On Twitter today someone randomly asked that if I were fortunate to have known any of my grandfather’s what is the first thing that I would think of when I think about them!
I wanted to say a lot more than I did, because I doted on my granddad!
So I thought it would be a lovely post to share here and I can get to talk about him in more depths, these memories are happy memories, probably some of the few I had growing up – but there are only two things that I remember which were not so happy and none of them were my grandad’s fault at all!
Up until I was six years old I lived next door to my maternal grandparents, Granddad Leslie and nanny or nonna Dolly!
Between the age of six and nine I never saw them, not once – because my mum moved us away due to a vicious argument which broke into a physical fight she had about my brother and aunt. The physical fight was in their living room between my auntie Julie and her, it was quite a scary physical fight I never saw because I was at school at the time and honorary auntie Sheila (which is rumoured to really be a third or fourth cousin to us) had to pick me up from school because mum was in hospital over it.
Both my mum and my aunt had scarring to their faces over that fight.
Before this fight my grandparents were part of my everyday life, I lived in an area in North London where I had a relative almost on every street and there were at least thirty households related to me within that small square mile, everyone else it seemed was some kind of family friend who looked out for everyone!
My granddad was an avid gardener and was always out in his garden talking to me about the flowers and nature and giving me updates on his breeding hobbies of tropical fishes, budgerigars and love birds! He loved gardening so much he rented four plots at the local allotments (a gardening community) where he’d grow lots of food to share with the whole family.
My granddad was a greengrocer once, before he lost his business to thugs and he met my grandmother when he was a farm worker on a farm her parents worked on in Enfield.
Sometimes granddad would pass over step ladders for me to climb up high enough for him to reach me to carry me over into his garden to help him with the fish and the birds – mum knew if she couldn’t find me in the garden that I’d be with him or passed onto Sheila who lived on the other side of my grandparents to play with her daughter who was only a year younger than me!
In my street there were four other households of family and only thirty yards away from the house was a shopping complex of ten stores, which whenever we’d pop round the corner for milk you’d have to anticipate forty five minutes before you got home again because of the amount of people you’d meet and talk to on the way!
I remember sitting in the window waiting for people I knew to walk pass the house and telling mum who was there, especially if mum wanted to talk to someone, she’d rush out immediately and they’d talk. Most of the time she had hoped my older teenage cousins would be passing so she could bribe them to take me to a park or go swimming with them at the community pool nearby!
All of this ended when I was six, from the time mum moved away from all of that I was in pure isolation and I didn’t cope well at all with that arrangement!
My mum was ostracized by most of our family when the fight happened, but there were still people who spoke to us and visited, but only a small margin from that point onwards!
It’s funny to think that because three households crammed together in a line became the forerunner of huge family Christmases – where everyone visited those three houses and kept swapping and changing dining rooms to socialise with as many people as possible on Christmas day, literally eighteen people per house and then going from that to just me, my parents and brothers and a cousin until I was twenty years old.
You can imagine the culture shock and to be honest… no, I have never recovered from the loss.
When I was nine years old I was thrilled to be back in my grandparents lives again, but I didn’t realise at the time it was only meant to have been temporary because my granddad was diagnosed with lung cancer.
So I have got the horrible bits out of the way now, now it’s time for me to show you what my granddad was like as a person!
My granddad came from Greenwich and he had a very strong husky East End accent, he was a short stocky and muscular man who was half Jewish and half catholic and had tattoos all the way up both arms! He had a widow’s peak hairline and silver white hair, when I was little I used to think my granddad looked like a mesh between grandpa Munster and Pop-eye!
Because my granddad smoked a pipe, had muscles, ate spinach had a rough husky voice, and loads of tatts!
He was the most muscular man in the whole family and quite a formidable character too!
He was a true man’s man but he was a man who was out of his time really, because my nanny Dolly didn’t have a domestic bone in her body – he did all the laundry, all the cleaning and all the cooking! My granddad always said it isn’t my Nan’s fault, she isn’t lazy cocker, he told me – she has had a hard life with her heart troubles so she got spoilt and I am mostly to fault for that he said.
I remember my granddad having two large 6ft fish tanks in the living room and he put them like an L shape to each other and he placed his armchair in the corner facing the TV directly in the opposite corner of the living room he had so he could watching every wrestling show on Sky TV he could!
I would always sit on his knee watching the TV with him, even when I was as old as ten, even when he was dying, I remember that. Clung to him for dear life, I loved my granddad! I couldn’t do that with anyone else, he was the only one who’d let me snuggle with him like that and so it was a novelty I relished every time I visited him!
I remember when we had to go home I was often kicking and screaming as I didn’t want to leave him.
My mum was a J-witness off and on growing up, so I didn’t learn much about the families catholic ways, so granddad always tried to put in lessons every now and again for me and got his rosary out and showed me that we moved the beads in prayer, look see…
I wondered how my granddad kept his faith with the Catholic Church when he experienced so much racism growing up – the nuns at the school he went to often gave him a hard time and caned him regularly because they said he was born in sin because his mother was Jewish!
