ONE of the many simple things which Colin Parry said after the death of his 12-year-old son, Tim, was that he was 'an ordinary boy, from an ordinary family, in an ordinary town on a very ordinary Saturday, who suffered an extraordinary and terrible fate'.
That was two months ago. Can they ever be an ordinary family again? Were they really an ordinary family before? And where did it come from, that ability to be simple, fluent, sincere and dignified when suddenly thrown into the public glare?
The family home is in Great Sankey, just outside Warrington. Detached, four-bedroom, Sixties house, lawns all around, blossom falling, two cars in the driveway, his a Lancia, stickers on the back from a French holiday, hers a VW Polo.
He's just home from his work as personnel manager at a large metal- working plant near Warrington. He'd just gone back after missing several weeks. Tea with his family, showered, changed into his tracksuit bottoms, T-shirt, bare feet in leather sandals. Sitting in his conservatory at the back of the house. On a cane table sit 8,000 letters, tied neatly in bundles, obviously opened, obviously read.
His Seventies moustache is growing grey. Liverpool accent intact. Direct gaze, a feeling of strength, but not evangelical. He could be a PE teacher, one of the lads; tough when needed.
He met his wife, Wendy, at work. They courted for four years, which seems a long time. 'I wanted to wait till I was 30 to get married. I had my Dad's words ringing in my ears. 'Play the field till you're 30, son'.'
Neither is religious, but they got married in a local C of E church. Honeymoon was a week in Plymouth.
Dominic was born on 12 October 1978. 'He was the noisiest baby imaginable. Screamed and shouted all the time.' Did you get up in the night? 'I say I did, but Wendy probably wouldn't'
Tim was born on 1 September 1980. 'His name was a last-minute panic. What we had up on the white marker board was Andrew. Then I thought, he'll be Andy Parry, which will sound like Andy Pandy. I don't know where Timothy came from. I always called him Timbo when he was younger. I got that from Jimbo, from Jimmy Connors. In the last few months he'd been calling me Pop, as a joke, after Pop Larkin. I liked that. Nice.'
Abigail was born in 1981, on 12 October, the same day as Dominic. 'I went round saying I was a precision grinder. That was my joke for years.'
All three children got on pretty well, no real fights between them, never two ganging up on one. Dom was always the talker, strong in personality and size. Tim was the joker, always playing tricks, not always in the best of taste. 'He'd come into the room when we had relations, break wind, then leave quietly. He was a skylarker, pulling frogs out of his pocket. Well, not that exactly, but he would have done, if he'd thought of it.
'I've kept a Day Book for each of them, since they were born, filling it in four or five times a year. On the spine of Tim's Day Book I've written 'Timbo the Jester'.'
Tim grew very close to Colin, sharing a love of all sports. He swam, played soccer, rugby, squash and had started golf lessons. 'I was still beating him at squash, though now and again I let him think he'd won. In about a year, he would easily have beaten me. He'd suddenly grown tall for his age.'
'I could look into his eyes,' said Wendy from the door. 'He'd got to my height, which means he was 5ft 6in.'
Everton was the big love. Colin took Tim there from the age of four. 'I have photos of Tim and Dom with the Everton stars, taken at the training ground when we went to watch them one day.'
Tim started at the local comprehensive this school year, joining Dom, now in the third year. Abbi will go there next year. Tim appeared to be liking it, which was a relief.
'We'd worried about him in his last year at junior school because he seemed so lazy. I think now it was boredom. Being born 1 September meant he was the eldest in his class, and his friends had moved on.
'I was on at him all the time to stick in. Just as my father did to me. I want all of them to go to university. I pick them up on bad spelling and don't allow sloppy language in this house. I might have a Scouse accent, but I do try to use proper grammar. I stop them saying 'we was' or 'them cars'.
'Tim used to say he wanted to be a vet, but that was after one of our cats got killed. Recently he'd told Dom he wanted be a midwife when he grew up. Can I tell this, Wendy? He'd started going out with girls, so I think this was his latest bad taste joke. I used to embarrass him by bringing it up in front of people.'
On the morning of 20 March, Colin and Wendy went off to Manchester to have Wendy's car serviced, leaving the children at home. Tim decided to go into Warrington with two friends to buy a pair of Everton shorts. He had several. This time he wanted goalie's shorts. 'He'd had his appendix out five weeks previously, rather sudden, and quite serious, and the doctor told him not to play any sport for six weeks. He was very frustrated. He'd stuck it for four weeks, then decided to play goalie at school. He'd saved a penalty, apparently, played a blinder. He thought he'd buy himself proper goalie shorts.'
'He only had pounds 11 on him, so he couldn't have bought a pair anyway,' said Wendy. 'When we bought a pair later, for Tim's funeral, with money sent by a lovely old lady of 90 from north Wales, they were pounds 19.'
All the same, Tim tried on a few pairs. He had just left the sports shop with his two friends when the first bomb went off. He started running - straight into the second bomb, which he caught full on the head.
'When we came home from Manchester, a neighbour said: 'Have you heard about the bomb, some children have been injured'. We rang Dominic's friend, and he was with him. Then Abbi's friend, and she was there. When we rang Tim's friend Piers, his grandmother was crying, saying Piers had been hurt. She didn't know about Tim.
'We jumped in my car and went to Warrington Hospital. The next three hours were the worst in my life. We couldn't find him in the hospital. There was no Tim Parry on any list. Wendy went back to the house. Just in case Tim had walked home on his own and was waiting for us, but he wasn't there.
