Monday, April 21, 2008

A true gentleman

They say you can choose your friends but not your family, but in my case, I struck lucky on all fronts; Mum and Dad are awesome. They’ve always been supportive of whatever crazy scheme I come up with, always encouraged me to follow my own path even if they might not necessarily agree with me. My brother is the guitar-playing best friend I sometimes take for granted. And then there’s my grandparents. On my Dad’s side, the wonderful, much-missed Georgie and John; she was the mischievous little imp who introduced the phrase “cheeky bugger” into my vernacular, who always opened her Christmas and birthday presents early, and made words up when we played Scrabble. He was the quiet, contemplative man who chose his words carefully, who watched us all with visible pride, and who amazed us with his artistic talents.

On my Mum’s side, there is Stella, our glamorous “little grannie,” as Simon calls her, always radiant, and never sitting still as she busies and fusses around everyone with a remarkable energy that leaves us all exhausted just from watching her.

And then there’s Bill, my Grandad.

It’s difficult to put into words exactly how much I admired this man, a gentle giant who towered over my Nan so much so that he would often affectionately refer to her as his “midget,” before giving her that look that could only be one of absolute and unswerving devotion.

He is a defining figure in my childhood memories. As a kid I was infatuated with buses. Grandad worked for London Transport, and as such, I believed it was him that kept all the buses going. I remember spending summer days at my grandparent’s house, waiting outside for him to come home from work. As soon as Simon and I caught a glimpse of him at the top of the road, walking along with that distinctive gait of his, we would run as fast as we could towards him, literally throwing ourselves at him as we got within reach.

He was a man of such generosity; he would give us reams and reams of paper to draw on, encouraging our burgeoning artistic talents. If we complained that the tree at the top of our road hadn’t produced any conkers, the next thing we knew we’d have a large box of them that he had collected from the riverside for us. And then, of course, there was ‘Grandad’s Bag’ - the giant bag of sweets that he would invite us to put our hands in to pull out a treat. He spoilt us rotten.

He was a charming man of such incredible politeness and generosity. Whether talking to a stranger in a shop or a friend in the street, his speech was littered with “hello dear,” and “thank you, dear.” If someone said something that amused him, he’d point at them as a coy smile spread across his face.

He remained active long after others would have given up and resigned themselves to life in a chair; he took a diabetes diagnosis in his stride, adapting to the new lifestyle he had to lead with relative ease, and happily adopting the nickname ‘Diabetic Bill.’ Despite having both knees replaced, and troubles with his legs and hands over the years, he maintained an allotment for almost six decades, growing his own vegetables and working the land with dedication, often giving away much of his produce to friends, neighbours, and relatives.

As children, Simon and I occasionally accompanied him to the allotment if we stayed over for the weekend. While he worked hard, planting seeds, watering, or digging up vegetables, we would turn an empty corner to marshland in an attempt to create a replica of Niagra Falls. Not once did he tell us off.

As we grew up, he listened with pride as we told him about our school days, our first jobs, our hopes and dreams. I’d sometimes pop over to see him and Nan, and sit with them in their conservatory as the sun shone down. I’d have a cup of tea while he nursed a small beer and a whiskey chaser. He loved war films and John Wayne movies. He thought The Goonies was brilliant. As a young man in the Home Front during the Second World War he lost a hand grenade in training. We continued to tease him about that years later.

He’d take us out for meals, always ordering soup of the day for a starter, and cheese and biscuits after his main course; once, when the restaurant had taken the latter off the menu, he charmed the waitress so much that she popped out at nine o’clock on a Saturday night to buy some just for him.

And just last year he and my Nan invited a load of us together to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. He hired the wine cellar of an expensive hotel overlooking the Thames, and we had a fantastic evening. I was sat directly opposite Grandad at the other end of the table, too far away to hold a conversation with him, but I saw him looking towards me, pointing, nodding his head gently and winking as if he had never been happier. Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.

“There aren’t many of us left,” he would often say, jokingly. Sadly, that’s true now more than ever.

I’ll miss you, Grandad.


Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.


watch*paint*dry said...

A beautiful piece my sparky friend. You were both indeed blessed to have each other in your lives.

Dinah said...

This is beautiful. Much love to you.

Tara said...

You and that post have me pretty weepy here, Tim. After your description, I'll even miss your granddad, and I didn't even meet him. He would be very proud of you.

That was actually the poem we read at my dad's memorial. It's a beautiful poem.

I'm so sorry.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Tim, that was lovely. I'm sorry you've lost the physicality of your Grandad, but, as the poem says, he'll still be around you.

I'm really trying hard not to blink lest I leak...

T-Bird said...

Oh, that was beautiful.

I think everyone has said everything I wanted to say. What an amazing man. Your Gran is a lucky woman to have shared her life with someone so amazing.

My best to you and yours.

missy&chrissy. said...

we're so sorry, Tim. but this was such a touching post - a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.

CyberPete said...

I'm so sorry for your loss

Now I'm going off to have a good cry because that post was just gorgeous

skillz said...

Sorry about your loss mate..

Dora said...

Tim much love to you and your family.


OddThomas said...

Sorry you've lost such a wonderful figure in your life.

All the best.

eroswings said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I'm glad that you've had the opportunity to grow up and enjoy getting to know your grandfather (and other grandparents as well); this makes you truly fortunate and blessed.