The Last Liberal Democrat
For my grandpa, who died when I was eleven.
We got the phone call on Saturday morning.
They’d found him on the floor of a bathroom
in the Bradford Royal Infirmary, and it was too late.
All I understood back then was that he was supposed
to be getting better, but something had gone wrong.
For most of my childhood I was aware that Grandpa
wasn't very well. He survived three heart attacks,
but what I remember most are the crutches;
the crutches from a dodgy hip replacement,
like two extra limbs. I remember their clack
and clatter as my grandpa’s herald.
Crutches like trees - taller than me - that my sister
and I used to joust with whilst he was lying down.
He favoured the floor – never a chair or sofa;
we would often find him snoring behind the armchair
wearing a newspaper blanket.
I remember his tall and looming shadow, and his clouds
of mad-professor-grey hair. He liked to shout a lot -
‘passionate’ people called him. My mum cursed
that I was so much like him when she wasn't;
“If only he were here now, you’d get on like a house on fire."
His father made him leave school and take over the business,
but he later got his degree through the open university,
and then a scholarship to Spain; the family’s sole academic
before I came along. It was the only thing
my parents said at my Durham matriculation:
“Grandpa would have been so proud.”
When politics finally became relevant to me,
I understood that Grandpa had been
a militant Liberal Democrat who would have painted
himself yellow and run naked though
the streets of Shipley for the cause. After he died
my once Tory gran always voted Liberal,
and so did Mum – a vigil for a man
they never understood. At eighteen, my first vote,
I became the third generation to take up the vigil.
I don’t know what he’d think of the coalition -
probably smack Nick Clegg round the face
with one of his crutches.
My grandpa was a book hoarder;
another sound from my childhood was the shiver
of the glass-fronted bookcase behind the dining table
that chimed whenever anyone walked past.
When he died no one else ever slid open the doors -
wanted those specimens kept firmly in their cage.
But I sneaked a peek this September - the glass
shuddering as I came closer - and found seven different
collected works of Shakespeare and books on the Brontës.
I asked if I could take them to Durham with me;
relics from a man whom I never got to understand.
My mum makes such a fuss over him now he's not here,
though I'm reliably informed that she didn't like him much
whilst he was alive. And I want to tell her she's not the one
who was robbed of him; I am.