PORTRAIT OF SOME GRANDPARENTS
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Below are some notes written over the years about one set of my grandparents. The grandpa is now dead and my grandma has dementia. I’ve left the words as they were written and haven’t changed the tense in order to reflect the change in ontological circumstances.
I hope you enjoy this portrait of some grandparents.
I like going to my grandparents. I’ve never been into pubs or clubbing. I’ve always had more fun going round there and sitting at the kitchen table, taking some walnuts, or pastries, or fishballs or something to nosh on, talking to them about pickled cucumbers; or what their favourite fruit is; or how they like their liver and onions; or would they be proud of me if I had a nice hat; or whether they’ve ever seen a tortoise; or have they ever met a man with no nose; or do they believe in fairies; or which is their favourite foot, their left or their right one.
My grandpa is obsessed with a shredding machine. He wants to shred his data. He has no money. He will never be the victim of identity fraud. He sits with a little whirring machine shredding adverts and letters one page at a time.
My grandpa is a great man. He never complains about anything. He just gets on with things. He once had to go for some kind of test where they needed to put a tube down his throat and stomach and they offered him an injection so it wouldn’t hurt and he said, “No. No I’m fine.” “So what did you do?” I asked. “Just swallowed it.” Nothing bothers him. He doesn’t complain. Doesn’t complain about anything. Except the cat. “That bloody cat, it’s always wanting food.” “She always wants to go upstairs.” My grandpa was in the war and the Nazis tried to kill him and exterminate his family – but a cat has managed to get under his skin in way that Hitler never did. That’s gotta be some bastard cat.
BY THE WAY
By the way, if anyone needs someone to constantly say, “Alright my side” whilst you're driving, let me know and I’ll hook you up with my grandpa.
WHEN THIS WAS ALL FIELDS
Did you ever go around with a grandparent and they’d point at things and say, “I remember when this was all fields”? I walked around with my nephew the other day and I realised I’m part of a crap generation where instead of saying. “I remember when this was all fields,” all I could say was, “I remember when that was a Burger King.”
Just had a conversation with my grandpa in the back of the car about different toothpastes he’s used in his lifetime: Signal, Colgate, Oral-B, Aqua something, (“It's got red stripes on it”). They’re all pretty much the same he says. Why do people go out and spend money on entertainment? I could talk about toothpaste with my grandpa forever.
We’ve just driven past an Asda. Apparently my grandpa’s been there and it’s a large one.
Driving with my grandma and grandpa listing the different things you can get in Lidl. “They do everything,” says grandpa. “Pills, creams, bread, milk, bacon - they do everything.” “Can you get cucumbers there?” “Yeah they do everything: cucumbers, milk, bananas - they do everything.” “What about vegetables?” “Everything.”
“Grandpa, just leave the cans of Vimto on the car floor, I’ll throw them away later.” He takes the cans of Vimto to the wheelie bin. He comes back and starts pottering with the car floor. “Grandpa, just leave the wrappers, we have to go. I’ll do it later.” He takes assorted chocolate wrappers to the wheelie bin.
I rang the bell the other day and grandpa answered the door with a piece of sweetcorn on his chin. We went inside and he sat back down at the kitchen table and I told him about the piece of corn. He removed it by using his knife but it smeared mayonnaise all over his chin. And then he tried to remove the mayonnaise with a fork and got a pea stuck to his cheek. In the end I got him a tissue and we wiped it off. I looked down at the newspaper and when I looked back up there was fish on his forehead.
I love how my grandpa puts a tea towel down the front of his top when he eats. To eat a bowl of peaches or something. Old school.
The other day I said, “Grandma, where’s grandpa?” She didn’t know. “Somewhere” she said. So after checking the living room and the back room I looked out the window and I saw him in the back garden. And he was fiddling about by a tree with a plastic bag. And I watched him for five minutes just trying to tie a plastic bag he had found to a tree. So eventually I went out and said, “Grandpa, shall we just put that plastic bag in the bin rather than tie it to a twig?” I don’t know what he was doing.
The other day I came round and they were just in the kitchen measuring their table cloth. You could sense this had been going on all afternoon. They didn’t need a new table cloth. I think they were just doing it for entertainment. I think they’d found a tape measure so just started measuring stuff and it escalated to measuring the table cloth. And you know what? It’s not a bad way to spend your day? There are plenty worse things that could happen in life than measure your table cloth on a quiet afternoon.
My grandpa’s actually a local hero. He was once in Sainsburys, 80 years old, and he saw two men fighting on the floor. They were wrestling by the checkout. People were just stood around watching the tussle. So my grandpa went over and pulled one of the guys off the other guy. The guy who’d been freed then ran out of the shop. Turns out he was a shoplifter and the guy my grandpa had got into an armlock was the security guard trying to make the arrest.
