As lockdown gives us more time to think, I’ve been thinking about my Dad more than usual – a lovely and a sad topic.
Some of the happiest times we had together were when we listened to music, particularly Billy Joel, but also Chris de Burgh and The Beatles.
I don’t remember us ever really listening to Wings, but I’ve discovered them as an adult through Spotify and their wondrous not Christmassy but definitely Christmassy song Mull of Kintyre.
And then there is Live and Let Die, a song I knew through the Guns N’ Roses cover, and its use in the epically fantastic 1997 John Cusack film Grosse Pointe Blank – listen carefully as the cover morphs into muzak as Blank walks into the Ultimart. Pure class.
Jet, My Love, Let ‘Em In, and of course Band On The Run, have also been hiding somewhere in my subconscious for years because that’s how Paul McCartney works – he’s everywhere (in a good way), but my ultimate favourite at the moment has to be Silly Love Songs.
I’m a complete romantic and I love a good tune. And what a good tune it is. The funky groovy driving and thudding bass – I just love how high in the mix it is, the joyous dancing horns, the violins, the way it slows and speeds up as the song transitions from one section to the next in an entirely natural waltzing way. And of course the lyrics, so entirely happy and merry and delightful. I just love it, it makes me fizz and dance about.
And I love that it was written as a gentle riposte to John Lennon and others for being a bit sneery about McCartney’s music.
Turn it up loud (but not right now as it is 22.23 and I should be going to bed), dance about and give someone a good squeeze and a cuddle after.
Some of you might be aware that my father died last November, aged 62. He had been suffering from colon problems and it was decided that an operation was the best course of action.
Unfortunately, after a successful operation, my father had a cardiac event whilst still in theatre. The event restricted the flow of oxygen to his brain, and because of this he was kept permanently sedated until the doctors thought it safe to gradually bring him round.
Sadly for the family, my father never regained consciousness. His behaviour also indicated a loss of higher brain function and if he was ever going to wake up, he would never be my Dad again.
Two weeks after the operation he passed away. As sad as we were, we were grateful he hadn’t been in that situation for too long, he would have hated it.
Twenty years after my mother died I decided to write a blog about her life. I’m not doing the same now, but I am sharing the eulogy I wrote for his funeral on the 6th of December.
I started planning the eulogy shortly after his death and it gradually evolved into a long ten minute speech, a length I’m sure he would have been proud of! I’m glad I wrote everything down, not only to share with you, but because reciting it was a nerving experience, and having the bit of paper to read off was quite stabilising.
I asked to talk first as I wanted to talk about Dad’s life in London and Northamptonshire, a life many of you might not know about. I also wanted to talk about my Mum as I was too young to have this kind of opportunity back in 1991, aged seven.
So, this is a bit of a story about two people who aren’t with us anymore, but who touched my life, and my family’s lives in many ways.
My mum, Rita Anne Westcott, was born in Greenwich at St Alfege’s hospital – as was my brother Andrew, three minutes walk from my current home with Sam – a fact I only discovered a few years ago when doing the Ruffle-Westcott family tree – but a fact I love and hold dear.
She was born thirteen days before my Dad on the 13th February 1951 and lived in Greenwich with her older sister Yvonne and her parents Bill and Joyce. They lived in a rented house at 9 Circus Street, Greenwich as Bill worked at Greenwich Power Station as an engineer.
A few years later they moved to Catford where my mum and Yvonne went to Rathfern Primary School and where the family settled until the 1970s.
In another part of south-east London, Beckenham – then part of Kent, my Dad was born nine days later on the 22nd February 1951. Like my mum and brother, my Dad and I were also born in the same hospital in Beckenham, but it no longer exists – also like the hospital in Greenwich – they were both closed in the early 2000’s.
My Dad’s parents were Philip Ruffle and Brenda Ward, they married in March 1950 and lived together until my Dad was five when they divorced in 1955. I don’t believe it was a very happy marriage but I do know my Nan loves my Dad to pieces and if I had known my grandfather, I’m sure he would have felt the same.
Philip and Brenda both re-married and had children with their new partners. Philip married Audrey York and moved to Canvey Island in Essex where he had two more children in the 1960s – Alison and Diane.
