A year ago today John Strike. mine and Linda’s dad, died. That’s the end of the sorrow, I hope you will find the rest of this piece warming and funny in the way that John was throughout his 87 years.
I’ve copied the eulogy that Linda and I agreed on below. What you should be mindful of is that it was read at the service by a long retired Reverend with thick Northern Irish accent who had not given himself the advantage of reading it before hand. He stumbled his way through it, unsure of where it was going, missed all the ‘punchlines’ but coped surprisingly well with the unexpected swear words. John would have loved it! Take it away, Rev:
“John Strike’s coming back, John Strike’s coming back”, That was the gossip in 1953 that Adriana Barsi, new office worker at General Electric Company in Holborn, kept hearing about a fellow employee who was returning to work after 2 years National Service with the RAF. Never having met him, she pictured a flying ace, all blue uniform, moustache and square chin. He was certainly popular, whoever he was, judging by the building sense of anticipation for his return. She would never say she was disappointed on his first day back from his dedicated service as a wage clerk at a Yorkshire aerodrome. He turned out to be about a foot shorter and narrower than she expected, scrawny in fact, with a nose not only large, but realigned having made intimate contact with a cricket ball when standing too close to some cricket nets as he watched a batsman play an uppish square-cut. But Adriana did not mind any of this; the John Strike she was to fall in love with also had a twinkle in his eye, a charming sense of humour and a gentle way about him.
Not that National Service hadn’t manned him up. In his 2 years away, he’d been flown up in a plane, been frozen on several military exercises on the Dales, borrowed and fallen off a motorbike, picked up a girlfriend and drunk Newcastle Brown Ale with the other squaddies at the local pub (just the one bottle, mind – he always found it a struggle to finish a second). But now he was back to his Mum and his beloved twin sisters Joan and Dorothy. He’d returned a man, though he never would have the nerve to tell his mother, Rita, that as a schoolboy he used to throw stones at passing trains: she’d have killed him.
He’d been a clever boy – good at school, particularly maths, and sporty too, playing football and cricket. He was 7 when the War had started, and over 70 years later, John would still talk about taking shelter with his sisters from the air raids in the cupboard under the stairs of the family house in Hounslow. Then when the bombers had gone, how he’d clamber out to look for shrapnel or other treasures among the bomb craters.
He didn’t think too much of his father, though he did take the young John to Brentford football matches – encouraging his son to stand at the front to get a better view while he stayed at the back, watching the match with his group of pals. Between matches, the now adolescent John took huge pride in delivering newspapers on his round to Brentford and Ireland’s full back Bill Gorman. Yes, the Bill Gorman! John was a Brentford fan all of his life, and was to take his own son, Martin, to many games. Martin recalls that they were great days, but the team was usually terrible and while most of the modest crowd would often turn on and shout abuse at their own players, one of John’s many catch phrases, ‘Come on you Bees’ could often be heard, though rarely by anyone more than two places either side of them. In the era of football hooliganism, John always wore his pyjamas under his trousers to keep his legs warm at these generally dour games. Never one to have left the house in any circumstance without wearing a shirt, tie and pullover, or fistfuls of loose change, the otherwise silent trudge back to the car after yet another home defeat was often accompanied by the chime of the many coins crammed into his trouser pockets as he walked.
After school, John joined the accounts department at GEC and started evening classes, studying hard to qualify as a member of the Chartered Institute of Company Secretaries, while falling for the charms of Adriana, whose Italian family background was exotic and full of new experiences for him. Unadventurous in his eating habits after his mother warned him to avoid fish at all costs for fear of swallowing bones, to be confronted by his first ever plate of spaghetti at the home of a large and typically boisterous Italian family living in Stoke Newington, was a terrifying test. But, like the exams he took, must have passed, for on 25th May 1958 he and Adriana, or Addie as she was known, were married at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.in Islington and remained happily married until Addie’s sad death in 1994.
They enjoyed life together, going to the theatre and cinema often, and John continued playing cricket at the weekend for Murray Sports in Whitton, in the same team as his brother-in-law and best man, Maurice.
In 1963 their son Martin was born, followed 4 years later by Linda. They recall their childhoods as wonderful, and though he may not have always said it, they never doubted for a single moment that John loved them, no matter how drunk they came home from the pub from age 16. Linda says there was only one time she only ever saw John angry, and that was whenever he attempted DIY.
For John, DIY stood for ‘Don’t Involve Yourself’ as he was truly hopeless at it, and raw plugs in particular were his nemesis. His most magnificent moment came when he’d screwed, glued or maybe nailed some new shelves to the bedroom wall. Having stacked them carefully with books and ornaments he came downstairs to celebrate his achievement with a cup of tea. Suddenly there was a crash, and the sight through the downstairs window of falling glass, lengths of wood, books and pottery all crashing noisily onto the hard concrete of the front garden as the whole lot had collapsed and smashed through the bedroom window of its own accord. DIY was also the only time John was ever heard to swear, with another of his catchphrases: ‘shit-bags, shit bags, shit bags,’ punctuating the air during every botched attempt to drill a neat hole in the wall or drive a nail in straight. Jo can vouch that Martin has inherited this particular skill, or lack of skill.
In 1970 the family moved to Cheam in Surrey, where John would live for over 40 years. He and Addie loved it there, and made firm and lasting friendships with residents of the other 11 houses in the road and were always the first to welcome newcomers.
