After visiting my grandfather this week in the beautiful surroundings of the Suffolk countryside, part of me saw it as a duty to go. After all, I hadn’t seen him in nine months. So off I went, departing from the hustle and bustle of London Liverpool Street, eventually arriving in the small picturesque market town of Hadleigh some two hours later.
The moment I opened the door, the joy on his face was priceless. What struck me most was the sheer happiness that not just my grandfather showed, but elderly people in general experience when around young people. It was as if he had turned the clock back 40 years, putting the pain of his polio to one side as he recited his days as an Army General in Kenya and journeys to the wilderness of Papua New Guinea. I was hooked and had a childlike excitement I often experienced when being read to as a child.
And the stories only got better.
One particular story centred on his days working as a publisher overseeing the works of great thinkers such as the philosopher Bertrand Rusell. He even recalled a telephone call with the world famous writer J.R.R. Tolkien. As a journalist, the stories he recited was music to my ears, with one fascinating story after the other rolling off his wise tongue.
Later that night, with jazz music roaring loudly in the background and already on my fifth glass of wine, he told me of his encounter with Margaret Thatcher and Sir Dennis at the Ritz. The Ritz is famous for playing live Jazz music in the main tea hall, much to the pleasure of its customers. However, to my grandfather’s annoyance, the music suddenly stopped. “Why was that?” I asked. “The musician told me that Lady Thatcher does not like the sound when she dines here. So after drinking a few glasses, I went over to their table and told Sir Denis that it was rather rude of her to do that. He seemed shocked,” said my granddad, hysterically laughing.
Who knew a night in with an 87-year-old could be so entertaining?
Did I mention that he recently returned from New York after visiting his good friend, who just happened to be the head of Penguin Books? Or the time he attended the funeral of a chief in the remote New Guinea jungle?
Considering I have been alive for a paltry 25 years, it was incredible to find out about his rich past. It was also a lesson in how we can learn from others. My granddad achieved a lot in his time, and still does as much as he can, both for himself and the local community. And I discovered this because I eventually took an interest in his life. Every person at a certain age has lived. Everyone has a story.
My only hope is that when I gaze towards my departure from life, I, too, can tell myself I lived a life as rich, exciting and fulfilling as the one he did.