I thought I’d follow up my recent blog about my grandmothers and tell you about their husbands – my grandfathers.
My maternal grandfather was one of those free spirited creatures. A wedding ring wasn’t going to stop him from finding other women. Mum always tells me that her father was hardly ever around until she was about 11, but then came back and started laying the law down as to what time she should come in at night and whom she should be friends with. Grandfather wasn’t a very good provider, even though he had been running a successful business in Pretoria, South Africa. Nan would wait for money which never came, while Grandfather would be off gallivanting with his latest conquest (he even went to prison for 3 months for bigamy!). When he returned from Pretoria he started up a fishmonger’s business in England with Nan, who worked long hours with her husband to build it up. Unfortunately Grandfather was also a gambler, and so whatever money was earned was quickly spent ‘on the dogs’, although Mum always says they were the first family in the street to own a car. Grandfather could neither read nor write, but to his credit could add up a long list of numbers in his head as quickly as he could run his finger down the page (it’s a pity I never inherited this trait).
I only met Grandfather a couple of times during my childhood. The first time I was about 6 or 7. He looked at me pushing unwanted food around my plate and said to me “I’m going to force you to eat that”. I remember staring at him whilst thinking to myself ‘No you’re not!’ He didn’t. The second time I met him in 1969 he was dying of lung cancer. He smiled at me and said to my mother what a terrible husband and father he’d been. A few weeks later he was dead.
On the other hand my paternal grandfather was lovely. A quiet man who ran a market stall in the East End’s famous Brick Lane, Granddad loved reading but unfortunately he also loved to drink beer. The walls of Nan and Granddad’s flat bore testament to the amount of times he’d come home trollied from the pub to find his dinner had been thrown up the wall. Oftentimes during their hop-picking holidays the family would find him laid out in a ditch singing ‘Jerusalem’ after a long session at The Allders public house. Nan nagged him in her efforts to stop him drinking, and Granddad drank more to shut out the nagging.
Granddad was also a heavy smoker, just like my maternal grandfather had been. Granddad’s emphysema eventually took his life in July 1965, but his three children and seven grandchildren mourned him greatly. Granddad had always read and painted with his children (and grandchildren), and had made time for them, and I remember Dad crying like a child at the time of his father’s death. Dad and Granddad had always swapped books, and each of them kept a pile of books next to their favourite armchairs. Nan hated it when Granddad sat there lost in a book, but that just made him read all the more. I inherited the reading trait, but not the run-the-finger-down-the-page-and-add-all-the-numbers-up one.
What did I learn from my grandfathers? I learned it was wrong to force children to eat food they didn’t want, and that it is best to avoid cigarettes and alcohol. Also I learned that books can transport you to another world if you let them, and I always have a pile of books on my desk that I’m going to read one day. Books line the shelves in my front room, and I can’t imagine a world without them. If only I could add up two numbers in my head…..