Saturday, March 23, 2013


My grandad - Mum's dad - would have been 100 today. He was born on a (very early) Easter Sunday in 1913 and died three months shy of his 90th birthday. He and my grandmother brought up seven kids on their South Canterbury farm. Living on the other side of the world I didn't see a lot of him. He was never much of a talker but he had a quick mind and a keen sense of humour.

In the late eighties Grandad had a car accident and never got behind the wheel again. In 1989 we landed in Auckland to begin our six-month stay in NZ. Grandad had bowel cancer and we thought he might be gone by the time we'd made our way down the country. When we got to Temuka he was skeletal. But somehow he made a full recovery. In late 1990 he and my grandmother flew out to the UK; they stayed with us for about a month. My gran had flown to England a few times but he'd hardly been out of Canterbury before. His first experience of an escalator was on the London underground. They even did a tour of Ireland, which I think was a bridge too far for him, but he was in tears when he said goodbye to us on leaving the UK.

My gran used to nag at him constantly and I could never understand why. Mostly he'd just be sitting in his chair minding his own business. He rode his bike well into old age - he'd often cycle to the library and take out a bunch of large-print books. He read them at lightning speed but whether he actually read them I don't know. I'm sure I caught him turning over multiple pages at once. I think the books were mostly a means of escape from his wife.

My grandad was part of the last generation to live what you might call a simple life. They didn't have a lot by our standards, but relative to their expectations they had plenty, and seemed to be happier as a result. Grandad's life revolved around his garden, the church and his friends. He'd often have his mates (or "cobbers") over for a game of cards: either euchre or crib. He had dozens of grubby, sticky packs of cards in the house; people wondered if he cheated by licking them. The last time I saw him was in 1997 when I must have played hundreds of games of crib with him during our month-long stay. It was a game rich in jargon; here are a few examples (some of which might have been Grandad-specific):
  • "What Paddy shot at" - nothing, i.e. a score of zero
  • "I've got the smell of ya" - I'm catching you up
  • "Gooo" - Grandad's pronunciation of "go"
  • Fifteen-two..."and the rest won't do"
  • Fifteen-four..."and the rest won't score"
  • Fifteen-six..."and the rest won't mix"
    ...and many more. A lot of his sayings were simply words that rhymed with the previous thing anybody said.
On the morning of our departure back to the UK in '97 we had to leave early. But not before he'd played a final game of crib with me. I won that game so we had to play again. He won the second game, we left minutes later, and that was the last I ever saw of him.

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