

Random things, often silly things, but it’s Father’s Day and he's gone on ahead and all that is left to do is to remember them and smile.

Once, when I was fairly small, I walked home from town behind two chattering housewives. I didn’t have any interest in overhearing their conversation but I did anyway.

“I hate that Eddie Armstrong, coming around looking for the rent laughing and smiling all the time.”

I can’t remember what the other woman said, I was too angry.

I like to remember how I cut in and berated that lady, telling her that that was my Dad she was talking about and that he was a good man and she was damn lucky to have him as her rent man. But, of course, I didn’t. I was just too little to be arguing with the ladies of the town.

Can I do it now? God knows, I’m not too little any more.

“Hey missus. Yes, you with the scarf. That’s my Dad you’re talking about. Eddie Armstrong Senior. You just stop there for a minute and let me tell you a few things about him…”


Jim Murdoch said...

We never celebrated Father’s Day when I was a kid. I didn’t know such a thing existed until I was probably in my teens. My daughter never bothers with it either. We’ve never talked about it—I wouldn’t want her to think it troubles me—but I’ve always wondered if she did anything for her stepdad growing up. I know she called him ‘Dad’ and I think still does and that did and does irk me but the Father’s Day thing doesn’t. If I put my mind to it I could come up with a decent list of good things about my dad. After he died my siblings had nothing good to say about him which I felt bad about because although he had his faults and he gave us cause for embarrassment and even shame there was a decent bloke in there. What other dad would spend his entire redundancy to buy his son an electric organ? As the saying goes he never took home a broken pay packet; if he needed money he’d ask his wife for a couple of quid although more often than not he walked around penniless. When my brother got into trouble in his early teens my dad stood up and pleaded “parental delinquency” (I pretty sure he made that up) in a bid to keep him out of borstal. He decided they needed to spend more time together and his solution was to take on a second job as a Betterware salesman so he could pay for the huge train set they ended up constructing in the loft.

My dad only even went to the pictures when we were young. Once we were old enough we went with our mates. The last film he ever took me to see was The Ten Commandments when I was maybe seven. He’d been to see it the first time in the mid-fifties and even had the souvenir booklet. I wonder what happened to that. He never took Mum to the pictures. They never went on dates. The first time one of my parents wasn’t accessible was the day my brother was born. The second was the day my sister was born. The third was the day our aunts and uncles descended on us when I was about ten and they all went to the pub. After an hour we were out in the street thinking we’d been abandoned.

When I showed an interest in fishing he bought my brother and me rods and dutifully took us every Saturday until someone left the rods on the top on the car and they got lost. He never thought to get a rod himself. But that was typical and it’s things like that my brother and sister I think had forgotten, the long country walks, the car trips, the fact that when his wife refused to learn how to use the sewing machine he bought her he taught himself to make dresses for his daughter.

Karen Redman said...

Oh Ken,

Your wonderful remembrance and eloquence of the description of your dear Dad has brought tears to my eyes. As you know, I'm new to the widowhood game just as Josh is new to being without his adored and adoring Pa but I can so identify with how some of our natters reduce us to helpless laughter simply by recalling the way Jack would phrase something or the tone of his voice.

Daft things like whenever he ate a home-cooked meal he'd say "Loovley"; his habit of calling our dogs by names he liked rather than the ones to which they'd actually respond; how he'd begin EVERY 'phone call he made to me when he was travelling abroad with the words "Now, what was I going to say?" - as if I was some kind of telephonic oracle with a crystal ball - which when he was alive was actually a tad aggravating but these days I'd give anything just to hear him utter those words again.

Josh and I were told by someone who's very special to us that we must always spend time in just talking about Jack - and we do. We haven't progressed to analysing his character or verbalising what some would believe to be the "important stuff" but I'm not sure that Jack would be overjoyed if we did. There were times when, as in many families, we weren't always happy but we choose to remember the fun times and in so doing we are helped by not having the vivid pictures of the way he looked before his death at the front of our minds and that just has to be healthier and better for us than recalling something about which we could do nothing.

So, yes ... to everyone who has lost someone dear to them ... it IS important to talk about them and it IS important to remember the laughter and the fun. Seeing the picture of the man with the very kindest of faces at the head of your post, I'm sure that love and generosity of spirit really did emanate from him. May you always remember that with love, and, of course, with an inevitable tinge of sadness but I'd put MY rent money on the fact that he'd be really chuffed about HOW you remember him and I'm so glad that you shared some of those memories with us.

Here's to our dearest departed ones wherever they may be. They dwell in our hearts and our minds.

Love, Karen xxx

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Jim: I particularly like the detail of the Ten Commandments souvenir booklet. A real thing that couldn't be made up.

Karen: Thank you. Your own memories are so freah and keen, it can't help but hurt a lot. As years go by, the comfort level of the memories increases. Mind yourself. x