“Britain, right or wrong.” My Dad also used to say that, just to make me mad.Born in 1899 and married to a much younger woman – my mother Peggy was only 25 when she married Bill in 1945 – he was a brave soldier of the Great War, a hard working chartered accountant, a man who believed in paying his bills on time, who was scrupulously loyal to his wife and his friends but who, alas, could be a bigot, a bully, an outrageous racist, a pint-in-the-hand enemy of immigration.
Bill liked to argue – to the point where I would later abandon him and my poor Mum in Maidstone, and storm off back to my reporting assignments in Belfast or Beirut in the hope that I wouldn’t have to see him for many years.
I was partly educated in Dublin – I gained a Ph D in politics at Trinity College – and my father knew of my great affection for Ireland.
So he knew what he was doing when he announced one day that the Irish had only themselves to blame for their 19th century famine – they were too lazy, he said, and too drunk to grow more than potatoes – and after that, I don’t think I spoke to him for more than an hour during the rest of his life.
When he was dying in a Maidstone nursing home, I didn’t go to see him. You’d think at the time that Bill was – as we would say today – a Brexit man, through and through. I have written before of how just after the First World War, 2nd Lt Bill Fisk of the King’s Liverpool Regiment refused to command a firing squad to execute a British soldier for murder – a magnificent and brave decision which destroyed his military career and was, I later realised, perhaps the finest act of his life.
My gentle, thoughtful, infinitely patient Mum – who became a magistrate and sought leniency for poor offenders and came to distrust the word of Kent Police – literally wrung her hands in anguish as she repaired and re-repaired the damaged, hopeless relationship between her husband and her son. The condemned ‘Brit’ was in fact an Australian in a British regiment and he was shot by others at Le Havre, but Bill emerged an honourable man.
Yet later, he became an advocate for corporal and capital punishment.
As a member of a rent assessment tribunal, I remember him refusing to lower the cost of a couple’s rented accommodation in Maidstone because he suspected they were not married. Or because the cruellest of all front lines had eventually penetrated his own mind?
Bill hated socialists, communists, Bertrand Russell, Hugh Gaitskell (because of the latter’s denunciation of Suez), Harold Wilson and – before he died – just about every politician who hadn’t fought in the First or Second World Wars with the exception of Margaret Thatcher. These past few days, however, in the aftermath of the Brexit catastrophe, I’ve begun to ask myself how Bill and Peggy would have voted, and what they really thought of Europe, the continent which we have just aborted from our lives.
Of course, his favourite warrior was Winston Churchill whose gloomy portrait hung over the fireplace of our dining room in Maidstone until, after Bill’s death in 1992 at the grand old age of 93, my mother asked me if it would be disrespectful to take it down. And of the British politicians who led us – through selfishness and lies – into this impasse.
Certainly Bill judged politicians of every class and party according to their appearance.
He would have spotted at once the problem of Boris, Michael and Nigel.