Posted on January 19, 2011 at 11:07 am by Andrew Arnott

My Dad’s Eulogy – Ken Arnott

Ken Arnott Photo

My Dad, Ken Arnott, died suddenly on Boxing Day, and he’ll be hugely missed.

I wanted to post his Eulogy on here in his honour, so those who knew him could remember him and also so anyone else who has the misfortune (but also the honour) of writing a Eulogy for someone they loved could use it as a reference.  It’s probably not a standard Eulogy as I (and my Dad would have definitely agreed) wanted it to be a bit more light-hearted to reflect who he was. 

About Dad

I know funerals are sombre occasions, but there are a couple of reasons we should be a little more cheerful today…

1) Dad hated funerals. He really did. And I can say quite confidently that he’d hate being at this one, all the more for the fact that it’s his own! He wouldn’t want everyone making a fuss about him or getting all upset on his behalf because he wasn’t that sort of person.  He’d want us to say, ‘Good Innings, Ken’ and then go off and enjoy a beer. Of course we’ll get a bit upset, but we’ll also remember all the great stuff he’s done, and we will of course have the odd pint or two in his honour.

2) Dad went out as he would have wanted. Maybe a little sooner than he expected, but definitely as he would have wanted.  Despite not believing in any ‘superstitious nonsense’ as he called it, he would often recall how a fortune teller told him he’d live to be the age of 87. Well, it shows you what they know.

When I say ‘as he would have wanted’, I mean ‘very quickly’. He made it clear that he’d never want to be a burden on anyone.  A proud man who was at his best when people were relying on him, he certainly didn’t want to have to rely on others.  So he got his wish for a quick exit.  As his brother Ian put it brilliantly the other day, ‘good for him, not so good for us’.

Now in the spirit of celebrating his life, I’m going to go through some of his loves, as opposed to a blow-by-blow account of his life.  I don’t think I’ll have time to cover all of them, but we certainly don’t have time to cover all his dislikes, so I’ll stick mainly to the former.

In no particular order, we’ll start with Scotland.  The clue was in the entrance music.  And by the way, the exit music is traditional jazz – one of the few wishes he ever expressed about his funeral – I’m sure mainly to torment us!  Back to Scotland… Dad’s father was Scottish and he and Ian spent many happy childhood holidays there.  So, although he was born in Cheshire back in 1937 and spent most of his life in England, he remained fiercely proud of his Scottish roots.  In later life, he embraced his Scottishness by dusting off his Scottish flag and hanging it out the window on the extraordinarily rare occasion of a Scottish rugby victory, and also by displaying a legendary tight-fistedness at every opportunity.  I should point out that his penny-pinching was only evident when it came to spending money on himself (although some of his drinking buddies might dispute this).  He was incredibly generous when it came to others, particularly in times of need, but if it was anything for him, be it the dark blue jumpers he always wore or patching over rust spots on the car or buying the cheapest boots known to humanity, he would revert to being a true Scotsman.

Although it’s not closely related to Scotland, I’ll move on to Sport.  To say that Dad was into sport is a bit of an understatement.  Those who have only known him in more recent years might have assumed that he was only an armchair sportsman.  In fact, so proficient was he at armchair sport, he was considering turning professional.  While my Mum will miss him dearly, what she won’t miss is Sky Sports’ back-to-back test match coverage, which gave him the ability to watch cricket pretty much 24-7.

Back in the day though, he was definitely a participant.  A decent golfer in his youth, he thought about pursuing a career in the game, but his father disapproved as it wasn’t a ‘proper profession’.  It’s then hard to say whether cricket or rugby was his main sporting love.  Fortunately for him, they occupy different seasons, so he was able to play both.  A scrum-half for London Scottish for many years (that’s right, a scrum half – the smallest player on the field) and incidentally the youngest scrum half to have played for the first XV, he was as gifted in the bar post-match, as he was on the pitch.  Even recently, Rob and I would look at each other in horror when going for a quiet drink together, as Dad would drain half his pint with his first little sip.  We’re not slow drinkers, but a couple of pints with Dad was more like a contest.

Now before I cover cricket, I want to talk about Dad’s sense of humour.  If there’s one thing everyone will remember about him, it’s his cutting dry wit – some will recall it fondly, others, not so fondly!

I’ll never forget him answering the door to Mum’s friends, asking “what’s the matter, forgotten your broomstick?” or the way he would bounce up and down with excitement whenever Wales lost at Rugby, usually to a minnow, because it presented him with the opportunity to torment the Welsh contingent down the pub.  You either got his sense of humour and loved it, got it and hated it or, as was particularly amusing to watch, you just didn’t get it at all.

We were looking to have a Spike Milligan poem as a reading today, as he was Dad’s comedy hero, but it was a struggle to come up with anything even vaguely fitting or that isn’t completely barking mad.  Probably the most sensible poem I could find that I still remember Dad quoting when I was growing up was this one…

I must go back to the sea some day
The lonely sea and sky
I left my shoes and socks there
I wonder if they’re dry

But in combing the bookshelves looking for Milligan, it amused me how much you could tell about Dad from the titles sat there on the shelves.

