Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Father's and Gulliver's Travels : how I came to be special

In the 1950s when we lived in Clement Park my Daddy worked at the Timex factory at Camperdown.
He appeared to us to be a very clever person of some status because he often had to travel on business to Besançon in France where there was also a Timex watchmaking factory, and he regularly flew across the Atlantic to visit the US Time Corporation, which was then the parent organisation of Timex.  The headquarters of  US Time were situated  in Waterbury, Connecticut. His visits there were, as I remember, all to do with his work of designing and producing watches, among which were ones with Mickey Mouse, Cinderella or Hopalong Cassidy on their dials. At the time I think he was engaged in the design and production process of a newly patented watch mechanism called "V- Conic".

Here is an impression of the Hotel Waterbury, where Daddy stayed when he was on the other side of the Atlantic. I've published it because I remember a black and white photographic postcard of this view which he sent to us at home in Dundee.

In those days my younger sister and I thought it quite something to have such an  exotic father : one who travelled to these faraway places. I didn't know anyone else who had been abroad, only my Uncle Jim who had been wounded in 1940 during the second world war by shots fired from a Stuka dive bomber on the beach at Dunkirk. Thinking back now it strikes me as strange that I never thought to rank on my very short list of people who had been abroad my Mummy's three brothers who were all seamen in the merchant navy which was the career of choice for many young men from Dundee in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. That's a story for another time.

When he was working in Dundee we seldom saw Daddy during the week except briefly at breakfast and for a short period before we went to bed. He arrived home from work about half past six. We'd have our tea with him before we ascended the stairs to bed at about a quarter past seven.

We saw more of him at weekends when he would drive us to Broughty Ferry or as far as Glen Clova for our Sunday picnics but most of the time our lives revolved around our Mummy and particularly so when Daddy was in America or Europe. Our  weekly family Sunday sojourns to Arbroath did not really begin until my youngest sister was born in 1955. Another tale waiting to be told.

Daddy did seem distant and not only when he was away from home. Mummy - except when she was crabbit with him - gave us the impression that he was very important and successful and so it came as a surprise to us when one evening -  I was about 9 at the time  and my sister was about 8 -  Daddy, returning from work, announced that he would be reading to us each night. After tea he sat in his armchair in the living room and we sat on the floor looking up at him and listening to him as he read to us for about 15 minutes from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. He did not read from an edition adapted for children but from a big old dusty volume with the original text of the 18th century political satire. As I recall he read to us every night for about a fortnight until he had to leave us yet again to work in the USA for a few months. The ritual of the reading ended and was never to be repeated. This didn't matter. His job was already done.

My sister and I had not understood a word of what Daddy read to us, 18th century syntax was a mystery to us but we sat there still, intent and silent every evening listening in awe to my Daddy''s voice and feeling very esteemed that our father, this distant yet important man had read to us. It may not have been the most warm expression of love but it was a precious gift which I've carried with me throughout my life. If this father, our Daddy had taken time to read to us then we must be very special children indeed. 
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