No Grandad in His Things
By Justin Tuijl
Wed, 11 Sep 2019
We disembowelled my Grandad’s house after he died. One minute in 1985 his house was like it had always been. Model kits of the Cutty Sark and HMS Victory on top of the rented colour telly. The 50’s style clock on the mantelpiece above the gas fire. A model of a bull he’d crafted by hand. Oil paintings he’d done hanging on the walls; always above his chair a portrait of a woman he’d once known in Holland; above the clock a picture of Italy. I remember him painting a lot of them. I remember him making the model kits. For Christmas, the family always bought him things to make.
By his chair was a shelf with dictionaries; some were language translation ones. I used to look endlessly at one really small one, like a matchbox, a Dutch translation dictionary. On the shelf was his radio that he used to listen to Terry Wogan on. The other side of the chair was his record player, on which he used to play people singing in Dutch. On top of the speaker was a small model old fashioned racing car in British racing green.
Up the corner was a table with big chairs that didn’t match the table.
Out of the sitting room, in the small dining room, hung with his paintings was a massive sideboard, a writing desk and small bookcase. On top of the bookcase was a clock that hadn’t worked for a long time, but I remember it chiming when I was small.
I loved the writing desk with its roll top and funny doors and draws at the bottom. It was full of unusual things like Grandad’s old pipes; one pipe had tassels and a metal lid. One of the draws was full of model kit paints.
And then, the next minute in 1985, the house was ransacked. Everything was disembowelled, all the cupboards, draws, and shelves… everything. I wanted the clock in the dining room. I wanted a painting or five.
1. Model kits: the Cutty Sark, HMS Victory, the racing car, an American lorry, Concorde, an old fire engine
2. Furniture: the dining chairs, the small bookcase, the massive sideboard
3. An embossing of a cat drawn by Grandad
4. Books: Tall Ships in Colour, a small Dutch translation dictionary - like a matchbox
I didn’t get
5. The clock, the writing desk, any paintings at all
Soon the house wasn’t his house anymore. My Dad and his Sister had it redecorated and sold it.
For a little while I was miffed that they had all the oil paintings. I have no idea where they are now, as my Dad’s Sister moved abroad.
I do know where the other stuff is.
The sideboard, bookcase and chairs are at my Mum’s house, like old bulky dark reminders of Grandad’s dining room. The writing desk is with my Dad.
The rest went to landfill. One day I was looking at the Cutty Sark. Dust was settling over the sails and rigging. It was time to try and clean it again. As I looked at it, I thought, “this isn’t Grandad’s; it’s a model of the fucking Cutty Sark. He may have put it together, but Airfix made the plastic, someone boaty made the real Cutty Sark. This model, as an object, has nothing to do with the memory of my Grandad.”
I decided that Grandad was not in these things I had of his. Grandad that I knew was now in my head, in the memories. I threw all the pointless relics away.
Since the disembowelling of his house, I have never felt the same about any possessions. Stuff doesn’t make the person. All the things he held onto all his life; and then we come along like one big car boot; we burn the stuff with no value in the garden, keep the stuff that was sentimental, and sell the stuff that was worth anything i.e. the fucking clock that I wanted.