Today is a special day as my Granddad, Harold Stanley Heard, was born 100 years ago today on March 5th 1916. It seems such a long time ago when you think about it. 20 of those periods would take you back to Jesus. Of course, Granddad didn’t really get close to making his centenary and he was stumped at the age of 72 in September 1988. However in those 15 years, I had many if not most of the happiest times of my life so far.
I’m not sure you’re allowed to have a favourite relation? Are you? Surely everyone does. Am I going to get into trouble for saying this? Maybe just a little but only from relations who wouldn’t be in contention anyway. Every boy surely finds their Granddad to be their favourite relation. Unless they are those grumpy or strict ones or possibly wreaking of urine but even the latter can be overlooked if they give you good enough treats.
I think my Granddad may have been my favourite every human being, he is kind of tied in the best position of the best Being with my old dog. They both had things in common, not too keen on baths and big fans of walks.
I probably went on more walks with my Granddad than with anyone else, even my wife of 8 years and we make a habit of walking as often as we can. Granddad and I used to spend every summer on walks. We’d walk in the countryside, we’d walk to the nearest town to do a spot of shopping. We’d walk along the riverbanks or over the tops of the hills to the sea and often light a bonfire on the shore using seawead, washed up crates and big old tyres. A tractor tyre could see the fire going well over 24 hours, at least unless the sea or the police intervened.
Granddad used to like to get out of the house, having me around meant he could have his illicit cigars which I would be sworn to secrecy about. He’d play football with me, build and fly kites, make little wooden ships, do gardening, go foraging in the countryside, look at maps, read, play games, be stupid, watch wrestling, films, horror stories. He used to also take me on countless day trips on buses and trains and show me off to everyone we encountered. I think that legitimately makes him the coolest person on this planet.
The reasons I love Granddad are countless, We used to have so much fun together and do so many things together. He also did the single thing that made me laugh the most. it is still making me laugh now as I think about it, 30 years or so later.
Thinking about it, almost everything I do or like to do, I was introduced to it by Granddad. I’m not sure if I like doing them because of him or he was just my sort of person but a quick glance at my blog shows it is full of walks, travelling, writing, gardening. From flying kites to picking wild berries to still watching wrestling, he got to all the best things first. I’m not as good at him in some areas, he could peel a bowl of potatoes quicker and better than any lady but I guess practice makes perfect.
Granddad was also a very hard working and decent man. He had grown up without his own father and never had much money. He had fought in WW2 in places such as Iraq and Italy and told me countless stories about the people he had met. I always like the story of how one man in his group had spent months learning Italian ready for the invasion there and how he was ever so disappointed as they landed in a part of Italy where standard Italian wasn’t spoken, only some isolated rural dialect. How funny!
Like me, Granddad would talk to anyone. The more unusual a place they were from, the better. He had a friend in his village who was a captured German Prisoner of War, it didn’t matter that he had spent the best years of his life, fighting Germany. He was always interested to meet people from distant countries, maybe Russia or India or places in Africa or the Middle-East. I know that he would love my wife and think her to be exotic. As he would put it, they would have quite a gas which is short for gasbag or someone who talks too much.
After the war and after he got married, Granddad worked for the Post Office for 45 years until ill-health forced his early retirement in 1976. I believe he got a telegram from The Queen for his good service. Anyway, one of my two earliest memories is of Granddad and you can see the photo below of me looking cute for the newspaper photographer, helping Granddad unveil his clock whilst my mother was constantly reminding me not to drop it. Granddad was much more relaxed though, he wouldn’t have told me off even if I had. I guess fighting in a war for 6 years helps you get a bit of perspective.
So with him retired and me arriving on the scene, we had the perfect synergy and all was ripe for us to have the most wonderful times together, especially in the long 6-week summer holidays. Yet another thing we have in common is that we both get up early and most days we’d be up about 5.30am-6am and have a cup of tea and maybe but the radio on quietly as we cleaned out the coal fire and got the firelighters and coal ready for the new day. I always liked the smell of firelighters.
Occasionally if it were the summer, we would have a lie in until 7am, maybe with the radio on. When I say a lie in, Granddad would lure me into their bed to get 15 minutes more sleep. I didn’t mind, then as now, I like a cuddle and Grandma gave very good cuddles. Sometimes Granddad would pretend the bed was a space ship or a raft on the sea and more often than not, the lie-in would descend into us singing nursery rhymes such as Hey Diddle-Diddle, Rub a dub-dub, The Owl & The Pussy Cat or Sing a Song of Sixpence.
Then it would be a very simple breakfast, normally toast if Grandma was making it or if it were Granddad then it would be brown bread and butter. I still love simple food and can still happily eat the same food day after day, year after year. Nothing like a brown bread and butter sandwich I tells you!
We’d often throw out bread or food waste onto the garden and watch the birds come and snaffle it all up, especially the gangs of Starlings that could eat it so quickly that our entertainment didn’t last as long as it should.
A lot of time in the house was spent around the fireplace as it was a very cold house, even in the summer. I can only once remember being too hot there, occasionally it was pleasant and just right but mostly it was freezing cold. I didn’t like using the toilet there as it was so cold and the wind got inside the pipes and made funny noises. Also the toilet seat would have a habit of nipping the undersides of my legs which for a 3-8 year old really hurt despite its predictable regularity.
