“You’re codswallop ain’t ya!”
That’s what my father used to say.
“Gibbledigoosh and codswallop, y’are! And don’t ya forget it!”
He would pick me up after school on Tuesdays, the day when it was his turn to have me for an evening. I’d get out of class chatting with my friends and there he’d be, standing by the gate smoking a cigarette looking ragtag and forlorn, like he wasn’t really sure he was in the right place. I suppose that’s how he felt about fatherhood, in a way.
“Hi, Pop.” I would say. He’d ask me how my day was without much interest and we’d begin our walk across town together. I bantered on in that eight year old way to him about what the teachers said and did that day. Together we crossed old streets down through the small old town. We would pass candy shops and old family houses standing inches apart. We would wave at the firemen as we passed the fire station, its red garage doors standing open showing off the gleaming trucks inside. We’d pass the pubs where my father would spend the nights with the lads reminiscing about women and fishing and various other drinking nights. Then we’d start up the steep hills lined with quaint turn-of-the-century houses of various pastel colours until, huffing, we would finally get to the old train station at the top. Passing that we’d walk through the football field on the highest part of town, the slippery mud from evening rains clinging to my black school shoes and trousers. We’d walk and I would look upon this friendly man, this old, tattooed fisherman with long hair and stained jeans, and quiz him with the simple curiosity of childhood.
“Pop” I’d say, “why don’t the robots just send a terminator back to the 1800’s and kill John’s Great Great Great Grandfather?”
“Dunno lad” he’d reply. “I’d watch that movie though!”
“Pop” I’d say, “how come Michael Jackson changed his skin colour? Can I change my skin?”
“He felt like it” he’d reply. “Wanna be a black man lad? You’d be a better dancer that’s for sure.”
“Pop” I’d say, “if Al is so unhappy in his marriage, why doesn’t he just leave Peggy? You left Mum easy enough.”
“I sure did boy” he’d reply. “And I’d do it again!”
My father never had much use for tact.
“Pop” I’d say, “why did you marry in the first place? Did you love her? Why don’t you now?”
My father would just ignore me when a question got too tough. Dissolve the whole thing into silence and hope it goes away. We’d stop at the end of the football pitch beside the square concrete public washrooms. It was where they set off the fireworks on Fireworks Day. Strewn about were triangular patches of dirt I supposed were designed for plants of some kind, but they always remained dirt patches.
We always stopped there on the walk. He liked to look at the view to a bit, do some reflecting, I supposed. He’d light a cigarette and breathe in the air and tell me that was his favourite spot. You could see so far from up there, all across town one way or another. You could see the houses lined up along the steep streets, little squares of yellow or blue or pink with patchwork rooftops. You could see all the way down to the docks and the fish factory and the open ocean beyond, see the big trawlers sitting in the murky waters. Rusted giants caught in nets of steel cables.
Pop hurt his back real bad on the boats a few years before. I didn’t know what happened, think maybe he got impaled by something on rough seas. You could tell he missed the work. His face creased when he looked down on those boats, or when his nose caught a particularly strong whiff of that salty, fishy aroma that never ceased to waft through town. I loved those moments with my father, standing there, waiting for him to break the spell with some inane comment.
“Well, Son, I tell ya – I gotta take a piss.”
Then he’d disappear for five minutes into the concrete block of public toilets, the stench of a hundred piss stains encroaching on my nostrils as the door swung open and closed.
This time, however, I hadn’t given up on getting an answer out of my father. Even to an eight year old “gotta take a piss” seemed like a lackluster reason to leave your wife, so after he finally appeared again and we made our way on, I pressed the question.
“Pop” I’d say, “you didn’t leave Mum to take a piss. I know. Did you love her Pop?”
“Of course I loved her, m’boy” he’d reply. “Married ‘er, didn’t I?”
“Then why did you leave her Pop?”
We turned off the field onto his street. It was a dainty new neighbourhood piled with small pink houses and little front gardens with tiny white fences. I remembered the area being brambles and bushes as far as you could see not too long before. I fell into a stinging nettle patch in there once, probably somewhere close to where my fathers new house sat.
We walked in silence a bit more. I could tell my father was still mulling the question, seeing how he could best dodge it without any follow up. The mud from my shoes left gradually dissipating brown footsteps on the new white pavement. The rainclouds above conspired to wash them away.
Finally, he broke the silence with his usual dose of profound wisdom.
“Son” he’d say, “the truth is, at the end of the day, love ain’t nothin’ but a bunch o’ codswallop. It comes and it goes. ”
He’d slap a meaty hand on my shoulder and guffaw a little. The humour of slaying part of my eight year old innocence with such a blunt statement was apparently not lost to him. The first lines on my own face came from those bitter truths he’d lay upon me when taking a piss wasn’t a good enough distraction.
“Ain’t nothin’ but gibbledigoosh and codswallop an’ you’re best off rememberin’ that.”
As a shadow fell across my young heart so too did a stony wind kick up at that moment, shaking my bones and ruffling my hair. It was one of those winds that foreshadowed the hardships of growing up that lay ahead.
“Does that mean you wont love me anymore sometime too, Pop?”
Looking back now, from across the way of how things ended up being, it’s funny to think how poignant such an innocent question can be.
My father stopped in the street and looked at me. His face was hard, as if he somehow knew the years would soon begin to pull us apart.
“No, Son” he’d say. “I will never stop loving you.”
And he really meant it.
“Because you’re codswallop ain’t ya!”
My fathers usual approach to a difficult talk he just wanted to end.
“Gibbledigoosh and codswallop, y’are! And don’t ya forget it!”
I knew better than to push the topic at that point. Then, affectionately, he’d give me a ‘bloody great clip right round the ear’ as he called it, whipping my head forward. It was just one of those things. If I moaned about it I’d get another one and that would be the end of it. If I bothered to ask why I’d just gotten a clip round the ear after being told how loved I was, I’d usually get some excuse about it being “for later, when ya do something bad.”
It was hard to argue with that logic.
Drops of rain would begin falling on my head at some point around here, just before we’d get to my fathers house. That’s how I remember things from back then. The sky was almost always overcast grey in that small seaside down, the rain always just about to fall, my memories always damp and cold.
I held his hand as we crossed the street.
It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen my father. Maybe longer. Oh, he’s still alive, in that old small fishing town with it’s smelly public pissers and muddy football fields, it’s rusting trawlers and pretty pastel houses. He sends me a message once in a while asking how I’m doing, telling me he misses his son.
But to me, it’s all a bit of codswallop really.
Gibbledigoosh and codswallop.