I only ever had one grand parent, it was my granddad, and he was ace. I’ve been laid up with the flu this week and it sounds daft, but whenever I get that horrible sniffly taste in my nose and throat it reminds me of being a kid and playing on me granddad’s kitchen floor. I could only have been around five years old, we had a massive piece of card and I was drawing roads to send my Matchbox cars around. Me, my uncle and my granddad. I had a snotty nose but I was happy.
Me granddad lived in Ellis Street, Wigan near the end, opposite what was Whelley Middle School and is now the Council Tax offices. I sometimes used to have a game of football on there shooting at the white goalmouth painted on the canteen walls. And of course as we got older, we climbed the roof looking for stuff to nick but let’s leave that for now, mostly I played with my granddad. Even though he lived in a council house, he had the biggest kitchen in the world.
Sunday was granddad day, I used to walk up to his house from the other side of town, past the old Wigan Rugby ground, Central Park. I used to get excited when I walked past that ground and alongside the River Douglas, not the rugby, not the crowds of people but because I was going to granddads. The narrow path was full of dogshit and in the summer required acts of contortionism to avoid the stinging nettles which grew across the path. Up the steps towards Bottling Woods, through the little alley at the bottom of Great Acre and past the school.
You could hear the roar of the rugby crowd from his house. He never let on though, he wasn’t a football man but he wasn’t a rugby man either, which was strange seeing as his previous house was a mere Billy Boston drop kick away from Central Park next to St George’s School and had since been demolished. I went a few times with some of my mates, we always climbed over the fence or got an adult to lift us over the turnstile, even though we were ten years old! There’s no shame in admitting it, living so close it was hard to ignore and soon the pull of Wigan Athletic across town won me over, especially as other family influences nearly drew me to the red side of Liverpool. Me and granddad didn’t talk sport though, just absolutely everything else.
There were always chips on the menu at his house and he made fantastic chips. Indeed, he used to run a chippy on Greenhough Street in Scholes and it was the best chippy around. Lovely, brown, crinkle cut chips with buttered bread and loads of Daddies sauce – what a great tea! And for afters, he’d get the Dundee biscuits out he got from Hanbury’s on Scholes Precinct. Dundee biscuits were just like chocolate digestives, but they were huge!! At least to a little boy they were and the chocolate was great.
Me dad was never around when I was a kid, me mam brought me up on my own. My uncle used to tell me off and try to make me do man’s things, but me and me granddad had the fun side of the father and son relationship. He was the man who pulled out an old fishing rod to give me when I got into fishing and when I started collecting bird’s eggs, while my mum was (quite rightly) scalding me over it, my grand-dad passed me a flat cap. “Here lad, you can hide them in the pique of this!”
As well as running a chippy, he was a wine merchant when he was younger. I’ve no idea how much of a social standing this was as he was a working class man with working class values but when I saw pictures of him, with his pencil tash, slick hair and pinstripe suit, he looked as dapper as can be. And he smiled like no other when photographed with my Grandma, who died of cancer before I was born at a ridiculously young age.
He drew cartoons in his spare time and they adorned the walls of his house. They were slightly pervy and I never got the humour in them, they were all full of naked ladies and jokes involving bucket and spades on Blackpool beach. He never got them published, they were a labour of love like most things and they’re still stuck in my mum’s attic somewhere. I also used to love reading cartoons at his house, he used to keep a mountain of old newspapers and for reasons I never quite understood they were always the Scottish Papers, the Sunday Post and the Weekly News so I grew up on a diet of ‘Oor Wullie’ and ‘The Broons’.
He was a bit eccentric like that, he used to re-use matches when he was lighting his pipe. Use the sulphur end and then use his lighter to light the other end to light his pipe with. He saw it as a waste to do otherwise. And he was prone to outbursts: I remember watching Blockbusters with him once and he let rip a foul torrent of abuse at Bob Holness. The basic jist of it was ‘what the bloody hell’s an old man like that doing presenting a telly programme with kids on like that, hasn’t he earned enough money, why doesn’t he let someone bloody younger do the job’ and on and on he went. Other people might think of ‘Give us a P’ but I still can’t watch Holness now without imagining my Granddad spewing forth anger at the telly with no teeth in.
It was my granddad who took me for my first legal pint. He even gave me a couple of quid to play Cops & Robbers on the bandit.
He helped me build a bird box we put in his backyard, which was complete with fully functioning outside privy like all proper houses of it’s day. His house backed on to a little field and he had problems with the kids who lived there. They were older than me and I couldn’t understand it. Why did they bully this great man, why did they pick on him, call him names and throw stones at his window? He was a war hero! How could they be so nasty to such a wonderful man?
There was a notorious family lived on the other side of the road though and they sorted it out and looked after him. You know the sort of family, four brothers, always in the wars. I remember seeing on of them up town one night when I was older. He was stood outside a jewellers at three in the morning with a brick in his hand “If ten people give me ten quid each I’ll smash the window and it’s first come first serve” he was saying as I stumbled past the worse for wear.
It was my granddad who took me for my first legal pint, at the now demolished Longshoot Social Club in Scholes. He even gave me a couple of quid to play Cops & Robbers on the bandit. I’d gone up to his house in a little blue Mini Metro that had been my mum’s and she’d given me for my 18th birthday. I no longer had to walk up the hill to Whelley but soon after I didn’t need to go up there at all.
I’d gone up with me mam and it was her that opened the door. He was there, in his favourite chair, with his papers and twice used matches on the table next to him with the telly on wearing his blazer with his war medals on. He was dead. My mum had tried to stop me but I wanted to see him, he’d not been dead long and he almost looked at peace, like he’d not died in pain. I don’t know what he did in the war, I think he was in Africa but he was a hero to me regardless and I still miss him. He was buried in Ince Cemetery, Wigan with his wife in an unmarked grave.
I miss my granddad.