Remembering my father
John Godfray Le Quesne 18/01/1924 — 2/10/2013
When growing up as a boy, we would walk up to church every Sunday to attend the morning service, presided over, at that time, by Mr. Smithers. One of the highlights of this weekly outing for me, was the little known fact that in the basement of the church lay a quarter-size snooker table.
It was used by the Contact club, that was run by my father and other members of the Church congregation, to offer a hot drink and some company to homeless people in the area on a Sunday evening.
After the service had ended and the teas and coffees had been drunk, my father would lead me down underground where he introduced me to the pleasures of both snooker and billiards before returning home through Oakhill Way to sit down for the family Sunday lunch.
Marrying at thirty nine years old, my father had already planted strong roots in Hampstead, before meeting my mother. Having grown up in Rickford Lodge, on Admirals Walk, he moved to Willow Road where he lived with Miss Stegmire, his housekeeper before marrying my mother in 1963. After my brother Nick was born, they moved to Ferncroft Avenue which was to become the family home for over thirty years, before moving to Briardale Gardens.
By the time I arrived at the tail-end of 1969, my father was forty five years old. I suppose it is true in any relationship that you really connect with people through understanding and sharing their passions. For me and my father, these included, in no particular order — Snooker, cricket, music, Marx Brothers, Jersey and walking.
We were lucky enough to see Kirk Stevens hit a 147 break at Wembley Conference Centre in 1984. It was around this time that my father bought a half-size slate-bed snooker table for our home. What heaven!
My father loved going to Lords. He went up until last year. I have happy memories of going to Lords with Dad, sitting in the Allen stand or the Warner stand, never the Tavern stand and watching the likes of Bob Willis attacking the green. Bob Willis and my father shared a penchant for red socks. My father loved the colour red and was instantly recognizable from afar, on his countless walks on the heath in his faded red trousers, walking Tess our Border Colly.
Walking brought great pleasure to my father, as his collection of walking sticks attests. Whilst some people’s pastimes are indicated by a collection of golf clubs or fishing rods or other sport related equipment, my father’s favourite active pastime was walking. – whether in Jersey, the Lake District, North Wales or Hampstead Heath, family holidays invariably included day-long walks. There was nothing better than crossing a desolate Welsh moor by the side of my father recounting a Sherlock Holmes story in the company of my family and our Shrewsbury cousins.
Sleeping also brought great pleasure to my father. Not in terms of morning lie-ins, but a short nap that could last between 30 seconds to ten minutes. He was an all-terrain sleeper, able to take forty winks whenever and wherever it suited him. After a typical family picnic in Jersey, invariably spent with Uncle Lawrence and his family, in any one of such favoured spots as Beauport, L’Etacquerel, or my fathers beloved Grosnez, my father and Lawrence would demonstrate their unique abilities to become one with all manner of seemingly uncomfortable rock formations and catch a quick nap.
Family life was accompanied by a rich soundtrack of piano-playing thanks to my father and also my sister. Music was fundamental to my father. As a child I would sit next to my father, dreading the concert not to end, being too young to embrace my father’s unfettered joy of musical expression. His clapping seemed that much louder that everyone else, sitting forward in hs seat, his tongue invariably out of his mouth. He looked to be in a state of rapture. For a young child, it was hard to appreciate the deep emotional connection that my father experienced with music. Over time this would change. I would look forward to the treat of accompanying my father to a live recital at the Wigmore Hall, a place that my father continued to frequent up until the end of last year.
My father set a high bar for us children – he was a tea-totaller, his only vice being his love of Cuban cigars which he used to purchase at the end of our summer holidays in Jersey from Touzels. For all my father’s sense of tea-totalling tradition, unwavering faith and devotion to the Baptist church and strong moral code, he accepted that we, his children needed to cut our own cloth. When, at our various stages of growing up, we stopped accompanying our mother and father to church and established our own ways in life, he accepted this if somewhat reluctantly. It never became a stumbling block in our relationship.
The door of Ferncroft was open to all, throughout our family years. The kitchen table played host to a myriad of friends and extended family through the eighties and nineties. My father’s dry, warm wit was constantly at hand, delivering friendly jabs to unassuming guests. On one summer holiday in France in the early nineties, my sister and I were both with our respective partners from that time, Farouq and Sophie. We had enjoyed a typically lovely dinner out with my mother and father. After which we saw no reason to end the party. After both my mother and father had retired for the night, we continued drinking until the early hours. The next morning, feeling decidedly worse for wear, Sophie and I appeared at the breakfast table. I, feeling the need, to compensate for the lack of intelligent conversation that we were capable of contributing, attempted to blame our reduced physical state on something we had eaten at the restaurant the night before. Quick as a flash, my father replied, “ Maybe too much salt and pepper.”
When my father started to lose his customary vigour and bounce, his grace, charm and warmth stayed with him until the very end, underlined by the unswerving love he felt for my mother.
He never used the internet, which I remember him referring to as ‘the screen.’ He never sent an email and I don’t think he ever sent an sms. Only handwritten letters. He constructed his world across physical, cerebral and spiritual dimensions. My father lived the now, the present in all its contradictory beauty.
He gave my brother Nick, my sister Cath and I the security to find our own paths whilst always knowing that he was there for us. For this, I will always be grateful.