‘I want to die like Bing Crosby, doing something I love out in the open air’

Family Fortunes: Dad got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in the 1980s

Arthur Brown, pictured in the centre wearing plus-fours, with his golf buddies in the 1980s.

“Straight down the middle, it went straight down the middle.” A memory of my Dad, Arthur Brown, singing along with Bing Crosby on the radio, their voices blending perfectly. A song about a golf ball and a game of golf. Like Bing, Dad loved golf. In 1977 Bing had a heart attack outside a clubhouse having just finished a game. Dad always envied Bing for the way he went. “That’s how I want to go,” he said when he heard the news, “doing something I love, out in the open air”.

A north of England man, Dad left school aged 13 in 1929 to follow his passion for the combustion engine. Working in his local garage and studying at night classes, he secured a job with the Ford Motor company in Dagenham and moved South, where he met his first wife. In the 1950s, they adopted two baby girls – myself and my sister – from “a young Irish girl who’d got herself into a bit of bother,” as Dad described it. His way with words left its mark. “Don’t come pathering that muck indoors,” he’d say as we’d stand at the backdoor in our mud-covered wellingtons. Pathering. A word I have carried with me into my own family.

Hard work

As a small child, I’d watch as he cycled off to the nearest golf course, his caddy bag with its cast-off clubs slung across his shoulders. Decades later and now captain of his local golf club, my adult self would watch as he’d load a pristine caddy and clubs into the boot of the newest Ford model. Testimony to his years of hard work and dedication.

Dad got his wish while playing golf one Saturday afternoon in the 1980s. Halfway round the course he must have looked unwell. When someone enquired, Dad responded, “I’d be alright if I could just get rid of this indigestion”. And that was that. Dad’s final words to the world.

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Meanwhile, my stepmother, enjoying a cup of tea and a chat with a neighbour, is unaware of the messenger travelling to her with the ghastly news. Simultaneously, I am in Ireland, where I have made my home, busy choosing library books, looking for comfort in the written word.

Later, the call comes to me, as it must. The grief-choked voice of my stepmother imparts the news.

Straight down the middle. Straight through my heart.