For the last few weeks while I was studying for exams I was working at my dad's desk since mine is just too small. He's not here right now and he won't be back until August, so the arrangement seemed to make sense. There are a couple of bookshelves next to the desk and when my thoughts inevitably drifted as I was studying I found myself scanning the names of the folders, the books, the files. They seem to say so much about him. Maybe that's obvious? That if you look at a person's shelves, they do, typically reflect that person? But what's interesting with dad's shelves is that they're not necessarily scream this is me, these are my tastes and interests. There's an anonymous blue binder with a white label, the words "Naturelink Africa" typed in nice neat, clear script. A couple of others like that, a bit like pins on a world map. On the top shelf there's a model of a little crane, the kind that lift containers onto ships in ports, there are copies of the Nederlands - Engels Technisch Wordenboek; the Dutch to English technical dictionary and the 2016-2017 edition of the trade hardware store's catalogue. Books on Spanish, Portuguese and French, the Lloyds Maritime Atlas. There's the floppy cover of a scrapbook we made forhim years ago when we were spending chunks of time apart, a bit like this year. On the sill in front of the desk, porcelain models of the canal houses in Amsterdam. He has this other shelf, it's tall and narrow and just perfectly fits CD cases, the covers always take me back to when I was five or six.
I used to only go into his office when dad had been there and the lights were on, because it was quite a dark room and the shelves seemed to dominate the walls, I was also scared of the paintings of Egyptians (don't ask), but when I did, I was oddly entranced. I remember sitting in his office chair, just a basic plastic affair on wheels, that would spin around, and I would sort through all his CDs. They're all there, the original gang, Bon Jovi's Keep the Faith, Prince's Greatest Hits, The Best of REM. I remember thinking the shelf looked like an appartment block, one of those really basic buildings that were just above shanty towns. Dad travelled, in my mind, to those places, with those kinds of flats. I travelled too, from that young age, but never to anywhere remotely industrial or 'grim'. He told us stories, about where his work took him. I was (and still am) one of those people who could spin out clear mental pictures from descriptions and I had my pictures of cargo ships and dusty docks. The chefs on American ships who talked too fast when dad tried to order his eggs for breakfast, Nigerian border patrols who shot at his car, epic Mozambican floods, tapped phone lines on a one-off trip to North Korea. My favorite were the stories about the dolphins in Turkey who'd swim right into the port. People ask me about what my dad does, he probably sounds like some kind of special agent or something... it's always made me laugh that it was nothing so exciting, just port work. Shipping and bagging things, finding ways to move them around.
Movement. What he does for a living. My dad is one of the restless... in all senses of the word. He, like me, apparently shakes his leg when he's trying to fall asleep and jolts his knee up and down when he's sitting. He paces when he's on the phone, so do I. He trips when we're out walking because he'll be looking skyward, following the trails of jets and helicopters, he's always driven with this reckless caution. It's like his foot hovers above the accelerator, that he could drive so much faster than he does but he won't because it's not worth it and he doesn't need to. He's travelled for work as long as I can remember, buried in a box somewhere I have a barbie in traditional Vietnamese clothes, Chinese fans, cuddly lions, camels and monkeys... Maybe all this shows in the fact that I can identify the shipping company when I see a container on a truck and that trucks with containers were my favorite part of taking the ferry to France. When my sister and I used to play with Lego we would make them go on epic overland road trips through savage mountains, now when I'm studying law thing it's the shipping cases I find easiest to remember. Maybe it brings us closer to him.
It's hard to explain but despite us spending so much more time, in reality, with our mum than dad I always find it strange how much his niche lifestyle, his wanderer spirit have spread to all of us. I know all families have their own words for things, but I don't know how many others have the need for synonyms like agw (all going well, I should be in some airport or other by a certain time but this is unlikely), or have regular discussions about Heathrow terminals. I have said it before, he doesn't realize how much he's a part of us - passively, as opposed to my mum's active role as the present parent, who sat me down to do homework as best I could and taught me to thank the bus driver, and smile at him too. She did an A* job of raising a polite and decent human, but I think we can all attribute my quirks to dad. He was there even if he wasn't, like the Colorado River flowing through rock, over the years, and slowly carving out something as iconic as the Grand Canyon, just by doing what it does naturally.
I don't really know what the message of all this text is meant to be, actually nothing grand or philosophical. Funny how someone so phlegmatic and unflappable can still be such a wanderer. He's thought it, I've thought it, we all have, maybe things would have been different if he'd been your average 9 to 5 dad... maybe they would, maybe we would. Maybe it would have crushed his spirit if he wasn't submerged in some kind of foreign element, driving a pick up over dirt roads and crossing African borders. I had sort of half written this post, mentally, sitting at his desk, drifting from cases and statutes, my fidgety hands pulled the model crane off the shelf and my thoughts wandered to the next place. The windows were open and a breeze whipped through, right to the dark ends of the room where his suit was on a hanger, and the wind ruffled it a bit. The door slammed, I jumped, from picturing him, as I always did. A formal blue shirt and a big wood desk, some indoor plants around, AC blowing in tropical sun. Calm, solid and familiar, but always someplace else.
"Once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return" Leonardo da Vinci
Happy Father's Day, dad, and thank you for everything (not least for eating my food), today and always xx
Hello again, after another looong hiatus. Hope you're all doing well and enjoying this heatwave craziness if you're in Europe. I made these muffs a while ago to send with my dad since muffins freeze well and I wanted to share them because they are just so good. They're very light and fluffy without sticking to the muffin liners (this is a triumph for me) and have such a nice vanilla tone with a little chew from the oats. The berries are sweet and chunky and really steal the show with the bright bursts of pink fruit. So good for spring and summer. You can use any berry you'd like instead of the strawberries, these are a great template to use all year.
Big shout out to all the dads, grandpas and father figures out there. I really don't think you're given credit for what you do, as compared to mothers, but I know my family wouldn't be the same without them and their calm, steady support.
Love and muffins xx
Strawberry - oat muffins
Gluten free // makes 16-18 muffins
1 cup (100g) oat flour
1 cup (100g) rolled oats
1/2 cup (60g) brown rice flour or millet flour
1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
6 tablespoons (95ml) pure maple syrup
2 free range eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup (250ml) milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond)
1 tablespoon lemon juice / acv (or use 1 cup/250ml buttermilk in place of the lemon juice and milk)
2 cups-ish / 300g strawberries
Preheat the oven to 190'C, 375'F. Line (or oil) two muffin pans, for around 18 muffins.
Measure your milk of choice into a mug or measuring cup and add the lemon juice or vinegar. Set aside while you continue with the recipe, for impromptu buttermilk.
In a large bowl, whisk together the oat flour, rolled oats, brown rice flour, salt and leavening things.
Prep your berries - wash them and pat them gently dry. Hull the berries then cut them as you wish - larger pieces will leave jammy pockets, smaller slices will leave a little berry in each bite, so it's your call.
In another medium bowl, beat together the oil, maple, vanilla and eggs. Retrieve your faux buttermilk and add to the bowl, beat to combine. Gently stir the berries into the dry mix so they are coated in flour, then pour the wet into the dry and stir to just combine. Try not to rough the berries around toooo much.
Fill your muffin liners about 2/3 full, with about 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) each.
Bake for around 18-22 minutes, till a skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, and the tops are golden.
Let the muffs cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack. They will keep in airtight container for about 3 days on the counter, or will freeze and defrost really well.