This summer, I won a competition with Exberliner magazine and was lucky enough to be invited to attend a week long intensive writing workshop, hosted by Rory Maclean and Kimberly Bradley. It was a privileged and humbling experience, and never have I had the pleasure of sharing a room with such an intelligent, interesting group of people. I think I’ll write a separate post about that week, but for now, I’d like to share a short piece I wrote during one of the exercises at the workshop. We were given 20 minutes to write a character sketch about a person of our choice, to which I chose my Grandad. The words came particularly easy for this one, there’s just endless material to go at with him. Maybe I’ll write some more when I get round to it…
‘It was fine!’ he said dismissively, as if even at the tender age of 92, not wanting to expose an ounce of vulnerability ‘I just turned the skin inside out!’
He was referring to an injury he had acquired a few days before, whilst undertaking a full redecoration of his spare bedroom (which he had recently been relegated to on a permanent basis by my Grandmother due to his snoring).
The type of job he would have once volunteered to do for others, there was no way he was going to pay someone else to do it. Mid way through manually stripping the wallpaper, he recalled losing his footing and suffering a quite severe gash on his right arm. He proceeded to patch himself up and took a 25-minute bus ride to hospital to get stitches. An incident we would have still been unaware of to this day, if it wasn’t for the bandage poking out from under his shirt when he arrived at our house.
And in a way, this epitomised his character. An impossibly proud man in every sense of the word, whose only fear was to be considered a burden by his loved ones. His appearance encapsulated this pride. Shoes perfectly shined and appearing to be worn for the first time, despite 30 years of service. His favourite shirt freshly ironed and buttoned right to the top. His stark white, impossibly full head of hair effortlessly slicked backwards. His face, cleanly shaven, aside from a small patch on his left cheek which had escaped his razor on this occasion.
He sat, slightly hunched over, his increasingly fragile frame clearly outlined by his shirt. His hands, swollen into the shape of boxing gloves through a history of arthritis, trying to wrestle with the knife and fork in front of him. ‘What’s this we’re eating Pam, it’s lovely’ he said to my Mother, in his thick Lancashire accent, ‘Salmon Tagliatelle’ she replied. ‘Ooh, salmon tiddly telly’ he said excitedly, turning to me with his eyebrows raised in appreciation.
Later that night, in a rare insight from him into his past, he recounted stories of helping out broken down drivers and giving lifts to hitchhikers on a regular basis (often with his family unknowingly asleep in the back). ‘These days, they’d run me over and flatten me on the way back!’ he chuckled, without a hint of self-entitlement.