We would listen to the radio until the television came on at 9.30am and then after half an hour it would be back to the radio in the kitchen with lots of cooking and baking going on. Grandma and Granddad both loved Jigsaw puzzles and we spent endless days working on these huge puzzles. It was quite nice as you could work on them together or if in the evening something boring was on telly, the bored person could go and try and make a little break-through.
Many days were spent going out for day-trips on the trains or buses. We would often go round the Lake District on the bus or get the train to such distant places as Yorkshire, Blackpool or even Scotland! At weekends Grandma would send Granddad out to do the food shopping on the bus and I used to enthusiastically tag along. Granddad always used to complain that neither Grandma or my mother could write a good shopping list as they just piled down the things they wanted rather than put them down in the order you’d come across them in the supermarket. Somewhere along the lines, we’d always get some butterbeans. Grandma was obsessed with them but no-one else ever had any, I never had a single one!
Granddad was very much a self-taught scholar. He had what would now be a wonderfully old-fashioned writing bureau which had more books and goodies inside it than an Amazon distribution warehouse has now. Granddad had some amazing books and i still remember the smell of them and of the different areas of the cabinet when he opened them.
Granddad could also play the organ. He had his own one, he didn’t let me play it much as it was noisy but I did like the electronic buttons it had, especially one that sounded like a machine-gun. Sometimes on our walks we would find a church or chapel and Granddad would go and have a little tinkle on the ivories. Maybe it is all the walkes and outdoor activities that meant he had almost a full head of hair even when he was old and so far at the age of 42 so do I… and no grey yet either! Nice one Granddad!
If all that wasn’t enough, Granddad was also an artist and would often draw pencil drawings or paint when the weather wasn’t good enough to be in the garden. We would sometimes joke about the paintings as whilst some of them were really quite good , one or two were less good… though still better than any of his detractors might be able to do. I always remember the one of a man in a grey suit with a grey hat. We used to giggle as it reminded us of Uncle Jack.
I was just thinking about any other attributes I’d forgotten that I share with Granddad and I just remembered his unhappiness at spending money. Though always wearing smart clothes, he didn’t care less how many holes there were in them or how many times they had to be patched up. We all used to joke that he was like Compo on Last of The Summer Wine, even down to his white whiskers that would scratch your face if he kissed you. He also had a talent, if that is what it could be called, for repairing plates and cups. No cup could be so badly damaged that Granddad wouldn’t or couldn’t glue it back together. Sometimes the cups had so many bits glued back together that it was hard finding a smooth area to drink from. There was one cup that only he would drink from as sometimes the repairs themselves had been repaired several times, each with ever small chunks of china glued back amongst bigger chunks.
One of the nice things about being there was how so much of his side of the family at least were all living around the village. There would always be an aunty or uncle or cousin popping by and each would be a little occasion with a tea party and one of Grandma’s fine trifles or cherry pies or my favourite, Rock Buns. Even when relations weren’t around, everyone was friendly and everyone knew me as Harold’s Grandson.
I knew the whole routine, when the buses would come. What day the council man would come for the rent. When to approach Cyril the milkman to throw my ball in the garden for a few minutes and when he would be too busy and most excitedly of all, what day the coal truck would come and deliver bags of coal round to the bunker. Even by 5 years of age I knew the difference between good coal that burnt easily and bad coal that was a bugger to get going.
Sadly Granddad got more ill by the time I was 10 or 12 and would often have the worst coughs and bad chests. I’ve written before how I am often prone to “psychic” events and premonitions as to when people might die and I knew 18 months before he died that he had stomach cancer. I never told anyone, nor did I ever hear any medical chats, I just knew and was only told what was happening about 10 days before he died.
It was such a sad day when Granddad died, we had of course seen him in the days before hand but then his vital organs stopped working. He was put on life-support and we were told that the hospital would likely call us as he wasn’t expected to make it through the night. I remember being optimistically excited that there had been no call but then there was and we rushed to the hospital and Granddad had died just 5 or 10 minutes before we arrived.
I didn’t want that to be the last I saw of Granddad and being 14 I felt that I was old enough to be not treated as a total child. So one evening I went out for a walk and went to see Granddad in the Chapel of Rest. Yes, I knew the Undertaker in the village too and he obviously didn’t think it odd that I go in on my own. So I went in for 20 minutes and had a chat. I remember kissing Granddad on his forehead and how cold he was, it always reminded me of touching a cold boiled potato, hours after it was left on a plate or in the pan.
I still think of Granddad almost every day and wish I could have a catch up “gas” with him. I’m sure he would love my books, especially my history ones. I read somewhere that going from childhood to adulthood is rather like being a young sapling in a forest and when you are young, you’re surrounded by vigorous strong trees but as you get older you realise that where once there was a forest, you’re now the only tree left and it can be lonely knowing that most of the people you knew are no longer here. Where Granddad was concerned though it was just a total pleasure to know him as long as I did. It would have been nice to have known him as a man and I sometimes don’t think it fair that I lost him when other people I know still have grandparents when I don’t even have a mother but I think I had the best years possible as obviously things wouldn’t have been so fun when I had gone to university or started work.
I definitely made the most of him and the fact that 30 years on, so many of my best memories involve him, means he more than did his job as my sole Grandfather. Granddad didn’t drink, another thing I have in common with him so how shall I celebrate his 100th birthday? Maybe a good walk followed by a spot of wrestling on TV.
Love you Grandad, with all my heart xxxx