Thursday, 30 July 2009

My Grandfather

He died many years ago, when I was still a student. I remember many stories he told - for instance of being in the Home Guard and on duty in Coventry the night it was heavily bombed in November 1940.

There are two stories that I would like to recall.

One is a small and harmless trick he would play on visiting grandchildren. In the flowerbed just outside his front door, he had a collection of brightly coloured pebbles which he had picked up from beaches around the country. And he introduced all the grandchildren to the hobby of "stonewatching".

"If you look carefully at these stones from day to day, you will notice that they change colour a little. And from the change in colour, you can tell what the weather will be today."

This all seemed immensely plausible to a 4-year-old boy, especially coming from the lips of a wise old grandfather who had been a headteacher before he retired, and who therefore knew perfectly well how to sound extremely authoritative to young children. So I would stare and stare at these stones, and of course I convinced myself that I had seen some change of colour in them.

I rather suspect that the story had two purposes. One was to let him have a bit of peace for a while by getting me harmlessly and quietly occupied with something. But I also suspect that he had another purpose, that I would only understand properly when I had grown up, which was to trust the evidence of my own eyes ahead of what I was told by others, no matter how wise or authoritative they seem.

Stonewatching has become part of my family folklore. All my brothers and sisters and cousins were taken in by it. I don't have grandchildren yet, but if and when the first one is born, I think I will start collecting some coloured pebbles...

The other story is one he used to tell of the time when he was a young man, and going into the city centre he would often be accosted by preachers who would ask "Are you saved?"

Now this was a tricky question. If you answered "No", then they would immediately go about trying to save you. If you answered "Yes", they would grab you by the elbow and say "Well, then you must come and help me save somebody else."

So, my grandfather developed the following response.

"Well, yes as it happens I am saved, but it was such a close thing that I don't really like to talk about it."

The preachers, not quite knowing what to make of this response and whether he was being serious or not, left him alone.

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