'I remember a parish priest being very helpful and then being led into a private room, which I knew must be a bad sign. We had told the priest that Tim was wearing jeans, with Joe Bloggs down the side. Then the surgeon handed us a brown envelope. In it was Tim's watch and necklace, which we also identified. The reason for the three-hour delay was that we'd been asking about a missing 12-year- old boy. I think they had him down as a 16-year-old. That was the confusion.
'We were told he was unconscious with very serious head injuries. They were operating, but he would probably not last the night. All the words every parent fears. We went home, tried to compose ourselves and shed many tears. We went back to the hospital next morning. He was a terrifying sight, his head totally wrapped in bandages, some of them pretty bloody, tubes everywhere. The blood was a shock. All we could see of Tim was the line of his mouth. The rest of his face was covered. He still smelled of the bomb blast.
'There were times when I expected him to sit up and say boo, fooled you, Geronimo. Anything for a laugh, that would have been typical Tim.'
So far they had not been aware of the press, which then descended, wanting photographs and details of Tim. Which Colin freely gave. Next day, the news improved. A miracle might take place. Tim was rushed by high-speed ambulance with police outriders down the motorway to Liverpool, to the special unit at Walton Hospital. 'Tim would have loved that ride.
'On Wednesday the surgeon said straight out no dressing it up, that we had to brace ourselves. There was now no hope. For the first time I felt very angry. No, not at the surgeon. At the rotteness of the luck, having Tim taken away from us.
'I made Dom and Abbi go and see him for the last time. They were very apprehensive. I told them to. Wendy and I sat with him for the last three hours, before they switched the machine off. I was told it might be frightening, his body might jump violently in spasms. This had such an impact on Wendy that she could not stay in the room. I said even if I have to peel him off the ceiling, I'm staying to the end. Before this I made the nurses take away all the stuff from his bedside and I lay on the bed with him for several minutes. Until then, I'd only touched the tips of his fingers. I badly wanted to hold him, feel as close as possible to him before he went. When the machine was switched off, he barely moved. But he died peacefully, without pain.'
Colin made a speech at Tim's funeral that was printed, word for word, in many newspapers. He'd made a few notes, but spoke it out of his head. John Major was at the memorial service, as were John Smith and Mary Robinson, the Irish President. The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury sent letters. Archbishop Desmond Tutu sent flowers. The Princess of Wales telephoned.
'Wendy took the call. It happened to be her birthday, and she thought it was some friend, being funny. Then she turned pink and a silly grin came on to her face. She passed me the phone and we had a lovely chat for about four minutes, saying she was sorry she couldn't make the service half an hour later. Sky TV came to the house, and I told them about the call. Several newspapers picked it up and twisted it, saying there was a royal row, and she hadn't been allowed to go. I was furious.' With hindsight, do you regret being so kind to the press?
'Not at all. That was the only time it went wrong. Oh, and there was one reporter from a tabloid Sunday who was very pompous, arriving at the door, assuming I'd answer every question. Apart from that, every media person was understanding and supportive. When it started in earnest, the hospital gave us a special room and organised a pool system so that we only had to face one camera and crew at a time. Wendy was a little more nervous than me, but we always did it together, though I did most of the talking. I didn't find it difficult. I've conducted interviews myself for 25 years, but now I was on the receiving end. It was not a struggle. Tim had been taken away so violently that I needed to talk about him. It helped me, as a sort of therapy.
'It was strange to be meeting all these famous people, just because of Tim's death. Amazing, really. Mary Robinson was lovely. No, I was not too impressed by our politicians. They wanted to do the talking and not listen to me, except for David Alton, the Lib Dem MP. He was very kind.'
What about your feelings now towards the IRA? 'I have had moments when I felt I could strangle whoever did it, but I don't feel vindictive. They are running an unwinnable campaign. I just wish they would lay down their weapons. All my anger and grief was for Tim. I have no space in my head or my heart for the IRA.'
What has the tragedy taught you, about yourself, about life?
'That life can be brutal and unkind. That it is impossible to conceive the pain that can suddenly come into a sublimely ordinary life. But I've also learnt that I had become far too cynical. I was beginning to sneer at life, which you do as you approach 50. Now we've suddenly tapped into a mass of goodwill. Those letters have helped us. If they are a sample of human kindness, then they show Wendy and myself that we can live better lives.
'People have said to us that we have been so dignified. They seem to have put us on a pedestal, which is wrong. We know our flaws. We're not made of special stuff. They said it was wonderful how we were prepared to talk to the press, but we did that for Tim - and also to help mobilise public opinion. Politicians seem unwilling to do anything, just trot out the same old arguments. But they will have to, if public opinion forces them to do something. These tragedies must not be forgotten.'
Talking about Tim obviously helped you at the time, if only as a form of escape, to hide other emotions, but what happens now? 'Yes, we did have little time to ourselves, during those weeks. I was grateful for all the activity. But I don't know how we're going to react as time goes on. We probably delayed the grieving process. No, we are not taking any counselling. There's not a problem yet, but I worry that the real grieving has not yet begun.'
Not long after Tim's death, the first report from his new school, Great Sankey High School, arrived. Wendy went to fetch it. Colin read it out. 'This is a promising report for Tim . . . the form's sports representative . . . a lively and outgoing boy . . . with a keen sense of humour . . . most polite and courteous . . . a real asset to form 7D.'
The report clearly pleases both of them. It shows that Tim was not the lazy person they had feared. The words and phrases are the usual mix of schoolteacher blandness, giving few specific details or insight. Just an ordinary report, about an ordinary boy.
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