Bek & Phil
Could you start by telling me about the original photograph?
My name is Bek Homer and the picture was taken at the Red Lea hotel in Scarborough, which was a hotel that me and my family used to go to quite a lot at weekends and for special occasions.
Can you remember anything about the day that it was taken?
I can't remember the specific day if I'm honest, but I would imagine it was a Sunday for Sunday lunch, me and my dad are dressed quite casually. We used to go quite a lot with my dad's parents, they knew the owners, so we used to go quite a lot. It felt like a big treat, they knew us, so it was very familiar. They've got a swimming pool, so I used to go swimming and it was a huge treat.
Could you describe for me what's happening in the picture?
So it's me and my dad, at the dinner table, I'm mid-way through a bread bun and there's a bitter lemon in a wine glass that I will have been drinking cos I wanted a posh drink like the other grown ups. It looks like me and my dad are having a chat and somebody's gone, 'Hey, you guys! Give us a smile for a picture', and we've gone 'Ok....Hmmm', cos there's no big grins, it's not a very posed picture, it looks a bit like we were caught off guard, maybe mid conversation.
We were both quite pose-y, so I imagine the fact that we weren't able to stand so that I could put my hand on my hip and my dad could make sure he looked alright caught us off guard a bit, but other people see the naturalness of it!
"We used to make forts out of dialysis boxes and order Chinese takeaway, just things like that, that felt like something off a film. They were just tiny moments really, because they were only the weekends and if you count them into the short time that he we were together, it's a tiny amount of time in my life."
He's got his big glasses, his well cared for moustache and his especially chosen jacket.
Yeah, he was very vain, he took pride in his appearance, always liked to have a tan, had long-ish hair as far as I can remember and bright glasses. I don't remember seeing him without glasses. He's a bit kind of Ned Flanders-ish, from The Simpsons, that's what I kind of compare him too, but not as square, he had a bit more personality!
The hotel, is that a particularly special place? Does it hold a lot of significance for you?
It's weird, because I've not been back, probably since around that time really, but I'll always remember it. It was the only place we seemed to go for occasions with my dad's parents. I think they liked the regal-ness of it, even though really when you go in, it's this old school 3-star hotel. Now that I've gone back today, it smells the same, the swimming pool's the same, even some of the staff have been there all this time, but it's not somewhere I've been back to, especially now that my grandad and grandma aren't alive, so there's no-one to go back with really. I don't have any bad memories of it at all, i'm very fond of the place.
Not many people that I've spoken to have ever gone there, because it's weird to go to a hotel in your home town, but because I think my grandparents really liked that they were known, that they knew the owners and they very much liked to show off and felt important. It was a place we used to do stuff together, and there weren't many places like that really, apart from at home.
Could you tell me about your dad, what was he like, what did he mean to you?
My dad was called Phil and he was a really big character. He was very charismatic, chatty and smiley, I don't ever remember him being sad or angry. He was a weekend dad. I only ever saw him the odd day through the week and then I would stay with him every weekend. He had a really good relationship with my mum, although they weren't together, but I was very very lucky that they got on really well. Looking back, it feels like he was a lot older than he was, but he was only early twenties when they had me, and he died when he was 40. I'm 35 now and so I look back and realise that he was actually really young, and that maybe shone through, he was a young dad and I was his only child, so every moment that we spent together was just full of laughter and it was like a dream really. I felt very lucky to have a dad like him, he made everything fun, very unrealistic!
He was very sporty, but he was ill as long as I could remember, he had kidney failure, and was diagnosed at quite a young age, it was just part of him and he didn't seem to let it bother him. People didn't realise he was ill, so yeah, he was a character basically.
You mentioned that he was 'unrealistic', what do you mean by that?
He was bit silly with money, but very generous with it, and that's something I've picked up from him. If it'll make someone smile, I'll use my last penny to buy them something, but it might leave me in debt, so I'm trying to be better with that as I've realised that's probably not the best thing to do, especially now that I'm a parent.
He'd get me electric drum kits for my birthday and then realise that it was a really stupid gift! We used to make forts out of dialysis boxes and order Chinese takeaway, just things like that, that felt like something off a film. They were just tiny moments really, because they were only the weekends and if you count them into the short time that he we were together, it's a tiny amount of time in my life. I can only remember snippets of it really, little things that stand out. So I remember the stupid fun stuff, and maybe that's why he was how he was, so I would remember the time we were together.
Do you feel grateful for that time?
Yeah, because when I tell the stories out loud, I realise how ridiculous some of them are and how lucky I am to have them, because when you do lose someone, you, well I was desperately trying to remember every single thing about them, because I'm never going to see them again. It was 18 years ago that my dad died, and I have a handful of pictures, I don't have any voice recordings, I don't have any videos, so things like that, the memories are very very precious and I do get scared that I'll forget them. That was my biggest thing really, as every year ticks by, I kind of start to forget more and that's scary.
