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Donkin's World: Father's Day

Richard Donkin remembers his father and uncles in the following fine poem.

I turned to my Facebook page and found that some friends were replacing their profile images with those of their fathers for a day or two to mark Fathers' Day. My dad died a few years back so I can no longer send him a fathers' day card. This seemed a nice way to remember him.

It started me thinking about my uncles too, now all dead; and one uncle in particular, uncle Leslie who never married and never had children. I have a few old pictures of relatives and I've noticed that all the best pictures from the war years (that's the second world war) are the studio photographs, usually of men in uniform. Once in the forces, young men would nip in to their nearest studio and get a picture taken for their mums, dads and sweethearts. Then I thought of all those profile pictures of men and women in our forces today, taken now as a matter of routine and passed on to the media in the event of their death. So I wrote this poem:

Fathers’ Day

Their best pictures were in uniform,
Studio shots for the mantelpiece,
Dad and uncles Cyril and Leslie.
Cyril was a desert rat,
Les a fitter in the RAF,
Dad was Royal Engineers,
Sporting his Robert Donat lip,
That was before they married,
Though Leslie never did,
Preferring a solitary life
In the attic flat I never saw,
That’s where they found him dead.

There wasn’t much to mark his final years,
Ticket stubs for operas in his drawer,
“I never knew our Les liked opera,”
That’s what uncle Cyril said,
Dad had Leslie’s tool box,
And when dad died it came to me,
Drill bits in pastel tins.
“A funny bloke,” my dad would say,
“That’s funny peculiar,” he would add.
He found the heat from light bulbs too intense,
So spread a newspaper on his head,
That was our Les, said uncle Cyril.

Thinking back I can’t remember
A single thing that uncle Leslie said,
But I hear him now,
Cadences in the worn tools
He handled with such skill.
They sing in their work,
Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini,
The cold opera of a fitter’s life,
Remembered otherwise in a blue surge cap,
Like those we see today
Campaign faces captured now,
In pixelated detail,
Smiling for an infinite future,
Reproduced online, TV and in the press,
To veil their violent passing
In a measureless war,
To gaze at us, preserved
This day for men and fathers.


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