Published: Monday November 17, 2014.

Thanks for the memories

I’m writing this on November 12, 2014. It’s a sunny Wednesday in Cornwall, and the windows are open. Fresh air is coursing around. My housemate is out working and I have the place to myself until around 4pm. Day to day, we’re both working on growing our respective careers and income, and there are moments when we’re more suited to being in a boxing ring than sharing the rent and bills. Stubborn is as stubborn does, and that goes for both of us.

All that’s unimportant, though, because one of my family has what is believed to be kidney cancer. It’s not confirmed yet, though. Whether the diagnosis will be confirmed is still to be decided. As for the subsequent prognosis, well – your guess is as good as mine. I am visiting said family member this coming Friday. By the time you read this, I’ll have visited, caught up, had conversations, and it’s highly likely that will be the last time I ever talk with this person in real life.

It’s my dad’s 60th birthday this week. It’s also my 36th birthday. I’m travelling up country to a surprise party that my mum has organised. As of today, my dad hasn’t figured out what’s happening. I’ve bought him a track day experience thingy. He was caught speeding last month, something I didn’t know until after I’d purchased the track day thingy. The irony is delicious, and not lost on me.

Before I visit my parents in their new post-retirement house, I’m visiting my nan. That’s my dad’s mum. She’s the last remaining grandparent I have. She smoked heavily for years, and one of the enduring memories I have is of her sneaking out for a crafty Silk Cut while we were in her company. She was absolutely considerate in that respect, there was no hint of second-hand smoke or coercion. An occasional, lingering smell of smoke was all that remained. This is a thirty-year memory I have, one that will likely be with me for decades.

On Friday, I’ll be travelling from Cornwall to Yorkshire, then from Yorkshire to Shropshire. The last time I visited Yorkshire was a couple of years ago. This trip might be the final time I visit Yorkshire. On Sunday, I’ll be driving home to Cornwall. That’s 700 miles, give or take. 700 miles that my car will benefit from, oddly enough; I have a poorly diesel particulate filter from too many short journeys, a 700 mile blast will do it some good and save me hundreds of pounds for a new(er) replacement.

My mum’s dad, William – my grandpa, was a flour miller for most of his life and liked to watch horse races. He made things out wood and metal. Mum’s mum, Kathleen – my nanna, worked in a wool shop. She had little to no sensation of heat in her fingertips and could handle monstrously hot things in the kitchen. My dad’s dad, John – known as grandpa John to me, was in the British military (army, I think) and then a civil engineer. My dad’s mum, Joyce – my nan, worked in a Selby gun shop and made chocolate cakes deftly split into three or four layers.

Joyce, my nan, has been living alone since the death of John a few years ago. Every time I call she’s a little hoarse because she lives alone and she’s not talking to as many people every day. Perversely, I’ve had a more honest and upfront relationship with her since John died. Not through any fault of hers or John’s, but she’s no longer living in his shadow. She gave me advice during tricky times in my life, and we seem to gel pretty well.

Grandpa John had Alzheimer’s, nanna had diabetes, grandpa had a stroke and nan probably has cancer. All four of them played a big part in my childhood and taught me to be myself, not to give up and in their own way instilled a part of themselves into me forever. None of them clocked out early. None of them gave up when things got hairy.

My grandpa’s last words to my nanna? According to her, they were “bloody hell”. That’s the way to do it.