I never knew my Dad so, when he died, it didn’t make an impact on my life in anyway. For that, I know I’m lucky. But I feel even more lucky that I never felt I needed a Dad. I never felt I needed a Dad because I had my Grandad. And, believe me, he was everything an Army of 1000 children could ever want or need in a 1000 lifetimes.
I know full well that this entry will breach the self-made terms of my Manifesto – I didn’t want to write about relationships or creating tragic dramas out of Eastenders-esque daily events – but I feel, more strongly than I have about most urges I’ve had in life (and, hey, I am up the duff, remember) that this is a relationship I NEED to tell you about. Not only for my own cathartic purposes, but to honour the most incredible man I have ever, and will ever, know.
I’m sure most people would claim that their closest or most senior of relatives are pretty incredible, admirable even, but my Grandad – Group Captain Porter of the RAF, OBE – is in fact a Hero. The Queen says so…
My Mum was just a teenager when she had me in the late 1980’s and I was born 3 months premature with Cerebral Palsy (I’ll be frank, I’m bloody lucky to be alive, let alone be able to walk) so my Grandparents, still being fit, young and able, took a very active role in my upbringing.
Every Saturday I’d spend the night with my Nana and Grandad, eating copious amounts of chicken with mayonnaise, strawberries and tortilla chips & dip whilst glued to Noel’s House Party – eagerly awaiting the merry and outrageous antics (outrageous to a 90’s child) of Mr Blobby (and, yes, I did have the Mr Blobby’s Party cassette tape).
On a Sunday I’d spend the morning having a long, wallowing bath, full of crocodiles and monsters in the jungle, waiting under the surface to taste my toes and fall pray to the wrath of Tarzan (I sometimes wish I was a kid again, can you tell) and finish it by spending a good few hours in front of my Nana’s dressing table, playing with her make up and pretending I was a grown up, already. Then the afternoon would be upon us and, as a family, we’d gather round the dining room table for a roast, listen to music and my Grandad would start telling us all some heroic story from his RAF days, full of body-guards, guns and fighting in wars.
I’ll admit, I always found it difficult to believe that the greying, slightly frayed ‘old’ (he was only in his 50’s but that was ancient to a 10 year old) bloke in front of me was a Hero who travelled around the world saving lives like Superman. I knew he had medals and I’d seen lots of pictures of him in his uniform looking all young and dashing in front of aeroplanes, even one where he’s next to Princess Diana, but my tiny, child brain just couldn’t quite connect the two.
To be honest, I always took these stories for granted. Everyone’s Grandad got a medal from the Queen for their services and was so important they had to be protected by round-the-clock body guards at the top of their career, didn’t they? All Grandads, at some point in their lives got offered a scholarship to Oxbridge to become a Neurosurgeon and turned it down to serve Queen and Country, right? Apparently not.
It turns out that my Grandad led a pretty special and extraordinary life, a lot of which he will never be able to talk about because he had to sign it away to silence for his, our’s and the country’s protection.
My Grandparents, even now, reminisce fondly about their time in Singapore in the Early 1960’s… Newly married, in their early 20’s with no kids, they still have hundreds of stories to tell. Every day I saw him when I was a kid he’d tell me something new about the 3 short but event years they spent there as Newlyweds in a tiny, basic bedsit, fighting off snakes and cockroaches on a daily basis and even how he saved a sick newborn baby’s life, flying him to the nearest hospital, by risking his own.
This is why, when my Grandad was taken seriously ill in his mid-60s 3 years ago, it was not only a massive shock by also a tremendous tragedy. Well, of course it is, you’re probably thinking – he’s the head of the family – but my Grandad has always been Mr Indestructible, the aforementioned Superman of the real world. Even after he retired from the RAF he took on a job as a Bursa for a sixth-form college that, quite honestly, was crumbling. In true Grandad style he turned that dive into an award winning institution for education.
Watching someone as intelligent and accomplished as my Grandad waste away through a haze of Parkinson’s and Dementia has been continuously soul-crushing for the last 3 years. It’s a slow form of sick torture and, honestly, raises an important question for me that I want answered by someone. Anyone. What has the Human Race done to deserve such diseases? Correction, what has my Grandad done to deserve such a disease?
Now, as he lies in hospital, I can’t help. but feel immensely proud of my Grandad for everything he has achieved and accomplished in his life. With only 2 and a half weeks until his first Great-Granddaughter is born and about 3 weeks until his 70th birthday I pray that 2012 will end in triumph for the Hero that is my Grandad.
(apologies for any mistakes. I cannot bring myself to read this back and edit any errors)