My dad spent Christmas in the Canary Islands with his sister, Jennifer, and her family. They bickered, as they enjoyed doing, about whose hotel room had the better view, so my father leaned over his balcony to take a photo, and promptly dropped his phone on to the concrete four storeys below.
Dad had once been quite keen on technology, and had spent the early Eighties learning BASIC on a ZX Spectrum that wouldn’t load. But at some point he’d decided he was too old to learn new things. I was with him one afternoon when the alarm on his phone went off. He silenced it, but three minutes later it happened again. When I asked what the alarm signified, he just shrugged, “It’s been doing that for weeks.” Somehow he’d set his phone to beep twice each Tuesday afternoon, and had simply accepted it as an immutable fact of the universe.
Anyway. In January, when he told me he’d lost all his contacts when his phone smashed, I had some helpful advice. “You know with a Google account this stuff transfers automatically?” I wrote. “Thanks. Bit late for that, but thanks,” he replied. It was the last message he ever sent me.
In the most literal sense, my father and I were not close. My parents split up in the mid-1990s, and soon afterwards he’d moved from Essex to Birmingham to be with his new partner, Gill.
I didn’t call him enough, considering I was his only child, and I spent so much time feeling guilty about it that it would have been less hassle just to pick up the phone. When asked why I didn’t, I’d defensively snap, “Well, he never bloody calls me.”
I suspect he’d have said much the same.
But we sometimes struggled for things to say to one another. The standard conversational ice-breaker among men is sport, but that’s of no use whatsoever if the particular man you want to break the ice with is me. In an attempt to reach out, Dad would text me about TV shows he was watching and knew that I liked. For my benefit, he spent much of the mid-2000s effectively liveblogging Doctor Who.
I was, I realise now, hunting for topics in much the same way. A dozen times a day since his death, I find myself mentally logging something about the news, or music, or some engineering project somewhere, because I think…