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.
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, as he put the pain of his polio to one side and recited his days as an Army General in Kenya as well as his journeys to the remote wilderness of Papua New Guinea. I was hooked and had a childlike excitement I often had when being read to as a child. And the stories only got better as I tried and failed to keep with his two bottles of wine a day drinking habit.
One particular story centred on his days working as a publisher where he was responsible for overseeing the works of great thinkers such as the philosopher Bertrand Rusell as well as describing a telephone call he had 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 on that night, with Jazz music playing loudly in the background and on 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 the stories he told me of being in New York with his good friend, who just happened to be the head of Penguin publishing in their mansion in Greenwich Village? Or the time he attended the funeral of a chief in the remote jungle in New Guinea?
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 I found out because I eventually took an interest in his life. Every person when they get to a certain age has lived. Everyone has a story. My granddad’s story is a spectacular 89-year journey.
One day I hope I can eventually tell my grandchildren the stories I heard that one fine evening, knowing that as I gaze towards my departure from life, I can tell myself I lived a life as rich, exciting and fulfilling as he did.