#58 Dad

In Family on September 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm

This week’s post is dedicated to one of the world’s most successful skinflints: my dad.

Having taken early retirement from teaching drama at Manchester Poly in the 1990s, he decided to concentrate on writing plays. Satisfying yes. Award winning, yes – he once held a record number of eight Edinburgh Fringe First Awards and was featured on the front of the Independent for having written more plays than Shakespeare. Lucrative, no.

Specialising in one- and two- handers, often written as vehicles for specific actor friends, he refused to take money from equally penniless professionals, asking instead for gifts, usually rugby jerseys. These provided a great conversation piece and a signature look, but weren’t much use for buying food or paying bills.

Consequently he made an art from living as frugally as possible. In fact, he got quite a kick from it.

Luckily, he had a nose for a freebie, and was utterly shameless about exploiting them. Back in the ’80s he’d spend whole afternoons in the St Andrews Woolen Mill working his way through the free sodas on offer for shoppers (I doubt he ever actually bought any knitwear); in the 1990s he’d spend the Edinburgh Festival popping into the Fringe press offer in the hope someone would make him a cup of coffee. He once ate a record seven strawberry tarts at a school speech day. And he’d take his dates to all-you-can-eat buffets.

He was a master at getting other people to do stuff for him, persuading ex-students to carry armchairs he’d found in skips up to his top floor flat, or commandeering friends’ duty free allowance for catering packs of Senior Service or boxes of cigars. He rarely used actual tradespeople, preferring to use out-of-work actors for all his DIY needs, again usually operating complex bartering systems in lieu of payment. And though he went to the theatre often, I’d be surprised if he ever paid for a ticket.

He didn’t drive so he walked everywhere (or got other people to drive him, obviously). Most of his clothes were from random charity shops, and his possessions were ‘bargains’ picked up at car boot sales, whether he needed them or not. (Even a chainsmoker like him could not have ‘needed’ 207 Zippo lighters, even using one per cigarette.) Often in Soho I catch spectres which, at first glance, I take to be my father, only to realise at closer quarters that the shambling figure is in fact a tramp.

And he didn’t have a credit card, preferring to use mine when necessary and to manage his day-to-day expenses in cash or fistfulls of money off vouchers, in particular Scottish £1 notes which he specially imported to make English shop assistants’ lives miserable. The William Wallace of the Brunswick Centre. Electrical goods were paid for using cigarette cards which he would often fish out of gutters  – he had a top of the range telly and video, and I’ve still got the food processor he ‘bought’ me for my 31st birthday.

So on this the 10th anniversary of his death, I’d like to salute the (less of the old, he would have said) tight fisted, exploitative, infuriating bugger. Much loved, and much missed.

Thirty, a film starring John Kay Steel and based on the play Guerilla, will be shoing at festivals in 2010 and 2011.
John Cargill Thompson’s plays were published by Diehard Books, Edinburgh
Read the Herald’s archive obituary from 2000 here
  1. i took him for a pizza buffet lunch in london one afternoon – whereupon he produced a tesco carrier bag from his sporran and proceeded to load it up – this was then served up to me later, as my tea !!

    when i first started at the manchester polytechnic school of theatre john took me under his wing and he was one of the most interesting men i ever met and i miss him still

    one morning in the foyer of the college he was stood next to a large freshly delivered pile of the poly’s student newspaper, all of which had the corner torn off – he had that half smile on his face that meant it was obviously down to him – turns out that they papers each had a condom stuck to the top corner – john had filled his sporran!

    i was happy to be a taxi service to him when he lived in manchester – and still long for the days when i could just turn up and sit and drink almost undrinkably strong coffee in his kitchen with him

  2. Someone else has just reminded me that he got the friend’s mum to darn his kilt socks for him so he didn’t have to buy new ones, and he always put in an order for industrial quantities of patissa from Asian restaurants any time they were heading back to Bradford. Really, the man had no shame.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by nerissa c thompson, Jessica CT. Jessica CT said: #58 Dad: http://wp.me/pF383-dZ […]

  4. You are not the only only to mistake him for a tramp – He once sat down on a bench on the Meadows on the way back to his flat with his shopping. Someone gave him some money for a cup of tea.

    He definitely schooled me in how to survive as an underemployed artist & is probably the reason for my ability to stretch a budget.

  5. Thanks for reminding us of the anniversary! He smoked Ian’s cigarettes and used him as a typist (we published all his plays from Parker-57-written scripts)but we didnt mind!

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