A happy one, after a fashion. Just for a change.
I've spoken before about how, following the split between my parents, my Father was somewhat conspicuous by his absence and that was true, up to a point. I did however go to stay with him on all of two occasions, and this is the first of them.
I was once told that the following day I was off to stay with my Dad for a week. The. Following. Day.. So, you know, lots of planning had gone into that. If I'm honest, I was a bit put out by the whole affair, seeing as how I had no great desire to see my Dad let alone spend a whole week with the bloke; not to mention that this was slap in the middle of the six weeks holidays, which was prime Spectrum staff harassment time for me and my mates; so I was probably being a bit surly and uncooperative. Nonetheless, on the bus I got and as I was tramping my way up the aisle to nab the still vacant back seat (loads of other seats were taken; did these people not see the spaces at the back? The poor blind fools!), I heard my mam ask for 'a half to Durham please.' A half? What the deuce?
"Get off at the bus station!" she yells up the aisle after me. "Just sit down when you get there, you're Dad'll find you." For Gods sake woman, I'm 9! I mean, far be it from me to question the parenting skills of someone that thinks the correct response to any disobedience is a shoe to the head from ten paces, but would it not be wise to accompany me on this journey? Or at the very least co-ordinate it so I'd be met at the other end, rather than having to sit and wait to be found? Of course, I only thought this; I didn't actually say it. Partly because a shoe to the head in public could be embarrassing, but mainly because she was gone from the bus before I got the chance. Didn't wave either; she was across the road and halfway home before the bus pulled away. The Waltons, we weren't.
Anyway, I arrived at Durham, bustling metropolis that it is (at least to the eyes of a small boy who's there on his own for the first time), and there's no sign of Daddy Dearest. So, I nip into the newsagents, buy myself a bag of crisps and can of pop (thus exhausting the spending money I had been given for the week) and sat down to wait. For over an hour. Then I hear a voice, calling me. I look up and down the station but there's no sign, until eventually I see him; my Dad, standing in the doorway of a bus, yelling at me to hurry up and get on. (It was the bus that he'd arrived on and which would now go back the way it came, so why get off?; no wasted effort, my Dad.) Our week together had begun.
Inauspicious beginnings aside, it wasn't a terrible time, once I got over my sulk at actually being there in the first place. He was living in a one room bedsit in a house with a communal bathroom and kitchen, so the whole thing was a little bit like a return to my much loved (but seriously deprived in hindsight) time in the flat, before the split. Some of his housemates were friendlier than others of course*, but I was still young enough and cutesy enough that I was a bit of a novelty and kind of taken under everyone's wings. The best part of the whole thing, though, was my Dads girlfriend.
Yes, my Dad, by some herculean feat of hypnotic suggestion, had managed to convince another woman that he was something other than a dead loss. I'd assumed with my mother that it had been a combination of her youth, naivete and low intelligence that had allowed him to cast his spell but since this new woman had none of that going on, I'm forced to accept that he must have had something going for him. Shows what I know.
Anyway, she was great. I can't remember her name, but I can remember really liking her. I mean, really liking her. You know how puppies can 'imprint' on the first thing to offer affection? That was our relationship; I knew her 2 days and I loved her to bits; by the end of the week I knew I never wanted to leave. Not only that, but she had a daughter, whose name I can remember; Alexandria, or Alex for short; and she was the cutest little thing you've ever seen in your life. I genuinely wanted them to be my Mam/Sister.
Then there was her house. She had a huge house, and a correspondingly huge garden; lots of time was spent there, working in that garden. And I mean working; she grew stuff and worked hard at it, it wasn't a lawn and a couple of borders job. We would all have to pitch in, and I loved it; didn't begrudge a second of it; although I did manage to break the watch that I had just received for my birthday (which fell while I was there; making my Mams attitude at the start of this little tale even colder, now I think of it). All told, I think that the time I spent at that house, with that family, was some of the happiest memories I have that involve my Dad. Shame it didn't last between them, really.
Another aspect of the trip to my Dad which brings a smile to my face, is Skippy. I met Skippy on the second day, and we were soon firm friends, in that way that kids have of instantly connecting with each other when they're too young to have learned yet that most people are knobheads. Skippy had earned his name by, and you'll never guess, skipping a lot; he couldn't walk for more than 20 seconds without involuntarily breaking into a weird skipping gait. This had, because kids are cruel, been the focus of much bullying and scorn, from the local kids. To his credit though, he actually embraced the name, and it's how he introduced himself to me when we first met. He still hated the taunting though; he wasn't that cool with it.
When I stayed with my Dad for the second (and last) time a couple of years later, I was really looking forward to re-connecting with Skippy (although I'm sure he hadn't given me a second thought in the intervening time) but it was not to be. I saw him only once, and he had... grown up, is the only way I can think of to describe it. We were the same age as each other and yet he seemed somehow older; there was a hardness to him that I felt unable to break through. In truth, he intimidated me. I heard from my Dad that there was talk of drink, of drugs, and of violence. Whatever the truth of that; how much of it was fact and how much the sadly all too common disdain that adults show for less privileged children; chavs, pikeys, delinquents; I'll never know but I knew that he had grown beyond my reach and age aside we had nothing in common any more. That fact still saddens me to this day, but in the selfish way that we all (or most of us) seem to have, I choose mostly to remember the good times, on that first trip, and smile.
*One particular member of the household, whose name is lost to the mists of time, was particularly nice to me. Had I been female, he might have been even nicer, but that is a story for another time (or perhaps not, given that it's more my sisters cross to bear than mine).