Did I ever mention that the priest who married us looked like Richard Gere?
He used to set hearts a-fluttering in a Thornbirds kind of way, unattainable, the very antithesis of crumpet. Everywhere he went- the Catholic School to give assemblies and say masses, the parish pensioner get-togethers, the mum-and-baby coffee mornings, he turned heads and caused foolish smiles and blonde moments among the womenfolk.
Thing is, he wasn’t just a pretty face.
He was searingly intelligent and deeply compassionate, one of those rare men of the church who really know how to manage and delegate to a large congregation.
It couldn’t last.
He fell in love, you see. With a woman with an equally beautiful mind. And rather than change, the church lost him to secular life. Last I heard, he was a happy, fulfilled, married insurance salesman.
But he did guide us through the whole getting married thing. That was nice. And he provided Phil with an unforgettable snapshot of the priestly life.
Each visit, we would knock on the door and be invited in for that most English of rituals, a mug of tea. We’d sit on the sofa and discuss the finer points of the rest of our lives, fidelity for an eternity.
So one day Father was making a cup of tea, and he opened his fridge.
I noted it, absent-mindedly; but Phil clocked every vivid detail.
Apart from the pint of milk in that fridge there were only two other things in there: a huge two-litre bottle of cider; and a meat pie.
Is it even possible to put that life lesson into words? How shall I name the strange solitude that juxtaposes cider and a pie as fridgefellows?
Shop pies are very much bloke things. And just a few days ago I realised somewhere seep in my psyche that on some level, my father, one of the great role models of my life, Renaissance man, was just another bloke. And it was pies that taught me. Pies and mash.
It’s been a strange time for us all. Mum had an op which seemed to go well, and home she came: Dad settled briefly into a caring capacity before complications sent her back into hospital once more.
While Mum was home, we had prepared frozen home cooked meals so that the two would eat well: but Mum could not eat, and Dad dined alone.
I arrived, a day or two after they came home, to a sight which, to me, was as outlandish as an alien knocking on the door. I have had half a lifetime of arriving at my father’s house to see him tucking into beautiful home-cooked meals, complete with piles of vegetables replete with iron.
But this day I walked into the kitchen where- despite frozen home-cooked goodies being freely available – he was enthusiastically pummeling some instant mash.
Do you remember that stuff? Granules of processed potato, peddled by aliens which looked and sounded like saucepans?
As he sat down to eat the mash which lurked next to a shop pie, I eyed the plateful warily . He gave me a shopping list.
He had a system, he insisted. He needed instant food, fast, so he was available to care for my mother. So: please could I purchase a large box of instant mash and enough pies to last a while?
I felt like saying, Dad, you want a six litre bottle of cider too?
Pie and mash: the staple of blokes, when all is said and done. Not so much empowerment, as emPiement.
Of course, Dad was called into hospital and the excellent canteen is now feeding him mightily at favourably subsidised rates. Just 30 minutes before they got the call to go back in, there I was with mountains of pies and boxes of instant mash piled up in a supermarket trolley.
And I returned home from the hospital later that evening to find a fridge full of lonely pies, Cinderellas with no ball to go to.
So: for Saturday lunch, who ate all the pies? We did. We decided to use them up in one fell swoop. The smell was mouth-watering as it tends to be, and it was only when everyone had cut into the shop pies that I remembered why we never have them.
They were horrible. The manufacturers never casserole them for long enough, or lovingly trim the bits which should be trimmed. We have a word which is not a word: the meat was nyangy. Stretchy, Jaw intensive.
Felix bowed out fairly soon, and I followed suit soon afterwards.
But a glance in Phil’s direction and Contented Bloke Vibes just radiated from his very being.
There he sat, the very epitome of emPiement.
For the picture source-and a lovely nostalgic English blog which will give you the low down on the Smash aliens – go to http://adoscobblestoneblog.blogspot.co.uk/