A memory I'll focus on this Father's Day
Tomorrow is Father's Day and so I'd like to dedicate this column to my own beloved dad Frank. I've done the same thing every Father's Day weekend since I started writing for the Tele 10 years ago, but I'll never run out of stories.
Growing up in a large family with seven brothers and sisters was a fantastic experience, but one of the few drawbacks was that we rarely got time alone, one-to-one, with either parent. We certainly didn't miss out on companionship; in a family of 10 you never lack company. In fact, it was often so noisy and chaotic that I would seek sanctuary at the far end of the garden, sitting on the swing between the apple trees, watching the birds. Mum used to call me Francis of Assisi, not only because he was my patron Saint, but also because like him I had such an affinity with our feathered friends. I would put scraps of food out to attract them and then sit silently until they appeared.
At first it was just common sparrows and starlings who joined me, but once it became a regular routine, the news spread via twittering across the tree tops and eventually I had goldfinches and bullfinches, robins and wrens, blue tits and coal tits all appearing excitedly as I took my seat.
One day I even attracted a magnificent green woodpecker - an exciting first to our garden. I remember I was so overcome with delight I ran back into the house to share the glad tidings, expecting a mass exodus to follow me back to view the exotic rarity. However, Star Trek was on and the entire family were riveted to their seats and couldn't give a proverbial hoot.
All except dad that is, who pretended to share my enthusiasm and went to get his camera. So as Bones declared "it's life Jim, but not as we know it" for the umpteenth time that series, dad and I crept back down the garden and waited motionlessly until it returned, in a flash of vibrant colour at dusk to claim its supper.
Moments like that, alone with dad or mum, were few and far between, but all equally memorable. Sharing their attention with seven siblings was an everyday fact of life. In fact, sharing everything was all we ever knew. But on the flip-side there were certain distinct advantages to being one of a horde and for me as a young 'material girl', these were mostly birthday-related. I would often get four times more presents than my school friends who hailed from a more modest-sized brood. Even if I got just one gift per head of the population, this would amount to nine.
However, one year I got a present which eclipsed all the others. It was a pair of binoculars - the most grown-up present I had ever received - and the most precious. And one of the reasons that they were so special is that they were dad's idea and he took me, just me, on a day trip to get them from an auction house in Longridge where I was allowed to bid for them like a grown-up. I think we got them for a guinea - yes I am that old ... pre-decimal currency!
We even stopped for a lovely pub lunch afterwards on the way home.
Of course, everyone thought I had a screw loose, to be so thrilled to receive a pair of binoculars at the age of seven. But dad didn't. He had noticed my quirky interest in 'twitching' and encouraged it until it became a life-long passion. Forty five years later I still have the same hobby and the same binoculars.
Of course, by modern standards they are very old-fashioned and cumbersome. Instead of the sleek, lightweight rubber ones that you get now, these are about three times the weight with about half the scope capacity. They're clumsy to wear and awkward to use and if I'm going birdwatching I'll leave them at home in favour of a high-tech 21st century pair.
But they still go with me every time I'm in England staying with dad. "Remember when we got these, dad?" I'll say, as we sit up the garden watching the green woodpeckers flitting from bough to bough feeding their young.