Building the Great Wall of China (with, please note, some very early Lego bricks). I’d obviously been reading Wonders of the Past…

My father was not like other fathers.

For one thing, his job as a sub-editor on the Sporting Life meant that he left home after lunch and returned on the last train from London, long after his young son had been put to bed. There was, of course, no paper on Sundays – but he also had Saturday jobs, first as a sub on The People and later as one of the ‘backroom boys’ sitting behind the presenter, David Coleman, on the BBC’s Saturday sports programme, Grandstand.

My father in the background as Frank Bough presents Grandstand

Which meant that Saturdays, for me, were very, very special. We’d watch the programme to see if we could spot him in the background. (No other reason – I had zero interest in anything to do with sport!) And then the excitement began to build…

Every week I waited with bated breath to see him come to the front gate. Invariably he would arrive with gifts – a box of Black Magic chocolates for my mother (and perhaps a bottle of wine) and something for me, too. We’d sit down to a meal together, perhaps (when we eventually had a TV) watch a programme together, and then it was off to bed for me.

Where I did not always sleep easily.

As a young child I was troubled by vivid and terrifying nightmares. Some I can remember to this day – dark, shadowy, threatening figures creeping towards me in slow motion while I lay paralysed and unable to escape. My parents countered these phantoms with music, most often Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. Usually, that worked, though not always. I was an imaginative child.

My father would have said that he didn’t relate to very young children – but if that was true (which I question) he more than made up for it when I learned to talk. He encouraged and fed my curiosity in every way he could think of, pulling out the books he had collected as a young man in the 1920s and 30s. I was enthralled by the reconstructions of ancient cities and monuments in Wonders of the Past, first published as a part work after Howard Carter found Tutankhamen’s tomb. And I loved to leaf through Splendour of the Heavens, a book about astronomy he’d probably bought at about the same time, and which fostered my enduring interest in cosmology.

And then there were the books. So many books! Whenever he felt I might be ready for something new – something, perhaps, that had stimulated his own imagination in times past – he would bring it to me, never worrying if it didn’t resonate with me, always encouraged when it did. Sickly as I was, those books opened new worlds for me even when I was confined to my bed, and put my reading age way ahead of my contemporaries.

And then there was our model railway.

It began simply enough, with a clockwork tank engine, two ‘blood and custard’ carriages (LMS livery if you’re a purist…) and an oval of track. From then on it grew. And grew. My father’s interest was more in the scenery and the buildings (he delighted in assembling the beautifully printed SuperQuick models of trackside and town structures) and when it came to painting miniature figures he had a superbly delicate touch. The actual running he was quite content to leave to me…

I can only remember one – hilarious – incident where he had to take charge of discipline. His best friend, James Batley, had been invited to dinner. I was misbehaving and was therefore banished to my room. After twenty minutes or so I stomped downstairs, my teddy bear ‘Bamse’ in hand, presented myself at the table, and yelled ‘Bamse says I’m right!’

Which got me a very inexpertly delivered bottom-smacking from my father. I can’t remember him ever trying that again. He’d wisely learned that my mother’s more subtle approach was far, far more effective…