I found out this evening that my Grandad died this afternoon.
It’s funny, thinking about it. I must have known. He’d declined the last few months, and every time my Dad rang me I’d half-expected him to tell me he’d died, but it still didn’t make it any easier to hear.
My Grandad was a complex man. Inherently racist: he wouldn’t eat at a foreign restaraunt, in fact some of my earliest memories are of us all going out for a curry or a chinese and him refusing to come. Although I never agreed I’m not going to hold tht against him. The excuses he gave: “They never wipe their arse after going to the toilet, they wipe their arses on their hands and then cook” and so on, may well have had basis in fact, coming as he did from years in the Merchant Navy, or may have been based in prejudice or just meant to be taken in jest. I will never know.
He was in the Merchant Navy during World War II, this I do know, although he never really spoke of what he had seen. He did once speak of the time that he met Prince Philip during the war, and he wasn’t very complimentary. He described Philip (and I may remember inaccurately but not incorrectly) as a ‘broke, Greek sonuvabitch who had to borrow from his crewmates to buy a girl a drink.’ This was about as complimentary as my Grandad got.
His later life was spent in a prefab after the war (where my father was born) and later a post-war estate house ( in one of those post-war housing estates where every street is named after Roosvelt, Stalin, Montgomery or one of the other war leaders) which he lived in with my Nan until he was taken into a state nursing home less than 6 months before he passed away.
Although I never agreed with his racism, I took that in kind as views from a past age. I did agree with a lot of his other views, and obviously a lot of his ideas live on in me. As a British Gas Meter Man he saw a lot of what went on in the proto-Welfare State (he retired in the 80’s) and his prejudice of (what we would now call) Chavs (although, being Chatham born and bred that word would have had altogether different connotations for him, as it does for me) lasted the rest of his life, and beyond as it still lives in me. I inherited a desire to make my own way in the world, and a desire to pay my own way -no matter if what I earn is small- and a pride at being a working and earning citizen, regardless of my material wealth. I learned all these things from him.
He ended his life in a nursing home. The last news I heard of him was that he was sickened that he would have to pay for his own nursing care, after he had paid for most of his life into the National Insurance Ponzi Scheme. Although I never broached the subject with him I am sure he expected that the scheme he had paid into for life would have looked after him in extremis. I don’t know.
It is entirely possible he didn’t: in the 90’s he and my Nan signed over the deeds to their house to their sons to prevent them having to sell it to pay for any care they received. In retrospect, I believe he didn’t expect anything in return for his taxes.
A smart man.
What it means for me, is the loss of one of the great influences in my life. I was never sure of his political hue except that he really didn’t give the time of day to any of them (although his wife (my Nan) is as socialist as they come, and that is where I got my former leftist ideologies).
But for me, what I will miss most is his uncompromising personality. He had his ideas and he wouldn’t give any quarter: whether you came from a Tory or a Labour backround he would have argued with you over the toss till the Cows Came Home or until the Whiskey Ran Out, whichever came sooner. Whatever he thought he knew what he thought and that is something we can only wish for in the voters of tomorrow.
He was a grumpy old bastard, and there is a lot of him in me. I’m awkward, I always want to know why and I question everything, and these are all character traits I set at his door. And do you know what? I am PROUD OF EVERY SINGLE ONE.
I’m gonna miss him. Even in later years (actually especially in later years) we used to sit outside, both half-cut, to have a cigarette and a chat. We’d often range far and wide on subject but there would always be a common theme: you have to look after thee and thine. Nobody else is going to. I only wish I’d had more time to talk to him after had my political epiphany and before he got so ill. I could have learned a lot and I wasted most of my formative years thinking his ideas a waste (from a leftist, progressive standpoint) when in actual fact I was wasting nearly 70 years of human experience thinking of hinm in so negative a light.
I’m sorry Grandad, in the next world we’ll sort all this out. We can sit forever on the patio. smoking and drinking cheap whiskey until we have got the whole universe to rights. I love you and you will always have a special place in my soul.