My father died when he was 78. I was 26; my siblings were younger. He had already had three families when he met my mother. I cannot describe the experience of having an older father. I can only describe being my father's daughter. I never thought of him as being old. I did not notice it as I grew up. He was not irritable, nor was he intolerant of youth. He didn't play football with my brothers, but he made goblets out of the silver foil in cigarette packets and he mended our bicycle tyres, often with chewing gum and optimism when the puncture kit was missing. He taught us nonsense songs, and how to drink wine as if we were Italian (half-and-half with water). He watched Top of the Pops with us on Thursdays, and once caused me supreme mortification by suggesting to the woman in the school uniform shop that I should have a dress like Debbie Harry's punk plastic one. He came to my school sports day in a suede jacket, dark glasses and a black polo- neck, and sat smoking unfiltered cigarettes. He did not run in the fathers' race, but he looked like a spy, and my schoolmistresses twittered nervously when he glanced at them.
When I grew up and had children of my own, I became aware of the cobweb frailty of human existence. A baby shows you your own mortality with absolute clarity. I knew my father had become ill and was often in pain, although he never complained. His conversation remained vivid and acrobatic to the last, as did his self-mockery. "I really am a crashing old bore. Shut up, George," he would say, having recounted a tale. I understood that he was old now. The prospect of his death hung over me like an invisible cloud I could never bear to think about. However much you have anticipated it, you remain unprepared for loss. My father would be 83 now, which seems absurd. And, if he were here, he would be the first to agree