Bringing Granddad Home

My maternal grandfather died quite young. He was only around 65 years old. I heard the news of course, and despite being only 12 years old myself, I took it quite well, without getting too upset. As was tradition, he was ‘laid out’ in a coffin in the parlour of the house, and every member of the family was taken to see him. It was the first time I had seen a dead body, and to me he seemed to just be sleeping. He had a short funeral, followed by a burial in Nunhead Cemetery, South London.

Many years later, quite recently in fact, I learned the true circumstances of his death, and how the family ‘brought granddad home’.

He died in Essex, at a place called Heybridge, near the town of Maldon. It was just over fifty miles from his home in the London district of Bermondsey. He and my nan had been enjoying a short holiday in a caravan they had bought some years earlier, to enjoy their retirement weekends and summer breaks. My nan had woken up that morning to find him dead beside her. He was cold, and very white. She had seen enough dead people to know nothing could be done. For many years, he had been receiving treatment for Angina, so it seemed likely a heart attack had taken him during the night.

Back then (1965) it wasn’t usual to ring for an ambulance when someone died. But a death did have to be officially confirmed, usually by the family doctor. It then had to be reported to the Police too. But my nan was fifty miles away from home, so she did something different. She walked to a nearby telephone box, and rang her eldest daughter, my aunt Edie. Edie in turn rang my mum, and then the younger sister, Betty. All three were married, and it was decided that the brothers-in-law would be enlisted to deal with the situation.

Edie’s husband was called Albert, and he had the biggest car. He picked up my dad, and then went to get Betty’s husband, Benjamin. They drove the fifty miles to the caravan through heavy Sunday traffic in east London and the Essex suburbs. When they arrived, they packed up my grandparents’ things, and dressed my dead granddad in his overcoat, to cover his pyjamas. Then they propped him up in the back seat of the car, his head against the window. My dad and Benjamin sat in the back with him, to make sure he stayed upright, and didn’t slip down. With my nan in the front, and Albert driving, they set off for the house in Bermondsey.

Despite encountering some heavy traffic on the return journey, nobody outside the car appeared to notice that anything was amiss. Once back at my nan’s house, they quickly carried granddad inside, then put him into bed in his pyjamas as my nan was telephoning for the doctor. The doctor arrived, and immediately pronounced my granddad dead, knowing nothing of the fiasco surrounding his return from Essex. He was prepared to issue a death certificate with Angina as the cause, and he also notified the Police. Undertakers were called to bring a coffin, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

It seems my nan was afraid that if she rang for help in Essex, granddad’s body would be taken to the mortuary at Colchester Hospital. That might involve a post-mortem examination too. Instead, she relied on her family to do the right thing, and get her husband back home.

It’s one of those, ‘you couldn’t make it up’, stories, and is now a source of great amusement to many of our family members.

Times were different then. They certainly were.

Christmas Past: Part Two

In part one, I wrote about my childhood love of the Christmas season. But it wasn’t long before the magic wore off.

In my teens, I got myself a regular girlfriend. All is going well, then Christmas gets mentioned. She tells me that she has to spend Christmas at home with her family. My mum tells me that I am expected to do the same with mine. So Christmas starts to become something to get past, so that life can return to normal on the 27th. Besides, I know there’s no Santa by then, and my dad has long since stopped piling the toys at the end of my bed.

Now I am twenty-four years old. My dad has left my mum for another woman, and I definitely cannot leave her on her own for Christmas. So I don’t go to see the woman who will become my wife the following year, and she is expected to stay with her family. Which set of parents get our company starts to become more important than the real reasons for the celebration, and also takes over from the tradition of all the families meeting in one place.

People have moved around, and no longer live that close to each other. So I have to make choices.

Once I am married, my wife graciously accepts that my mum is on her own, so we will go there on the 25th, and to her family on the 26th. Three years later, I become an EMT working shifts, and all previous rules are abandoned when I have to work on the 25th, a ten-hour day shift. After trying to resuscitate a small child found dead in its cot on Christmas morning, then later an elderly man who collapsed and died as he was carving the turkey, I wasn’t feeling very festive when I got home from work to eat with my mum and my wife.

For the next thirty-three years, I did shift work as an EMT or with the Metropolitan Police. I used to try to get the 25th off, usually having to agree to work on New Year’s Eve instead. When I managed to get a free day, I had often been working a night shift before, coming home like a zombie, then having to drive to see my mum and go through the motions of appearing to enjoy a Christmas meal.

It wore me down. It was a chore, not something enjoyable. A whole year of stress, bulding up to two days that I always dreaded.

I grew out of Christmas.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Loss Of Contact.

It made a nice change today to wake up thinking about something other than a virus.

