Adam Bird

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Friday, 30 March 2018

Remembering George Garth Bird

Nou Camp

I knew that my Grandfather was special from a very young age. Everyone at school had a Grandad, whereas I had a Gramps.

He was the man with the cheeky laugh and smile who used to give us satsumas whenever we visited. I can't peel an orange, or smell the peel without being transported back to Nan and Gramps's house and their dimly lit front room.

After the free fruit it was rock cakes. Depending on how high the oven was turned up depended how much your teeth hurt as you bit into one of his sultana filled surprises.

Gramps was always generously giving out something or another. Food, bottles of pop or one of his endless supplies of knick-knacks he'd obtained from Readers Digest. In fact Gramps had everything stashed away somewhere. "What do you want one of them for?" He'd say, "I've got one of them". Before disappearing and coming back with whatever it was you'd been talking about. Invariably the item would be brand new, 40 years old, but brand new and still in the box. I'd leave the house with a sense of guilty shame trying to leave and 'forgetting' one of these hesitantly received gifts.

It wouldn't be right talking about Gramps and not mentioning the number one passion in his life - Stamps.

Gramps and stamps go hand in hand, there is not one without the other. A day time visit you could guarantee that he'd be sat at his table with his glasses or magnifying glass in hand or in moments of excitement, both. Studying one of his recently acquired specimens and consulting his Stanley Gibbons journal.

His love affair with stamp collecting began from a young age and was a truly life-long obsession. He'd show me a stamp he was filing and supply me details of its origins and consult his Stanley Gibbons bible on its approximate value. I'd marvel at the price of this small, sticky piece of paper and sit gobsmacked at watching him place it in the thick, heavy file on a page that had another twenty or so of the same stamp. My head would hurt trying to do the maths whilst scanning the room filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with endless books and files of stamps.

Before each holiday he'd remind us 'dont forget the stamps'. Which meant running around foreign destinations looking for a post office. It had its benefits though. I can ask for the post office in about six different languages now.

Although whatever we did bring back, he probably had it in duplicate, no doubt sourced from his own travels in the navy. "Where are you going?" He'd ask. And almost without exception he'd been there, seen it and drank the bar dry many years ago.

It was a sense of pride listening to his stories, of bars, drinking and high jinx's in a time I never knew or would not recognise. His stories were well rehearsed and retold over the years and ended with his face screwed up in laughter and amusement.

I was fortunate enough to travel with him and Dad as guests of cousin Ross when HMS Illustrious was docked at Greenwich. Gramps came alive as we toured the ship and he bantered with the crew and felt at home amongst the military. I half expected him to start giving orders or taking the ship for a leisurely cruise along the Thames.

He definitely was a man of character, that there is no doubt. His cheeky side was his most endearing and dare I say it, sometimes embarrassing.

Nan was in hospital in East Grinstead in a plastic surgery ward having her wedding finger removed. I was sat one side of the bed and Gramps the other. Gramps pointed at the women opposite and said 'shes having a breast reduction', and pointing at the women in the bed next to him 'shes having a breast enlargement, all that money going to waste, they should just swap em around'. Cue cries of 'Geeeeoooorge!' from my nan and cackles of laughter from everyone on the ward. I just went bright red and didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

He certainly had his perspective on the world that's for sure!

In recent years conversations would generally start with, or end with 'what people don't realise...'.

Gramps had a wide and varied repertoire of grieviences with the modern world. People, politics, business, pharmaceuticals anything and everything. In mostly all cases he would have a point, except the point didn't stack up in modern society. His arguments both for and against things contrasted with recent ideas and innovations - or they'd already been invented by Gramps himself in some cases! Which made him come across as stubborn and cantankerous.

But I'd defend Gramps all day long and for me I never saw the stubbornness in him. I saw a man who lived through nine decades, in a world that has changed considerably across that time. Of a man who was my last connection with the devastation of war and carried trains of thoughts that were embedded, scared and deeply engrained. He stayed true to himself and never changed who he was as the world changed around him.

I believe that there is a certain honour in that.

There's nothing wrong with looking back and feeling nostalgic. We do it on Facebook, recalling haircuts we had a year ago and sharing other similarly mundane things. But we only have a window as wide as our digital memories go back.

Which is why we should treasure the memories and stories Gramps told. Keep saying 'pigs arses and rice pudding' when anyone asks what's for tea just as he did. Remember a story he once told and retell it onwards, and drink a whiskey and dry every now and then, as I've still never met anyone else who does that.

Sleep well Gramps x

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