The following are anecdotes that are not part of my walking and trip accounts.
The date is February 13th 2018 and I'm taking some evening relaxation, sat in a backpackers hostel in Franz Josef New Zealand, reading Schindler's List (some light holiday reading).
A chap approaches me. "My father was on that list." he announces. I put the book down and remove my glasses. He's not joking. He then introduces himself as the son of Victor Lewis, one of the souls on Schindler's List.
We have a long chat, his father passed away some ten years ago but his mother, a ninety-eight year old survivor of Auschwitz, is still alive, living in America.
Ferrying the Elderly
In February 2018 and I had booked myself onto a for a kayaking trip around the Kaikoura Peninsula, New Zealand. Initially, and with a sense of glee, I got assigned a ride in the instructors kayak. I'm in for an easy ride, I thought. However, on seeing a rather pretty German girl, he (a fit, young Kiwi guy) quickly reassigns her to his kayak and me with an eighty year old called Alan. This gave us the greatest combined age of 132 across all the boats.
After an hour, and watching the said gentleman's condition deteriorate before me, I took pity on him and told him to stop paddling. At this point he chose to announce his son and daughter in law, in one of the other kakyaks, were fitness mad and headed off to the gym each day!
I began to feel rather "done" - they were zipping along at great speed, as was Connor the instructor and the German girl. And there I was, probably the second oldest, ferrying their Dad feeing rather knackered.
On pointing out the wonderful backdrop of mountains, Alan announced, "Oh we have plenty of those in Colorado." Anyhow we saw lots of fur seals and, to my amusement, shags.
After two hours of rowing we made it back to the beach whereupon Alan's son, realising I might be a tad tired bought me lunch.
I live in Great Bedwyn where there is a canal, a railway line and a transvestite. To combine these into one story would, in normal circumstances, take a considerable amount of effort. However, one Saturday afternoon some years ago, events conspired to allow me to do so.
At the time I was running the Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group and, as part of its activities, I was doing some weeding on the down platform of the station. Taking the soft option I was using a pressurized weed sprayer with a lance and, to protect my eyes, I was wearing dark glasses.
I was wandering happily around, spraying this and that, when the chap in question came thundering down the pedestrian access ramp. He was wearing his dress and wig and greeted me with, “Oh, thank God!”
Now this rather snapped me from my thoughts. To be honest I was a little concerned until he explained, “I was sitting on my narrow boat and saw you wandering around the station with dark glasses and what I thought was a white cane. I thought you were blind and about to fall onto the line.”
Verging On The Embarrassing (a humorous incident)
"Who's your wife?" The eight year old girls comment stalled me for a few
moments as I walked with her to the football pitch.
"Err," I was stalling for time. I'd come to this drumming workshop with my
"I don't have a wife" I replied nervously looking back to the security of
the faded elegance of Tottenham Court House.
"So you are a virgin."
"Well no, not quite." I was stumbling my words as my mind stumbled between
her innocence, my lack of innocence and my male pride.
"Do you have children?" she enquired confidently filling the pauses in the
"Have you ever been married?"
"So you are a virgin then." I looked around for help. Rhiannon was far away
on the veranda and the girls father was an equal distance.
"I think you should ask your Daddy what that word means."
"I did, last night," she added "and that's what he told me." As she ran
towards a football she called "You are a virgin."
Nick and the Moles
My friend Nick hates moles. Not a case of a mild dislike, or a comical banter but a deep hatred born out of disrupted lawns, the setting of traps and the smoothing of mountains.
The word "bastards" often appears in the same sentence containing the word "moles" as if some ancient grammatical rule were being obeyed. Not that the Mr Green's vocabulary is colourful, it seldom is. But it is just that the utterance of the word, which I can barely bring myself to type again, reduces the man as if "Clueso" had been said to Chief Inspector Drefuss or "Scargil" to Thatcher.
But the combination of Moles and Bastards are not the only Nickisms. The fellow has a ready supply of little gems such as "no chance matey, really thick custard, paa (when losing an argument) and wagon (when referring to a motor car)."
You'd have thought that with his ways Nick would remain single but he shocked us all when Kas walked into his life. A wedding was planned, no best man was selected and no stag night was organised.
Greg, a mutual friend, and I were having none of this and set about a do and only convinced Nick of its merits when we promised no strippers and his total security.
But we did make a list of Nickisms, a collection of his sayings. A visit to the loo, or the bar, would bring the list out of hiding. A little glance, a tick here, or there, a rehearsal to steer the next conversations. "Moles, bastards" was a particular treasure to the evenings collection, the one we had most hoped for.
