Monday, 16 October 2017

Who Do I Think I Am? Part 1...

If Ron had only ever known
 bananas, he'd be fine.
You don't miss what you've never had. It's an impossibility. It's why I can't understand why parents take their children to Disneyland. A child will never grow up regretting the lack of Disneyland in their life. That just doesn't happen. But once you take a five year old on a once-in-a-life-time trip, they'll be gutted when it can't happen again. The bar has been set high. A caravan in Wales would be a crushing disappointment after that. Likewise, if you never give a kid chocolate, they won't miss it. They can't. But if you replace Twixes with bananas on some mad family health kick, there would be uproar. Why would you take away something so nice and replace it with something so hideous? I hate you Mum! Dad, you're a shit! You get the gist.

It's exactly the same with Grandads. You can't miss them if you've never had them. I remember quite matter-of-factly telling a friend that I'd never had a Grandad and she was gutted for me. It was ridiculous of course. I couldn't have been less arsed. She was, understandably perhaps, thinking how much she missed her Grandads - the ones she'd known well. If she'd been like me, Grandad-less from birth, it would have bothered her not a jot. She was viewing the facts of my life through her own frame of reference. She didn't get my indifference.

Obviously, there were Grandads somewhere in my ancestry. My parents are not Christ-like products of immaculate conception style shenanigans. Both my biological Grandfathers died at youngish ages of heart attacks - although perhaps not so young for their time. They were older fathers as far as my individual parents were concerned - both my Mum and Dad are the youngest in their families. As a result, the anecdotes and stories I have heard about these men are either framed through a childish perception, or simply non-existent. 

A young Eric. Around
 1916 at a guess. I first saw

it a couple of years ago. 
The childlike framing comes from my Mum. She has older siblings and a mother who was happy to remember her late-husband in conversations for the rest of her life. As a result, my Mum's child-based memories have got weight. They are cemented through decades of corroboration and discussion from her family. Rose-tinted? Very possibly. But they exist and have been there since I can remember. The Grandad on my Mum's side is fleshed out and almost real. This is helped by a photo I have seen my entire life. A black and white A6 snap in a frame that has always been in my parent's bedroom, wherever they have lived. It's of Eric, my maternal Grandfather - possibly in his fifties. I have seen one or two other photos of this man throughout my life but this is the main one. The man in a suit, who looks sort of serious but sort of kind, and whose image is inserted in any family story told about him. In my head at least. 

Alf on his hols in
1951. Always a suit!
The other Grandad is Alf. I have less to go on with him. My Dad was younger when he died, so the memories are scant. Plus, Dad's older sister lived abroad most of her married life, and his Mum didn't chat about such things. There wasn't a lot of cementing and corroborating going on. Not many photos either, at least not while I was growing up. I know his name - Alf - because it was on a certificate on the hall wall of my Gran's house when I was a kid. There was also one photo I can remember in the house to inform my initial image of him. A family picture before my Dad was born. Alf is sitting side-on to the camera, wearing a suit (obvs) and reading the paper. My Auntie is playing the piano and my Gran is sitting watching. As family photos go it looks about as relaxed as a dentist's waiting room. But I suppose formality was the fashion in the black and white days.

Brrrr, it'll be nippy out
Now here's the thing. Because I am fully accepting and happily content with my Grandfatherless existence, it's quite the surprise about what is happening seven weeks from today. Oh yes, brace yourself. For I will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean to sub-zero Halifax, Nova Scotia! (I am told freezing temperatures are more than likely in December). Once there - Are you ready? -  I will be retracing the steps of Alf Bond from 100 years ago. Yeah, Alf Bond! The least known of my unknown Grandads. That guy. Do I sound mad? Hell yeah. What are you even on? I hear you shout. Is this a joke, you crazy cat? Well, no. No it is not. It's an unfilmed and ultimately less entertaining version of BBC1's Who Do You Think You Are?, where myself and some family members do a bit of an historic journey to Canada, to find out some stuff that happened to Alf in 1917. Intrigued? Want to know more? Wanna click my bait?

So far it has handled
Widnes' temperatures
with no worries.
I do hope so because I'm going to be padding this out until December. Not every week, don't worry. But in a few Monday's time I'll let you know exactly what is going on and what this trip is about. I promise you, it is a cracking story. In the meantime, I am spending much of my spare time ignoring the fact Christmas presents need to be bought, and instead sourcing clothes to battle the freezing conditions. Check out Toasty Bond in the pic. 

Have a lovely week, folks. 



  1. Beautiful writing and such an exciting trip for you. (Take 'The Shipping News' as your plane read). Stumbled on this after hearing about your book from my brother (went to school with you.) My teenage self was briefly in love with your sister Susie. And I now realise how immensely creepy this sounds. Anyway, congratulations on the novel! Mike x

    1. Ha, thanks for getting in touch. I think I've even worked out who you and your brother are. And yes to The Shipping News! Good shout. I read it years ago but it will be spot on for the plane. Thanks again, Nicky.