In that sense, are there things that you try to hold on to, characteristics that he had that you try to grow in yourself?
I think I overly do it sometimes, even today, doing this project, I consciously wore glasses, I consciously wore a coat that I thought my dad would wear, I asked my mum, would dad have done this, how do I look more like my dad, so that in years to come I can look at these pictures. The hard thing is that no-one that I see on a day-to-day basis knew my dad, it was such a long time ago that friends that knew him don't live here anymore, school friends that have moved away, so we don't see each other. I only keep in touch with one friend, his best friend Graham which is nice but that's it really. and having my mum and sister has been a huge support. It's hard though, because my husband, my son, my close friends have no idea who this man was, all they've got is these pictures that I'll show them, or stories, and that's really hard sometimes when you want to talk about the person, because you want to share all these stories. You know deep down that the person you're telling, they do care, but they shouldn't care really, they can have empathy for you, but really you want someone to go, 'Oh, yeah, I knew Phil, yeah, he used to do this thing and it was brilliant', and you'd get that spark in you because cos they knew my dad. I don't get that, and that's sad really, I'd love that.
"The hard thing is that no-one that I see on a day-to-day basis knew my dad, it was such a long time ago that friends that knew him don't live here anymore, school friends that have moved away, so we don't see each other."
Do you find yourself wanting to talk about him a lot?
Yeah, and that really helped me right from the beginning really. I was only 17 when he died, I was very much feeling the need to be happy, keep going and living my life because my dad wouldn't want me to be sad and he wouldn't want me to do this and I very much had that all the way through, I've asked myself, 'what would my dad have wanted?'. What would he have wanted me to be like? That's been really good to keep me grounded I suppose and on a straight path so to speak.
I find, the only thing that gives me comfort is listening to music, cos we both really loved music. Bands like Hall&Oates, Go West and Hue&Cry, who aren't that well known, but to us, I can just hear a song and it'll bring back so many memories and I love that. I'll always have that, I'll always have the music.
"I find, the only thing that gives me comfort is listening to music, cos we both really loved music. Bands like Hall&Oates, Go West and Hue&Cry, who aren't that well known, but to us, I can just hear a song and it'll bring back so many memories and I love that. I'll always have that, I'll always have the music."
I've had friends who've had signs, things come to them in dreams, and I've never, in 18 years of losing my dad had any kind of sign. It's made me quite sceptical, so I've had to deal with that as well, wanting there to be this life after death, but actually, when you lose somebody and don't get any connection, it's hard to be positive, so it has given me challenges in dealing with death.
I'm really interested about that, not having a sign..
Have you had a sign? Or do you think you've had a sign?
I'm interested because I've never thought about it in that way. I had a dream about being at my grandma's house with her, my dad and my wife, Sarah, but I never took it to be a sign.
But was it a comfort?
Cos I've not had anything like that. I could make something like that! I could think of a scenario about my dad and be hugely comforted by it, and maybe something to do with when it happened, or the circumstances, or something about his death has made me push everything away and not accept any signs. I've got friends who believe that if they see a feather it's their mum, or if they see a butterfly it's their mum, which is lovely. I don't know whether they genuinely think that or whether it makes them feel better that a butterfly is their mum. Where as I don't know if I'm so sceptical about it all. I could see a butterfly and say it must be my dad, but deep down I know that it isn't him and I guess when he died, because he was such a big character, I was really cross that I didn't get a sign, I was angry, I was really peed off if I'm honest. I did the whole, 'Dad, if you're in the room can you turn a light on please', and the light never comes on.
When I had my son, I thought there would be some sort of beam of light and he would go 'Wow, you've had a son', but there was none of that.
But a lot of friends have come to me when they've lost people and they like my honesty and my openness about it. My friend's just lost her mum, 'You're mum has died and it is rubbish, it's pants, truly rubbish', but you can listen to how I dealt with it, or you can deal with it in your own way. The way I dealt with it was pretty much wanting to get on and live my life. Your parent wouldn't want you to be sad, but it's hard not to be sad sometimes. It's balancing it all.
The intrigue for me is that you've almost got this expectation for there to be a sign, but that's mixed in with an acknowledgement, maybe not wholeheartedly, but some level of acknowledgement that your dad's gone and there's a big space where he once was.
