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Year Two: An Arrest in Development

My father became intimately involved with alcohol as the ennui of retirement fermented. He had developed a considerable desire for what he called “the hard stuff”. Whether he meant alcoholic spirits or the floorboards of his dining room was hard to define, as his closeness to one would most often follow the other.

It began harmlessly enough, with a simple, respectable, occasional vomit from a sleeping state on a Chesterfield in the middle of one of the many soirees he so frequently attended. Fellow party-goers would in fact cheer and rejoice now that the bar for debauchery had been set at a stoopable height, and hosts would find delight in the opportunity to get their money’s worth from the help and say abusive things about unionism. 

During these fraughtful times, Father skillfully avoided renown as a racist by procuring medical documentation assuring that his myriad bigoted outbursts were the result of a toxic reaction to coltsfoot rock. Not that it mattered. In those unenlightened days, decrying continental Europe and expelling bodily fluid to the carpet of your associate’s magnificently-appointed Edwardian manse was considered the height of sophistication. Such was my father’s stature and elegance, that he even set something of a fashion among the local youth, and soon enough men of Oxbridge pedigree would gather at high-end establishments to quaff brandy and see if they could impress female wait-staff by burning gastro-acidic holes through each others’ coats over the course of a weekend. A small town in Wales even made some sort of festival out of it involving a dry fruit cake, as all small towns in Wales are want to do anytime something remotely interesting happens.

But father’s drinking became as frequent as the rising sun, and often synchronised to it. People began to speak his name in muted and slurred tones, and the social invites began to peter out. The help found it more manageable to simply list on his calendar events he had been requested to avoid. Sunday mornings were immediately blacked out by one of the two clergymen who would visit on consecutive fortnights to haul away the paper-bail that served as Father’s absentee confessional, and insist that God is everywhere so the floor of his downstairs toilet was as good as coming to their church.

He would come to my house late at night in the company of a mysterious acquaintance; a slender and serious man known to me only as Pipsy. I would awake to boisterous knocking at my door and a cloud of hazed perry, and my father, barely able to stand up, would slur endlessly about his grandiose plans to write a musical based on the Book of Joshua. He would stumble over the pronunciation of the word ‘Deuteronomistic’ and then the cat.

“Pipsy shall play Joshua,” he would declare, face down on the floor.

“I’m very good,” Pipsy would follow. He said so with all the frequency of one who wasn’t.

“And I shall play Moses!” Father would say. 

When I confronted him with the issue of Moses’ inevitable admission from the work, due to having died by that biblical chapter, he would hurl a bottle toward me and cry out, “Moses’ ghost! You godless boy!” and then pass out in the hallway. Pipsy would then loyally curl into a ball next to my father and growl at me if I came too close. This happened almost every full moon for six months, and I began to worry.

Father’s iceberg finally tipped on a fateful day in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, to which I was an attendant. We were there to pay our respects to the late Sir Derek Elrington, who had recently died of shock following the Earl of Zetland’s decision to shoot him four times in the chest. His widow had requested a beach-funeral, assuring us all that it was what her husband had wanted, and that the burial fees were much more reasonable. There were approximately two dozen mourning souls gathered on the shores of the North Sea, and two or three other souls who were taking it all rather well. Elrington’s widow had just finished distributing plastic spades to us all following her very moving and distracting series of spoken eulogic limericks, and we stood waiting patiently for the tide to bring the coffin back in.

Father had brought a barely-clad German prostitute named Katrina with him to the funeral. In those unenlightened and more conservative days, such an action was considered to be in poor taste. He was drunk and had been for an impressive while. At the time when his current binge had begun, the recently departed was not so. A chilled ocean breeze rocked my father back and forth and a half-empty bottle of Kentucky bourbon hung from his fingers. Elrington’s widow had begun sobbing mournfully as somebody had just handed her a bill for the catering.

In the corner of my eye, I could see Father’s empty hand work its way toward Katrina’s left buttock, only to be swatted away by the German.

“How much for a little bit of randy in the sandy?” Father rasped and submitted another application to grope her.

“Nein!” Katrina exclaimed, again pushing him away. Father dug into his pocket and began counting out nine shillings.

“Father,” I intervened. “Now is not the time to be engaging physically with our prostitutes.”

“Nonsense, there is plenty of time.” He gestured toward the sea where a small pod of porpoises appeared to be prodding Elrington’s coffin toward Norway. The widow appeared to weep more heavily. She was all too aware of Scandinavian customs fees.

Katrina was having none of this, despite Father’s attempts to thrust money at her. 

“Halt!” She cried, knocking the coins from his hand, but Father refused to relent.

The other attendees were obeying British tradition and stood silently, ignoring the commotion and hoping it would soon pass – a strategy that would become famously military in the coming decades. I was compelled by a sense of family duty to extinguish the brewing tension. 

“Father. Please. This is a time of mourning. There will be plenty of time to violate Germans later.”

“Don’t speak to me in that tone, Boy. This is what Derek would have wanted,” he lied. Sir Elrington was a devout Catholic and a very prominent member of the germanophobic community; he would be rolling in his grave, given enough assistance from the porpoises.  

Katrina’s patience finally wore through and she slapped my father’s cheek with the might of a thousand Kaisers. She roared what sounded like vulgar obscenity (a police report would later translate it to be German for “The weather’s not as bad as forecasted”) as my father recoiled. Father was not overjoyed. He immediately retaliated by throwing the bourbon bottle toward Katrina, but his aim was poor and it hit the face of the Wife of the Earl of Zetland, who was in attendance to apologise to everyone for all the bother.

It had finally become too much for all the mourners and they exorcised their misery as one, by subduing Father and hitting him repeatedly with their spades. Elrington’s widow was busy hurriedly scooping nine shillings from the sand, but she stopped briefly to curse our family name. 

“Fuck off, Smacker, you drunk cunt!” she suggested.

Eventually, two constables arrived to break up the tiff and they arrested my father for the attempted murder of the Wife of the Earl of Zetland. They arrested Katrina also but later released her when it turned out she was an undercover police officer working to infiltrate the North Yorkshire counterfeit-rhubarb trade.

Father was eventually convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labour in HM Wakefield, an experience that would leave him permanently shattered. 

Horrifically, this left me with a tarnished surname and in the awkward position of lacking legal guardianship. At my young age, this meant only one thing; An imprisonment of my own in a London orphanage. My calm and simple life was set to endure chaos and I feared I was not ready.

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