There are times when I feel especially close to my father and grandfather. Given that there are days when I do the same job at the same time as they did, often with equipment they’d recognise, it’s probably not surprising.
But after all these years they can still manage to surprise you.
My Grandfather was born the son of a dairyman who milked cows in Cheltenham Street in Barrow in Furness, and walked them down Abbey Road to graze on the fields where one day the Grammar Schools would be built. When I was at the school, the remnants of hedges my Great Grandfather probably laid were still there.
My Grandfather inherited debts greater than his assets but still managed to build up a business. I can still picture him, tall, thinnish faced. He wore the old fashioned shirts with separate collars, which were a sensible length. A proper man’s shirt tucks so far into his trousers that he sits on it when he sits down.
I was his first grandchild. He’d had five daughters, and the first thing the oldest does is present him with a grandson. Apparently I’m a bit like him in some ways (or so some members of the older generation used to say, somewhat darkly, without going into details.)
As a child I remember ‘looking stock’ with him; sitting in the passenger seat of an old Morris pickup as he drove across fields to check on yet another batch of cattle.
Before I started school, I also remember getting a ride out when he took milk to the dairy. This he did every day, with ten gallon steel churns (or Kits) in the back of his old pickup. That was a real treat; not only did I get so see the dairy, but I have a vague feeling that at least one of my mother’s younger sisters worked there at the time. So I always remember being made a fuss off by a crowd of glamorous young ladies who kept giving me orange juice to drink. Life never really gets better as you get older does it. Then if the day was going really well, Granddad would stop the pickup as we crossed Roose Bridge and take me into Ernie Hayton’s sweet shop. There he’d buy me a Raspberry Split.
He could be a bit irascible. Personally I’d blame the fact that he had five daughters and a wife to keep him in order. I do remember hearing him use the phrase, “Oh hod tha whist woman.” This, freely translated, means ‘Please be quiet my dear.”
He had other phrases as well. One I managed to work into my first SF story, ‘Justice 4.1’
“Eventually people finished and the bowls were passed down to the end of the table. Then a young girl disappeared into the galley and came back carrying a cake. She placed it in front of Tongo. “This is the dessert, Tongo,” she said, with intense earnestness.
Tongo contemplated the cake. “Would you like to cut a slice young lady? Then I can try it; see if it’s fit for guests.”
She nodded, realised there was no knife and bolted for the galley. She came back with the knife and with immense care cut a slice of cake and manoeuvred it onto a plate. The plate she passed to Tongo, who cautiously picked up the piece of cake and studied it. He was holding it carefully; it had been cut remarkably thin. He bit off a piece and chewed it meditatively. Without comment he ate the rest. There was silence round the table. The children especially were watching Tongo like hawks.
Eventually, the masticated cake swallowed, Tongo spoke.
“Well it’s very good, but…” With the ‘but’ the girl started to look very serious.
After soaking the pause for its drama Tongo continued. “It tastes of knife.”
The girl looked perplexed and studied the knife blade carefully. Zenobia reached across the table and tapped the girl on the arm.
“What the great loon means is that next time, cut him a thick piece, not one so thin he could read a newspaper through.” She smiled at the girl to encourage her. “Now cut the cake into sensible pieces and pass it round.
The ‘tastes of knife’ comment was one my Granddad made when my sister cut him a piece of cake to try.
But anyway, you think you know a person, and then somebody tells you something.
Last Wednesday I was talking to a lady who had been brought up as a girl with my mother. Her father had worked for my Grandfather. It was during the war and Barrow was being heavily bombed. Because we’re a naval shipbuilding town, we did suffer a lot from bombing.
And then a German plane gets shot down over my Grandfather’s land. Stopping only to grab pitchforks my Grandfather and the chap working for him run to the crash site to deal with the pilot. Apparently watching the young German get out of the plane, my Grandfather had said, “He’s nowt but a lad.” But anyway they’d detained him and kept him detained until the village bobby from Rampside had cycled out, arrested him and then walked him the three miles into Barrow to the main police station.
And it’s funny, the picture of the big chap with the pitchfork, looking at the young German, shaking his head and saying ‘He’s nowt but a lad’ fits in well with the Grandfather who bought me Raspberry Splits, or who teased my sister when she cut the cake too thin.
You know, whilst war brings out the good and the bad in people, it only brings out what was there in the first place.
And on the desk near me is a .50 cal round one of the metal detectorists found on our land. It was probably fired either at or by an aircraft. A big numb lump of a thing, if it hit you, it’d spoil your whole afternoon one way or another. And now when I see it I can see my Grandfather with his pitchfork as well.
And I suppose I ought to mention the second Science Fiction book. My Grandfather doesn’t figure in this one, although other Barrow people I know inevitably do. My Granddad was a man who built up a business; he’d never forgive me for not taking the chance to mention that the entire Tsarina Sector series is now available