When I was ordained one of the first things my dad said to me was: “Jolly good, darling. Can I book you for my funeral now? Is it free to family?” (Actually it’s free to all but don’t tell him that.) For seventeen years he’s been in a Care Home with dementia and over the years we have chatted about his funeral. He’d chosen his hymns: Courage Brother Do Not Stumble and the Lord’s My Shepherd. The first one we’d never heard before but I understand it is well known in CofS circles. Dad used to sing it in the choir at Howgate Kirk in his youth and promised he’d sing the bass line from his coffin. The organist at the Crematorium said she’d play loudly and sing a long, which she did. Vigorously. We’d written down his life story as he remembered it and this is the eulogy I gave yesterday:
On the 11th April 1929 Alistair was born in Polmont to Georgina and John Innes. He had an older brother Ian, now deceased, and a younger brother Ronnie. A few years ago we all asked dad for his memories and his life story but bearing in mind he had dementia, we can’t verify all of the facts as you will hear them. If you knew him, you will know my dad was not averse to telling a good story so there is a chance that some of this may be entering the realms of fantasy but we think it is true.
His father taught at the Borstal in Polmont and then moved to be Head of the Wellington School near Penicuik. Dad remembers Penicuik seemed huge compared to Polmont. He passed his 11+ and went to Lasswade Senior Secondary and I asked him what he wanted to be when he left school. “Free of school!” was his reply. He proudly told me he started smoking at the age of seven, and pinched apples from the Headmaster’s garden and came close to being expelled for smoking in the back of the Latin class. He loved cricket and rugby and in his 4th year was made Captain of the Rugby Team. It was at school that he met my mum, Isobel, and they started going out together. I think that involved her mostly standing on the edge of a field in Penicuik watching him play rugby.
When he left school he did his National Service, first at Glencorse Barracks where he could go home every night, and then Aldershot for basic drill and then Southampton in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he trained to be a Physiotherapist. After his National Service he joined the RAF in Cranwell for officer training as a pilot and was posted for two years to Rhodesia, Kenya and Nairobi where he flew Chipmunks and Harvards. However he was invalided out for flying a plane upside down without a seat-belt, fracturing his skull and thereafter blacking out when he reached a certain height.
He loved being in the RAF – they were some of his happiest memories – and met Princess Margaret when she attended the passing out parade. Dad was delegated to dance with her, which he did – a quickstep, we’re told.
In 1954 he married my mum Isobel at St Mungo’s church in Penicuik. She worked as a Nursery Nurse in Edinburgh and he would pick her up on his Matchless motorbike and take her home for lunch and back, all in an hour! No helmets in those days and they were once stopped by the police and dad was given a ticking off for going so fast with a pillion passenger. He also once took a corner too tight and they crashed. His bike ended up in a ditch and mum on the verge. She put out her hand for him to help her up but he ran straight past her to his bike. In his defence, he did say he thought it might burst into flames.
He went back to the Wellington briefly to keep his friend Bob Crocket’s job of PT Instructor open for him when he went off to get his qualifications. Dad teaching PT! Imagine that!
There now follows a long list of jobs, not necessarily in the right order…
He went to work with the British Engine Insurance Company as an Underwriter. Then he became an apprentice Quantity Surveyor for two years but never finished his qualifications. He worked for Procter & Gamble, joining as a Rep so he could get a car, but they gave him a Ford Popular which he said he hated. With his friend Dougie Crombe they left and set up a business Innes and Crombe in Stafford Street selling costume jewellery and Scottish goods. According to my birth certificate I think I was born then when mum and dad lived in a flat in Morningside which coincided with him getting the new Ford Anglia which he loved. He joined the Scotsman as an Ad Manager where he met a lifelong friend Ali Ross.
Mum, Dad and I moved to Kingsknowe and they quickly made friends with the neighbours. My sister Carol came along and the family seemed complete. Then Dad met Barbara at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Aberdeen and fell in love again. Mum and Dad got divorced and Dad insisted that his old family and new one should all get along. So Dad took my mum along for lunch on the day of their divorce to have lunch with Barbara at the Caledonian Hotel. Mum said that neither she nor Barbara could eat for nerves, but Dad tucked in to his beloved smoked salmon and kept the conversation going. And Mum and Barbara did indeed become good friends.
By this time Dad had found a new interest – advertising – and he worked for Nevin de Hurst in Walker Street. They moved to Kilmaurs Road in Newington and Lesley and Joanne came along. Lesley spent a lot of her early years in a plaster cast to keep her hips in place and he’d gaily swing her from the bar between her legs. Not recommended by the hospital, by the way.
Dad was asked to open a new branch of Dixon Compton, part of the Saatchi Group, in Leeds. They moved to live in Knaresborough and my sister Carol remembers going down to visit during the holidays and dad picking us up in an old Humber Super Snipe.
“Do you want to go faster?” he’d say.
And we’d shout “Yes!”