I was actually thinking about people I once knew well, and have not seen in half a lifetime. Starting with someone I called my ‘best mate’ for all of nine years, until he got married, and moved away. I last went to see him in 1980. Since then, some Christmas cards, but never a phone call either way. I can remember the times we shared as schoolfriends and into our late teens as if they were yesterday. But when I see his face in my mind, he is still only 18 years old. Forty years have passed since we met, and it is likely the next contact will be made when one of us dies.

Cousins that I used to spend most weekends with, go on summer holidays with. Some not seen now for twenty years, and their children don’t even know who I am. One moved to Canada. Is he still there? What happened in his life? I have no idea, because ‘Merry Christmas’ on a card tells me nothing. Does he ever think about me at all? I was his older cousin who he met at our grandmother’s house. I went to his older sister’s wedding, but the last time I met his younger sister, she asked who I was, and how I was related to her.

Splits in families will do that. You tend to pick a side, like it or not. And because my dad left my mum, we picked her side. By the time we tried to resume contact and build bridges, it was too late. Life had passed by like traffic on a motorway. I was a face on a photo that nobody recognised.

Work colleagues, male and female, can often become great friends. But if the girls get married, what if their husband is jealous of your closeness, suspectng something else? You do the decent thing. Step away. Give them a chance. And what if your male friend marries someone who doesn’t like you, or you can’t stand them. Do you hang around and cause friction? No, you disappear.

I sat up in bed thinking about all the people I had once been very close to, and had not seen since. I stopped counting at fifteen, then added the more distant relatives to arrive at a total. Twenty? Thirty? I am sure it must be more than that, if I think harder.

In an age where communication has never been so widespread, or more instant, it seems no easier to keep in touch.

How Good Is Blogging?

Well, the answer is, of course, ‘Very good’.

This recent crisis has shown just how valuable blogging can be.

Bored during ‘lockdown’? Write stuff on your blog.
Want to know what is happening in other countries? Bloggers will tell you.
Need information about Covid-19? The blogs are full of useful info and tips.
Want to keep in contact when you are self-isolated? Bloggers rule at that. Communication, friendship, and companionship too.

Blogging has risen to the recent crisis like nothing else could. Sympathy, empathy, and just plain friendship. It is all out there, on the blogs.

Free books, stories to read on blogs, photos to admire, other cultures to appreciate. All just a few clicks away.

Thanks to all my blogging friends, I could never feel lonely, alone, unappreciated, or lacking in concern.

The blogging community is like a family, pulling together in the worst of times. Asking for nothing, giving generously, and offering an ear for listening, or a shoulder to cry on.

Blogging is the best, and now is the best time ever for you to start your own blog. We will help you, offer advice and tips, and welcome you to our world.

Use your time at home productively. Start a blog. Tell us about yourself.

You will be so pleased that you did.

Something that isn’t fiction

I have been posting a LOT of fiction lately. Thanks to everyone who is reading it, and commenting. Thanks also to all of you who sent (and are still sending) photos to prompt the current short stories. But this blog isn’t just about fiction, as regular readers will know.

So, what else is going on, in the world of beetleypete?

The short answer is ‘not much’. That said, One of Julie’s twin daughters presented us with a lovely new granddaughter on the 5th of the month.
Mother and baby (yet to be named) are doing well, I am pleased to report.

Ollie’s fur finally grew back, just in time to get a good soaking most days out on our walks in the various ‘Named Storms’ affecting Britain at the moment. He hasn’t encountered many of his furry friends lately, as many dog-walkers are avoiding the foul weather, and are wary of the numerous trees that have been blown down. Last week, we lost another one of his oldest friends, Paddy the Border Collie. He was owned by our next-door neighbours, and was one of the first adult dogs Ollie ever met. I used to walk and feed him when they went on holiday, and he was always pleased to see me. But his back legs failed not long after he was 15, and he made his last trip to see the Vet.

My Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet has been annoying me. After working well enough until the guarantee expired, it started to be reluctant to turn on. A factory reset was suggested, but it has to be on to do that! Anyway, I deliberately ‘over-charged’ it the other night, and it finally came on. Perhaps I have been lax in shutting it down when I should? I don’t know if that is a problem, but now I turn it off completely every night, and keep my fingers crossed that it works the next morning.

Loath as I am to mention it, we haven’t had too many issues with all these unusual storms. The shrubs and hedges have survived, the tall chimney for the wood-burner is still in place, and the recently-installed TV aerial has refused to budge in high winds too. It is best to be careful when out driving, as some minor roads have a lot of water on them, and some trees are down close to the road too. But I don’t have to drive unless I need to go to the supermarket, so I am currently only going out in the car twice a week.

