‘Who would want to?’ I would scream. Well, in my head. I never actually said that out loud. But inside my head, the conversation would continue: ‘who wants an old head, if it’s like that? I like my young head, thank you very much. An old head, with its ridiculous views, with all its ‘ists’: sexist, racist, fattist. What does this old head know?’
Yes, a bolshy teenager in her full, I can change the world, loud, and always right glory.
As I got older, I started to understand that my grandad was never going to change; his outrageous views were just part of him. And, instead of them annoying me, they started to amuse me. In fact, the more outrageous they were, the more amusing I found it.
And, for extra amusement, he often shared his inappropriate views, or made inappropriate comments, at the most inappropriate of times. (I like to think he knew exactly what he was doing, and just did it for kicks, waiting to see how we would all react.) My all time favourite was when he said to my boyfriend at the time, over the dinner table, ‘you’re looking well, have you been away?’ Neil is black, so his tan is kind of an all year tan. Oh how we laughed – the kind of laughing that makes you put you hands to your mouth, and you find tears sneaking out. Neil laughed the loudest, as he was the type of person who always found the funny, thank God!
Then as my head got older, I started to understand that there was so much more to the man than his politically incorrect opinions, that you could still be a good person, even if you had slightly mad ideas about the world. My grandad was always the first to ask me how I was doing with my health challenges; he was intuitive about what was important to me, and about what would be difficult for me, because of my illness, and he was always compassionate. In phone calls, when I asked him how he was, he would always say to me, ‘oh it doesn’t matter how I am, it’s how you are that’s important.’ What a wonderful oxymoron, the ‘ist’ man with a big heart.
And he always noticed what I was wearing, not in a generalised ‘oh you look nice, dear’, but in detail: he would notice the fabrics, the pieces which coordinated with each other, the colours, and the decade which had influenced the look. It would be followed up with some outrageous comment of what the lady on the next table was wearing, and how big she was, but hey, as long as he wasn’t saying that about me!
He seemed sweeter as he got older, softening round the edges, with child like tendencies seeping through. I remember his last trip to Nottingham so clearly: it was my 40th and all my family came up so we could go out for lunch. We went to our favourite French restaurant, drank too much, talked too loudly, and laughed even louder. It was a typical family affair. But my grandad wasn’t stupid, and he always took his chances when he saw them, and this was definitely one of those times. As everyone was distracted with the sound of their own voices, and competing for the funniest story of the lunch, Grandad sat quietly and tucked into the bread, knowing no one would notice. I’m not sure how many pieces of bread, with the thickest layers of butter I’ve ever seen, made their way into Grandad’s welcoming mouth, but I was very entertained, especially as I knew Nanna ran a tight health food ship at home. He seemed like a naughty young boy. I saw, but I didn’t say anything. I thought for a man in his late 80s, this is probably as rebellious as life gets, who am I to spoil his fun?
The next day we met at their hotel, and as we walked to the coffee shop round the corner, he leaned on Mike, a sturdy six-foot support, so much more suitable for leaning on than my tiny tiny nanna. I looked on fondly. It was one of those moments that just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside: Mike just being so lovely and patient, walking as slowly as Grandad needed to, letting him take his arm, and chatting away. A moment that just says family.
I am sad that my badly behaved health has stopped me from going home recently. Although it does mean that my last memory of my grandad is before he was too frail, and his dementia had got too bad. It was my brother’s 40th that weekend, but that week Grandad had a fall, so he was having a respite week in a nearby home, to give my amazing nanna a break. I went to see him twice over the weekend, and both visits he was quite lucid and we had lovely chats. I’ll overlook the fact that he told Nanna I could fuck off, when I arrived on the first day, I mean, it wasn’t personal, he said Mum could fuck off too! He looked so small, and so old, but that’s what happens when you’re 89 isn’t it? We sat in his room and he drank a cup of coffee; I lent over to help as the cup swayed and the drink started to spill. And he happily ate a couple of chocolate biscuits – he would probably have only been given one at home.
The next day he was in the main lounge when I went to visit. And, this day I escaped any inappropriate comments, but the nurse and the lady opposite were not so lucky: the nurse was too fat, he told me, loudly. And, look at her, he said nodding at the lady opposite, she’s dribbling. Yes, my last memory of my grandad is absolutely perfect.
July 1923 – September 2013