Yeah, some people would say the way I am is quite healthy, because I know that he's not a butterfly and he's not here. Because he was a really funny guy and because I've always been very open talking about his death and how he would be. People find it comforting and endearing that I can be like that and I don't walk on eggshells and get morbid about it. I love talking about it, it makes me happier and gives me a fire. If I get too sad about it, it brings me down and in my teens, me looking for a sign and not getting a sign brought me down, so instead I'd put on a Hall&Oates song and that would be good and make me happier.
So it's a case really of holding onto the things that you know you've got, rather than hoping for something that may or may not appear?
Would you say that the experience of loss has shaped you? Is it sometimes a case of not letting it define you or do you want it to be known that you've lost somebody?
Yeah, for a while I was always known as the girl who'd dad had died, because there wasn't anybody else who'd gone through that in my social group. Unfortunately now as you get older, it is becoming more and more common, you meet people who have lost a parent, sometimes both. So as I got older, it was almost easier to talk about it because I met people who I could talk to about it. Where as when I was 17, I knew nobody that had gone through it, so I just got on with life.
You mentioned to me earlier that when you were a child, you starred in a film as an actor, what was that like?
It was a very brief time as actress, I must say! When I was about 8, the local television companies came round the local schools in this area and did some auditions. We didn't really know what it was for, but then the next week, about 8 of us were taken to Yorkshire Television in Leeds and I remember reading this script with another person. I was just going with the flow and thought it was part of school! Then I got told that I'd got this part in a film and that I was going to have two months of school! It was going to be filmed in the Saltburn, Harrogate, Rippon area and that my dad was going to come with me as my chaperone.
It feels like a bit of a blur really, one day I was at school and the next day I was learning all these words. It was a big part, I was very very lucky. It was huge experience, my dad absolutely, well, he was over the moon. He loved the attention, he loved the fact that we were mixing with famous people, that there was a premiere, all these exciting things that I didn't really appreciate at the time, I just thought it was cool!
I had a tutor that kept me up to date with school work and helped me learn my lines. My dad used to just sit on a directors chair and liked the fact that he could go and get catering whenever you liked. He probably loved it a bit more than me! It was a great two months, we were together all the time. I was away from my mum that whole time, so it was the longest that we'd ever spent together. We shared hotel rooms and we used to get sweets and pop brought to us, yeah, it was a brilliant experience, but, when I had to return to normal life I got bullied by kids who didn't understand why I got to do that and they didn't. Obviously I can see it was jealousy, but when you're 8 and trying to fit in at school you just want and easy life. I wish I could tell my 8-year-old self just to go with it and have the time of your life, but I can't do that.
So then I just said I didn't want to do it anymore, and I remember my dad being really upset actually, which is probably the only time I've seen him upset. I think he was frustrated that I was giving up on this chance to be famous, I think he liked the idea of me being famous! Whereas I enjoyed doing, but I just wanted friends and a normal life. But he loved every minute of it, he would show and tell everybody that I was in a film, carry the VHS around with him and ask, 'Have you got a video player, my daughter's in this film...'.
I had really long hair and they cut it off into an awful bob! It was like a helmet! I just remember that everywhere we went, my dad would be like, 'This is Rebecca, she was in a film!', he was so proud. I didn't talk about it for ages and ages, but when I went up to secondary school people kept saying, 'You were in that film weren't you?!', it became such an embarrassment, but my dad was so proud. Now, I'm like, 'Look at this! This is pretty cool! Look at this that I was in!'. It's weird really.
It sounds to me like it was a special time, obviously hard afterwards...
Frustrating really that kids can be like that.
Of course, but in the moment, your dad must just have thought his dreams were coming true for his little girl.
Yeah, what a cool thing!
"On anniversaries I do go up and I started putting things that spin around on there, I put my wedding bouquet on there when I got married, things like that. I purely go up on occasions, father's day, his anniversary and his birthday, I don't go up just to stand or sit, I don't feel a connection to it at all really, it's more just an acknowledgement that he isn't here, because I didn't feel that it was right that when he died there was nothing."
Do you have any places, routines or anniversaries that help you think back and remember?
It's very complicated and drawn out, but without going into great detail, my dad didn't have a grave or a plaque or an ashes scattering, due to things to do with family, so I didn't have anywhere to go and pay my respects. So I saved up and got a plaque at the local crematorium, so there's no ashes there, but there is a plaque, just so I could go up and lay flowers. I still go up there now, but I do find the whole process quite, well, like I'm doing it for the sake of it. Thinking that he died on this day so I should go and put some flowers on this plaque. I didn't really get from it what I thought I would. I think if it was a grave or his ashes were there, maybe I would have a connection, but the reasons behind it were good.
On anniversaries I do go up and I started putting things that spin around on there, I put my wedding bouquet on there when I got married, things like that. I purely go up on occasions, father's day, his anniversary and his birthday, I don't go up just to stand or sit, I don't feel a connection to it at all really, it's more just an acknowledgement that he isn't here, because I didn't feel that it was right that when he died there was nothing.
