Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A very fine uncle

My Great Uncle Gordon died yesterday, he was elderly and it happened suddenly. This post is dedicated to him; I wanted to share the memories I have of this kind, jovial man.

Gordon was my Gran's younger brother, she had an older sister too, Betty. Gran grew up in Cheshire and moved south after she was married settling in West Sussex where my Mum and Aunty Pam lived for most of their childhoods. Gordon and Betty stayed up in Cheshire and as children Mum and Pam would tell us stories of wonderful family get togethers of aunts and uncles and cousins. Because these three siblings didn't see each other very often, when they got together the sense of fun they all shared made for some wonderful meet ups.

We didn't see our Cheshire relatives very regularly (there is also my Great Aunty Jean, my Gran's sister-in-law and of course the rest of Jean, Gordon and Betty's families) but I do remember staying up there for big events, a few weddings when I was very little and my Gran's 60th, where my cousins and I spent most of the night fascinated by the glass washer and happily collected everyone's empties to wash and shine.

It was when I was about 14 that I got to know Gordon better, by then his wife, Audrey, had passed away and he and my Aunty Jean (who were friends though not actually related: he was my Gran's brother and she was my Grandad's sister) started what became an almost annual event of coming to stay with us in Wiltshire for a week in the summer holidays. Those weeks were something to look forward to, we would take Gordon and Jean for days out to the seaside, or local places of natural beauty - hills and woods etc. - for pub lunches in pretty rural villages and to visit my Aunty Pam and her family. And there were also days spent at home, picking fruit in the garden, playing scrabble and walking the dog. Gordon would bring Flossie, his one-eyed Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) a lovely tempered little thing, who terrified our cats but made everyone else smile, particularly Jean who loved spoiling her. Here are some of my favourite memories from those weeks:

- Gordon's pipe. The smell of pipe smoke was irrefutably his. He smoked outside during his stays in our non-smoking household, but, for me, the smell of tobacco gave him an exotic air. He'd wander in the garden, particularly in the summer evenings having a quiet smoke and if I were to join him he would point out some little detail he'd been watching, birds or clouds, or talk about something from the day.

- Gordon's accent. My mum inherited her northern A's from her parents, I inherited mine from her, but growing up in the south tempered this somewhat, at secondary school I tried to change to southern A's with mixed success (my brother did it better) and Charlie has inherited some northern A's from me, which Tom points out quite regularly. So having this booming voiced, happy, jovial uncle arrive and fill the house with his quite brilliant northern accent helped show the teenage me that there was nothing wrong with having northern A's (check out the film below, where after just a few days with them, I'm already mimicking that accent!). He also had some sayings I'd never heard before, a family favourite was 'What a palaver' attributed to him saying it when things went wrong i.e. one time we had a whole episode of chasing an escaped duck and her ducklings and after we'd caught them we found out they were actually wild. My brother used the 'What a palaver' saying (spoken in Gordon's accent) to very good effect!

- Gordon's car. In the summer when I was 17 my driving test fell in the week that Gordon and Jean came to stay. I was having to take the test in a car different to my normal instructor's one and it was exactly the same as Gordon's. He let me sit in his and practise before the test. This turned out to be a waste of time as the test was voided (the replacement car broke down) but it was good of him to let me practise anyway. We had lunch in a particularly lovely pub that day and both he and Jean gave big commiserations and helped cheer me up.

- Flossie dog. Flossie was quite elderly when they first started visiting and only had one eye, which made her a bit snappy if you came up suddenly on her blind side. But she was ever so friendly, well trained and adored my uncle. We would take her to a local dog groomer for a wash and trim and I remember feeling mortified because I accidently hit the car boot onto Gordon's head one time when we went to pick her up - he made a big joke of it afterwards. Jean once brought back a half eaten ham hock for Flossie from one of our pub lunches.

- His memories. Gordon once told us about the war and how his Dad kept open containers of petrol in their cellar and also about having to use whisky to clear the car windscreen when driving in a snowstorm.

So finally here's a film. I took this with my first digital camera in 2002, I was 21 and home from uni for the summer. The camera I had bought with some of the inheritance left to me from my Gran, who died in 2001, and I loved it. By today's standards the film is of poor quality and the camera would only shoot 80 seconds at a time. It shows Jean and Mum and Gordon at a canal side pub, my filming is atrocious but I love it anyway as it's one of just two films I have from those holidays.

Gordon and Dad, August 2002

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