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John & Jack

It’s only in the last few years – since becoming a father myself – that I truly began to appreciate not only how lucky I am but also how hard my parents worked to give me the tools to make my own choices in life.
When I was a toddler I think he quite enjoyed me tearing around like a little nutter, chatting away as I tried to set fire to wood lice or dig holes “to China” in the middle of the allotment.
I’ve got three sisters too. He endured our teasing with stoicism and good humour. The best games we played were with words. I’ve definitely inherited his capacity for a bad pun.
He was a writer who travelled the world. His favourite stories were real-life survival stories. Child soldiers in Sierra Leone, gospel choirs in Soweto, local heroes around the world –the triumph of human spirit over adversity.

Occasionally he would be caught dozing under his desk while we were at school.
Years later, friends of mine whose dads weren’t around when they grew up still talk about how his example inspired them to not be afraid of family or commitment, but instead to work at being the right sort
My father John died in 2012. I think about him every day. He had bowel cancer which spread. He ignored the symptoms too long and didn’t go to the doctor soon enough. But he handled it so elegantly. He was charming to the end.
He hated fuss. The last time I spoke to him he said: “I’m not going to say anything. You already know what I’d say. It’s all there in how we live our lives.”
And it is. The greatest lesson I ever learned is to do my best to walk the walk, to be curious and interested in everything around me. But I just wish he was around to see me being a father too.



The best thing he ever taught me is…
To walk tall, always ask questions and to use my imagination. Also that with a big smile and a can-do attitude you can do pretty much anything – but it won’t do itself, you have to work hard and keep moving.

One thing all fathers/sons need to know is…
Sometimes it takes more wisdom to ask for help than to give it. I’ve always been a bit of a know-it-all, but it’s the times that I’ve asked his opinion (and actually listened to what he said) that I value most.

I’ll never forget the time we…
Sailed the English Channel together at night. It was quite sketchy as we were in a small boat and all these huge ships were steaming past. We were both working as writers at the time and didn’t talk much because we were lost in our thoughts. The next morning was completely calm, but the sea was smoky and grey. We motored past an enormous patch of seaweed and driftwood that had tangled up. We both looked at each other at the same time and said: “Imagine if there was a body in there – that would be an amazing story!”

My father’s motto is… …which I love because…
He never really had a motto as such, but he lived by a very strong moral code which I have absorbed more deeply than I ever thought.

If I could share one thing from my father, it would be…
The way his curiosity and his faith in humanity remained intact. Sure he always knew that there were wicked people about, but he believed very deeply in the innate goodness of mankind. I wish more of us had that.