Julie caught an awful cold, and has been off sick from her job. Her voice is croaky, and she is flitting between being too hot, or too cold. We are confident is is not a case of Corona virus, and as she works as a doctor’s receptionist, she can be sure of getting good medical care should it be needed.

February has not been very inspiring for photography, at least not for me. So no new photos, I’m afraid. I am hoping for better weather in March, so I can celebrate my birthday with a trip somewhere, and some photos of the occasion.

That’s it for now. Sorry it’s a bit boring, but I’m a retired old man

“Oi! Wake up! You’re at the end of the post now!”

A Thanksgiving Wish

We don’t have Thanksgiving here, and this close to Christmas, I give thanks for that. 🙂

However, I would like to wish all my American friends, followers, and readers
A Very Happy Thanksgiving.

I hope that you all have family, friends, or someone special to spend the annual holiday with. Relish the company. Eat, drink, and enjoy.

Remember those empty chairs too, those you have lost over the years.
Recall happy memories from when they were also around the table.

Spare a thought for those spending the holiday alone, or families who don’t have enough money to splash out on traditional food.

Forget politics for a few days, enjoy some peace and happiness.

And don’t forget to save some energy for Christmas!

Whoever you are with, and wherever you are, you know you will always have a friend here in Beetley.

My very best wishes to you all, Pete.

A Very Personal Ghost Story

This is a completely true personal experience.

This is from 2014. I have re-posted it before, so this is only for the benefit of my new followers, seeing as it is Halloween.

I have never really believed in the supernatural. Ghosts, apparitions, reincarnation, life after death, and all things associated with these. Not that I wouldn’t have liked to, it just didn’t seem plausible. Psychics can often appear to be very accurate. They claim to know things about you, even to be communicating with a family member, long since dead. Unfortunately, their ‘gifts’ are very easily debunked, and like most of these things, it has to come down to simple belief. And I don’t believe it.

My paternal grandmother was a great character. She had a very dark complexion, black hair, and a gravelly voice. Mother to three sons and two daughters, she had to fend for herself for much of her adult life, as my grandfather deserted the family home when I was a small child. When she was still a young mother, before the second world war, she was run over and seriously injured. Trapped under the vehicle, her leg had to be amputated at the scene.

I remember being somewhat fascinated by her false leg when I was a child. It often stood in a corner of a room, as she was able to get around surprisingly well without it. Once she was going out, she would always wear this prosthesis, and other than a stiffness to her gait, you would be unaware that she had only one leg. She was a houseproud lady, and her home was usually neat and tidy. The step outside her front door was dark red, and she would clean this with a red polish, called ‘Cardinal’. This had a very distinctive smell, and on occasion, it would stain her fingers red, as she did not wear rubber gloves. We would often visit her on a Sunday, and she would accompany us on family holidays to the seaside, where we would go in a large group. On one of these holidays, she once showed me the stump of her thigh, and I remember feeling most uncomfortable having to look at it.

Much later on, after my Mum and Dad split up in the 1970s, I lost touch with my grandmother. Family differences made it very hard to keep in contact, and visiting her had to be arranged in advance, so as not to bump into my Dad, with his new ‘lady friend’. We made the trip a couple of times, and I was pleased to see that she hadn’t changed a bit, though she was no longer in good health. She was always happy to see us, and we tried as much as possible not to waste time discussing the problems we faced, as a result of the unexpected separation.

By the late 1980s, other than exchanging Christmas and birthday cards, I hadn’t seen her for a long time. I was living in a small house in Surrey Docks, with my then girlfriend. I got a telephone call from my uncle, my Dad’s youngest brother. He informed me that my grandmother was in hospital. She had serious liver problems, and was not expected to live. I told my Mum, and we arranged to make the trip almost into Kent to see her. We checked that it would not clash with a visit from my Dad, to avoid any nastiness. On the agreed date, we struggled through the rush-hour traffic to the suburbs on the border with Kent. Caught up in delays, we arrived after the official end of visiting time. When we explained the situation to the nurse in charge, she was more than happy to allow us to spend some time.

It was a sad visit. We tried to look upbeat and casual, as we gazed down on this frail lady, yellow with jaundice, trying for her part to be cheerful, and obviously delighted to see us. We talked over old times, and about other members of our extended family, never once mentioning the advanced state of her illness, or her gloomy prognosis. After a while, she finally raised the subject of my Dad leaving us, and told my Mum how much she had missed seeing us both. She asked after my wife too, and I decided not to mention that we had split up, and that I had since met someone else. I wanted her to die thinking that all was well in my world. We said our final farewells, avoiding comments such as ‘see you again soon.’ We all knew that this was the last time we would see her.

