If you’re lucky, your Dad, like mine, is a bit of a hero.
Now, that’s not to say he’s perfect. Dad doesn’t always get stuff right. Like the time he washed the underside of the boat and unwitting wound up with a barnacle in his ear. First we knew of the barnacle was Mum complaining of a “trawler smell” wafting across the bedroom. Or the time Dad chopped off his finger at work. Rather than rushing off for medical attention, he casually placed the stump in his lunchbox and finished working. There’s no question – Dad’s pretty tough. But my fondest memories of all are the little everyday things. Dad’s Sunday night floor picnics with homemade sausage rolls and cheese sticks. Or that Christmas Eve he snuck out to buy us all yoga mats so the ground wouldn’t feel so hard when we went camping. And of course, all of the many times we presented gashed knees and Dad calmed our dramatics with a very measured, “nah, it’s just a fleabite”. It’s the everyday, run of the mill that mattered most; the very same stuff that author illustrator Shirley Hughes, CBE, captures so beautifully in ‘Alfie and Dad’.
89-year-old Shirley has just published a new collection of Alfie stories, each one heroing Alfie’s lovely Dad Simon. There are three heart-warming stories and in each of them, Simon’s always there to help Alfie solve life’s little mysteries. Whether clambering about on his hands and knees to assure Alfie there are no “flying loobies” (monsters) under his bed, or trekking down to London Transport’s lost property office to rescue Alfie’s favourite stuffed toy. Or my favourite scene… where Alfie and Dad just enjoy a quiet moment together each morning while the rest of the house sleeps.
“Early one morning Dad and Alfie were in the kitchen, having a chat before Mum and Annie Rose were awake. It was their special time together, just the two of them.”
As always, Shirley’s timeless illustrations are warm and familiar, conjuring up all the sentimentality of our own childhoods. Alfie with his slouchy socks, rosy cheeks and ruffled hair and Dad always wearing what we must assume is his favourite red jumper!
A few years ago, in an interview with the The Daily Telegraph, Shirley said: “It’s my job with a picture book to slow children down, make them pore over the drawings and recognise their world”. Well yes… Shirley absolutely does that for children, but arguably she does it for the adult reader too. I can’t imagine a cosier book to snuggle down with this Father’s Day.