Thursday, June 24, 2010

Angus and Harry.

A.A.M.G. Wylie (b. 1910, d. 1992) and H.M.Gallantry (b. 1922, d. 2004) were my grandfathers. Angus Alastair (or possibly Alastair Angus) McGregor Grey was born in Fort William, lived in Perth, and came south just after the second world war. Harold Montague, or Harry, was born in Southampton and moved north. Both of them ended up in Reading. Both of them served in the R.A.F.; The former as a weather observer at an airfield in Scotland, the latter as a fitness instructor, having been a carpenter (a retained trade, and vital for the construction of aircraft parts) prior to that. Following the war, Angus worked in the Post Office, while Harry went on to work in his own carpet shop. Angus had seven children, two of whom died in infancy, and Harry had four, and thence numerous grandchildren.
What a bald, dull summary of two lives. Two lives that I knew, two real people who lived, breathed, loved, did the right thing and made mistakes, who filled an unmistakable space, who were missed when they went - indeed, still are. Grandpa Angus, to me, was a strange mix of warmth and distance. He smoked pipes, played golf, and talked in a loud, warm Perth accent that could rise into sudden storms of power - a voice not to be crossed. Once he took me on a visit to the Science museum, and, on a stop in a cafe, grimly showed me the variety of pills he was forced to take for various ailments, the most grievous of which was the arthritis that cut short his sporting prowess - as a young man, he had been a champion rower, amongst other things. Later, indeed, the last time I saw him, when he had lost all sense of time and space just before he died, he sent my mother out of the room after she'd fussed over getting him a cup of tea ('You and your damn cups of tea!'), then asked me to help him get his socks on. I helped move him round so that he could sit on his bed, then, bending down, I pulled socks over feet and calves that seemed to have been withered by time and fire. The skin from knee to toe was a bruised, tired brown. As I pulled up the socks up, our eyes locked, and he gave me the look of a man who has suddenly understood the joke after a long, long, time. We smiled; we both knew that this would be the last time we would see each other, but strangely this was suddenly alright and nothing to fret about, nothing at all. There was no need to say a thing. My mother and my aunt then came in, and the moment was lost. Grandpa died two days later.
While both my grandfathers seemed old to me, Grandad Harry was, in my young eyes, younger, despite having less hair. He was a warm, booming presence, with a truly distinct Hampshire dialect that years of living in Reading never leavened. He always seemed much more approachable than Grandpa. Whenever I saw him, he seemed to have a smile like a split melon and would always say 'Hello!' with a heavily aspirated H, as though he were genuinely greeting you with a breath taken from the deepest parts of his soul. I loved rooting around in his shed and greenhouse, or among his books, or, when he still had the carpet shop, going into the basement. He'd also take me and my sister upwards; He told us that the shop had once been a police station and that they'd used to execute people there, pointing to what I can now recall as a rather frail looking pulley anchor point.

I never got to say goodbye to him. Before I could go to the hospital, he'd died, several hours after my birthday.

There is still too much to say about both of them, but perhaps for now I should explain why I'm writing about them. Apart from both being my grandparents, apart from both having served in the RAF, apart from both having ended up in Reading, one other thing connected them. They both had prostate cancer. In Grandpa's case, it was an illness he died with; In Grandad's case, it was a disease he died of.
In both their names, I'm doing this cycle ride to Bath on saturday. If you can sponsor me, please do - the link is in the right sidebar, or just click on this -

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