A Tribute to Grandads

Not a Granddad (Yet)
This is not a grandad. This is a Snapchat filter. I just needed a thumbnail for the blog post.

I’ve reached a milestone in my life recently: both of my grandfathers passed away within months of each other. There’s been no massive amounts of sadness on my part, but there has been a lot of guilt niggling at the back of my head because it seems that my values are fairly stilted if I can wax lyrical about the death of a beloved parakeet but not spare some web space for actual related human beings who had a more significant impact on my life up to this point.

It is a strange sensation, the slow realisation that the head patriarchs of two families have ceased to be. My parents, uncles and aunties are now officially all joint-heads of their respective families1. I suspect this sensation will grow over the coming years, especially if I spawn a new generation of my own (“spawn” being my preferred terminology).

On the one hand I understand that certain family members might consider this to be a massive breach of privacy; certainly they know how to contact me if they wish to air concerns. However, I subscribe to a notion suggested by the immortal author Sir Terry Pratchett2 that “a man is not dead while his name is still spoken“. I consider this blog post to be my own special way of preserving the memory of two special men.

Barry Walker (1931 – 2016)

Barry WalkerI always had a certain pride in talking about my Grandad Walker to people, in particular to older colleagues who got the reference when I said things like “he seems to think he’s David Niven, an absolute gentleman”. I don’t think I ever saw the man without a perfectly trimmed moustache and he never really seemed to age. He’s also one of the only men I’ve ever seen pull off an ascot and trenchcoat combo without looking like someone pretending to be sophisticated.

I apologise to family members who read the following and think I’ve missed out huge chunks of his personality, but I’ll always associate him with the following memories:

  • Barry always had a passion for golf, which he played right up until he physically couldn’t. He once got a Hole in One and has a little certificate to prove it. I do vaguely remember him talking me through how to stand while swinging a golf club (legs at ten o’ clock and two o’ clock). He once bought the abominable device known as the Phillips CD-i player to play digital golf on and I’m pretty sure I spent most of a week playing it once while holidaying with the grandparents. I keep telling myself that I regret not having played golf with him but then I remember I’m bloody awful at golf so it wouldn’t have been much of a game.
  • His favourite singer was Frank Sinatra. I have a distinct memory of him sitting in his living room dozing slightly with the lights turned down while Frank Sinatra played on TV.
  • Grandad Walker lived for words and wordplay. I have always had a talent for the English language and its nuances from a young age, and he used to constantly test me on how to spell certain words and was delighted when I’d get them right. I believe “sausage” was one of the words in particular which he was impressed that I knew how to spell, which is probably why he used to call me “his little sausage”. I remember him trying to explain to me why I shouldn’t use an apostrophe before the letter “s” in every word that ends with “s” (a horrendous habit I had at the time) and I think most of it sank in but it took a few more years and other teachers for it to properly click.
  • He completed the London marathon, which appears to be an achievement that will admirably be passed down through the Walker family as a tradition.
  • He once owned a popular ice cream stand in one of Chippenham’s parks and apparently made a mint (pun unintended). It was so successful that the council decided to double his land rent, which unfortunately put him out of business. I don’t think he ever really stopped being an ice cream man in my head for some reason.
  • The most prominent memory for others in my family concerning me and Grandad Walker involves the time he helped a very young version of me on to the “death slide” at Bowood House (which can be seen here). Apparently I was insistent that I wanted to be dropped down it and Grandad was most hesitant about dropping his tiny grandson down a vertical drop. He did eventually let go and I was unharmed. I unfortunately don’t have any recollection of this event at all (it was presumably suppressed).
  • He worked on the railway as a signalman. As a child I loved steam trains and I have two very distinct memories of him indulging my fascination: taking me on a train ride just for the sake of riding the train, and visiting a steam train museum which was, frankly, probably one of the best days of my life. I still have the three GWR badges he gifted me long ago in my bedside table. One was worn to his funeral with pride. “God’s Waiting Room”, quipped one of his sons upon seeing it. Quite apt, I suppose.
  • He was given his driving licence by the army. I cannot verify the quality of his driving but there is one story where he apparently tail-gated an ambulance in order to get around some traffic once, although that does sound suspiciously like a scene from Die Hard 3.

Grandad Walker was a consummate gentleman and I for one will miss not being able to say I’m related to a modern-day David Niven. I have inherited his electronic keyboard; I understand learning to play it was amongst his hobbies and I hope to certainly get some use out of it even if I’m just playing that creepy theme that everyone thinks is for Dracula or “improvised jazz” (i.e. making it up as I go along).

Patrick Payne (1927 – 2017)

Patrick PaynePatrick Payne was a working man most of his life, with a past anchored in the docks of Avonmouth (pun intended). I lived with Grandad Payne for the best part of ten years after Nana Payne died. We never always saw eye-to-eye, but I respect his character and always have. Patrick was a man’s man and will probably be engrained in my psyche for representing an aspect of masculinity in some manner for all time.

I present for preservation a selection of my fondest memories to preserve online:

  • Incessant tickling. Between the ages of five to ten every visit to the Payne grandparents would be punctuated with Grandad tickling me until I’d yelp, at which point Nana Payne would come to my aid by scalding him. This would stop him for about five minutes, at which point the tickling would resume while Nan was distracted.
  • Burning toast. The highlight of staying with the Payne grandparents would be Grandad setting off the fire alarm by toasting bread until it was black and pumping smoke into the air.
  • Grandad Payne was a master model maker. His house was adorned with intricate model boats he had put together from kits in his expansive workshop. Some of the boats he constructed were electronic and controlled by remote; I remember piloting two of these boats, one in the marina at Portishead and the other locally in the boating lake in Clevedon.
  • Dad used to spend a lot of time down the Working Men’s Club with Grandad. I vaguely remember one story where Dad was walking along the street with Grandad and heard a noise behind him, only to discover that Grandad had lifted a chap up by the neck because he was bitten by said man’s dog; Grandad would have been in his seventies at the time, I think.
  • I always held a level of pride whenever Grandad saw the Warhammer miniatures I used to paint with Dad – it was a little like being validated that our efforts were on level with his.
  • At one point Patrick was a big gardener – I remember the garden in Avonmouth always being very neat and recollect a greenhouse he always attended to attentively.
  • Grandad used to drive everywhere at 40 miles an hour, including on the motorway. That takes some serious balls, on one level.

Grandad Payne was a no-nonsense man. His stout jawline will forever be present in my memories. A formidable character who loved family and will always be the top of the Payne family tree, at least to me.

Missing You, Old Guys

This is not a competition – neither patriarch holds precedent over the other. Both were very different characters and influenced me in varying ways.

I hold no secrets; certain memories were cherry-picked and, while I hold other memories on both characters, I think the ones presented here help preserve the “mythos” of both men. That’s all I can do. It’s not my role to discredit the deceased from who they thought they were or who they wanted people to think they were.

If you still have grandparents, maybe now is the time to get to know them better. Maybe go for that pint you always said you’d take them for, because once they are gone you won’t get the opportunity to.

RIP, gentlemen. And thank you.

  1. No offence Nana Walker, you’re still really the Boss, obviously.
  2. Incidentally I did write a short tribute to Sir Terry when he died as well because he was everyone’s grandad in a way.

Post by | February 8, 2017 at 11:00 pm | Real Life | No comment

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