John stayed with the same employer, within different departments, his whole career. Most of it was spent as Company Secretary for Popes Electric Lamps, who were the wholesale arm of Osram lamps. Here he also made many genuine and important life-long friendships. He treated people with kindness and respect and received the same back. His work regularly took him around the country to various depots, Manchester, Birmingham, Preston etc where to all accounts he was very popular. Driving so many miles brought inevitable incidents. John once wrote off a brand new company car the day before he was officially allowed to drive it, on another occasion was stopped by the police on the motorway at 4am for driving suspiciously slowly having left far too early for a cross-channel booze-cruise, and once pulled up after a long drive home for his children to gleefully point out he had a lens missing from his sun glasses. John hadn’t realised, and had been wondering why he had received so many strange looks from other drivers, and had presumed that one side of his windscreen was dirtier than the other.
John retired at age 62, soon after Siemens took over ownership having worked for over 40 years. He took up bowls with his pal, Roy, and overcame his lifetime fear of swimming pools and dentists, though not at the same time. His proudest times came with the arrival of his grandchildren; Jack, Charlotte, Tavis and Billy. He loved them all and loved being ‘Grandad’. After Val, who he met at work many years previously, moved into his house along with her grandson Jamie, John saw much of the world. The three of them went on many cruises together and twice John flew out on his own to Australia where Linda and Steve were living at the time.
Having enjoyed good health all of his life, John took to caring for Addie when she was ill, and then for other elderly or unwell relatives and neighbours. He was a lovely man and would do anything for anyone. It was a shock to him in 2005 when he had a heart attack. This was just as much a shock to the medical fraternity who had no previous record of him whatsoever. Typically, he was joking with the nurses before the end of that day and though it put him on drugs for the rest of his life, he was to have no further heart problems.
But sadly, John was already beginning to develop that most unfair of conditions, Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, his memory became such that he could not recognise his own kitchen as he stood in it, and concerns for his safety arose with his being on his own all day with his increasingly erratic behaviour, the potential for getting irretrievably lost on one of the many walks he took himself out on or forgetting or becoming confused about taking his heart pills. In 2015, after attempts for him to live with Martin and Jo did not alleviate the genuine fears for his safety, his family took the unavoidable decision for John to move into a residential home where he would receive the 24-hour care that his condition demanded.
At Winchcombe Place care home in Newbury, he was very well looked after, but gradually and inevitably the Alzheimer’s took more of his faculties and character away from him. He had to give up his favourite cryptic crosswords for easier ones. When even the simplest of them became too challenging, he switched to Word Searches, until even they proved beyond him. This did not preclude him from making rude jokes to the care staff when he felt up to it, but in his last two years in particular, he retreated more and more to the comfort of his own private world in his head where he seemed to find contentment. He certainly was looked after, enjoying two platefuls of most meals. Having suffered a near miss or two in his last year, John passed away peacefully after one night of illness in the company of Martin, Linda and Jo. They can vouch that he suffered no pain and left this earth in the way that we’d all choose: gently, quickly and in the company of loved ones after a jolly good innings.
There. What in hindsight I should have included is that John took his last breath and passed in an instant, only Jo was with him. I was so, so angry with myself for choosing those 10 minutes to pop out for fresh air that it played on my mind for some weeks after that I had not with him when he left. Now I come to write this, I realise I have come to accept that though he was morphined-up and had been out of it for so long, he simply didn’t want to die in front of his children in the same way that you wouldn’t want to have a poo in front of them either.
I will always be grateful to Jo for being there, as I’m sure John was too. X X X X
If you can stand one last bit of this tribute, then here are some words that I read out myself at the service:
Dad….Pater…Daddy…Papa…All names that children give their fathers, even when they are grown-up. Yet Linda and I had no need for such a moniker as our father was, well John, and like everyone else, that’s what we called him.
Across the years people we met often asked; ‘Why do you call your dad, John?’ as if it was the height of rudeness to use your parent’s actual name. Staff at the care home looked at us curiously whenever we addressed ‘John’ as John, as if to say ‘is he really your father?’
Truth is, he had been ‘John’ to us since 1984, For those of you old`enough to remember, that was the year that the pop song ‘Ullo John Gotta New Motor’ came out. Frankly, it was a terrible song albeit it got to number 15 in the Hit Parade. It was meant to be a funny song – but it wasn’t, sung by the comedian Alexei Sayle, who was also meant to be funny, but wasn’t.
But Linda and I latched on to it and from that day on, John, to us…was John.
Perhaps he was always destined to be John. He used to tell us the story about when as a newborn, his mum Rita, hands-full with his 4-year old sisters Joan and Dot, insisted his Dad, Ernest, take him to the Registry Office to record his birth.
‘What name shall I tell ‘em, then?’ asked Ernest.
‘Just John,’ said his mother, distracted by the girls.
So when asked by the registrar what name to record, his Dad dutifully said ‘Just John.’
Legend has it that his Mum had to rush back to the Registrar and have Just John re-registered, and the erroneous first name of ‘Just’ crossed out before the ink dried on his birth certificate.
Whether this was exactly true or not, it was the kind of story that tickled John throughout his life. He had a lovely sense of humour, was funnier even than Alexei Sayle, though he genuinely always resented not being given a middle name. and that he had missed out somehow. But to everyone who knew him he was never ‘Just’ John. He was John, a great friend to all. John, a caring and generous man to anyone who needed it. John, the baby brother. John, the loving husband. John, the wonderful father, and Grandjohn, the proud and fun grandad. Bless him, he once said to me, ‘if I had 10p in the world, that would be 5p for me and 5p for you.’ Sorry Linda, you missed out there. Yes, to us and the whole world he was John Strike, and we all loved him for it.