The old ones are the best
William Byford gives a performance as understudy
Yesterday I drove to the coast to spend a couple of days with my father. In the late morning, my brother arrived to join us for lunch. As the local pub turned out to be shut for the day, we strayed further afield and ended at a gastro-pub close to the sea-shore.
My father has a reservoir of anecdotes and stories, 95% of which have been heard at one time or another by everyone in the family, including his grandchildren. I personally have heard most of them at least thirty times each, and probably a lot more.
There are two notable aspects to this state of affairs.
Firstly, I have now stopped holding my hand up whenever he begins one of his old chestnuts with “Do stop me if I’ve told you this one before …”. To do so seems almost cruel and these days I just allow him to proceed. It’s borderline disrespectful to deny him the chance to dominate the conversation for a brief moment.
Secondly, an endearing trait, whenever my father embarks upon one of his stories, he tells it in a similar way every time.
I was going to write ‘in the same way every time’ there, but my father would never allow it. For example, when guests are giving their food order in a restaurant, and someone says “I’ll have the fish” … and then the next guest says “I’ll have the same” … my father picks them up on it – “You cannot have the same, only similar!”
Back to my point. When my father begins one of his familiar stories, it’s like going to the theatre night after night and seeing a well-known play containing many famous lines, inflections, ‘bits of business’ and sometimes asides on the way to the punch-line. You know the anecdote so well that you can practical repeat the lines, the hand gestures and any stresses or emphases in the speech along with the actor.
As it happens – at the lunch table yesterday – I told one of my father’s jokes for him. The name of a particular lady (now well into her nineties) came up in conversation and – because my brother had not heard it – I told the story of the time, a couple of years ago, that my father went around to her house in his sports car to give her a lift to a reception they were both attending.
As she got into the front passenger seat, my father helped her secure her seat-belt and then said to her: “Hang onto your hat, because when I open the throttle up, you may find your legs going back over your head!”
“Well, that hasn’t happened for a while …” she responded.