THE OTHER ROOM
I can hear my grandpa in the other room. The sound of plastic bags rustling and him muttering to himself, “We’ve got some more forks and spoons here somewhere.”
BIGGER THINGS HANG LOW
Looked around the house to find grandpa. Found him hanging washing on the clothes horse in the front room. “You alright grandpa. Have you got a system?” “I put bigger things on the top and little things on the bottom.” “Why’s that?” “Bigger things hang low.” I agreed with him and let him get on with it on this quiet day.
Watched my grandpa spend five minutes trying to get a straw into a Capri-Sun.
Watching the Olympics on the telly with them I've had to tell grandma it’s being held in Russia about fifty times and I've been informed that the presenter Clare Balding is a lesbian about thirty times.
I asked if they had any olive oil I could borrow for something I wanted to cook back at home. I only wanted a little bit of oil. With no plastic bottles available my grandma and grandpa put some olive oil into a urine sample pot which I was assured was unused.
ICE CREAM CONTAINERS
I took some prunes and some dates round my grandparents and in return they gave me two empty ice cream containers to take round my mum and dads if I go by.
My grandma has some kind of dementia so when I see her I have to have the same conversation over and over. She keeps asking me the same question, “So what are you up to with work?” Which is fine. But when you’ve got fuck all going on it’s pretty depressing to answer that fifty times. It really reinforces what a deadbeat you are.
CLUB FOR GERIATRICS
I take my grandparents to the club. It’s brilliant here. They have a better social life than me. Today the organiser announces this will be the last week before they break up for the holidays. In the corner there’s an old lady muttering, “Thank god, I can’t stand it here.” Another old lady is drinking tea from a cup with two handles, her shaking hands threatening to throw the hot tea into her own face with every gulp. One old guy refuses to give up a newspaper he isn’t reading to another guy. One old lady points to an empty seat beside her and asks, “Are you sitting here? Are you sitting here?” to an old guy who can’t hear her and just walks past. Hot tea and biscuits. Hot coffee and biscuits. I help an old lady take her coat off. I get the old guy a different newspaper to diffuse the row. I ask my grandma if she wants a biscuit and I make a few jokes. Then I leave to pick them up later.
They have biscuits and tea and play kalooki in the morning. Then they play bingo. It’s a better social life than mine. They have lunch. Sometimes it’s fish and chips and a proper pudding. Then they have entertainment. Something different each week. Music or someone coming to give them a talk.
Today I return to pick them up and go upstairs and hear the man they sometimes have, with his microphone, singing to them. I saw my grandma in her wheelchair singing like she was a little girl - like I can actually see in her eyes what she was like as a child. Next to her was my grandpa, dependably tapping his foot, immersed in the moment. And it was busy that day. I’ve never seen it so busy. A big semi-circle of pensioners sat on chairs. Some of them were nodding off. Others were watching the entertainer and smiling. Some were up and dancing. There was a young girl with down syndrome dancing, twerking and bopping like she couldn’t give a ha’penny. Then there were two elderly teenagers, a husband and wife, who were dancing cheek to cheek like they didn’t have arthritis. You could feel the love pouring out of them. Shuffling pensioners in love as the music played. The crooner singing. A group of them holding hands in a circle smiling and laughing. Some sitting in wheelchairs. Old peoples hearts smiling in love. A girl dancing in love. My grandparents dancing in love. All of us dancing in love. None of the people in this room will be here forever. Some of them soon. Some of them later. But they’ve let go of their stake in the world. It doesn’t matter to them what bombs may fall. The challenges of tomorrow are no longer theirs. They’ve played their part. They have let go. They are going to a place of love. The only true love. And I felt more palpably than I’ve ever felt before the sheer physicality of love. Not just the spiritual transcendence of love, but the sheer physical effect as love flows through the valves and pipes of one’s heart. It was warm and overwhelming and tender and beautiful. I have never been in a room where the walls and ceiling and the concerns of life have just melted away and there was pure love. There were no human beings with aches or pains. There were no worries. There was just pure love. I looked around at all the old faces and I thought - this is it. This is the meaning of life. And then one of them shit themselves. His name was Mick. He’s 83 and he lives in sheltered accomodation. Apparently Mick is a serial shitter. He shits himself during the bingo. He shits himself during the cards. And he always shits himself during New York, New York, generally around the line, “I wanna be a part of it.” It is a good life. But if you wanna experience the good, you can’t be scared of the shit.
PEACHES AND CREAM
I bought food for my grandma and grandpa’s fridge today. Then we got chips for tea. Earlier in the day I watched my grandpa prepare two bowls with peaches and cream. Sunlight was coming into the kitchen. I can’t remember dates and I can’t remember numbers but I’ll remember my grandpa preparing two bowls of peaches and cream.
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That was absolutely delightful. Thank you for brightening my day ☺️