Growing up with him telling me things like that and he was making excuses for their behaviour and being generally nice about it all – surprised me. He told me that it never bothered him you see, because Jesus was a Jew and he thought that those nuns were ridiculous for what they were saying about him. I told mum what he said and she didn’t receive that very well!
But it always stuck in my mind; Jesus was a Jew… wasn’t he catholic then granddad? That made him laugh so hard it bought on one of those deep dense and awful coughs of his!
My nan would look over and laugh too and then say “Out of the mouths of babes hey Les”?
My nan was in every way similar to Catherine Tate’s nan depiction, honestly, anyone who knew her said that they were sure that the character was based on her!
It still sticks in my mind today… Jesus was a Jew and it was only recently that I learned not only was he a Jew but he was also a fierce rabbi who tried hard to steer people back into the old faith of Judaism as he felt people were losing their way – food for thought I can tell you!
My granddad was a backstreet wrestler and boxer in his youth to earn extra rations and money for the family, he told me.
My granddad and I had a very similar life to each other in some ways – both of us were into combat sports, both of us were stocky in comparison to the others in the family though only 5ft 4, both of us were deaf due to the same condition (mastoiditis) and both of us were discriminated against for our mixed religious heritage and deafness and both of us loved our gardens!
Granddad was the only person I strongly connected to in most things in the family.
He would often sing to me all kinds of traditional London songs, some for kids and others not! Bouncing me on his knee and he always greeted me as “Cocker” whenever I visited him – “alright cocker”? He’d ask as I walked into the room!
Cocker means many number of things to an East Ender – mostly “Mate” or “little cocky one” or “fellow cockney” or something you called your descendants, usually aimed at personal favourites rather than generic – well in my family it was!
He would regularly give me cash in hand money to go the local shops with so he could have private chats with my parents, knowing I’d be gone for up to an hour because the family and extended family would watch out if a kid was going to the shops alone! There were lots of eyes in those streets and you always felt safe as you knew almost everybody down there!
There was one particular shop I used to love going to a lot and it was a health and safety nightmare for how the candies were stacked in piles around the whole store, but it was a great store with every kind of candy you can think of, chocolates, crisps, sodas and ice-creams – it was called Lucky Sweets and was run by a really lovely and elderly Hindu lady.
My granddad would often talk about the wrestlers on TV and we are related to a wrestler who now has a wrestling family and that was my granddad’s pride and joy in pointing that out to me!
My granddad often bought dinner from the fish and chips shop as well when I visited him; it was always cheaper than it should be because there were rumours that the owner was a distant cousin from our Greek roots as we also have Greek in us. In fact our Italian relatives from Naples are mostly Greco-Italians they say, but we have had family in Naples since 305BC on both sides of my family actually.
But I do know when I was growing up and visiting my nan a lot when granddad died, that the local teenagers who were not associated with my family in anyway were really nasty to me in the school I went to purely because of the knocked off price of our fish and chips dinner because of family discounts.
My granddad gifted me his budgerigars every couple of years and one of them I loved so much lasted for nearly three years called Bobby. The other, funnily enough was called Henry.
But when I talk about Henry on my blog, be sure to know it is my son I am on about and not some record breaking old budgerigar – lol!
He is also the reason why I love tropical fish keeping, because to me a house isn’t a home without a tropical fish tank and a dog. I don’t have a fish tank here… tell a lie… I do… but there is nothing in it because Paul won’t help me set it up.
I always felt safe with my granddad because nobody messed with my granddad and I could tell him anything my mum did to me and knew he would be the retribution she’d get!
When he died she got more cocky about things and wielded it like a power.
I moved in with my grandparents when I was ten years old, for a few months whilst granddad was dying of cancer, until his death. Then my nan was required to come and stay with us whenever she felt lonely, which was about four times a week until she was hospitalised and died fourteen years later.
When I got the flu when we lived with him, granddad wanted to know how mum took care of me when I was at home and had the flu in the past and I was brutally honest with him about it. He was not happy and he rang his bell which always sent mum into a panic running into the room to him. He said, cocker over there isn’t well; she needs a drink of water, not Lucozade! She went and made a drink, he then rang the bell again and told her that I was hungry and not to just pass me candies but to get some chicken soup into me! She got angry at this point, but he kept ringing the bell for me and made sure I was cared for properly and not dumped with bags of candies and bottles of Lucozade and left for hours on end like normal!
He defended me even though he hardly had the breath to do it; he had a mischievous nature which I adored!
He got told off really bad by my nan when he used blackmail on my mum by switching his own oxygen off to cause a panic and stir when mum tried to tell him off! As he did it he winked at me but it really scared me to see that!
I had a nightmare the day before granddad died, I woke up knowing that that day would be his last – even though the doctor said he would have four months at least before that stage came, I was right.
He died three days shy of his birthday and it was supposed to have been a huge family reunion party too – the party still happened but it was more morose than it should have been!
My granddad would be 100yrs old on August 15th of this year.
Thanks for reading!