Brenda married Sidney Hawkes and had Jeanette in the late 1950s, and Dad remained with his mum and grew up in Penge with his step-dad and sister Jeanette.
I understand Dad didn’t see his father Philip very often, but I’ve heard stories of summers and weekends in Canvey, and my Dad always spoke fondly of his time there. Unfortunately, the older he got, the less he knew that part of the family.
For my part, I didn’t even realise that part of the family existed until we all got in touch a few short years ago. And I know he was sad that he missed knowing his other two sisters and that part of the family for many years.
As a number of the people here will know, my Grandad Ruffle died in 1978 when Dad was 27. I never knew him and neither did my brother or my cousins Rob, Emily, Raphael and Zachary. Alison and Diane would have been teenagers when he died as well.
I believe my Dad felt the loss greatly, but he spoke of his Dad often and was very proud of the children’s stories his Dad wrote and had published.
Back in 1962 or so, my Dad had passed his 11+ and went to Bromley Technical High School where he studied various art disciplines as part of his O level and A level studies. Here I’d like to read some information from paulruffle.com – an illuminating guide to my father’s life if you care to read more!
“Our art teacher was Owen Frampton (father of Peter Frampton). He had experience as a graphic designer and guided us through the various skills of drawing, painting, graphic design and typography, very similar to a foundation course at art college. He also taught us history of architecture for the written part of the A level art exam. Another teacher in the art department, Brian Eacersall, taught us furniture design in conjunction with our woodwork lessons. We also had a Polish art teacher called Mr Pilowski, who was as mad as a hatter. This was all quite unique for a group of boys aged 14-16 in the mid-sixties.
Mr Frampton’s aim (we called him Ossie) was for us all to leave the Art stream with an A level in art and a portfolio of decent work. He had contacts in ad agencies and art studios, and he would arrange job interviews for us, and that’s how I got my first job in 1967 with London art studio George Godman Ltd in Fareham Street (off Dean Street). The studio sent me to St Martins School of Art, but I learnt a lot more from Owen Frampton.”
This love of art and graphic design instilled itself in my Dad, and his creative brain took him to Soho and eventually to the bright lights of Kettering, Northamptonshire where I always thought of him as the “RCI time share company multi-language brochure man”. However, before I talk about then I’d like to talk about my parents before Andrew and I came along.
My parents met as teenagers in the 1960s and married aged nineteen in November 1970. I gather it was a wet rainy day as there are photos of my mum standing on a plastic sheet to protect her dress from the rain. They both met through the religion they followed, and they were both Jehovah’s Witnesses for a large portion of their lives.
I believe they might have married young because of their religion, but I also believe they were very happy together for the first part of their marriage and that their lives together in Catford brought them a lot happiness and perhaps a sense of order and control – something I believe you all know my father believes in!
I love looking at photos of them together in the early 1970s, they look amazing! And as someone who never really knew her mother or understood her parents separation when I was five, I look at these photos and think of a time when differences in religion, illness and sadness hadn’t permeated the lives of everyone in my extended family. I really look to this time as a happy one and it is important to me to know my parents were happy for a while.
Another piece of happiness for my parents was my brother Andrew, he was planned and looked forward to with such love and came into this world in June 1977, when The Sex Pistols, Kenny Rogers and Barbara Streisand were in the Top 10.
As I grew older I learnt my mum suffered from post-natal depression after my brother was born – how this was dealt with in the 1970s I don’t know, but my Dad said this was a very difficult time and he didn’t know what to do or how to fix the situation.
I came along as a suprise seven years later, or as “an accident” as Dad described to me gleefully a few years ago!
However, by this time, the mid-80s, my parents relationship wasn’t what it was. My Dad was questioning his faith and they were drifting apart. They separated in 1989 not long after we moved from Catford, London to a house near Stamford in Lincolnshire. We moved because of Dad’s employment with RCI and I expect the significant lifestyle change might have finally split them up. I don’t know for sure but by the time I was six it didn’t matter.