Particularly fitting I thought were… 

One grump or 2
Cricket, my world
“What are the butchers for” and other great cricket quotes
Behind the stumps
The manual of rugby union
The book of cricket
Let’s talk rugger
Its not cricket
Another slice of Jonners
Next man in
My spin on cricket
Cricket, my world (again – he had 2 of them)
Cricket, my pleasure
Len Hutton’s autobiography (his boyhood hero)
The Good wine guide
The Good beer guide
The Good food guide
The World’s greatest cranks and crackpots
The wicked wit of Churchill
Never marry a cricketer

So here we are back at cricket!  Now, that last one (Never marry a cricketer) might have been good advice for my mother, as she discovered the very next day after marrying one.  Rather than being whisked away on honeymoon, dad whisked her away to Effingham Cricket Club, where she had the immeasurable pleasure of watching him, as captain, play in three matches over three consecutive days.  The honeymoon and over 36 years of happy marriage did eventually follow on though.

And so we’ve arrived at mum and, of course, family.  Mum and Dad met all those years ago while both working for Braithwaite Pressed Steel Tanks and have since conspired to be the best possible parents imaginable to Rob and I.  Family was no doubt the most important thing in Dad’s life.  He always went into work early so that he could leave at quarter to five, giving him more time with us.  Mum, Rob and I, all have far too many fond memories of holidays, days out, and just spending time together to go into here.  And Dad was always such a dedicated supporter of us, watching just about every game of rugby, cricket, basketball or athletics that Rob and I were involved in.  A few of Rob’s old school friends described him as an ‘unofficial coach’ and it’s a testament to him that mine and Rob’s friends (and their parents, some of whom are here today) still remember him so fondly. Now while family meant everything to Dad and he’d do anything for us, he also managed to maintain some sort of air of authority at all times and always commanded our respect.

And it wasn’t just us who thought this.  I remember a few years ago in Montreal when we were visiting Rob out there, the lads decided to go out for a beer together.  So me, Dad and Rob were out enjoying a few pints when an extremely large and not particularly sober fellow sporting a crew cut approached my Dad and said “Sir, what a pleasure it is to see you again, Sir”.  Dad, looking a little taken aback, said something to the effect of “I’m sorry, do I know you?”.  The huge man went on to explain that he had been in the Marines stationed in Belize and insisted that Dad was his commanding officer out there, repeating “You know! You know!” again and again.  Now Rob and I were sure we didn’t know everything about Dad’s chequered past, but we were pretty certain he wasn’t a commanding officer in the Marines in Belize.  Dad was completely unfazed and after explaining twice to him that he was mistaken, the promise of beer led Dad to end the stand-off with a look that said, “I know what you’re talking about, but it’s top secret”.  And so this huge beast of a man gave Dad a massive sweaty bear hug while exclaiming “I know it’s you, Sir” and bought him drinks all evening for being the best damn commanding officer he had ever had the pleasure to serve under.

As Rob and I looked on hopefully at the chance of free beer, he pointed at us one by one saying, “not you, not you, just you”.  It still remains one of the more bizarre incidents I remember, and just goes to show what a military air Dad sometimes had.  No wonder Rob and I were so well behaved as kids.

Which brings me to children.  Now it’ll be no surprise to those who were close to Dad, but maybe more of a surprise to those who only knew his more gruff exterior, that he was extremely fond of children. Not in a sinister or illegal way, I might add.

He had photos around the house of the kids that were a big part of his life along with various bits of artwork they did for him.  His four grandchildren of course, but also children from the families that he gardened for, or was a past or present neighbour to.  For these families, he became as much a babysitter, taxi driver, father-figure and friend as a gardener or neighbour.  Round mum and dad’s house in the garden, you’d often hear a high pitched shout from the other side of the fence.  “Is that you, Ken?” closely followed by “can I come and play with your toy cars, Ken?”.  Children just gravitated towards him.  He certainly wasn’t the most smiley or bouncy of characters, but he had an instant rapport with kids – getting down to their level, letting them take his glasses off 3 times, never more, and never talking down to them.  One of my Irish nephews, aged 2, after meeting Dad for 2 minutes, then pursued him relentlessly around the house for the rest of the day, never more than 2 feet away.  That was the effect he had.

I want to round off by reflecting on how we’ll remember Dad.  A family man, a cricketer and cricket fan – in fact the last thing he heard before he died was that Australia were all out for 98 so at least we know he died happy.  A sports fan, a gardener, a husband, a big brother, and an amateur DIYer whose mission in life was to cover every inch of available wall-space with a shelf.  Let’s not forget though that he was also there for so many people.

While I know he would have loved an epitaph along the lines of Spike Milligan’s, who I’m sure you know has the words “I told you I was ill” written on his gravestone, the words “I’ll be there” would be quite fitting for Dad:

 “I’ll be there” whenever we needed picking up from the station, even in the middle of the night

“I’ll be there” when we needed help with the garden

“I’ll be there” if we needed any sort of DIY job done (or at least started)

“I’ll be there” if the kids needed picking up from anywhere

“I’ll be there” when someone (you know who you are) locked their keys in their car – along with their baby

and “I’ll be there” at the slightest hint of a pint being on offer.

The number of people who have told us stories of how, when they were having any sort of difficulty, Dad, never ever publicly, would quietly take them aside and tell them that if they needed anything, just to let him know.  Sometimes it would be a quiet word of encouragement, other times an offer to help out.  But always the message was “I’ll be there”.

Of course Dad was no latter day saint – far from it!  No-one who used such cutting sarcasm and displayed such Victor Meldrewesque behaviour on a regular basis could be described as such.  And no doubt, Mum should be entitled to some sort of long service medal for having the patience of a saint through nearly 37 years of marriage.

But I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never met anyone more devoted to their family, nor anyone with more integrity, nor anyone who could be so solidly relied upon.

So here’s to you, Dad.  You’re the best father that anyone could possibly wish for and you’ll continue to always be there in the memories and hearts of those who loved you.

Kenneth Macpherson Arnott
1937 – 2010

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