Goodbye, Winston

My maternal grandfather died on Wednesday 17th December 2008. He was just shy of both Christmas and his 85th birthday, so his timing wasn’t fantastic.

When somebody dies, there’s generally a lot of talk about what so-and-so would have wanted. Of course, unless they are like my father (“when I die, write a round robin telling everyone that I didn’t face my death with bravery at all, I was a total coward and a pain in the arse”) you don’t tend to know for sure that X or Y is what they’d have wanted to happen.

I suspect that he wouldn’t have minded this though. Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s appeared in this blog, and in any case, he can’t do much about it now! That painting was one that I did, of him and for him, for his birthday. It seemed a bit mean to turn up to a birthday party without a present, but I was faced with the dilemma of what on earth you get for an eighty-year-old man. In the end, although I was sixteen and should really have stopped drawing pictures as presents about five years beforehand, I decided that one thing he definitely wouldn’t already have was a portrait of himself!


What’s important here is that I really loved the old man. In any family, there are going to be relatives that you go to see out of politeness. Winston was not one of those people. He was great.

When I was younger, he taught me to club-swing. To this day, I can’t remember why. What I can remember is him saying, very solemnly, “of course, that was back when I was in short trousers”. Clearly, to him, this was a reasonable explanation!

Despite his sister being a piano teacher, and despite the fact that he was clearly very musically-minded, he always insisted that he had had no formal lessons. Then he’d sit down at his keyboard and accompany himself to “Danny Boy”, a song that he was inexplicably attatched to.

I spent years of my life trying to work out, in vain, which of his eyes was the false one. He lost the real one after an ember from a coal in the steam train he was driving flew into it. Yet, though it was glass, it matched his real eye perfectly, and I never could tell. Nor, unfortunately, could the nurse in the hospital he spent his last day in; she tried to get a response out of him by shining a light into the false eye. I think he probably would’ve been amused by that, if only he’d known. Even more bizarrely, it turns out that he had, in total, five false eyes. Aparently, they’ve been appearing all around the house, hidden away in various little boxes. However, it’s never a good idea to say, in company, “so, have you found any more of Winston’s eyes lately?”. As my mother found out, you do tend to get a few funny looks.

It’s difficult, of course, to avoid wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Winston wasn’t perfect. He was a wind-up merchant, for one thing. But he could hardly have been part of our family without it. Sarcasm just seems to be a family trait, along with imperfect vision and a penchant for bad puns. I suppose all you can say about someone, in then end, is that you’re glad to have known them, even if they did annoy you. And that’s definitely true of him – on both counts!

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