Thursday 29 November 2012

Looking at the dead people

16st 3lb (I blame that columnists’ lunch – no, feast – at Caffe Vivo), 6.0 units. This morning after breakfast The Boy announced “Mummy, I want to go and look at the dead people.” So they went into the sitting room and Mrs H pointed out the two sepia photographs of my parents as small children, taken I would guess a little over 100 years ago when they were two or three. My father wears a sailor suit and “With love from Little Harry” is written in ink in a corner of the picture. My mother wears the sort of smock in which the Edwardians used to dress children of both sexes. The Boy thought his deceased grandmother was very pretty.

Then they moved on to a picture of my parents together outside their front door in Longbenton, taken a year or two before my father died in 1982. And finally a late snap of mother in her wheelchair in the front garden of my house in Northumberland, with a Border terrier on her knee. “She’s holding my doggie!” said The Boy, so Mrs H had to explain that it wasn’t in fact our current pet, but a predecessor called Arthur who was then just a puppy but is now, well, for want of a better word, dead.

The Boy nodded. He’s got his head around the concept now.

“She looks very like Daddy’s Auntie, doesn’t she?” he concluded of my mother. Both are, or were, octogenarians; and both have white hair. There the resemblance ends, really, and it could hardly be otherwise since they are completely unrelated; my aunt is my mother’s brother’s widow. Still, it left The Boy satisfied that one of life’s mysterious loose ends had been cleared up.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Dead? What, like a fly?

16st 0lb, 6.1 units. While I was driving to Newcastle and enjoying an epic lunch with some of my fellow weekly columnists on The Journal, Mrs H was attempting to keep our children amused by taking them to visit their grandparents. Or, as The Boy calls them, Grandpa and Me.

Because, as he was learning the names of his nearest and dearest, the rest of us were careful to identify ourselves by our names or our roles, as in “Come to Daddy, Charlie”. Grandma alone made the mistake of saying “Come to me” and now has to live with the consequences. Quite possibly for the rest of her life.

It has taken him three and a half years to get there, but it has now finally dawned on The Boy who these older people (though, to be fair, only very slightly older than his Daddy) are. He sought confirmation of his suspicions on the way home.

“Mummy,” he began, “Grandpa and Me are your mummy and daddy, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Well, then, who’s Daddy’s mummy and daddy?”

We had been anticipating this question.

“You know those pictures of the old people in the sitting room?”


“They’re Daddy’s mummy and daddy.”

“But why do they never come to see us.”

“Because they’re dead.”

“Dead? What, like a fly.”

“Not exactly.”

“Dead? Like the mouse Melody deaded? [a reference to our beloved cat] Why are they dead?”

“Well, they were very old and they died. That’s what happens to people when they get very old.”

“Does everybody die?”

“Yes, I’m afraid they do.”

“Oh. Well who looks after Daddy, then?”

At this point Mrs H could quite reasonably have asked The Boy what he thought she did all day, but instead she clutched at the straw of the previous generation and drew his attention to my Auntie, a lady whose birthday we celebrated today. It would clearly be indelicate to reveal a lady’s age, so let’s just say that she won’t see 87 again. The notion that Auntie looks after me, in the regrettable absence of my Mummy and Daddy, seemed to satisfy him. Now I just have to break the news to her.