Thursday, October 02, 2014

All about my grandfather (Part one of two)

He died a long time ago. All I knew then was that he was a postman around those new towns in south Essex where all the Cockneys went when they were moved out of a shell-shocked east London following the war.

But, I learned much later, Arnold "Ron" Coleman was much more than that.

He died when I was - what - 13 or 14, and Other Grandad's house was where we went for seaside holidays in the summer, half terms and Christmas. He and my nan were Other Grandad and Other Granny, as opposed to my mother's parents - Green Granny and Green Grandad, who lived in Northern Ireland. Alles klar? We lived on one side of London, they on the other, and it was an adventurous road trip through the centre of town, where I usually ended up being car sick somewhere near Aunt Lou's place in Dagenham.

Other Grandad and Other Granny were champion gardeners, and every summer the five of us - my, my brother, my sister and two cousins - would help as they cleared up at the Laindon and District Horticultural Society's Summer Show. And one year, I was violently sick in that trophy.

He had trees in his garden we could climb, with apples and pears and nuts to be gorged in the autumn. And quite unlike any garden I had ever seen, he had two greenhouses. Two - and also a devil-may-care attitude to lighting bonfires that probably drove his neighbours up the wall. But we didn't care, for there's nothing a lad likes more than setting fire to things with his grandfather.

I know what you're thinking, but it was hardly an idyllic setting. He lived on a main road with cars roaring past his front door at 60mph, an iffy pre-fabricated estate over the back fence that had you fearing for your life, with the local scrotes thinking we were fair game if we were spotted in the trees, or - worse - in Stephen's tree house next door.

Some days we would arrive at his house to the most pungent smell, which indicated he was cooking his soil in the kitchen because - oh, I don't know - his plants liked cooked soil and who cares what your house smells like when there's a red rosette to be won. The outside toilet smelled like Jeyes fluid, and when he died we found about ten thousand flower pots stacked in the garage.

It wasn't until recently that I found out what he did before he moved out east to Essex. I knew that he had been NCO aircrew during the war, flying around North Africa in RAF Wellington bombers, but it wasn't until I was in conversation with my father earlier this year that I found out exactly what he did. Wow.

Old Other Grandad specialised in Middle East work, and the RAF kept posting him out to [then] Palestine and Egypt because he knew the people, knew the intelligence and the lie of the land. Presumably the language, too, of which I have picked up exactly nothing, despite exposure to Arabic every day of the last 25 years of my professional life. He was actually offered a commission, but turned it down because he preferred the perks of being at the top of the pile as an NCO, rather than bottom of the pile with the Henrys.Fair enough, I say.

Of course, he didn't talk about it, except for an outspoken admiration of "Bomber" Harris, and his delight and surprise in finding out my commanding officer in the air cadets was an old RAF comrade.

He was never the same when cancer took my gran; but he made the most of it, dropping dead on top of a mountain in Austria whilst wearing lederhosen during a holiday with his next door neighbours. His coffin, when they finally brought him back from Europe, was as big as a small car. Frankly, that's the way we all want to go.

Your author on the right. And how do I know this is Frinton and not Southend? Simple: We're not up to our necks in Thames Estuary mud.
Long gone, and I made the mistake of going to look at his house on a trip to Essex a few years ago. His beloved postage stamp front garden now paved over to fit a BMW, I couldn't bring myself to peer over the back fence for fear of the blasphemy wrought on those once well-tended borders. If I ever want to get back to those days, I only have to take the top off a tin of Jeyes, take a snort, and I'm back to that cramped outhouse surrounded by flower pots and spiders.

And if there's one thing I learned from him, it was this: "Turds" is the funniest word in the English language.


That, and honesty, hard work, and the fact that it is possible to fit seven people and a picnic into a Mark One Ford Cortina and drive them to Frinton-on-Sea at exactly 35mph.

Thanks, Other Grandad.

UPDATE: My sister writes --- You forgot to mention the bottles of his own urine stashed in glass pop bottles in the outhouse, for the dual purposes of accelerating his compost heap and seeing off local cats and foxes - a hazardous practice in a household that also made their own wine and lemon cordial and stored it in glass pop bottles...

1 comment:

WrathofDawn said...

You had a most excellent Other Grandad.