Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Reflections on my Grandpa

Last Monday would have been my beloved grandfather's 100th birthday. Gramp, as he will forever be known to his four doting grandchildren, died at the age of 89, a few months before my wedding. His children, my Mum and her sister, organised a small family gathering to mark the occasion. I took my two little boys across to Windsor Great Park, a place that meant a lot to him in later life, to meet up with my sister and her baby, our eldest cousin with her twin teenagers, and our parents.

The twins were 3 when Gramp died, so barely knew him, whilst for my own children he exists only in photgraphs. With this in mind, it was never likely to be a day of reminiscing. In fact, kept busy by my boys, I barely mentioned him, although I was aware of ebbs and flows in conversation around me. In one way it felt like a dereliction, but in another sense it was reminder that we must always move forward even as we look back. Fittingly, my new nephew shares his middle name with Gramp, just as my own eldest son's middle name is taken from my Dad's father, whom I never met.

Victor Angel Jones was born in 1912, as Europe neared war. His uncle died at The Somme, and one of the few childhood memories he shared with me was of his father returning from the trenches - and playing Meccano with his oblivious six year old. Leaving school at 13, he had a flair for science and engineering. Of Jewish descent, his parents had changed the family name from Jacobs to Jones. As the Second World War approached, he was involved in a mission to smuggle Jewish scientists out of Nazi Germany, culminating in a terrifying train journey across Europe, bearing two evacuees with false papers, while Stormtroopers patrolled the train. Half a century later, with his car wheel-clamped outside Hyde Park, he conducted another exciting escape, having cut across the park to find it locked, scaling the fence - this was a man in his late seventies - to bring us a takeaway curry.

During the war, Gramp served as an engineer, developing new technologies such as radar, submarines, planes. In later life, his reminiscences became a source of amusement, particularly the famous tale of how on returning from test flights, he would have the pilot "waggle his wings" to let my Grandmother know he was coming home for tea. Thus he made light of the horrors of war. He loved Dad's Army.

He hated Superman IV - The Quest for Peace, to which I dragged him when it came out in the mid-80s, abhorring the way it made light of violence. At the time I thought he was being silly - even if I was too young to appreciate the symbolism of Nuclear Man's demise providing enough power to light up Metropolis. I often wish I could have explained it to him, but it probably wouldn't have changed his mind. And it was a crap film anyway.

Like many young boys, I had countless adventures with my grandfather. The fact that we shared a certain tendency to absent-mindedness lent a frisson of excitement to our excursions - my mother never quite knew which possessions we might mislay next. Memorable examples included Gramp's car, which we manage to lose for the best part of afternoon in a Staines car park, whilst we explored the car park next door, and his address book, which we posted one year along with his Christmas cards.

When I got my first job in London after University, I was still based in Leicester, commuting most days, but every other week I went to stay with him in Golders Green. So I was able to see him regularly through the last six months of his life, a piece of serendipity for which I will always be grateful.

I have been wanting to write about him ever since, about how the same ingenuity and spirit that enabled him to rescue condemned men from the Nazis, or drive across London in the Blitz, was in later life put to use protecting pilau rice, or devising a pulley system to retrieve a toy from behind the radiator.

Where did a decade go?

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