by Selina Walmsley-Craze
Although it is many years now since my father died, to this day he stands out vividly in my memory as an extraordinarily special person; a multi-faceted combination of scientist/artist, child/adult, and of course father. He was my first great muse, Wise Man and force of inspiration in my own life, and remains so to this day. There are many strands to this sense of inspiration. A child may not always follow in its parents footsteps, and may sometimes even incline in the opposite direction. I did so for a short time, and trained to be a nurse for a while. But although my father would have encouraged me in anything I ventured, I knew I preferred art and writing, I was certainly encouraged to write and paint, and his praise and reinforcement allowed me to not just imitate but be creative in my own way. I was inspired by him and by my grandfather's paintings to do sea pictures, and to write also, though I lean more towards comedy.
But what also inspired me about him was his sheer love of life, the enthusiasm and the willingness to 'have a go' at things, no matter how disastrously they turned out. This could be anything from trying to make a swing out of driftwood with rusty saws, to trying to help me paint using anything from fingers to a knife and fork. He loved to experiment.
This inclination for the unorthodox has informed many moments in my life – the most recent being my attempt to mend a damp wall that was dripping from a hole in the roof. I pulled out all the rotten wood (knowing nothing about the subject), then packed the gap with anything I could find, newspapers, old sheeting, bits of wood. Then I covered it all with a layer of plaster, cement (a stock in trade of my father's), then waterproof paint. On the whole, looking at it in a certain light, it doesn't look too bad...
Other sides of his character included great honesty and courage, which I admired him deeply for, and take as my role model. His courage was great, but he was honest enough to admit when he was scared. One early memory I have of him somewhat debunks him as 'Tough Action-Man'. He used to like to give me 'educational' presents for Christmas and birthdays. One present stands out in particular – a microscope, which I think he was more excited about than I was: I was barely allowed to unwrap it! But it was lovely, all gleaming and shiny, with lots of slides upon which to mount various objects that required close observation. We spent the morning collecting samples; some hair; a dead spider or two; some cheese. I noticed that the instructions recommended using blood, and pointed this out to him.
'Aah,' he said thoughtfully, scratching his head. 'That might be tricky – there's no meat in the house – we'll have to wait until Choo-i [the cat] catches another mouse.'
Not to be put off, I remarked that he could easily obtain a small sample of blood by tying cotton around a finger and pricking it with a needle.
'I suppose we could,' he said, clearing his throat. 'But do we have any needles?'
My mother's sewing basket soon yielded a splendidly sharp instrument, which she gave to my father.
'Jolly Good,' he said. 'Now, I'll just wind some thread around my thumb and prick it.' He picked up the needle, eyed it determinedly, and drove it downward on to the hapless digit.
'Blast, missed!' roared my father.
Rewinding the thread around the finger, he looked round at us, scowled and once again down came the needle. This time however it hit his knee instead. Several attempts later the experiment was aborted on the grounds that the needle was too blunt, but within minutes he was laughing at himself, and the irony of the situation, saying, 'Your old dad's just a silly old coward.'
The love of life was exceptional, as well as his fascination and curiosity for almost everything. This 'curious monkey' aspect of Leo's character led him into both success and failure, but another striking side to his personality was that despite the many tragedies in his life, he never appeared bitter, or to lose hope – and to die at 73, still looking forward, still interested is, to me, quite something.
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