This post is for Geoff. He is my grandfather, and today he is the magnificent age of 94.
Geoff is my grandfather, but I’ve never really called him Grandad, or Grandpa or anything like that. When I was younger he and my grandmother Jeannine told me they didn’t like being called that because it made them feel old. Now I’m a bit older myself I understand what they meant. These are two of the people with the youngest souls I know. I feel privileged that for 24 of my grandfather’s 94 years on Earth, I’ve been able to be part of his fantastic life.
When I was little I remember hiding behind the back of his chair in the sitting room of their house. He always kept a bowl of sweets on the table between him and my grandmother, with squares of dark chocolate, Rowtrees Fruit Pastels and liquorice allsorts. At the time I didn’t like dark chocolate, and I still don’t have a taste for liquorice, but Iove Fruit Pastels, and I used to steal them and then run giggling to behind the settee and eat them there. For years afterwards I bought him them as presents.
I also remember sitting at my grandparents house and eating tutti frutti ice cream. I don’t even know if it exists any more, but I used to go with Geoff to Somerfield whenever we visited and that was one of the staple things we’d buy. Half the time he’d completely forget his wallet and then I’d end up running to the car to fetch it for him as we were at the checkout. I remember one of the members of staff there eyeballing me oddly as I wandered out, aged about 8 with a set of car keys and a determined face.
The best thing about seeing Geoff is always his stories. He has had a tremendous life, and the way he paints a picture of his memories is something I’m sure all of my cousins look forward to as much as I do. He grew up in Cambridge, fought in the Second World War, married a wonderful French woman, got his degree from Cambridge University (by way of various scrapes and running tours of the city), and then travelled the whole world, with my Dad growing up in Borneo and the whole family remembering ridiculous car trips across practically the entire Asian continent.
His stories about Borneo are always the best stories. Just like any story, they morph slightly every time I hear them, and I’m not sure if I’m misremembering the last time or if Geoff is telling them differently. Regardless they are always full of detail and colour, and usually something silly or embarrassing that my Dad or Aunties did once upon a time when they were kids. I’m sure his infectious enthusiasm for the time he has spent abroad is part of the reason I have always been so fascinated with the wider world and it’s cultures. He’s certainly had a bit part to play in my love of languages – he was a teacher at my upper school years before I started there, teaching French and Spanish, and his degree was in Classics.
Another thing I think I’ve taken from Geoff is my love of singing. His father was a top amateur opera singer and performed some of the shows I’ve recently been involved in about 100 years ago. Geoff caught that musical gene and passed it on to all his children and grandchildren (and probably great-grandchildren, though I’m not sure we really know about that yet). I remember him and my Dad singing loudly at each other around the dining table, funny folk songs and whimsical little rhymes. He’s always been keenly interested in what I’m doing theatrically, and on my last visit, despite his ill health, sang me some of the lines he remembers from HMS Pinafore, which he performed when he was younger.
Finally, he is absolutely the driving force behind my desire to achieve academically. When I applied to Cambridge I applied because it was where he had studied. Every time I visit without fail he asks me what I am doing, tells me some new interesting word or fact which he has picked up, and we have meaningful discussions about politics, economics, and language. At times discussions with him become rowdy and he has absolutely never been one to shy from an argument (particularly at large family gatherings, and particularly with my Dad and his sisters). But every discussion is intelligent and provocative.
Essentially what I am trying to say is that my grandfather is one of the most fantastic of people. His energy and passion for life is something I’m sure my entire family would say is a key part of how we’ve all grown up.
Happy Birthday Geoff.