Thursday 26 March 2020

This man broadened my horizons


This is my maternal grandfather. He was a serious, studious and bigotted man. Born in Sunderland he was a Mackem although he would have never claimed that title, in fact he would have probably disowned it. He was the sort of person that always wanted to better himself, as he saw it. He and his wife, my mother’s parents, hadn’t done too badly for themselves.

Grandad joined the Royal Navy before the first world war, possibly lying about his age, and that was his job until he was invalided out during the second world war. He had been a wireless operator and had served mostly, from what I gather, around the UK*, the Mediteranean and Northern Europe.

I was the first grandchild on both sides of our family, so as you can imagine I was the centre of attention for at least 18 months, and I think if truth be told I remained perhaps a little bit special for the rest of their lives. I was always made a fuss of. I was very lucky to be loved so.

He was a mass of contradictions. Nobody really knew what his politics were although his views were very bigotted. He believed in discipline, the rule of law and the status quo. He would sit in his rocking chair, on one side a pile of Daily Telegraphs on the other his aging wireless. The wireless that only transmitted people that spoke with a frog in their throat, or so I thought. The dial displayed stations and transmitters from far away places; Light, Third, Droitwich, Hilversum, London, North, Athlone, Brussels, Toulouse and Moscow to name but a few. As a little lad everywhere that wasn’t Bury St Edmunds was a strange land filled with strange people.

Grandad was a great believer in knowledge and education. It had been his way of improving his life and he was keen to encourage others to do the same. I think he taught me more than any teacher could. As a wee lad I would sit on his lap whilst he told me tales of places he had visited. He never mentioned the fighting and rarely actually talked about himself. It was always about the places he visited. The sights, sites, bazaars, the exotic, the sounds, the smells all featured in the knowledge he imparted. He talked of Gibraltar, the Bay of Biscay, Egypt, Malta, Greece, Turkey and in particular Istanbul. The Dardanelles featured often in his conversation. I suspect he saw action there and it clearly was never far from his mind. He fuelled my enthusiasm for travel. I decided from a very early age that I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to visit the seven wonders of the world. I wanted to meet strange people from strange lands. Where food, drink and customs were very different. I saw the world differently thanks to my grandad. Unfortunately I’ve not travelled as much as I would have liked, but I don’t consider I’ve done too bad.

Not only did he fill my head with these wonderous stories of far flung lands but he considered that he was responsible for my education in the etiquette of life, as he saw it. He would take me on days out. Always by train. I remember being taken to the dining car of a train where there was waiter service, table cloths and coffee served in china cups. And biscuits! My first proper meal out was with him, in London, in an oak panelled restaurant at Gamages department store. He showed me how he thought a gentleman should behave. It was a totally different world to my council house life. This was the early/mid sixties. Life was still very much in black and white. I soaked up these experiences and helped me to develop my thirst for knowledge and experiences. He admired Hitler for making the trains run on time and he voted for the Liberals all his life. I think he always voted Liberal because he knew they stood little chance of being elected. Yet despite his rather unsavoury political beliefs he did once take me to the Ipswich Co-operative Fete where trade union officials and Labour politicians spoke. He taught me to think for myself, to challenge and not take things at face value. He encouraged me to go and find out things for myself. I thank him for that.

*I know he was stationed on the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh early on as it’s where he met his wife, my nana. I also know his home port for a while during the thirties was Plymouth, where my mother was born.

**I’ve often wondered if the lead singer of ABC, Martin Fry is a distant relative.

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