I had a few posts planned for you this week, about my trip up to Ipswich for Spill festival, and Onteroerend Goed, my growing love for live art, and how nice it is to have little pockets of friends around the country who you can visit for drinking and bonfires. All the nice things I was doing.
And then last Sunday morning my Grandpa died and my week got a little bit derailed. This post is an attempt to draw a line under the last 10 days, possibly even the last 10 years. It’s a way for me to take stock of the family relationships I have and to make peace with the decisions that we’ve made over the years. It’s also going to be a difficult one to write, because I know my opinions of people should not always be circulated on the internet. Nevertheless, this week has been much harder than anticipated, and I didn’t expect to feel quite so conflicted. I’m just going to bash this post out and try to be diplomatic and truthful at the same time.
My Grandpa was not a bad guy in the great scheme of bad guys. He wasn’t a Jimmy Savile, or a Fred West, or even a Paul Gascoigne. He was a Roger Sterling from Mad Men. Chairman of the golf club, of the lawn tennis club, of the sailing club, of the Rotarians, of the regional association of golf clubs, successful architect with his own practice, Lord High Priest of The Golden Flaming Bollock of whatever they called him in the Freemasons. A gregarious man who always came with a G&T attached and who would do anything for anybody if they gave the right nod and wink. Except his own family, of course, who were there purely to make the appropriate appearances at the dinner parties, skipper the boat when he hosted his sailing buddies, and provide sufficient material for conversations with the luncheon club. He had four children and four grandchildren and, to our knowledge, no offspring from any of his affairs. He provided a large house in Wilmslow, sent his children to good schools, and carried out his commitments with charm and good grace. He was a social man who was very good company.
I last saw him 9 years ago. Until yesterday, I hadn’t seen my Gran since then either. When I was 20 I was gaining my own freedom and made the decision not to give my grandparents anything else to show off about at the club. I wasn’t buying into social climbing as a lifestyle and I had come to understand the emotional neglect that my Mum and her siblings had experienced. I cut myself off from Gran and Grandpa completely, something which I stuck to even more vehemently a few months later when Gran wrote a very unpleasant letter to me just a few days before my 21st birthday. In many ways we can pity Gran for having an unfaithful husband, but her priorities in life have been quite beautifully aligned with Grandpa’s for many many years. Her marriage to him has been a fruitful one, no doubt.
Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years ago now, and when Gran decided to stop caring for him, my Mum arranged for them to be moved into a home which could cater for Grandpa’s needs while still allowing him and Gran to live in the same institution, if in separate rooms. As his illness progressed, he started to draw again, sketching scenes from a childhood spent in the Isle of Man after being evacuated from Manchester during the war. Then his illness progressed a little more and activities kind of ceased. Soon, the selfish veneer on his personality disappeared too, and Mum told me that when she visited him and he smiled at her, she was happy that he at least knew she was a nice person with his interests at heart, even if he couldn’t remember that she was his daughter. My Gran, on the other hand, didn’t have any kind words to say when Mum visited her.
Pneumonia took Grandpa last week, after he had recently battled off several infections. Gran will be the only person left after the nuclear holocaust, telling all the cockroaches that her family don’t care about her anymore.
When I drove up to Cheshire on the day he died, I was terrified of seeing my Gran for the first time in nearly a decade, but circumstances meant that our paths didn’t cross. Yesterday, when my Mum, my Dad and I gathered at a Macclesfield pub to greet family members who were coming from all over the world, I was nauseous with the fear that she would be the first one to arrive and I would have to bear the brunt of her bitterness on a day that was supposed to be for Grandpa. Our Isle of Man family arrived first, thankfully, and so many people wanted to speak to Gran that I was spared the confrontation. Then we went to the Crem for the service, and as we all walked together we saw crowds of people waiting outside and assumed they were all filing out from the pervious service, but the funeral director spoke to my Mum and told her that he’d never known so many different chapters of the Masons in one place before. It was standing room only, and when I saw my Mum start to fill up I dashed over to her and suddenly found myself sitting in the front row, when I’d hoped to hang back a bit. Gran was in her chair, across the aisle from me.
This morning my Mum said that having so many old guys with secret ceremonial names there actually made her feel more resentful. All these guys who thought Grandpa was a wonderful, wonderful gent; who gave Gran their respects and told Mum and her brother and sisters what a selfless and good-hearted man he was. He had all this time for those people, all this love and energy for them, and not a drop of it for his kids.
