Born to parents who barely knew he was there, his early years were beyond modern imagination. He stole food to feed his little sister and, being Dad, no doubt, other comforts. By 11 he was thrown into a borstal where he would stay until they threw him out at 15, illiterate and unloved, without a penny to his name.
Any wonder then that he fell into an underclass who admired his survival skills, running messages for the Krays and other, more small time London gangsters.
But Ron took himself to night school and learnt to read and write. Brilliant, handsome, wily and more charming than any other man I ever met, he was a survivor.
Soon, at just 17, war broke out and Ron joined the RAF, lying about his age. He fought all through the second world war, trained to be a spitfire engineer, stationed mainly in the African desert. A generation of state sponsored murderers were trained to kill, then expected to come home and live like good little boys. He was knocked off the wing of a Spitfire (MAINPLANE I hear him shout) by Douglas Bader and taken prisoner by Rommel. But Ron survived. He always survived.
"Holding them back with cold steel" Spitfires in the background, his "bivvi" - home for 5 years - on the left
Ron would never be a good little boy. Why should he? Life had dealt him a tough hand and only a little ducking and diving would get him through. Long after he didn't really need to any more, he carried on, just for the fun of it.
He won ABAs. He boxed for the RAF - think for a moment what that meant; the status and admiration afforded a tough guy who out toughed all the other tough guys.
He played wicket keeper for Surrey Colts and every one of his fingers was broken and gnarled from catching impossible catches. Somewhere in the Lords archives, I believe, there is a picture of him taking a catch completely off the ground, in perfect parallel with the horizon. He had a trial for Walthamstow football club back when they were a 1st division club. He tried out the same day as Jimmy Hill. Dad was offered a place, but couldn't afford to take the drop in salary. Jimmy took his place and the rest, as they say, is sporting history.
After the war, he worked as a toolmaker, working his way up to foreman before starting his own spring making factory. I'm not sure quite how much of the business was legitimate.
He leaves 7 children - 4 sons and 3 daughters, of which I'm the baby. His princess.
Ron was a drinker, a bon viveur, a small time, loveable crook. He had a "look". Oh dear God, you never messed with the "look". The quieter he got, the stiller he became, the more trouble met the poor unwitting fool who pushed his luck.
After 77 years of devoted attempts to pickle himself alive and as many falls from various wagons, he gave up drinking entirely, overnight, just like that. At 77.
Pity a succession of hapless boyfriends who met "trial by gangster-Dad" as I was growing up. As a teen I hated it. I'd squirm as I saw him set traps for each to walk straight into as they remained blissfully oblivious right up until it was too late. But later, I came to rather like the selection process. If they turned tail and ran, they were rarely worth my attention. If they stood and toughed it out, they were generally keepers - and Dad admired them the more for it.
He swore he'd never give me away to anyone. My Dave melted his resolve. You might catch a trace of the f*** this "look" about it all though ;)
He met my Mum in the late 60s and they fell immediately in love, a love that lasted til the very end. They married one snowy day, just the two of them in wellies, no need for fanfare or procession.
He wasn't even a conventional man for his age. From a young man, he always cooked the Sunday roast at a time when most men were still demanding their pipe and slippers. Through his later years, he somehow managed enlightenment on race, homosexuality and equality of gender few of his contemporaries ever achieved.
Oh, he wasn't an easy Dad. The demons that haunted him from a broken, unloved childhood and a youth spent bombed from "arseholes to breakfast time" by Germans, left scars. We all need crutches and Dad's were booze and bravado. Charming, loving and hysterically funny by day, dark, sarcastic and brooding by boozy night, life with Dad was a roller coaster, but an exciting, challenging roller-coaster.
The stories I could tell! But I'm sure most would get him arrested posthumously. "The legend of the footprints in the snow", the night he and his then grown sons drank their way through an illegal brewery to "hide the evidence", the box of chickens, (?!?) swimming races down the Thames before the police could fish him out - you should have been cross, you should have stopped him, but no-one ever stopped him and no-one could ever stay cross. He smiled that crooked smile and all was forgiven. He talked the talk and charmed the charmless.
His advice made me who I am - "There's no such word as can't." "Worry, and you worry all of your life." "Watch the tiger when it's licking your ear." "Never sign anything." I could never have survived decades of crohn's without his unique brand of tough love and fierce pride. When everything was desperate, when I had used every last drop of hope and fight, only he would tell me to "man up". "Get up off that bed, kick that fucking doctors arse and FIGHT! Fight my girl, no-one's going to save you, save yourself." When everyone else looked at me with pity, he looked at me with pride, when others offered sympathy and cosseting, cloying reassurance that it was all too hard, Dad reminded me it was NEVER too hard - and what an example he was! If he could survive mastoids, meningitis (pre-antibiotics) malaria and peritonitis, I could survive anything.
Oh, men like Ron had their faults, but to be loved by them? To be centre of their universe? To know that no-one could ever hurt you and live to tell the tale?? To earn their pride? It makes life special, embroidered with golden fire and lucky stars, opportunity and competitive confidence.
When I got my degree, I swear he knocked on every door in our street.
His strength!! Men like Ron don't exist any more. He never grew accustomed to real food, good food, healthy food. He lived from a "chindet pot" a kind of curried stew of whatever Mum and I left. Everything went in and it was never emptied. Somewhere at the bottom of that pot was ten year old food, but his constitution was indestructible, his immunity resisted any illness, ever. Until the very end, his "treats" were a nice pot of jellied eels, a trotter or some nice chewy whelks.
He got a growth on his hand once and hit it with a hammer every day til it disappeared.
In his 70s, Dad liked to ride his bike to Bognor Regis and sit by the sea with a can of beer. In his dirty old bobble hat and body warmer with the stuffing hanging out, the eccentric old bugger looked like a tramp. One day a group of yobs tried to mug him. They threw his bike to the floor and tried to take his beer. He went quiet & still. He knocked the ringleader clean out with one punch and told them to run home to their Mummies. He was nearly 80.
Men like Ron shouldn't fade away. The massive stroke that left him helpless and insensible the day after my last huge op couldn't take him, it wasn't right! He should have careered of a race track, trying to be the oldest man to win a Grand Prix! He should have frozen stiff half way back down successfully climbing Everest.
But he lay there, and we told him we loved him every day as he faded quietly away. Perhaps the end wasn't fitting, but perhaps, after all, it was. The man who started life so alone, who fought so hard, who ducked and dived and conned and survived found peace with my Mum and I and the grandchildren he adored. Perhaps, after all, drawing a last breath and drifting away was the best end of all. At the end of his 91 years, he finally found peace.
With my boys, the light of his life
My favouritest tweep, @DocHackenbush and separated-at-birth-twin just made this for me. I'll treasure it :)))