Monday, 17 December 2012

Woodhouse: Part Five

“Where we going then James?”
“I’m Alex, granddad! James’ nephew?”
“Of course you are”
We’re just gonna pop up the road.  I thought since it was your birthday we’d go for a little drink.”
“In a pub”
“Really?”  His face lit up.
“Yeah! Why not?  Not sure mum would like it, but then…”
“… She’s not here is she?”

Alex put the two pints down on the table.  Ale for himself, a dark stout for his grandfather.  The liquid lopped down the side of the glass and discoloured the lacquer of the table, making it grey, white, like skin too long in the bath.  He dropped the bag of crisps he’d been holding in his mouth and tore them up one side, exposing the contents and placed them in the middle of the table

“There you go!”
“Oh, you’re a good kid aint you?  Now you sure you can afford…”
“Look, I told you mum left me some money for shopping and whatever.  I think its alright to spend a bit on you, so let’s not hear any more about it”
“God, you’re your mother’s son alright”
“How do you mean?”

John just smiled and shook his head.

“You seem pretty at home in a pub, don’t you?”
Alex shrugged.
“Go there sometimes at lunch in college.  We’ve got one near us that doesn’t really care”
“You get served alright here?”
 “Yeeeeeah, no problem”

The chatter in the public house got louder.  It was about this time that Alex realised that he had no idea he was. The man sitting opposite him.  He knew his granddad, he knew his mum’s dad, the old man with a voice like gravel and was the benchmark of everything that was factually and morally right and correct… but he had no idea who this man John was.  It was hard to think of him as a man, as someone who had loved and desired
 “How’s your pint?”
“Oh lovely, lovely.  I haven’t had a nice black stout for year and years”
“So how are you getting on in there granddad?”
“In the home”
“The… oh the home.  It’s ok.  I have the paper each day.  I’ve got my books, the art classes are nice.”
“I dunno.  The place… it seems so stilted.  Like it’s not your own place…”
“Well, it’s never gonna be like the home I made, is it?  Look… Alice used to be a social worker OK.  Watchu call them now… social fluidity agent? Social correction officer? Kind of like that type of thing. Less… I dunno.  More well meaning.  It seemed so anyway.  Well, she saw some things.  Some real dives.  We’re talking about… forty years ago now.  It was like a different world in many ways, but even now… you have to understand that this was before all the big ecological reforms, population control… medicines for the body were getting better but there wasn’t much for the mind.  Still isn’t really.  Hah.  Look at me.  I just start…”
“You were saying grandma was a social… worker?”
“Oh… yes… oh….”
“About housing”
“Yes… I was just…  I don’t think elderly care has ever been a priority in any society.  It’s an awful hypocrisy… Look, even with all this technology, the amazing things they can do these days… even with all the energy consumption legislature, even with the… look, we’re still in a society that doesn’t appreciate individual worth… it just makes you believe it does.  It’s still a capitalist dictatorship marauding under the guise of some kind of freedom, democracy and…  What I’m saying is that passed the age where you’re useful to society, it stops giving a damn about you.  Because I was a teacher… it’s a job that directly benefits society, and it’s also a job that no bastard wants to do… especially not in a city… so I was guaranteed care in my older life that was of a certain standard.  You read about the teaching crisis of ’48?”
“What, all the marches? And the riots?”
“That’s right.  That kind of perk for social sector jobs came as a result.  Well, between mine and your gran’s pensions… that place is OK.  I’ve heard stories about awful, awful places that are still far about the legal minimum…”
“That’s terrible”
“That’s right.  That’s right.  So do something.”
“What do you mean?”
“Write a letter, make a phone call, talk to people.  If not about this, about something else… I’m not saying fight this cause, just… look further, look deeper, look behind things…  I’m sorry, I’m going off.  Just don’t think you have to accept things if they’re not right.  You’re a good kid you know.”

The babble swelled up again.

“Did I ever tell you about my mum… your grandma”
“Great grandma”
“Of course, yeah”
“Not really.  I didn’t meet her”
“No she died well before you were born.  She was an amazing artist, you know.  Had me young.  Very young, barely 20 years between us.  Did it on her own.”
“You didn’t have a dad”
“Not…I mean… no.  No.”

A pause.

“She… she could have been a great artist.  She was, but you know what I mean.  She worked hard to support me.  I never wanted for anything, not attention or anything.  She loved to draw and paint, to sculpt.  But she loved me more.  It was only when I had your uncle and your mother that I appreciated what she had done, how hard it must have been. When I look at you and your sister.  It seems so easy now… not to say that it is, but this is the position you’ll find yourself in one day. Able to look back and say everything was either much better or much harder. Heh.  But, I mean, you guys are OK.  I helped make sure.  You’re dad’s got a good old job… Uh what is he?”

“He’s… it’s kind of like archaeology.  Preservation, restoration, documentation…
They’re looking at some of the places that they’ve reclaimed after the flooding, working out the structures...”

“Blimey… that’s… its… it’s interesting, it just feels a bit beyond me.   But this is what I’m talking about, in as many ways as the world is different, its changed so much.  It wasn’t easy back then. The infrastructure of the country was collapsing, the world was changing too quickly and no one really knew how to handle it.  The climate. Everyone was saying things and no one was doing anything.  Hundreds of thousands of people were dying each day and no one would even talk about it.  Famines, floods, earthquakes.  There’d be TV appeals, but nothing would really happen.  When I think back on it, it seems like it was around the time that Castro stepped down… You know Fidel Castro?”
“Um… he was…”
“He was the leader of the communist party in Cuba”
“Oh right.  So why was that then?”
“Timing maybe?  The Maybe nothing at all. I don’t know.  I think everything was heading to shit anyway, but looking back, when I started to take some kind of interest in it. You have to think I was very young when what I’m talking about happened. For some reason it feels like that was the point of no return”

It pleased Alex that his granddad would swear like that in front of him. So thoughtlessly, not shielding him.  It was perhaps the first time he’d been treated as an individual, as a man.  He felt proud that this was his grandfather. That they were together at this moment.

“Can I get you another one?”
“What’s the hurry?”

Alex smiled. 

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