Wild Woodbines

I mentioned my grandfather in my post yesterday. I can see him in my memory now as he went out on his morning walk. He wore a flat cap and overcoat which was rarely buttoned. ‘You look like a tramp’, my grandma would say sometimes. He was very thin and sometimes she would say he looked like Gandhi. My grandparents were married for more than 60 years ,so these exchanges cannot have been deadly.

My grandad carried  a walking stick, more for company than out of need, I think  In those days you could buy beer in quart bottles. Their rubber caps he somehow managed to adapt as ferrules. His stick which I still have and maybe comes from some kind of thorn, has a screw fitted into its end, to stop it splitting, and I’ve bought a real ferrule from the shoemenders to protect it.

Grandad spent the whole of the 1914-18 war in France, as a private soldier. I said in a post a year or so ago that to her dying day my grandma feared the sight of a telegraph boy in the road. She had known what that would mean during the war.

It was the conkers I found yesterday on my travels around my own bit of countryside that sparked off this reminiscence.  Grandad, thin as a rake from walking for three hours every day, timing it so that he reached the pub as the doors were being opened,  lived until he was 88. I think he only died  then because he broke his ankle in a road accident and his routine was disturbed

 I’m sure he didn’t know he was keeping fit. There was some real countryside in our part of west London. It was on Harrow-on-the-Hill, and I think it must have been during his walks over there that my grandfather gathered conkers for me.

He always listened to Sunday Half Hour of congregational hymn singing on the BBC Home Service and he would sometimes say he enjoyed standing outside Harrow School and hearing the school songs coming forth.  I suppose such innocence would be regarded with suspicion now.

And he took down the Saturday football results with a pencil precisely sharpened with his pocket knife.

He smoked a few Wild Woodbine cigarettes which came in a beautiful  packet of Victorian design. And for some years he was able to obtain some of them with the vouchers provided as part of the old age pension. Really. Hard to believe in this impersonal, puritanical era.

I don’t remember my grandad  going to the doctor. My grandma, having grown up on a farm, was very efficient at basic home medication and minor surgery I suppose. As she would say to me sometimes as she advanced on me to deal with a nasty splinter or some other injury: ‘Here comes the nurse with the red hot poultice. Slap it on and take no notice.’

Different days. Including, and sadly, the loss of the Wild Woodbines, the innocent pleasure they gave, and their beautiful ornate packets.

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