Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Looking after Granddad.
My granddad, now long gone, was called Joe. When I was but a nipper of about six I was helping him clean out a cupboard when I spotted a small tin cracker box stuck away at the back. I dug the rusting container out from under several old magazines and presented it to him. He accepted it with an expression that puzzled me. I asked him what was wrong. His thick fingers worked their way under the rim of the lid and with much grunting and heaving he managed to open the box. Inside were coins from several foreign lands and perhaps six medals circa the second world war.
As a kid of six I was impressed by the fact that my Granddad had been a soldier and had been off to far flung corners of the world to fight our enemies. As a kid of six I was a complete and utter dumb ass who, knowing nothing of the real world, had formed the idea that all these medals were somehow cool. Joe had other ideas.
He picked a coin from the box, turning it over in his hand. It was a large bronze coin which was, I think, from Egypt.
'My mate (name withheld) gave me this.' he mumbled softly, 'He was dead in a ditch the day after. It's all I've got to remember him. It's all anybody's bloody got!'
He went through the rest of the contents, picking out each item and then almost throwing it back in. My young eyes flicked back and forth between the old tin and the old man. To me the two didn't seem to fit together, a box of military honours worthy of pride, and a derisive sneer on an old man's white whiskered face.
It turns out that Joe had 'seen a few things' to put it euphemistically and as far as he was concerned they were things that he'd much rather forget.
It's sadness upon sadness when we're forced to bury not just our friends but also our memory of them.
I am also ex military although thankfully I have been for the most part spared from 'seeing a few things'. I do however understand the need for remembrance. I see our elders solemnly marching shoulder to shoulder with medals abreast and I appreciate their sacrifice and inwardly I thank them for it, but is there a need for pride?
Isn't military pride just the shiny suit that sorrow wears when it steps out for the day?
There's a difference between war and violence. I have no problem with violence so long as it's personal. The urge to give battle to my enemies looms large within me. It's a part of every human being's deepest nature and I find that acceptable. We feel insulted, we feel anger, we retaliate.
War is different because there's no anger. It's a cold and considered act. A soldier is asked to kill a stranger and is dehumanised by it. If you're in a brawl in a pub and you knock the bastard out you don't then trot off and rape his family, whereas in war that kind of disgrace is all part of the show.
So am I anti war? Absolutely.
My granddad was damaged goods, and although he did the best he could to hide it, in a small tin box at the back of a cupboard, he wasn't the man that he would have been if the government of the day hadn't asked him to go out and gun people down.
I think that the lesson here, despite my tedious ramblings above, is to try to see our elders as little tin boxes. I'm not suggesting that we stuff them into cupboards. What I'm saying is that they understand the realities of life in a way that the young do not and so we have to open the box and share their experiences so that we don't keep repeating the same stupid mistakes.
At the end of WWII the Americans began filming inside German concentration camps. Why? Because as one general remarked, 'If we don't record this shit now, in fifty years time no-one will believe it ever happened.' Which tends to imply of course that it could all happen again, and just in case anyone thinks that I'm picking on the Germans, I'm not. You don't have to look very far to see countries, my own included, that have done a whole lot worse and on the same scale, and no amount of apology or excuses will ever justify their actions. We shouldn't ever be proud of our atrocities, but we should always remember them.
Looking after Granddad - overview.
Looking after Granddad is all about how our experiences change us and how those changes affect others. It is the only tale that I've written thus far that has a monster in it, although who or what the monster is, and what it represents, I will leave up to you. The story is at least two thirds flashback, which serves to explain why the main protagonist behaves the way he does.
Leo McDonald - A formerly good man, made bad by his experiences, who lives in a nursing home for the elderly. Leo is the living proof that we are all capable of despicable acts when the situation demands. The real problem arises when dementia sets in and Leo thinks that he's back there.
Billy Giles - A young man who is slowly paving his own personal road to hell with his good intentions. He's another good man made bad by his experiences, primarily at the hands of the aforementioned Leo McDonald.
Here's a link to the ebook version from Smashwords.
Looking after Granddad is one of Uncle John's Bedtime Tales. The full collection of ten stories is available in ebook format on smashwords.
For those who prefer a print version Uncle John's Bedtime Tales is available from:
Amazon.com: Click here
Amazon.co.uk: Click here
Direct from Spinetinglers publishing: Click here