For me personally, looking at photos, I don't have many, but looking at them, listening to songs. It's actually his anniversary tomorrow, 18 years since he died, so tomorrow, and it's very modern of me, but I'll probably put a picture on instagram and a little message saying I hope you're happy wherever you are. I call him 'Daddy Phil'. My son's three, so he's got no concept of who my dad is, I talk about him, but he doesn't know, but when he's older I will tell him who he is, but what I quite like is that he'll be like a character to my son, he'll be a figment of his imagination and I quite like that, because that's what he feels like to me, like he's captured in time. I don't imagine my dad old, because he was 40 when he died, to me he will always be 40, he's not growing old anywhere, he's captured in that moment and I quite like that. The place he was when he died is not the person I like to remember, because he was that person for, maybe, two weeks, in that whole 40 years he was alive and I like to remember the posey, flashy, charismatic dude, rather than the ill one, cos that's not cool.
I think that's a notion that's been similar for a lot of people that I've talked to, they want to hold onto something that isn't the last image of the person that they saw.
I feel very blessed that his illness, which he had for a very long time, didn't really make him ill. I've got lots of friends, and maybe you've had personal experience of it, where you see the person deteriorate over time and the illness takes over them, and that's awful. Where as I was almost so used to him have kidney failure that I never thought he'd die of it, which is probably a bit naive. So when he was in and out of hospital, I didn't visit him all the time because he was always in and out of hospital! When he actually went in and didn't come out, there was a lot of, well I think part of me knew that he was really ill, but I didn't want to go and see him because that wasn't the person that I wanted to see or remember. I just thought he'd be fine, he'll come out, he always does, but he didn't, unfortunately.
What was it like when I asked you to find a photograph for the project?
Really hard! I don't have many of me and him in the years leading up to him dying, most of them are of me as a child. I've got none of him and me as a baby, so there's just this period of time where there's a handful of pictures. Most of the really lovely ones are actually taken in Benidorm, of all places! People look and as 'Where was that taken? It looks like the Amalfi Coast or Ibiza!', but it's not, it's Benidorm, on some rocks. Sadly, we couldn't go to Benidorm today, so I found one at the Red Lea hotel. It's me and him, we look happy and it's still here, it still exists, where as a lot of the shots I've got are in old houses or abroad. So, I'd say, treasure pictures, because I really wish I had more. I've got lots where he has sunglasses on. I don't have many colour photos. Things like, seeing his eye colour, or even just his eyes, it upsets me that I don't have more. Things like that I always start to obsess a bit about and have to realign. I don't remember what his voice sounded like, things like smell, so things like that I try to not think too much about, because there's nothing I can do about it.
What was it like going back there today to retake the photo?
Really nice! It smelt the same, it looked the same, even though there'd been a decor change. It felt very familiar. It was really really nice. I felt really proud going in and telling them that I had this picture and we were going to take a new one. I think some people, maybe some of the staff thought it was a bit odd, but to me, I was proud as punch that I was doing it today. My dad would have absolutely loved it. Anything with me on a camera, centre of attention, which I'm not too comfortable with, but the fact that it's because of him, it's quite fitting really.
"I'm going to go and do counselling at a local university, because I want to be the person that is there for young people when they lose a loved one"
Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
The reason that I was interested in the project was that when I lost my dad, there was no support there really. I didn't get offered counselling by my college, I went back to work and college three weeks after he died. I didn't sit my A-levels because of it, I didn't go to university, and my dad really wanted to go to university, in his eyes, that's what people did if they were successful. So he wanted his daughter to go to university, and he died before I was going to do it. I was going to do broadcast journalism at Leeds and I wanted to be a newsreader, that was my dream, to be a newsreader. Now at 35 I'm about to go to university for the first time, and I'm scared, because it's something he wanted me to do, but I didn't think I was necessarily very academic. I loved school, loved the chatty side of it, was always the one that showed people round school, but wasn't necessarily very good at the work! So, going to university is one of those things that I always thought I liked the idea of it, but I maybe wouldn't be that good at it. I haven't had a career to speak of, ever, I've been a DJ, I've been a manager at Boots, I've worked for my mum and I've had a baby, so I'm a mum, but I've never had a career that I thought, 'I'm this and I'm really proud of it', so I'm determined to do something. So I'm going to go and do counselling at a local university, because I want to be the person that is there for young people when they lose a loved one, because I don't think there is anybody like that at the moment. I'm sure there is, and there's lots of great charities and things, but there was nothing for me when I was at school, so I'm determined to do that, we'll see how it goes, I'll let you know in four years!