This is a blog from around the time of the World Cup. I’m changing my old Jyngs! blog and this fell out as I cleaned up.
A fantastic life experience.
Says me… and a football daft eight-year-old.
Sounds like doting to me
Anybody letting an eight-year-old watch a football match starting at 9 o’clock at night is doting
It was the World Cup final.
If you see one you see them all
Right. They happen every four years. And even I was interested in this one. I watched it with him.
So he got round you
Not really. He asked nicely, I could see he so-so-so wanted to watch the match. And, I got my ‘yes’ in just ahead of his grandmother’s ‘no’. And, to top it all, gave his five-year-old brother permission to watch the first half (due to sleep setting in, he had to go earlier).
And how can you can say it’s a good life experience?
That’s a really daft question. Even I, a diehard rugby fanatic, found the performance of Germany against Brazil absolutely stunning. It’s something that will be at with me for the rest of my life. And with my wee pal for a much longer period of time.
Imagine, the first-ever football match you’ve been allowed to stay up and watch was Germany beating Brazil, in Brazil.
One of the beautiful places on this earth is the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland. Go there if you can. You’ll never forget the aura of peace when you step off the steamer and onto Brodick pier.
Here’s a poem for the place my roots cling to.
Tendrils of mist unfurl
Rocky crags take solid shape
Waves pound the shore
Seabirds spring into infinity
Soar high on sea breeze eddies
Flotsam of the hurricane
Mixed on a celestial palette, and
Splashed with abandon on the canvas.
Imagine, my first trip from Glasgow to Ayr on the X77 express. It’s a pretty hot ticket, if not for the right reasons – they couldn’t switch the heater off an a hot, hot day… but that’s another story. A big surprise was heading my way.
In the front of the bus there are two facing double seats over a table. I made it into the corner seat at the window in one of these. Moments later an older woman and a teenager came into the seat opposite. We set off. Before long the big double-decker cantered along the motorway from Glasgow to the Ayrshire coast.
The conversation opposite me became more and more animated to the point I had to look up. The young woman grunted as she struggled with something under the table and at last dragged a large shopping bag onto the table. She peered over the top, plunged her hand into the contents and rummaged around. Next, attention only for her granny, she smiled and pulled out a book.
Her energy and excitement amazed me… all for a book? She fixed her eyes on her gran with a loving, childlike authenticity, and said, ‘Yesssss…’ She held the book, by it’s spine, in her left hand shook the cover towards her companion and poked the cover hard enough for the impact to be heard. She struck it a few times with her right finger, smiling, triumphant. I couldn’t see the cover. Her gran smiled and laughed with a knowledgable nod.
I had to know
Surprised by the event, and curiosity aroused, I had to ask. ‘You seem pretty pleased, I hope you don’t mind me asking… what’s the book?’ A thoughtful, intelligent gaze assessed me from clear gold flecked brown eyes. She wrinkled her straight nose, the sleeper through the flesh above the bridge. Next she smiled a sweet smile, her face morphing to mischief. The stud in her lower lip rose with her grin.
Once more her hand fumbled inside the big bag and she pulled out the book. With a theatrical gesture, she held the rear of it towards me in both hands and placed her beaming countenance beside it.
What was it?
Okay reader, pause for a second, what would you expect to see? Me? I thought Young Adult, Vampires, Werewolves. But no, none of those. She did a dramatic show… eyes wide and smiling locking her eyes to mine. ‘Ta-daa’ giggled out of her. She twirled the book cover towards me. Terry Pratchett.
We talked about her reading, her love of books. She found the fun of the Disc World series a delight. Gran approved. She and I talked about Philip Pullman as a possible author of interest. The lassie wrote down the name.
It turned out the youngster had been travelling from the SouthWest of England since 5:30 that morning, reading TP all the way. Tired (by now it was 7 pm) she was ‘glad to be home’. We talked about books for a wee while and then returned to our own worlds, with occasional hi there nods when we looked up.
Life goes on
I’d like to tell the lass how she changed a reader stereotype forever (and perhaps a couple of others too).