At the wake, we returned to the same pub that we’d used to congregate family at lunchtime, and I spoke more to my youngest cousin, who I haven’t seen since he was a toddler, and who knows very little about our side of the family because his own Dad has been pretty absent. My Mum had drawn out a family tree for me so I could get my head around everyone who had come from the Isle of Man, but to Josh it was all new info. As he read between the lines and saw how we barely shed a single tear between us, he started to understand that there was more to Grandpa than his lifelong PR campaign. I wanted to take him to one side and tell him everything that my Mum and aunties had told me, but I also didn’t want to ruin the image of Grandpa as this kindly, fun-loving old bloke. People our age might say he was “the life and soul”. It would be nice for Josh if he at least thought someone from our side was a decent bloke.
Then, suddenly it was 6pm and people were heading off to drive across the country and catch ferries and all that back-to-reality stuff. As my Gran was pushed around the last of us to say her goodbyes, I took my cup of tea and inched around a pillar like I was in a fucking spy movie. I actually did that thing that you do with kids in a park, slowly moving around a tree so you stay hidden. I feel bad for that, but I would feel disingenuous to pour sympathy on a woman that I have no sympathy for.
Sometime in the next couple of months, Mum and her siblings will go over to the Isle of Man and scatter Grandpa’s ashes. Once all the accounts are transferred wholly to Gran and all the probate paperwork is tied up, that will be the last thing they ever need do for him. I am going to press ‘create post’ on this screen and maybe read back what I’ve written today. Then I am going to let go of my residual resentment and try not to think much about him anymore. The old guys in the Masons and the golf clubs will raise a glass to him and enjoy the happy memories that his family don’t have.
What a week.
What a mental, exhausting, awesome, brilliant week.
I did ALL THE STUFF.
Here are the top 5 things of the week, in no particular order.
1: Baba Israel!
Tuesday was the day I went to the Arts Council’s State Of The Arts conference and totally lost my shit over Baba Israel, the AD at Contact Theatre. He’s such an amazing, talented, SEXY man. He was doing some sort of outreach project where he took some young poets and MCs into the morning’s panel sessions and then brought them onstage in the afternoon to rap about the stuff we’d been discussing. IT WAS AMAZING. He’s so fucking powerful onstage that I just kinda dribbled into a puddle on the floor and then went into full respiratory arrest when he came and sat next to me afterwards. I swear I didn’t breathe for over 12 minutes.
I’m not going to show you a picture yet because I’m all scabby and shit, but I had THE WORLD’S GREATEST EVER tattoo done on Wednesday and I’m well chuffed with it. The weather forecast for this week says we’re going to reach FOURTEEN WHOLE DEGREES on Thursday so it looks like I got my calf pimped at just the right time. Those pencil skirts don’t sashay themselves.
3: Old friends!
Because the SOTA conference was in Manchester, I took advantage of my prepaid hotel room and went out on the piss on Monday night with some of my homiez from the olden days. I met Daz and Andy and James in Odd and found out that Andy is a fucking vegetarian now. This is the man who used to SALT HIS OWN BEEF to store in our freezer and would look disapproving if I made a sandwich with fewer than three kinds of salami in it. My whole world was shaken. I’m pretty much blaming Andy’s massive lifestyle change for the fact that I neglected to stop drinking after my planned two glasses of red wine, instead ordering another bottle as soon as my other awesome friend, Nick, finished work. Ended up planning a Venn diagram which showed the combined careers of Alex Turner, Pete Doherty and David Bowie, then missed the last tram and got misty eyed about Guns N Roses in Fab. THEY STILL HAVE THE SAME DOORMAN. I even left my phone there and had to make the taxi driver turn back from about 10 yards outside my hotel. Aaaah, gooooood tiiiiimes.
I miss Manchester a lot. I’m excited about a move to Brighton, because this MA course is going to be the dog’s bollocks, but Manchester will always be home. I don’t know if I should move back there at the earliest opportunity, or avoid it forever because it’ll only be a disappointment compared to my 2007-08 wonder years. Life is SO HARD.