“Then hold on to your tin hats, put your feet in a sand bucket and I’ll tell you a story about the desert,” he’d say as he put his foot to the floor.
“And don’t tell Barbara!”
Carol says we reached the giddy speed of 105mph, all sitting on the bench front seat with not a seat belt in sight.
The family moved back to Currie when dad took over Dixon Compton Advertising Agency in George Street. These were his hey days, his cars became bigger and faster. Oh how he loved his cars. His business entertaining took him most days to the Café Royal and he was always a very generous host.
Eventually he opened his own business in Rutland Square doing advertising and marketing. His clients included Peter Scott Knitwear, the Borders Development Agency, Glayva (Oh how we had fun making up Glayva cocktails for that one!), Head and Shoulders and the rumour is that Dad came up with the phrase ‘Pick up a Penguin.’
Lesley has memories of going to do secretarial work for him there. Unfortunately Dad was a little too trusting with people and his company folded when the Accountant was rather creative with his finances.
Undeterred Dad planned his next venture – and there were many. Waterless toilets featured heavily, I seem to remember. He’d meet someone in the pub who had a good idea and off he’d go on his next new business opportunity. For a few years he worked for his friend Blair at Edinburgh Cameras; and his son-in-law doing anything and everything from putting up suspended ceilings to marketing the business. Dad and Barbara separated and he moved into a flat in Haymarket.
Then in 2000 after a series of mini-strokes he had a big stroke – just the week before my finals at Edinburgh University. Quite quickly he recovered physically but we noticed that things were just not quite right. He’d had to give up his driving license when he had the mini strokes but he seemed to have forgotten this. “I’ve left my car in the car park,” he’d say when we visited. “The keys are on the dashboard.” “No Dad,” we’d say. “You sold your car, remember?” But he never remembered that. And every time we visited, every single time, the subject of his car came up. Right up until he lost consciousness two weeks ago he was asking Joanne where his car was and did she have the keys. “They’re right here, dad,” she said. “In my bag.” And he’d relax.
He was diagnosed with vascular dementia and we realised that he wouldn’t be able to look after himself again. He went into the Tower Care Home at Murrayfield where Steve then Veronica became his Care Worker and he settled in. His short-term memory was gone, he kept forgetting his mother was dead, but he seemed quite happy. He did escape once and was found at the Ellersly Hotel across the road, having ordered a large gin, and reporting his car had been stolen. Luckily one member of staff recognised him from the family meals we had there and he was escorted back to the Tower.
A few years ago the Tower closed and Dad moved to Drumbrae Care Home. Sadly, a few weeks ago he had a fall and broke three ribs which brought on pneumonia and he was taken into the Royal but it was too late and nothing could be done. He died peacefully on the 8th April, just three days short of his 88th birthday.
Really we lost our dad seventeen years ago when he had that first big stroke.
We lost his ‘life and soul of the party’ personality;
his loud infectious laugh;
his ambition and determination to be successful;
his short-term memory;
his unfailing generosity.
But occasionally we got glimpses of his wicked sense of humour as he continued to crack jokes and make cheeky remarks at inappropriate times.
Our dad was always late, never remembered a birthday unless one of his wives reminded him, and often forgot our names and we were introduced as Daughter No 1, 2, 3 or 4. He was a romantic, loved all women and was an outrageous flirt, to our eternal embarrassment when we were young. He loved his daughters, I have no doubt of that, and would have preferred that my sister Carol and I had daughters instead of sons.
He never really knew what to do with his grandsons Craig, Gareth, Davy and Stevie but I know he loved them and always asked what they were up to. Then Joanne produced his beloved granddaughter Hannah and he was over the moon. He had two precious years with Hannah as a baby before he had his stroke. Joanne remembers that he’d often arrive at her house, mid-afternoon, when she was still in her pyjamas, saying he was ‘just passing’ (which he wasn’t) and he would take over and send her off for a shower in peace and quiet. Hannah and Dad adored each other.
Our Dad had a passion for:
good old fashioned manners – he always stood up when a lady entered the room – it just took longer lately;
gin (with just a dash of water);
his elder brother Ian, who was also his best friend;
and the finer things in life.
And of course he will live on in all of us who follow as we each have inherited some of those genes, and I’ll leave you to work out which we each have.
He battled illness over the past seventeen years and bounced back time after time, against the odds. From his hospital bed he would grin and say, “I’ve got more damage to do yet.” But this time it was just too much, even for him.
Alistair Innes, our dad, a much loved father, brother, grandad, uncle, and friend to many of you. Today we are here to say goodbye to a man who touched all of our lives. So let us give thanks for dad’s life, and look forward with hope to what is to come. Eternal life.
This is the hope that we hold, and it’s in this hope, that we commend his soul to God, who created him in love and now receives him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And now in a moment’s silence I ask you to bring to mind your own memories of Alistair, and give thanks for his life and love…