Months later, the game of 'Nick bingo' forgiven, I emailed Greg.
"Can't help but notice April 1st is on a Sunday. How about we plant some plastic moles on Nick's front lawn on the Saturday night?"
Seconds later and my PC beeped.
"How about a five foot high paper mashie version?"
So the plan was hatched, the mole was built and the evening of March 31st had us planting our masterpiece as returnees from a local pub do a double take.
April 1st, ten AM and my caller display is showing Nick's number. I answer.
"Hi Steve, how are you?"
"Oh fine, nice morning. Been outside yet?"
"No. I have not been outside yet. I've been ill."
"I'm sorry to hear that" I replied.
"I only got out of hospital on Friday."
"Oh no, nothing serious I hope."
"I had to have a large mole removed."
Myself, Mum, Dad and my sister Ali are being visited by my Dad’s parents. Ali and I are in our early twenties, the grandparents in their seventies. As ever grampy has an opinion on every matter. He always had back then and a common thread weaved through each – they were all ill thought out, invented on the spur of the moment to either ridicule his opponent or to boast some hitherto unannounced knowledge.
It was a shame; he was a clever, able and helpful man. A war hero too, though strangely he kept that to himself and only in his later life did we discover that he had been awarded the DSM for saving the lives of the entire crew of his submarine.
This later life brought a mellowing; he became good company though still always prone to vocal gaffs. By this time we’d learned to answer back, not just to hear his words, know he was talking nonsense and follow the familiar pattern of quiet acceptance. I think he really wanted somebody to spar with, but he’d caught us too young back then.
Back then brings me back to the story. The visit is following a well trodden pattern, worn-out actors following a tired script. Mum starts to bemoan her expanding waistline.
“Have you got a vibrator?” asks Grampy. Grampy who, having every conceivable object in their sprawling home, is a master of turning up with a needed object. So the initial fear is that the offer will be followed by “I’ve got one in the top loft that you can have.” Of course I know what he means, he’s referring to one of those 1960s exercise machines where you stand and a vibrating belt is placed around your rear. The idea is to tone fat and muscles. I look at my sister, she does not realise a second meaning. There’s a look of horror on her face. I look at Mum and Dad, one of us is about to crack.
“Excuse me,” I say and hurriedly leave the room. My pace akin to somebody realising they are about to be sick.
I lay on my bed, crying through laughter. It’s a deep belly laugh convulsing through my body. I’m still young, I share a house with mates and laughter is common. I can’t return downstairs, I can’t even make it to my bedroom door. I’m still there forty five minutes later when I hear my grandparents getting set to leave. I think Ali’s shock, Mum and Dad trying to hold it together has made Gran realise that there’s been a change in mood and perhaps an early departure would be sensible. Gran, more likely a reader of Woman’s Realm than Cosmopolitan, does not realise why.
“Bye Steve,” they call up the stairs in a ‘what are you doing up there’ kind of way. The giggles are deep - I can just manage to return the ‘bye’ whilst stuffing a hankie into my mouth.
I hear their car start, the front door close and I venture down. Mum and Dad collapse laughing, Ali still looks on with shock until we explain what he truly meant.
Jumping forward twenty years, Grampy lived to a fine old age, and by now he is mellowed and good fun and enjoys banter. He’s stood in their kitchen, steadying his aged frame against the counter.
“You need a crutch, Dad” says his daughter in law, Sue.
“I don’t have one. Apart from the one between my legs,” he replies
“Grandfather that is your crotch, your crotch,” I say.
Like my grandfather Smith my maternal grandfather was also an interesting character. We were never sure if he was the least sharpest tool in the box or just played at being so. However, his comments were legendary. Here are just a few:
On showing the plaster wobbling behind wood chip wallpaper in my house I described how I intended to get it re-plastered. "I wouldn't bother with that," he said, "it's only lost its suction."
On entering my parents partly replaced kitchen he began to admire the side not yet replaced and, on running his hand along the chipped Formica top, announced, "They are making a lovely job of it."
On listening to my description of a walk I'd just made he suggested, "You should get a dog." On pointing it out to him that I had a life long allergy to dogs, brought on by his jack Russell when I was just two years of age," he replied, "That needn't matter."
On explaining to him what a word processor did he said it was all daft as somebody had already invented Tipex.
On discussing his care he sung the praises of his polish carer before adding, "She's got a twin sister. She's polish too."
On my mother visiting him in hospital he announced, "I saw a proper doctor today." To which my mother replied, "You mean a man don't you?"
On realising the patient in the next bed was getting more attention than him, from the nursing staff, he began to wail, "Help I, help I." Though, to be fair, he did die the next day.