Prog rock step dad stayed for the weekend. He is so erudite and unwordly, he makes me feel like Kerry Katona. He's like a medieval ascetic, self-sufficient, simple living, free from desire. All he wants is knowledge. Whilst he doesn't literally live in a cave and eat bitter herbs, he comes pretty close. He can live for several months eating nothing but lentils, he cycles everywhere, knows how to darn, bakes his own bread, has taught himself French, German and Russian and knows about everything. Science, economics, birds, mushrooms. My abiding memories of him growing up are:
1. Hunched on the sofa reading a Giant Hard Book. From the library. Sometimes with a dictionary too if the Giant Hard Book is in foreign (it usually is).
2. Disappearing during dinner to go and get find a Giant Hard Book to read us long screeds of it. Until we shouted at him to stop.
3. Reading us five miles of poetry. Until we shouted at him to stop.
4. Cooking elaborate from-scratch meals that would try the patience of a saint, what with one vegetarian, one meat eater who didn't like dairy or, you know, vegetables (or eggs), and one who only liked potato waffles and baked beans.
5. Teaching me thankless, dismal things like parallel parking, micro-economics and chemistry. Without hitting me over the head repeatedly.
6. Wearing false moustaches. And sometimes (temporary) tattoos on his forehead if we were insistent.
6. Generally displaying extraordinary tolerance in a house full of prickly, demanding women needing things fixed, refusing fruit soup, dropping their dirty clothes everywhere and weeping.
I look up from where I am crouching, sweaty palmed, trying to coax the internets out to play, while the children sit slackjawed in front of Extreme Dinosaurs and see him squatting peacefully in a corner of the garden, reading Eugene Onegin. In Russian. From the library, naturally. I made this man bring me Heat and Grazia! And fondant fancies! Hula Hoops! Hot shame attacks my cheeks.
For many years, he has shamed me with his incessant questioning on topics of geopolitics, history, architecture and local culture wherever I have been living.
"So, Em" he asks, innocently in Paris "What do you know about this Léon Cogniet your street is named after?"
"What do you know about the Batignolles area? Is it traditionally working class?"
"What's the political history of south Brussels? How does the linguistic divide sit geographically?"
"Was this Haussman block purpose built for mutiple occupation? What kind of person would have lived here originally?"
"What's that big basilica on the hill called?"
"Is the automotive industry still economically significant in Oxford?"
"STOP IT!" I tell him, squirming. "I don't know! Please don't humiliate me into making something up. You must understand that I am culturally and intellectually barren. Surely? By now? Remember how I like make up and cheap chocolate and buying clothes and popular culture?"
Then he smiles beatifically and goes off and finds all the answers to his questions and tells me them. And then I forget because I have got distracted by shiny shiny shoes.
This weekend, he and the CFO spent a long time discussing the collapse of global capitalism using an extended metaphor involving a cupboard that totally escaped me. The CFO made everything up using extra special shoutiness and self-belief. Prog rock step dad quoted extensively from Le Monde Diplomatique (subscription is one of his small extravagances) and tried to elicit my views on the bankruptcy of the Spanish crown in the 16th century and the role of the Fuggers of Augsburg. I pretended to be asleep and wondered what I was missing in Star Ac.
He's leaving today and I will really really miss him. Actually, I want to keep him. I want to have a corner with a sofa in for him to sit and read big books in all the time and for there to be endless pots of tea and discussions that make me look stupid. In return we can force him to watch In the Night Garden, feed him decadent food without pulses, tease him mercilessly, and allow Lashes to jump on his head. Surely that's an OK deal? No?