I dropped my Mum off on the way home, and went back to tell my girlfriend, who had never met her, about the last visit to my beloved Nan. There were no tears, just fond memories; and frustration about the years lost, due to petty squabbles. We went to bed quite late, and I went straight off to sleep.

In the early hours before dawn, I was awakened by an unusual noise. It seemed to be coming up the staircase from the room downstairs, as if someone was dragging something up, one step at a time. As my eyes opened, I was overwhelmed by an all-pervading smell. I recognised it immediately, it was Cardinal polish. Still sitting up in bed, I watched as my Nan’s head appeared at the top of the stairs, level with the bedroom door. She looked at me and smiled, continuing the difficult process of walking upstairs with a heavy false leg. She was dressed as I remembered her, and wearing an apron over her clothes. She walked into the bedroom, and sat down heavily on the bed, right next to me. Street lighting outside was enough to provide sufficient illumination, so I could see her clearly. She reached for my hand, and held it in both of hers, high up, near her shoulder. I could feel the roughness of her palms. She said one thing, ‘It will be alright’, and she was gone.

The next thing I was aware of was my girlfriend talking to me. She seemed confused. ‘Who were you talking to?’ She asked me. ‘Why are you holding your arm up, does it hurt?’ She continued. Then finally, ‘And what is that smell?’ (She was too young to recognise Cardinal polish) The following day, my uncle rang me, to tell me that my grandmother had died during the night.

‘I know’, I replied.

I still don’t believe in ghosts. I suspect that it was a vivid dream, having just had the emotional experience of going to see my Nan, and knowing that she was dying. I can rationalise most of it to my satisfaction, but one thing has always been a mystery, and remains unexplained to this day.

Why did my girlfriend smell the polish?

Farewell to a great dog

Last week, I posted about a trip to Yarmouth, in 2011. My step-daughters’ dog Baxter was featured, and I remarked that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Many of you expressed commiserations over that, so I thought I would bring you this sad news.

On Monday, he suffered a series of fits, and was taken to the prestigious Animal Hospital in Newmarket. Scans revealed no more could be done for him, and he was sadly put to sleep.
Both my step-daughters were distraught of course, and all of the extended family were greatly upset by the loss of our loyal and faithful family dog.

He had a happy life, and was well-loved.

Goodbye, Baxter. You will never be forgotten.

Little Violet Rose

Regular readers will remember that last November, we had a new baby in the family. My cousin’s daughter gave birth to a lovely little girl. She named her Violet, after my late mother, with a middle name of Rose, after my grandmother. This moved me immensely, to know that my mum’s name would live on in our family.

Last week, we went down to Essex to visit her. She is now nine months old, and still such a joy. Always happy, rarely crying.

Here she is, enjoying her lunch.

After a walk along the sea wall, we took her to the park, where she loved being on the swing.

Getting up speed.

Swinging close to the camera.

It was great to see her three days in a row, and to watch her playing with the toys I had brought her.

Our family continues, into the next generation. My mum would be so proud and pleased.

Recommended Blogs: Real Lives

Every so often, I like to recommend other blogs, in the hope of expanding our community. Many of the blogs I follow are about niche subjects like films, literature, photography, or politics. But I also follow some blogs where nice people just write about their everyday lives. Their hopes and dreams, their families, and what surrounds them. They sometimes express their fears, share their worries, or just post a photo of something nice, maybe a place they have visited.

So I am going to recommend a few like that. A different look on life from another part of the world, or a few hours up the road from Beetley.
We can all learn from each other, and make genuine contact using something as simple as a blog post.

But the biggest lesson we can learn is that although we may live oceans apart, and lead very different lives, we are all essentially the same inside.
Maggie is American, and lives in one of those hot and humid Southern states. She is writing a 365/one post a day blog. Family, life experiences, nature, and recollections.
Real stuff, from a genuine lady. Please encourage her to keep going after that year is up.
Wilma is originally from the Philippines, and has settled near Chicago, USA.
Her blog is about her work, her daily life, and her cherished family. Some travel, a love of the nature surrounding her, and the peaceful Mallard Lake.
Sometimes, such pleasant things are all you need to make a great blog.
Trips out with his kids, life in central England, poetry, musings, and short stories.
Policeman Rich Lakin has it all going on, and the nostalgia is great too.
Retired teacher Elizabeth lives in the US. Her blog is packed with fascinating recollections, interesting memories, and some great writing too.
She also tells us about her life now, her trips to places, and her take on the modern world.
From a picturesque part of Scotland, Mary documents her trips with photos, writes about her family, and shares interesting memories of her working life in far-flung foreign lands.

There you have five blogs to check out, and hopefully find someone new to read or follow.

If you would like to suggest any blogs you admire, please leave a link in the comments.