Though I am an orphan of long standing, I sometimes experience a strong urge to speak with my parents. Dad died of a heart attack in 1979 and Mum died in an old folks' home in 2007. They were both good people and I loved them dearly as they loved me. It was mutual and natural but when I reached the lofty plateau of adulthood my relationships with them evolved beyond the loving condescension and forebearance that colours parenting in the early years. We were now much more equal and could talk together as sentient adults.
Dad was still alive when I began my teaching career. He was the headmaster of our local village primary school and enormously proud that one of his sons had followed in his professional footsteps. When the going got tough during my vocational baptism of fire at Dinnington Comprehensive School on Doe Quarry Lane, Dinnington, Dad was there to listen and to proffer advice. He gave me several useful tips even though there was a world of difference between a sweet country primary school and a secondary school in a tough mining village that accommodated over two thousand pupils.
He also taught me about growing vegetables and working with wood and he took me to my first ever Hull City football match and he bought me my first ever bell bottom trousers and let me wear one of his old rugby shirts when I was a part-time hippy.
Mum's early journey through life was very difficult. At the age of eleven she was more or less abandoned by her hapless parents and had to walk four miles to my great grandparents' humble terraced house in Rawmarsh, holding her brother's hand. And there she lived till she was nineteen. Inspired by a recruitment notice in 1940, she signed up with the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Airforce) and was soon posted to India where she met Dad who had left teaching the moment that war broke out to join the Royal Airforce as a meteorologist.
Mum was always on my side. No shrinking violet, she had a combative spirit. It is sometimes said that the English characteristically hide their true feelings, living in a nether world of coded messages and politeness. But that was never true of Mum. Though enormously kind, when anybody crossed her or behaved stupidly or arrogantly they met her unbridled wrath like a full broadside from "HMS Victory". She said what she meant and meant what she said.
She often said that when I was three years old I came downstairs one evening and said "Mummy can you teach me to read?" I sat on her knee for an hour or so and she taught me the rudiments of reading. After that I hardly needed any further instruction. Before going to school I could read quite fluently and was way ahead of my five year old peers when I finally joined Miss Readhead's infant class. So much for the car sticker - "If you can read this thank a teacher"!
As an adult, I could talk to Mum about relationships, politics, injustice, cooking, antiques, wallpapering, village matters, memories and our shared loathing of Margaret Thatcher and all that she stood for. When times were tough she was there at the end of the phone (Mum not Thatcher!) or in person to listen and reply. She was a very empathetic person and it was so nice to know she was there for me.
It's not easy being an orphan. Though it is thirty six years since Dad died and eight years since Mum left us, if I close my eyes I can still hear the sound of their voices. But there is no conversation any more. There are things I want to say to them both but the words seem to shrivel inside me and turn to dust. It is so frustrating and so unfair.