Just after my father died I drove down to see him. This is what happened.
Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them. George Eliot
‘Your brother told us nobody wanted to view him.’ I saw discomfort, and a fear of the angry bereaved, in her eyes.
‘He didn’t think, he reacted.’
‘When you called, your father was already in the mortuary.’ the Charge Nurse said. ‘He’s not presented as we’d like… you know… in a bed, that sort of thing.’
‘I understand. I’d still like to see him.’
‘I’ll have someone take you.’ Was she displeased? Her stiff face stern, she turned on her heel. A citrus odour of polish wafted round as she left.
A puddled path
‘He’s just down here.’ We walked around the building, a Victorian Cottage Hospital, and followed a sloping path past walls of strong dressed granite. Misty drizzle chilled my face and hands; peat smoke from nearby houses scented the air.
‘Sorry about the puddle.’ The trainee nurse said, her edginess seeped into my awareness.
‘That sort of day’
‘The mortuary is small.’
She produced an ancient brown key from a pocket. The bits were shiny with use. She rolled it from hand to hand as she worked out how to get to the lock without wetting her feet. In the end she tip-toed through the water and unlocked the door. ‘He’s over here.’ Beckoned forward, I jumped the pool and into the room, feet dry. She found the light switch. ‘In the corner.’
In the left rear of the room was a refrigeration unit, a rack, three metal drawers tall. The walls were strong grey Scottish stone. The air chill. ‘We store the deceased here; your father is in the top.’
‘Right.’ I said. Any remarks about the old-man being “top-drawer” didn’t occur to me at the time.
Not too long goodbye
This was it, the final goodbye. On the Isle of Arran, as a boy, an old man told me to place my hand on the forehead of a dead person and I’d know they were gone, and, never fear death again … Such was my mission, held in my heart for forty years.
The nurse opened the cold metal door at the topmost level. I could see the top of Dad’s head wrapped in white cloth. Next she wheeled over a large hydraulic trolley which, once lined up, she pumped to the correct height for my father’s shelf. Standing beside her I could see another corpse on the shelf below.
‘How much of him would you like to view?’
‘His head’ll be fine.’
Dance of death
She pulled his stretcher on to the trolley. Lost in thought I didn’t know anything was wrong until she gave a strained grunt. I looked at her and then the trolley. She hadn’t turned the switch to lock the hydraulics. Dad and his tray started to topple.
‘Unnn … uuh … uh.’ The trolley started to move back. I put my arm over Dad and tucked him into my armpit.
‘… got him!’
Her chalk-white face said it all. ‘I’ve only done this once before.’
Dad was getting heavy. ‘Sort out the trolley.’
‘Oh… oh yes… sorry…’ She pumped the hydraulics.
My teeth were gritted as tight as bulging veins and a puce face would allow. A gentle hiss told me the platform was on the way down again; the sodding switch. The tray teetered on the frame and wobbled at the edge of the door.
Dad was half under my arm and half in the unit.
‘Pump it back up.’ Pump. Pump. Pump. She turned to me. ‘Now turn the switch.’ Her movements were jerky with panic. ‘Turn the switch, there on the right.’ She did. ‘Now turn it to twelve o’clock.’ Click! ‘Please fix the shelf.’ She moved with new-found assurance and put the stretcher in place on the trolley.
At last I could place Dad where he belonged. We both sighed. She started to apologise, eyes going teary. I put my hands up and shrugged. ‘Let’s move on.’
‘His head you say.’ She pulled at a piece of securing tape and, with gentleness and respect, unwrapped that well-known face. His teeth had been replaced after rigor mortis set in, but I loved him all the same.
‘Please give me five minutes.’
She went out and left me to it. I put my hand on Dad’s forehead, said goodbye and sobbed for a moment. I’d more than followed the highland advice.
When the nurse returned I helped her pump the trolley up to the right height and pushed Dad into his chilly residence. We wheeled the trolley back to close the door. I read the name on the next place down, I’d known him.
