I hate this time of of year. Last week I wrote about the most wonderful time of the year and my Christmas merriment glides on through the majority of December, spreading joy and love and peace on Earth. But from boxing day evening onwards a melancholy fog descends. A mood that matches the foul weather outside and miserable gloomy greyness that permeates the post Christmas comedown.
It goes beyond the usual January blues. Just after we got married in 2008 we came home to the news that my grandad was ill. The dreaded ‘c word’ was diagnosed but the initial prognosis was positive. It was in his prostate but it seemed treatable- we were not to panic. But only a few weeks later he looked much worse. Bad news followed- it was in his bones too. The prognosis was much bleaker and his deterioration was rapid and stark. Cancer ravaged his bones and the healthy 70 year old who was dressed up to the nines and proud as punch to be dancing at his first grand daughters wedding a few months earlier was now a pale bag of skin and bones and was in and out of hospital with worrying frequency. We made it through Christmas but it was clear just after that that things were not good. New Year’s Day signalled the final stage and the whole family gathered in their family home filled with memories of an amazing childhood to take care of him and say our goodbyes. Ten years ago today, he lost his fight and we lost our legendary grandpa Joe.
The relationship we all have with grandparents is often very varied. For some people, they are distant relatives who you pop round to see for formal gatherings once a year at Christmas or who circumstances dictate maybe you never even meet. But for us, our grandparents were very much part of our lives and were huge influences on shaping us into the people we became.
My grandad was a Barnsley coal miner. I don’t really remember this side of him as he took early retirement at 50 and basically became our childminder when my parents were at work. My mum was a nurse and then midwife as we grew up and we were in a minority of kids at school who had both parents with a job; my Nan still worked so looking after us and fetching and carrying us from school and nursery fell to my gramps. This was fairly ground breaking back in the mid 80’s! In hindsight, the school lollipop lady shamelessly flirted with him as you were probably the only man she’d see most days! Men of a certain age were not generally very hands on with kids and housework! (Being fully aware of this, my grandad used to do the ironing upstairs with the curtains shut for fear of being spotted! Oh the shame of being seen brandishing a hot iron for a man in his 50’s from Yorkshire!!) I also remember an anecdote of my Nan getting home from work and him asking her where she got her blue short sleeved dress from? When she replied that she only had a long blue sleeved dress, his reply was that he’d burnt through one of the sleeves with the iron so had chopped them both off and it was now a short sleeved number!! I didn’t realise at the time but that transistion from burly miner to domestic god must have been a huge adjustment but he did it with aplomb! You’d barely have scooped the last mouthful of dinner onto your fork before he was whipping your plate out from under you and washing it (before putting it in the dishwasher- the appliance is now 25 years old and absolutely immaculate having never had a dirty plate or utensil inside it!!) He’ll be watching down livid now as his great grandkids throw blatant disregard to the ‘no biscuits in the living room’ rule and are allowed by nana bubbles to scatter crumbs all over!!!
My childhood memories from that time are of being packed into that little house full of love! My sister and I, our two cousins along for the ride; watching classic films like Mary Poppins and chitty chitty bang bang; recreating scenes from the films and making my grandad play Burt as we jumped through imaginary chalk pictures and rearranged the sofa cushions to make a flying car! Eating chip pan chips and sausages at 3.45pm the second we arrived home! My sister managing to fling tomato sauce up each wall and over the ceiling after shaking the bottle without holding the lid and the giggling fits that happened as a result. Going for sleep overs and being allowed to go to the ‘big cupboard’ to have an exotic packet of pre bedtime crisps, and you teaching us how to tie a knot in the packet when we’d done!
You’d go on holiday with my Nan and chunter and moan about the ‘pigeon food’ they served on aeroplanes, portions barely big enough to feed a sparrow! Nan would save us the little umbrellas and shiny drink decorations and you’d bring us back the packets of plastic cutlery and mini Sachets of salt and pepper you got on the plane! I remember thinking how magical and exotic this haul of treasure was! My mum was just telling me about a holiday you went on to Goa were a lady sat on the beach giving massages while her little boy sat next to her for hours on end. You went to the shop and bought him a little dumper truck to play with in the sand- my mum said his little face lit up with gratitude as you handed over the equivalent of the Crown Jewels. You were always selfless and kind and looking for ways to help others and make them happy.
I never remember you being cross or grumpy with us; there must have been times that looking after four kids got hectic but you were never ruffled or irate.I do remember you raising your voice once but that was because my mum and uncle had bought a fake plastic poo from a joke shop and put it in the bidet of the French chalet we were all staying in on holiday and you’d come to the obvious conclusion that one of your grandkids had curled one out in there! You quickly saw the funny side and your ‘mutley laugh’, a combination of an infectious giggle and hissing from your back teeth, ran through the place, causing what was already raucous laughter to become the kind of mirth that makes your eyes run and your sides hurt. It was the same laugh that confirmed to me that maybe Father Christmas wasn’t real after waking late one Christmas Eve and seeing a pair of legs stuck out of the loft hatch and hearing that distinctive laugh reverberate around while presents where chucked down willy nilly to waiting drunken adults below!!
You were funny. When we found you on a mass family holiday to tell you that Jon had proposed to me, he gave me a massive hug, clasped Jon by the hand and said ‘well done lad!! You can’t be happy all your life!!’ Even on those last days, when you summonsed us all to be around you while you said your goodbyes, you gave my Nan a huge hug, told her you loved her and then followed up with a comment about not using too many teabags when you’d gone! It may have been the morphine talking, but I like to think it was your way of lightening the pain we all felt in our broken heavy hearts; reminding us that the man we were saying goodbye to was not the man you wanted us to remember.
You have great grandchildren now and the thing that makes me saddest in life is that you never got to meet them. You would have loved them however I think they may have driven you bonkers! They are all crackers and loud but I think you would have been the one to tame them, scooping them up for cuddles and watching old films together. You’d have gone to watch my nephew play cricket and turned out to George’s football matches; Esme I suspect would have you wrapped around her little finger, playing you like a harp and getting away with murder with a flutter of her eyes. Ted is your namesake legacy- Edward Colin with a middle name to reflect a man who had so much love to give and who made all our worlds a better place for being in them. I’m gutted you never met them but I’m reassured to know that you are here to help us raise them. Here in the morals and values that you instilled in us all. Here in the traditions and memories that we have. Here as a moral compass, watching over your charges, steering them down the right path.
So today we’ll raise a glass and toast the wonderful man that you were. Gone for ten years but never far from our hearts and never forgotten. And don’t worry- we’re keeping an eye on Mags tea bag consumption for you!