Sail Away – Chapter Five – My Father, the Zero

Chapter Five – My Father, the Zero

My father’s full name was Jonas Jebediah Wright and he was pretty cool really, all things considered. He was 5” 10 with piercing blue eyes andwith his short blonde hair approaching a flat-top, he resembled a less muscular salesman version of Guile from “Street Fighter”. He always wore a shirt and tie, except on Sundays when he would break out a novelty t-shirt and a pair of old jeans. Sundays were important in the Wright household.

Nobody left the house and nothing, except bad DIY and the cooking of the Sunday Roast, got done. My enduring memory of the old man will always be watching him bent backwards, screwing a shelf to the wall, asking me to pass him his cup of tea as the shelf swung slowly down to hit him in the head. Good times.

Mum was an expert at roasting. Our potatoes were always crisp on the outside, fluffy inside, the beef always crusty yet tender, the carrots still retained their bite. It was a shame that we didn’t roast Monday to Saturday too; she let standards slip during the week when we consumed everything that could be eaten with chips from the freezer. This even included spaghetti bolognese on one memorable Wednesday, alongside the ubiquitous baked beans or frozen peas.

Dad never complained, he just made sure he got the takeaway in once a week from the Indian or, disappointingly, the local chip shop. Occasionally, when Mum was out at one of her doomed evening classes (she never lasted more than two weeks at anything; belly dancing, Pilates, origami, you name it, she failed it), Dad would “cook” me dinner, usually a near-cremated pork chop with mashed potatoes and beans. I always did my best to sneak it out to the bin in the garden and raid the cupboards for Mini Cheddars and Penguin bars instead, but he knew what was going on. He knew what he’d given me was inedible but it was, like a disappointing Christmas present, the thought that counted.

On Sundays, if I was lucky, in between injuring himself with bits of the house, Dad would play games with me; a kick-about in the driveway, Hungry Hippos or, best of all, we’d turn the Xbox on and either beat the crap out of each other on “Marvel vs Capcom” or race the day away on “Kart-toons”.

The best thing about those Xbox days was that Dad sucked. He was raised on “Pong” and “Space Invaders”, games with only one joystick. He never quite mastered the dual analogue pad with two sticks, and his ape-like lack of thumb control meant I could lap him every time. He also decided, early on, that his favourite characters in either game were the biggest, fattest or stupidest available. This was good news for me, a fan of the spritely ninjas and small rodents, and I trounced him every single time. And it never, ever got boring.

Now I think about it, maybe he was just trying to give me a chance. I caught him playing “Kart-toons” at 3 in the morning when I had flu once. He told me he couldn’t sleep, but the empty beer bottles beside the armchair made me suspicious. The next day I logged in to his profile and found that his midnight gaming sessions happened at least three times a week and he’d beaten the game four times at least.  That Sunday I still kicked his ass all over the lounge. Normality was restored.

Saturday’s were just as routine, as reliable as clockwork. Dad took me out to watch Bristol City lose a couple times, but that was highly irregular behaviour. Saturday’s meant shopping in the morning and the football in the afternoon. As my parents hated Rupert Murdoch and paying for things, Sky TV was not an option. We’d get back from the supermarket in time for “Football Focus”, then depart for our separate lairs for a couple hours, mine being my room and my Nintendo DS, Dad’s the shed or his office where he’d pretend to be busy, while Mum cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom and tried, usually successfully, to get one of us to do the hoovering and/or mow the lawn in the summer. Then we’d meet back in the lounge for “Final Score” before tea.

Dad was a dyed in the wool City fan, but as is usual for fans of lower league sides, he also supported a Premier League side, Everton. I don’t know why he did, as far as I knew my parents had never been further north than London and didn’t even like the Beatles. But every Saturday, Dad would sit in front of “Final Score” wearing his blue “Up the Toffees” scarf and tell me that Manchester United were a bunch of glory hunters, Liverpool were not as good as they used to be, and that my team, Arsenal, were a bunch of “soft Southerners” in his thick West Country accent. Bristol City were only discussed on the very rare occasions that they won a game, or the not so rare occasions when they got their asses handed to them on a silver platter.

Dad was a bit of an enigma, all things told. I knew that Mum was an only child, born in Weston-super-Mare in the early 1960s to Ernest and Eileen Southon, my grandparents, who died before I was ten. Like Mum, I had no siblings, no cousins to speak of. But Dad, he never talked about his life before us. It was as though his family had ceased to exist before Mum and I came along to fill his empty, clandestine life. As far as I knew, he had probably been born in a test tube and raised as a photocopying slave in a paper company’s sales office, forced to wear a shirt and tie and fed things that could be cooked with a toaster or a kettle; just a lonely, miniature version of his adult self, listening to the football on radio Five Live and failing to hang shelves over and over again, like a five second clip of “The Office” stuck on repeat.

He had no photographs, and no childhood friends ever called him up out of the blue. He wouldn’t even tell me why he wouldn’t tell me about his childhood. He countered every searching question I asked him with one of his own; how was my essay on Napoleon going, why was I talking with my mouth full, or some other stock parental get out. I soon stopped asking him where my cousins, my other grandparents were; it was more hassle than it was worth and I never got anywhere. I sometimes used to imagine that perhaps he used to be a secret agent, infiltrating the corrupt paper industry like a decoupage James Bond, but I just couldn’t buy my own fantasies. They didn’t make sense applied to the man. The truth was, it seemed, simple. My father was as blank and predictable as the ticking of the minimalistic clock in our old hall; just a couple hands whirling endlessly in front of a paper white face like he always had and always would. I wish he’d never stopped.

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