Everyone has their stories. A Cow Named Steve is a collection of mine. This is the first.
My Grandad rarely spoke to me. He wasn’t unfriendly he just never seemed to see me. My memories of him come in polaroid images, set pieces, tableaus. They are vivid, almost real. They look like this.
He sits on the right hand side of a two seater settee. There is a lace doily over the brown fabric arm and on top of that is a metal tray which is prevented from slipping by two sprung sides which clamp it in position. On the tray, which is coated with a non-slip image of somewhere in Spain, is an ashtray; a box of Swan Vestas; and a packet of 20 Park Drive. Later a glass of Hirondelle or a bottle of Guiness (with glass) will appear. Every day. But only one.
He returns home weary from a day’s toil. He is wearing a flat cap; a modest jacket; and worn, black boots. The smell of the sewage works clings to him like a grieving widow. He eats his tea off a larger non-slip tray with another picture of somewhere in Spain. It’s Friday, so it’s fish. Finney Haddock.
He perches on a padded stool in the tiny kitchen of the first floor flat which overlooks Manchester. Through binoculars he studies commercial flights coming in and out of Ringway whilst listening to air traffic control on a battered transistor radio. He can identify any type of aircraft. His favourite is the new Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. He thinks it’s the future.
He patiently builds a model of HMS Victory, complete with rigging and tiny cannons. It takes him hours and he is content. At regular intervals he shoos me away. It is the only gift he ever buys me.
He sits again in his spot on the settee watching racist and misogynist TV programs. We just called it “telly” back then. I kneel using the other seat to recreate World War 2 battles with plastic soldiers and tanks. He reacts to neither.
There’s another picture. It is not mine. He is a sergeant in the Royal Artillery. He is in a Jeep somewhere in France. He is moving with his unit when they are ambushed by a Tiger tank hiding in a ruined church. It destroys a couple of Sherman Firefly before they silence its guns. On that beautiful sunny day he loses his 4 best friends. He makes no others.