I have a housemate into jazz and a lecturer into jazz. Every so often I decide I’m going to get into jazz too, and start randomly torrenting every single band on the internet that ends in ‘Quartet’. Turns out that after all that effort I’m actually only into live jazz. Alice took me to see Arun Ghosh at The Y Theatre on Wednesday night because she works there so we didn’t have to pay, and it was fucking blinding. Perhaps because I’d still barely recovered from my MCR hangover, I thought his song about Longsight was incredible, and he even did his own Bez dancing in between playing that instrument he plays. An oboe? Some sort of saxophone? It was a blowy thing anyway. It also surprised me every time he said a song was ‘about’ something, even when it has NO WORDS. Just goes to show, it doesn’t matter how much you study ‘cultural capital’, there are still artsy things that make you realise you know fuck all.
Back when I was writing for ManchesterMusic, I went to the drinks-and-nibbles-bollocks for the Manchester Jazz Festival and started mouthing off about how the flute is a prog instrument and has no place in jazz. I’d barely heard a note of jazz in my entire life. What a fucking idiot. So I was on my best behaviour for Arun Ghosh. Didn’t even laugh when all the old jazz geezers started saying “beautiful!” and “mmm-hhmmm, play it!” under their breaths. THAT FAST SHOW SKETCH IS TOTALLY REAL.
5: Cake lols!
I’m wanking on a bit, aren’t I? This was supposed to be a quick post.
Number 5 is seeing my auntie and going into Chester for a manicure and to eat TEN TONNES OF CAKE yesterday. It doesn’t matter if your extended family are mentals when the close ones are really really awesome.
Allen Ginsberg was staying at Mick’s place in London once, and I spent an evening listening to the old gasbag pontificating on everything. It was the period when Ginsberg sat around playing a concertina badly and making ommm sounds, pretending he was oblivious to his socialite surroundings.I’ve been reading Keith Richards’ autobiography on and off for months. It’s getting to the good bit now. The Anita Pallenberg, elegantly wasted period. I hate that he’s been so Americanised for the book. “Panties” and “off of it” and shit like that. Every so often some biting cynicism appears though. I feel a bit like Keith Richards is a wayward uncle. My Dad has made sure that he, and Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison, have been important figures introduced to my general education at an early age.
Anyone who says they’re not prone to self-reflection from time-to-time is full of shit. We all think about ourselves and where we’re going and where we’ve come from and who we used to be in comparison to who we are now.
I’ve just got back to Leicester after a weekend chilling out up north with my folks. On Saturday night we went to a restaurant near to where they live in Sandbach. Dad had a few glasses of wine and when we got home again there was a bit of half-remembered reminiscing and attempts to piece together some sort of timeline for my Dad’s side of the family tree. You know those conversations: “Was her name Mabel or Millicent?” “So was that before or after they went back to Canada?” “No, he can’t have been living in the hobo-camp during the Depression, he had a family by then…” That kind of stuff. Legend has it that my great-grandfather had something to do with Al Capone, and various details make that sound quite convincing if I’m honest.
More recently, there has been contempt and melodrama within the Vaughan clan that has made it much harder to reconnect with old stories. People will always die, but a string of circumstances (either upsetting, infuriating, or tediously boring, depending on your personal affilliations) have meant that we can no longer look through the photo albums or cherish the few items that survived of my grandfather’s childhood near Toronto, or my great grandfather’s time as a REAL-LIFE FUCKING GANGSTER. My Dad remembers hearing stories and remembers seeing the photos that have now disappeared, but I only remember my Dad hazily mumbling after a few too many glasses of wine.
The reason I’m writing about this is because Alex Kelly from Third Angel went on a trip to Cape Wrath a few days ago, retracing the steps his own grandfather made on a similar trip to the most northwesterly part of the British mainland. He hitch-hiked up there, looked out to sea, most probably thought about some stuff, then went back home to Walsall. There is a magnificent romance to this story, and it’s made me think about a few things.
Firstly, we don’t just connect with our ancestors and relatives by looking at old photos and pretending to be Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (although that is also a worthy pursuit). We can go out and do the things they did in the places they did them.
Secondly, there are two distinct types of solitude. There is being on your own, and then there is spending some quality time with yourself. (No I’m NOT talking about wanking, you filthy bastards.) I mean removing all the work and traffic and screens and headphones and hassle and going somewhere where you can recalibrate yourself in relation to the fucking WORLD. We don’t put nearly enough space between ourselves and all the stupid, worthless, fabricated bollocks.
Check out Alex’s trip via this Third Angel blog and then book yourself a train ticket to somewhere big and empty.