The first time I met you, in June 2006, I decided that you were Alan Titchmarsh’s voice twin! Alan Titchmarsh on a very, very good day that is, because there was always something so happy and joyous about your disposition. Most of the time it was infectious, although occasionally it could be a little bit annoying too! And I often had to bite my lip whenever you came to stay with us because you were such a larger than life character. But that was just who you were, and we accepted and admired you for it.
We often used to refer to you as ‘Grandpa Forte’ in order to help Catherine learn the musical term for the word ‘loud’ (my own dad is ‘Papa Lento’ because he’s so slow!) A typical visit from you would consist of tyre tracks on our front lawn within a few seconds of you parking up outside our house! The slam and crash of doors as you navigated yourself from room to room. Shavings all around the wash hand basin in the bathroom. Fresh coffee granules all over the sink in the kitchen, as well as an endless supply of used mugs and glasses floating in little puddles on the worktop from where you had ‘helpfully’ left them to soak, before retrieving another clean one from the cupboard!
You would always present us with a box of After Eight mints and a bottle of wine as a thank you for letting you stay, before proceeding to eat and drink most of it yourself! I remember on one occasion I discovered the empty chocolate box in the bin from where you had polished the rest off after we had gone to bed, and when I got it out of the bin in order to put it in recycling, I found that there were still some chocolates inside which you had mistaken for empty After Eight wrappers!
I would invariably be obliged to watch the cricket highlights during your visit, much to Michael’s delight. And at night time we were often disturbed by your multiple trips to the toilet. Sometimes I would feel quite relieved when your visit was over because I would be able to get a good night’s sleep again, and I wouldn’t need to spend all my time washing up mugs and glasses, and protecting our kitchen worktops from water damage!
But if I had known that the last time you came to visit us back in May of last year would be the last ever time that I would get to complain about all those things, I would never have complained about them in the first place, because I would give anything to wipe up your spilt coffee granules again, or to inwardly roll my eyes every time you managed to talk your way through the entire duration of one of our favourite TV programmes so that we were obliged to watch it again after you had returned back home!
Because the truth is I used to love talking to you. After Dilys passed away in 2012, I feel as though we were able to grow a lot closer than we were before. And despite all your foibles, there are so many elements of your visits that I will miss immensely. Like watching you and Catherine playing the piano, as well as memories of you colouring in together, setting up her first train set, and racing the wind-up Christmas cracker toys across the floor. I also used to enjoy the fact that you would always come upstairs to listen to Catherine’s bedtime story. And that you definitely earned yourself the title of ‘Number 1 silly Grandpa’ from Eloise and Aidan! We’ll miss our tin of Betty’s goodies at Christmas time, as well as the familiar Christmas card of a painted Scottish scene which you used to send every year.
Catherine was able to have the most special Birthday party celebrations because of the money that you sent to her. And she also has a lovely little nest egg building up in her bank account, although the cheque depositing machine in our bank would never recognise your handwriting properly and would invariably mistake your zeros for eights! We also used to smile at the fact that you would still wear trousers and a long sleeved shirt when it was 30 degrees outside! But at least you agreed to roll your trousers up and dip your feet in Catherine’s paddling pool the summer before last, whilst also sporting a knotted hanky on your head!
In January of last year, you and Catherine put on a ‘Three Little Pigs’ puppet show together using the set of puppets that you had arranged for Father Christmas to deliver to her, and we were delighted that Catherine was able to whisper her part of the script in front of you. I always hoped that she would feel able to speak to you directly as she got older, but sadly that won’t be the case now. Nevertheless, we’ll miss your infectious guffaws and your exclamations of ‘what a girl!’ every time Catherine did something extraordinary.
I’m really pleased that I was able to share a selection of Catherine’s video clips with you before you died, so that you were able to appreciate how special your little granddaughter really is and how proud Michael and I are of her. You should be a very proud parent as well, and if I have one regret it would be that I never got the chance to thank you and Dilys for raising such an amazing son. I’m so grateful and blessed to have him in my life.
At the very end of December, just two and a half months before you died, Catherine and I accompanied Michael to Shrewsbury to visit you. You knew that travelling wasn’t easy for me and you told me that you were so glad that we were able to be there. I replied by assuring you that I was so glad that we were there too and that we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Just before we returned home, Catherine played a song on your organ and your harpsichord. You had started to lose a lot of feeling in your hands by then and you were coming to terms with not being able to play music anymore. You described it as a huge loss, but I pointed out to you that your gift for music would never be lost completely because it would live on in your three piano playing grandchildren.
Sadly, because of the lockdown restrictions, Catherine and I were unable to attend your cremation, so we held a little service for you at home at the same time as your service at the crematorium was due to take place. We chose not to watch the service via video link, and decided instead to look at photos and videos of you, whilst listening to the same piece of reflective music that was being played at your service. We also lit a candle and said a prayer and I asked Catherine if she would like to say anything. Her lovely choice of words was very poignant: “I pray that Grandpa has found Granny again”.