My Grandad

31 Mar
Granddad, me and cousin Matthew 1994

Grandad, me and cousin Matthew 1994

Something reminded me of my Grandad Victor today so I thought I’d write about him. Please indulge me…

He was a magical gentleman and he came from a kind of magical place – Dún Laoghaire, right on the east coast of Ireland and home to the famed James Joyce Tower in Sandycove. I went there recently; the weather was inclement (it is coastal Ireland after all) but as me and my husband Martin stood on Sandycove and looked out onto the sea it was so still and silent – very much like Grandad’s demeanour.

Martin at Sandycove

Martin at Sandycove



Me in Sandycove

Me in Sandycove

Grandad came over to England in the fifties – by that point he had six sons (one of which was our dad) with Nanny Marie. He came to England because small boys need feeding and there was no money in Ireland. It was during the climate of “No Blacks. No Irish. No Dogs” and, though I don’t know a great deal about the time he was working in England while sending money to my Nan over in Ireland, it must have been a difficult, not to mention lonely, environment for him, a massive strain on her and confusing for six beautiful little boys.

Then the whole family moved to London, and though they had to leave their country, they still had very little money in their new homeland. My dad tells me of stories of prejudice, terrible poverty and the humiliation meted out to poor kids and this always makes me feel for my dad and his brothers (now joined by two sisters). Dad tells me lovely stories too, of fun times in Spitalfields playing on bomb-sites in sixties London and the little scams these urchins used to pull. But there are times when I can’t help but contemplate the awful strain it must of put on my grandparents – the sacrifice, the struggle, the frustration, the isolation and hard work simply to put food on the table, create a life.

But I never saw that – I knew fluffy, loving grandparents who drank strong tea (Nan, who still does) and milky Maxwell House coffee (Grandad – who liked it a particular way and we all knew how to make it) in a semi in Luton along with family pictures and religious iconography. I encountered (and encounter still with my formidable grandmother) a couple who’d fought their battles and triumphed while picking up war-wounds along the way.

There were many wounds and I won’t recount all of them here, but one such wound was Grandad’s fingers. He lost all his fingers above the first joint in an industrial accident with acid before I was born. Again, I can only imagine the physical pain and the psychological loss of identity for a man who’d always worked so hard. But again I never saw that (he told us grandchildren that he lost his fingers by getting carried away biting his nails in the dark – we were never scared by his fingers, his gurning on the other hand was a different matter) and it was only a matter of time before he was back at work and, more importantly, back rolling his Old Holborn rollies. The smell of old tobacco still takes me to a soft, safe place.

The smell of childhood

The smell of childhood

In fact I remember a man that was good with his hands – making little birds and butterflies out of paper, bubble-blowing games from ring-pulls and washing up liquid and playing the spoons – he was a fabulous spoon-player and it was amazing to watch a quiet man make such a racket! I flatter myself in thinking he inspired my own forays into origami.

My handmade paper flowers

More handmade paper flowers

More handmade paper flowers

He always had a story, “now I worked with this fella, he was a funny fecker…” and he was full of romantic references and lovely little phrases. His nickname for me was Veronica Lake as I always wore my blonde hair over my eyes – he had nicknames for all us grandkids and songs too.

And it was a song that got me thinking about him. My sister is called Lucy and every time he saw her, he’d sing a little song that I’d never heard anyone else sing until today. The song is called “Put your shoes on Lucy” – hearing the song today made me sad that I hadn’t heard it for such a long time and that I’m never going to hear him sing it again. But it also made me happy – happy that my beloved sister has a special song and unique bond with Grandad that is hers and hers alone, and happy that I can share in a wonderful memory of a lovely man, wearing his socks and sandals, who is very much loved.

Here is the song… 


One Response to “My Grandad”

  1. Marie March 31, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    Thank you Ella, A wonderful tribte to my Father, your Grandad:) xxx

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