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After 10 years, I still yearn to talk to Dad on phone

By Gail Walker

Published 19/05/2015

Belfast Telegraph Editor Gail Walker on a day out with her late father
Belfast Telegraph Editor Gail Walker on a day out with her late father

Social media fascinates and appals me. It's highly addictive, too - I lie awake in the dark, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, certain that if I give it another couple of minutes, something - anything - is bound to happen. I love that "breaking news" element. I'm less sure about the people who befriend me only to bombard my timeline with political opinions - the hectoring, bullying fascists of cyberspace who won't brook any debate.

Best of all, though, is the feeling of not being alone. I've kept vigil in A&E in the small hours and sent out a tentative little tweet about my whereabouts only to have my phone's little red-eye instantly start blinking determinedly back at me; friends bringing comfort and solidarity. Sometimes, too, feeling low, you share your most intimate thoughts, as I did recently, only to be completely lifted up by the response.

It was the 10th anniversary of my Dad's death. Minutes after the exact time he died I wrote this on Facebook and put it up with a photo of us from a day out: "I've been working really hard all day on a great exclusive for tomorrow's newspaper. Really, it's an amazing story. The sort of story that, back when I could have done so, I wouldn't have been able to resist ringing my Dad and giving him a sneak preview of it. Instead, I stopped for a couple of moments, just before 10pm, and sat in silent reflection, marking the 10th anniversary of his death right down to the very minute.

"Ten years. Hard to fathom it. If I had been able to call him tonight, he'd have answered the phone the way he always answered every call from me: 'Hello, my darling'. When I was a news reporter and had the splash in that day's paper, his opening words would have been: 'Hello, my darling, top of the paper tonight'. I can still hear his voice as clear as if I'd just put down the phone from him. I wish I had just put down the phone from him.

"There's so much I'd like to talk to him about. Even just about the new cat, Parlour Tom that he is. Or the tomato plants that soon I'll install in his greenhouse for the 10th year running and watch, green-ish fingers crossed. Or how I hope he thinks we did ok when other traumas arrived and he wasn't here to hold the line. We did our best. We missed you.

"I could write thousands of words here. Don't worry, I won't. It's just that I have so many good memories of wonderful times. He was a great friend, and the distance between then and now has only served to illuminate that further. Things I really love about him? OK, very briefly. Growing up in the Troubles, he made sure we made friends on 'the other side' even when he met with side-of-the-mouth jibes from people who called themselves friends. He was his own man. He could save stricken starlings and dormice even when all hope was lost.

"He'd marvel and speculate and wonder about old derelict buildings when we were out for walks across the fields, taking us into lost houses with no windows and grass carpets, firing our imaginations. He wasn't a reporter but he would have been a great one; a news junkie, he took us to crime scenes when the news was still breaking 'just to see'.

"He also loved people and knew they were at the heart of every story. This pic is of the two of us on a day out years ago. He has just said, or is about to say, something very funny, maybe a wry quip about the ridiculous comb-over I seem to be sporting.

"Like I said, I'd have liked to phone him tonight. I mean, 10 years is a very long time... but I'm sending this out into cyberspace with huge amounts of love and, some place, I know - I just know it - he'll pick it up. Hello, my darling."

That was it. A little resumé of my day and my loss. But people were so kind. Old schoolpals, whom Dad had run home after a night at our house, or bantered with over a meal, said how glad they were to see him again. Another friend said: "Never mind the dormice, what about Bat Rescue?"

I'd forgotten all about that high-drama weekend, when Dad had found an injured baby bat and somehow ended up tracking down Bat Rescue, who pulled up in a van to take away the patient. People recalled him with such affection. It made it all real again.

Briefly, I'd a faltering thought about what Dad would have made of all this. Modest and unassuming, he'd have been embarrassed by the kind words.

But he also knew me well enough to know why I'd had to do it: an emergency of the soul.

In a strange way, too, I feel he looked in on us all again. Just in case, the tomato plants went in at the weekend.

Follow me on Twitter, @GWalker9

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