My mum got breast cancer. I get the impression she didn’t tell anyone for a while – I know my Dad didn’t know about it until very late in the game. After treatment she went into remission. But this remission was short-lived and the cancer came back spreading quickly to the liver and other organs in the autumn of 1991. By November the 11th she had died aged 40.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses my parents hadn’t divorced, so my Dad was a widower at 40 and had a seven year old and fourteen year old to look after at an awful time.
How I’ve felt about this time, is that my Dad was there, he looked after me, he loved me, and he was my Dad.
I’ve never felt like he didn’t do the best for me, or that he wasn’t there for me.
There were times he had to travel for work but we had family, we had my Nan Brenda and my Aunt Jeanette and they were the best surrogate parents I could ask for. I’ve never felt more loved or looked after by those two people and that has never changed even though we have wildly different outlooks and beliefs.
I’m so grateful to my family for looking after me and my brother, and for my Dad to have always been there for me, in person or at the end of the phone.
I can’t speak for how my brother felt at the time, he was older, he was a teenager, but we both love our Dad immensely and are so grateful to have had him in our lives.
After this horrible time my Dad found a lady called Diana and for a number of years they were happy and I had a really good friend to help me as I became a teenager and went through secondary school. My life felt really secure at that time and was in a very happy situation.
By the time Dad and Diana split up, and Dad had been made redundant by RCI – both in 2000, I was in 6th form and Dad and I became very close. I was old enough to be someone he could talk to, and we would spend hours and hours talking about how we felt and what work and school were like.
This was quite a lonely time for Dad but I look back on it fondly because I really felt I helped him deal with being single again – probably for the first time in his life since he met my mum.
One of my favourite memories from this time is from when I first went out late for an evening with my school friends. We were going to the local rock club to “dance” to the rock hits of the 2000’s and Dad decided to wait up for me before going to bed. He had asked me when I was coming home so I gave him a time. When I came home at that time, his response was to say, “I don’t need to worry about you now because I can trust you to come home when you say you will”. The memory of him waiting up to see if I was safely home has always made me smile and feel safe.
By 2002 Dad had finally finished his undergraduate degree in Physics. Started in 1989 through The Open University he had been building up the degree bit by bit for the last 12 years. This was also excellent timing because we were both able to sell the house and go to University the same year!
This was a brilliant time! I was so happy to leave Kettering – as Dad was! I went to Leeds, Dad went to Manchester and we spent four or five years studying happily either side of The Pennines. We would regularly cross the border to visit each other and our greatest bit of fun was going to the cinema together and both showing our Student IDs for discounted entry!
I was very proud to graduate in 2006 with my Dad watching, and to then see Dad graduate a few months later as a Doctor, a very silly Doctor but still one at that.
By this time Dad had met Rose through the perils of online dating. His fear was that she might be an “eco-warrior” was unfounded, thank goodness! And he managed to not bore her to death with his first date lecture on astrophysics – I apparently rang Dad during the date and this conversation thankfully showed another side to his character that didn’t make him seem like he was only interested in himself.
So, Rose took a risk and took on the astrophysicist, and even moved to the rural backwater of West Virginia with him when he took a job at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory after completing his PhD. They had a lovely time in The Riley House and it was great to go over and see Dad getting to fulfill his dreams even as an old fart. And standing on the main radio telescope was pretty cool too!
I’m really glad that Dad got a cool job in another part of the world after graduation, he was really proud of his PhD and his time in Green Bank. I think it made his gradual semi-retirement a happy one.
Most of you here will know Dad from his life at Owlers, a very happy life and home in a house that Rose and he built. Rose got her Aga, Dad got to re-wire everything and they even got sheep, six in all!
I’m very glad Dad has had such a happy life these past few years, and that he got to see me meet Sam and see us build a life together. They got on so well talking about programming, even though I was bored to tears most of the time it made me very happy to know they approved of each other.
I know Dad knows Sam will always look after me, and I’m glad we can both tell our children about their grandad Paul and nanny Rita.
I will miss him so dreadfully but like everyone here I will do my best to remember all his silly jokes, how loud he blew his nose, how much he loved me, and how he gave the best, greatest, biggest hugs ever.
Love you Dad.
Paul Michael Emile Ruffle, 22nd February 1951 – 21st November 2013