An echo of laughter
On the drive back north I imagined Dad laughing at the comedy in the morgue. Sitting at the keyboard I smile even as wistful sadness and remembered loss touches me. I loved my father and in those few minutes of our final dance I lost any fear of death I might have had. The Highlanders were right.
Why did an event over 50 years old walk up and tap my shoulder a few days ago? I mean, what could I say to a fervent “Christian” who judged and condemned me? And right in front of my dad, (as well as, I suppose, the heavenly Father). The correct answer, in my case, as a teenager, was not much.
My judge was a minister of a particular narrow and fundamentalist position. My dad, a cleric of broad mind; an encouraging and enlightened person. With my doom pronounced, there was a seldom seen glimmer of anger in dad’s eyes.
At least it was a sunny day
We were in the lounge in our family cottage on the Isle of Arran during the school holidays. I walked in, and having been introduced, became involved in a conversation about religion. My father allowed and, indeed, encouraged me to read widely on matters of faith and spirituality. His view was I should enquire and choose. This led to a discussion around the similarities between good, saintly people irrespective of their religious stamp.
I argued how to me, a boy of 14 or 15 years, it did not seem sensible that fine, loving people would be condemned at a throne of judgement, because they weren’t Christians. I couldn’t understand, at the time, how following another faith, yet living an excellent life, full of good deeds, should lead to condemnation to hell by God. I don’t get it still.
The furnace awaits
The conversation rumbled on until, eventually, the man, dog-collar and all, stood up, raised his right hand towards me and said, ‘there is a gulf between us.’
I’ll never forget his words, nor his face which, far from showing compassion, bore a stiff mask of stern judgement. My sadness at losing the chance of a debate should not be underestimated. My dad ended my part in the conversation, and I went on with my teenage life.
The heat goes on
I wonder if that man’s judgement of me is akin to some of the major problems we have in our world today. People judging and condemning other people with little empathy and even less compassion. I don’t know how one might resolve our key differences in this crazy world, but I’m absolutely certain that an entrenched hard-line position isn’t where I’d like to start.
Angry people want you to see how powerful they are… loving people want you to see how powerful you are.” Chief Red Eagle
What do you do when you’re being messed around, maybe even bullied at work?
I’ve been talking to a guy who’s been having a tough time. Angryman’s distress (pressure) grew month after month. It brought an old saying to mind:
When you’re up to your ass in a swamp filled with crocodiles … it’s hard to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp.
Angryman’s fuse fizzed away. His exasperation revolved around four main issues:
leaders not listening
people ducking responsibility
One day, after a tough time having his buttons pushed, Angryman fell on to a slippery slope of increasing rage, despair with strong feelings of being abused; all leading to a growing thirst for revenge.
It’s war …
On the sidelines, helping him off-load, I wondered how he would ever be able to communicate or cooperate with these people again. Boy! Angryman raved and raged! We talked about options short of murder; that was tough, it was so easy for him to fall back into fury as things escalated.
Oh no it’s not…
Some days later, out of the blue, he quoted Gandhi at me.
“First they ignore you; then they mock you; then they punish you. Then you win.”
I was taken aback; it isn’t what I expected right after his furious tirades and colourful expletives.
Constructive Anger (use of)
He decided to be helpful, ignore the trying circumstances and be what he called ‘professional’. This when he had these people over a barrel as a critical technical expert for a major project. Go figure.
Right at the point of being able to extract revenge, he responded to problems with positive and helpful support. So far it seems to be working. One of his colleagues told me a very senior person reported surprise at the cooperation. Funny thing, perception.
This non-aggressive choice, by a man who admits he isn’t a people person, took a lot of tension out of him. He calmed.
Did he establish improved relationships through his gentle approach? Seems so. Will the bad guys change and give him a positive response? To some extent.
Will mutual respect evolve? I can’t say, but I admire his courage and commitment in sticking with his programme.
From the sidelines I saw his courage again—yesterday, in fact. Made me feel good. Could I do the same? Good question … I don’t know. Maybe Gandhi was right.
After a bright smile of greeting, my grandson’s broad, innocent face clouded with distress. When he hugged me he whispered, through a choking sob. “There’s no Santa.”
