Novelist Raffaella Barker remembers her father, the poet George Barker, who was 52 when she was born

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The last day out I had with my father was two months before he died. He had pounds 300 in his pocket, and we were going to spend it on a car. By sunset, we were penniless and jubilant. Dad was the owner of a gold Ford Cortina with a black go-faster stripe and a raunchy-sounding engine. He had always loved cars. When my brothers and sister and I were small, he perched us in a row along the bench front seat of his Sixties Mercedes and we slid to and fro all the way to Aylsham, shrieking for more speed, anticipating great treats. On our last day out together, I was struck by the unstoppable circle that is life; it was I now behind the wheel of a car, while he sat beside me demanding lemonade and ice-cream at pit stops, not strong enough now to drive himself very far.

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