My son loves to draw: predominantly tractors and steam trains, but at two years old i’m allowing a limited repertoire. On holiday i few weeks ago i found myself rummaging around in a cupboard for some paper for him to draw upon, digging out a stack of computer paper to use.
Not the type of paper you feed into your printer today: neatly packaged reams of A4, but rather the older style: watermarked with strips of colour to delimit rows of text, concertinas of paper with sprocket holes down the sides, perforated to allow you to tear off the sides once the printer had disgorged them.
This is the paper i grew up with: an early form of recycling, my father would return from his College teaching with endless stacks of it for us to use.
As we drew trains, i looked down at the sheet in front of me: it carried a date, from when i was four years old, and streams of numbers and statistical analysis. I realise it was paper my father had used in his research, probably for his own PhD, back in the seventies.
Since my father died, i have found his shadows to be comforting: reflections through old books or cards. I found this to be the case here: a comfort that in some way the shadows of his research, the pinnacles of his academic work, acting still as the foundations for my son. There could hardly be a greater contrast than our scribbled red tractors and the outputs of an ancient stats package.
Half way down one sheet, almost obscured by our new train lines, i realised there was a word: written in black fountain pen, unmistakably my fathers handwriting, but strong and clearer than in his later years. A single word written against a set of numbers. ‘Transpose?’.
To transpose, to swap places. My father to me, me to my son.
When someone dies we are limited to the words that they wrote in their lives: this one word, written in haste, yet reaching out to me across those years.
I have it now, tucked between two books on the shelf in my new library: the words of my father, the drawings of my son. Each holding the other safe.