End of story

WHEN MUM died five years ago, Sid, my old man, punted the flat in north London and went to live in the apartment in Marbella. El Cid we call him now. Just turned 70, he's still as strong as a goat; and although he missed Mum for a while, he's back to his old ebullient self. A bit too ebullient, if you ask me. All right in small doses; but you wouldn't want to share a small tent with him for any length of time.

I go down there about once a month and we have a few drinks, go to Little- Eyed Dave's restaurant, El Rabioso, have a few more drinks, take in a club or two, try to pull a couple of birds, that kind of thing.

"Son, I've 'ad more birds than you've 'ad 'ot dinners," Dad says to me when we're on the subject.

"You're just a romantic fool," I tell him.

But it's true; he's always been able to pull a bird just like that. Once voted ugliest man in Walthamstow market, he has always been noted as a ladies' man. And he's still pulling them - even at his age.

Since he's been in Marbella he's set himself up, of all things, as a "connoisseur", as he puts it, of locally produced art. Some of the most unbelievable tripe ever passed off as art on the Costa Del Sol can be found framed and hanging on the walls of Dad's flat. He specialises in it.

"Oh, I wish I could paint," he says to me as he shows off his latest acquisition. "I'd give my right arm to be able to paint."

The last time I was down there, he told me he'd been having a passionate affair with this Spanish bird he'd met at an art gallery. Veronica. Sixty- two. Likes being tied up, according to Sid.

A few weeks ago she moved in with him. First thing she did was make Sid get rid of Rosy, the live-in Venezuelan cleaner, but two days later they had a row about Sid's drinking and Veronica stormed out.

The night she left, Sid had a few more drinks, then drove over to El Rabioso, which is in Torremolinos, for a bite to eat. On the way there he clipped a cyclist and then drove for 10 miles with his air bag inflated without noticing anything amiss. They arrested him in Little-Eyed's car park. Dad says he's eased up on the sauce a bit since then. At least, that's what he's been telling Veronica, who agreed to come round to the flat, meet me, and then the three of us were going to go out for a meal somewhere. A sort of rapprochement cum meet-the-family type of thing, I suppose.

In spite of what Dad told Veronica about not drinking, he and I got pretty stoked up on his Chivas Regal while we got ourselves ready to go out. Dad chose his favourite "Prince of Charles check" suit, black shirt and red cravat. I wore my new West Ham away replica shirt with the Dr Marten's sponsorship logo. When we were booted and suited and waiting for Veronica to arrive, we sat in the sitting-room and watched the bullfight on the telly. The bull was losing badly when the doorbell rang.

"You answer it, son," said Dad.

You never quite know what you're going to be confronted with when you answer the door to Dad's latest charmer. In my time I've seen everything on the doorstep from gorgeous sun-kissed babes to Hermann Goering lookalikes. But Veronica was top drawer.

"There can be no exquisite beauty," said Bacon, "without some strangeness in the proportions." I wouldn't say Veronica was an exquisite beauty, but the way she was built you could see what Bacon had been driving at. Fit, tanned, good barnet, all the bits and bobs, short skirt, plenty of gold: a tad brassy for some maybe, but definitely one of El Sid's better ones.

"Buenas noches," she said offering me a tawny hand, palm downwards.

"I'm Sid's boy," I said, extending mine to meet it.

"Do you want to powder your arse before we go, doll?" yelled Dad from the sitting-room.

"No ... gracias," said Veronica, fixing her black eyes on mine and retaining my hand.

I could be in here, I thought.

And I was, too.

"You keep your 'ands orf," said Dad, who was never short of what I believe they now call "emotional intelligence", as we trooped downstairs to the car. Fortunately the only things Dad reads these days are menus.

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