after a Saturday night of celebrating my birthday with friends,
I drove 'down south' to Chelmsford, the town
I called home for the first 18 years of my life. These days it's
not a place I often return to, and this was no happy homecoming,
but rather a trip of sombre possibility.
Both my grandparents were
in hospital, the last place you want your grandparents to
After arriving late at night I stayed with my oldest friend Darryl Weaver. When we were kids Darryl and I used to play "CHiPs" on
our bikes. He was Ponch and I was Jon. Together we used to race
around the block on our bikes in imaginary car chases like those
we used to see on the TV show from the late seventies and early
eighties. We would peg bits of card into the spokes of the rear
more like motorbikes, at least in our young imaginations.
Then one Christmas I got a bright yellow police siren that attached
to my bike and could be activated with the touch of a button, and
with that, in my world at least, we WERE "CHiPs"!
Back then I would often would ride to my grandparents' place
just around the corner from our house. Arriving in a spectacular
speed and energy, I'd lay my bike against the side of the house,
lift the latch to open their side gate and enter their patio area
amid the familiar sounds of barks as the
dogs in the house
Granddad would often make his way to the
back of their place to see who had come calling and to calm the
canine commotion. "Watcha
say as he opened the door of the conservatory that was often stifling
hot in the summer months.
If Yogi, the family nickname for my Grandma, wasn't close by he'd
call through to her as I stepped inside. "Doll, it's Simon." From
somewhere inside their little bungalow I'd hear her call back, "Whatto
Sie!" Granddad would then go through a familiar routine of
getting into a boxers stance, rubbing his nose with his left thumb
while saying, "See that, see that?" then he would take
a pretend swing at me with his right arm, "Ah, you didn't
see that did ya!" he'd say as we both laughed. That never
seemed to get old, not once.
At the foot of their garden, that like so many things seemed
to shrink as I grew older, there was a small natural pond. I spent
many an afternoon sitting beside the pond catching newts,
and other unsuspecting pond-life with a
net made from a kitchen sieve attached to
a long cane. I'd fish them from the water and
place them into one of Yogi's old washing up bowls then look carefully
at what I had caught so as I could identify it from my pond life
At varying intervals either Granddad or Yogi would come to the
pond with a drink and maybe a sandwich, cake or selection of candy
to choose from. I'd show them my catch, giving them a blow by blow
account of the most exciting moments of the day, and of course,
like all good grandparents they would stand their smiling, nodding
interested, if only in appearance.
As the sun went down on the years, when air in my tires and a
sunny sky was all I needed, Yogi would still ply her grandchildren
candy each time we visited. Granddad would still do his usual "See
that, see that" boxing routine, only now much slower than
before. As we grew taller, they grew smaller, but
they didn't seem to grow that much older. In the nicest possible
way, they always seemed old to me, just as grandparents should
You never imagine your world without the people who travelled
through the years with you. Without those faces that towered over
you when you weren't tall enough to open a door unaided. Without
the people who punctuate the mass of memories in your mind. But
then a day comes when one of those people will punctuate your life
Granddad celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday in hospital last
week. In those years he has been privileged to witness some of
mankind's most significant leaps forward, from the first appearances
of cars on the streets on London, to a man walking on the moon,
supersonic travel, the internet, live pictures from the planet
Mars and more recently the landing of a probe on Titan, the moon
of Saturn. He fought and lived through a war, raised a family of
two children, became the grandfather of five, and the great-grandfather
of another three.
I decided to make an unannounced visit to see Granddad and Yogi
this week. After meeting up with Mom, the two of us
to Colchester hospital, a place not disimilar to most other hospitals
in the UK with its antiseptic smell and large print signs pointing
to various different wards, rooms and offices.
old and tired, his sudden illness had knocked the steam
he smiled when he saw me standing beside his hospital bed. Mom
and I sat down and I cleaned his glasses so he could put
them on and chat. After the obligatory exchange about the quality
of hospital food we joked about his new electric mobility scooter
with its top speed of four miles per hour. "You can get ones
that go eight miles an hour, but I'm in no hurry these days," he
said, with smile that echoed the strong old man who used to box
with me when
a little boy.
The three of us chatted for a while, talking about the probe that
just landed on Saturn's moon, Titan. Mom pointed out of the window
at a building that Granddad could see from his bed.
"That's the building where Jacob and Sumalee were born Dad," she
said. He slowly turned and looked at the building standing beyond
the parking lot outside the window, the place where his twin great
grand children had been born just a year ago, then smiled and
quietly said more to himself
than us "Ah, that's the building is it."
As we stood to leave I took ahold of his old hand and wished
him better, saying I would come and show him my pictures from my
recent trip to India just as soon as he was back home. We then
said our goodbyes and
began to make our way to see Yogi. At the foot of his bed
as we walked away I turned back, stopped, and waved at Granddad.
lifted his hand a little and smiled back at me. That was to be
the last time I would see him. My brother called me just after
11am today to tell me Granddad had died early this morning.
I'm not going to take that moment as my lasting memory of Granddad,
as connecting as I think it was. I have a whole host of brighter
times to look back on and remember, to be thankful for, and to
cherish. The many playful boxing moments, the times when he
would give us as very young children rides around their back garden
his big old wheelbarrow, and when we would drive us home
in the little orange mini they had when I we were little,
with it's speedometer in the centre of the tiny dashboard. The
time he took me to see the vast computers
that filled a room at
building where he once worked, and when on the evening
of the home birth of my sister, when I was just five years
old, silhouetted by the landing light he opened my bedroom
door and said, "Come
and meet your baby sister."
So long Granddad, I will miss you.