“Of course there is, silly.”
The sigh of relief shared a humbling totality of trust. I said, “we can clear this up later.”
My almost-hard stare made him smile. One raised eyebrow was enough. Reassured, he bounced away and into a world of games, fun and noise.
Truth to tell
After lunch I settled, comfortable, in the battered old chair in my study. He came in, as I knew he would, climbed up the arm and settled against my chest.
He started to choke back sobs, but couldn’t constrain them. “There’s no Santa.” I swung him in front of me, a solid young five-and-a-half year old. His nose bubbled and tears washed down his cheeks. I opened my arms and he hugged me, burying his face on my shoulder.
“Alfie.” Alfie is his ten-year old brother. A great kid, mostly, but always on his wee brother’s case.
“Alfie. What does he know?” Sounding confident is a great trick—then prepare to defend your position.
“I knew he was wrong.” The brightness bubbled up. Grandad the hero. Yeah. Grandad the guy who’d better come up with a strong explanation. “He does exist, right Grandad.” His face came out of my sweater, doubtless leaving a soggy patch, but, hey, that’s what Grandfolks’ shoulders are for.
“Right, but not as the people on TV and in stores would have you think.”
Smelly old Santa
“You mean that smelly old Santa at the Supermarket isn’t a real Santa.” He giggled.
“He is and he isn’t.”
“Mum said he wasn’t much good.”
“And there are loads more every where you go.”
“I’ve been wondering about that.”
“They’re sort of pretend Santa’s.”
His eyebrows clenched slightly. Little furrows of concern. “Pretend Santas.”
“So, they’re not real?”
“Nope. Not real.”
“But Santa came last night. I got presents.”
“Of course you did.”
“Alfie says it’s Mum and Dad.”
“Mum and Dad looked guilty when I asked them.”
“So he doesn’t exist, Santa.” His little head went down and shook from side-to-side.
“Of course he does. But I can only tell you about it if you can keep a secret. Can you?”
“Like the hole in the wall?” (another story)
“Just like that.”
“That’s our secret, Grandad, I never told.”
“I know. That’s why I can trust you with the Santa Secret.”
The wee man was buzzing. “Tell me. Tell me.”
“Okay, okay, but just between us.”
“Out with it!” I heard echoes his mother (and imagined her pink cheeks when she spoke like that).
“Promise?” He nodded so hard I worried he might injure his neck.
“The first Santa died hundreds of years ago.”
“So, he isn’t real.”
“Do you want to hear my secret or don’t you?”
“What’s the point if he’s dead?”
“What he stands for isn’t dead.”
He stilled and I could see the wheels turning … “You mean like Grandma.” I must admit that kind of caught me. I couldn’t speak for a moment.
I blurted a few words “What are you thinking… wee man?”
“I remember her hugs and smiles. She kept secrets like you do.” His thoughtful little face looked up and saw the forty years of memories in my eyes. “Do you miss her.”
“What’s Grandma got to do with Santa?”
“When you think of her what comes to mind?”
“Cakes, fun and hugs.”
“Love, Grandad, she loves me.”
“Loves you?” I gazed into his eyes. Present tense.
“Yes, her love hasn’t stopped.”
“You already know Santa’s secret.”
His eyes lit up. “He’s like Grandma. His love hasn’t stopped?”
“And his pictures and stories?”
“Memories, so we don’t forget.”
He climbed off my knee and picked up her picture from my desk. A tear sneaked out from my eye. I managed to wipe it before he looked up. “Santa is real, Grandad. Like Grandma.”
“Just like Grandma.”
“And I got presents and things.”
“Who puts the gifts there if Santa is only a living memory?”
He shrieked out a laugh, hugging his sides, Grandma’s picture shaking with jollity. “Not me, I got the presents.” He handed me the photo and ran off.
One year, five months and eleven days since she passed. And still bringing her slice of light to the world. I reached for a tissue, blew my nose and dabbed my eyes. Through the wistfulness, I couldn’t help feeling truly happy. Not alone.