Around the world in a day – or less

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Our tablecloth is a large print of a world map. It covers a rather beautiful oak table that we bought in a moment of impulsive consumerism. We would rather like it to survive until after the children have left home, although I suspect it will continue to be covered for a long time after that, until one day our great grandchildren come to clear the house of our possessions and shout “I do declare – there was a beautiful oak table under here all along!”

But I digress. The tablecloth seems to initiate conversations and discussion with just about everybody who sits and has a cup of tea with us. For some people it’s a raised eyebrow and comment on how ‘interesting’ it is. For others it is a chance to indulge in some curiosity sating walks around the world with their fingers.

Our own family plan imaginary (hopefully real one day) trips and trace the steps of previous journeys and adventures; it is a tablecloth of dreams and desires. To add to the excitement our world is often populated with little extra islands of Weetabix and archipelagos of sticky cake crumbs.

When granddad comes to stay he uses it to show us all the places he went to and talks about the things that happened to him during his time in the navy during and after WW2. This visit he told us the story of Bermondsy Bill;

When he was billeted with a family in Hounslow – with Mrs Collier and her unattached 18 year old daughter Barbara, who was sent to accompany grandad on any and every errand and excursion he left the house for – he was sharing a room with another sailor called Bill, from Bermondsy. Bill didn’t particularly like the authority aspect of being in the navy and found it hard to bite his tongue at times.
Naturally this resulted in lots of ‘opportunities for Bill to reflect on his conduct’, but eventually he went a step too far and was transferred, disappearing from the house and the base overnight. He was replaced with a married man who spent all his spare time fiddling his leave and forging passes and tickets so he could visit his family in Torquay.

Some years later grandad ran into Bermondsy Bill again, at a transit camp in India. He found that Bill had been given a ‘special duty’ on a patrol boat in the Arctic Ocean. He spent his time shivering with cold, watching for German boats sneaking down from the North and crying himself to sleep at nights. He had never progressed beyond stoker and thought perhaps he maybe shouldn’t have answered back quite so much.

We all felt there was a moral in here somewhere, but I will let you decide for yourself what it is.

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When I was 5 my paternal grandfather died. All I really remember about him is that he took snuff and had a walking stick, also when we visited him we were allowed to visit the Olde Worlde sweet shop and buy a sugar mouse each (Me and my brother, not me and granddad.). Not much I know, what can I say, I was only small.

My other grandfather lasted longer, but lived further away, so I didn’t really know him that well either. He was an artist and had a moustache.

I have an appalling memory at the best of times, so the fact that I can dredge up so few details of men who I didn’t know very well isn’t too alarming for me, it’s just what it is.

However….this Easter my wife’s Dad came to stay again. He has been a regular visitor at our house throughout the boys lives. He came to help when I was working away, he comes to help out when we ask, he was here to babysit the older two when our youngest was born. He helps me fix things that are so far outside my skillset they are on a different planet (he is a retired plumber) and loves being around our boys. Every year he comes on holiday with us for a week and the boys all love having him to stay, as do I.

I am sure the boys will all grow up with fantastic memories of Grandad. He regales us with stories from his time as a sailor in World War 2, tells them about life growing up in his village and the things him and his 3 brothers used to get up to. He shows them different trees, plants and birds and gives them a different perspective on the world, from someone who remembers a time when things were different.

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Below are some Grandad highlights that I am sure will be safely stowed in the boys memory banks, but I am also recording here, for posterity – and because they’re funny:

Feeding the ducks one day Grandad scooped one up out of the water, put it in his hat and told the boys we were bringing it home as a pet (we didn’t!)

When he was a boy him and a friend accidentally blew in a shop window with the shotgun they had taken to the woods.

In the navy his minesweeper was sent to clear 10 mines from an estuary. They could only find 8, but as they were due shore leave pretended to have cleared all of them.

His dad (Great Grandad) killed a rat with a broom in a World War 1 field hospital – only to find that one of the nurses had been keeping it as a pet.

He secretly doesn’t like Liquorish Allsorts, but doesn’t tell the family as they have been buying them for him for years.

He is a wonderful man and it is always great to see him. My biggest hope is that, if I ever become a granddad, I can be as grand as he is.