The Tiny Patch of Lawn Where My Pond Once… er… Well… Was…

Lawn

A tiny patch of newly-laid green sward this may well be to you, but to me, this is where the pond once stood (lay? sank?). Under this blanket of England’s ‘green and pleasant’ lies the remnants of my mini lough, now rubble-filled and soil over-laid. At night I can hear the frogs croaking their lament for its passing.

Perhaps I should begin by telling you about the ex-watering hole. It was unlike most ponds: being wide and shallow with gently sloping pebble strewn sides (to ensure that any passing wildlife would find an easy passage to the water, in order to facilitate drinking, and an easy passage out, to facilitate not drowning) and with the constantly flowing ‘waterfall’, the water was always warm and teeming with life. When we had fish (before the local heron realised that what he had here was a living bouillabaisse) they bred with abandon, the fry having ample protection amongst the pebbles and ready access to more aquatic invertebrates than you could shake a stick at. Every year we dealt out bucket-loads of whitebait to anyone who could offer them a safe home. Something that it turned out we were unable to do as we returned home from holiday one year to discover that the aforesaid ardeidae had scoffed the lot. Amongst dozens of large goldfish and orfe, we lost the only two fish I have ever named (Laurel and Hardy – two large Ghost Koi) and hundreds of assorted hybrid offspring. I was devastated and, although the pond remained, it was never to have fish in again.

Instead, it became home to (when I eventually drained it) over a hundred frogs and toads. They loved life amongst the lilies; they dozed in the oozing sediments at the water’s base, they crushed together in the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall. In the spring they turned the water into a broiling hotbed of amphibian procreation, leaving the water like a giant bowl of translucent sago pudding which became nightmare for my slightly frog-phobic wife.

A couple of miles away from us (as the frog hops) is a small lake fed by the beck that runs through the village and it was there that I took the many bucket-loads of reluctant amphibians to be re-homed. Many have already found their own way back. You can see them every evening, sitting where the water once fell, croaking forlornly into the night.
Towards its end of days, the pond had just one other vertebrate resident and that was a solitary newt I called Tiny. (This is Tiny. I call him Tiny – he’s my newt.) He has gone to live in a neighbour’s pond. He is alive and well and, currently, showing no desire to return to the waters of his previous alma mater. He has not yet joined the frogs in their nocturnal hop around the new green ‘carpet’, wondering where all the wet stuff has gone.

The pond was a daily chore: clearing blanket weed, cleaning the pump, repositioning migrating pebble hordes, repatriating promenading toads and helping shrieking wife down from garden bench – but, like the frogs, I really miss it. The garden is more child-friendly now: there is room for them to kick a ball around; they can run around without the associated risk of drowning, but they can’t fish for waterboatmen anymore. They can’t watch the frogs catching flies at the water’s edge in the early evening. They cannot witness the miracle that is the spawn/tadpole/froglet/frog metamorphosis. More to the point, they cannot ‘accidentally’ fall in the bloody thing anymore and fill their shoes with gloop. What they can do is sit with me in the gloaming on this tiny patch of lawn-where-the-pond-used-to-be and reminisce over orange squash and biscuits, about the fun we used to have and listen to the tiny thuds as the frogs bash their heads on the large copper mushrooms that have lately appeared in its place…

A goldfish’s memory, they say, is about ten seconds long – which is just about as long as it takes to read thi…
A goldfish’s memory they say, is about ten seconds long – which is just about as long as it takes to read thi…
A goldfish’s memory they say…

Being Grandad

 

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As a parent, you are far too close to the action to feel any degree of child-rearing proficiency with your kids – there is a nagging suspicion eating away in the corner of your brain that you might well be about to fail your elementary parenting badge. You have all the pressure and responsibility that comes with producing the next generation of mature adults: you know you have to be strong at times, you have to set rules and you have to govern the observance of those rules. I remember how much I resented many of the rules set by my own parents, and I remember that I went on to set many of the same rules myself. Good parenting seems to be the art of doing all of the things you hated your own parents doing, without ever realising that you are doing them. I know that my own memories of my children’s childhoods will be different to theirs: I remember camping in the garden, drinking hot chocolate together and eating toasted marshmallows; I remember dancing madly around the house to Led Zeppelin on a Saturday evening before bedtime and the subsequent battle to stay awake longer than they did; I remember getting up very early on Christmas Day and sneaking downstairs to eat chocolate with them before breakfast. I remember the pure delight they brought (and still bring) into my life. Unfortunately, I fear that they remember the time that I got angry about something really trivial; the time I wouldn’t let them do something that they really wanted to; the time I wouldn’t let them have something they really wanted; the time I really embarrassed them in front of their friends. That’s the way it works…

As a grandad you have no such responsibility. As it is probably the last truly important thing you will ever do in your life, you are under some pressure not to screw it up, but, as a grandparent you are expected to spoil the grandkids, to encourage them to break the rules just a little. Grandads are meant to be silly. Grandads are meant to get into trouble with their own children. I have been overwhelmed by the sheer joy that my grandchildren have brought into my life. They give me far more than I will ever be able to give them. They have so much life, so much to look forward to – as long as we don’t bugger it up before they get there. They flood me with what forty years of work and worry has drained out of me: hope and optimism and fun. I never feel tired when I have the grandkids ‘round. When they’ve gone home however, that’s a very different story… As a grandparent you want to relish every second you get to spend with your grandkids, and that does mean that you become just a little bit like a puppy trying to please its owner: ‘You’ll only go to bed if you can jump up and down on me for ten minutes first? Ok, but try to avoid my dodgy knees…’ Sadly, grandads do damage fairly easily. But grandads will do all the voices when they are reading the bedtime story. They will swallow the ‘I need a drink. I need a wee,’ procrastination at bedtime. They will chat at 5am, provided it is in a whisper. Grandads are also allowed to tear a little hole into the time/space continuum every now and then. A half hour can stretch out quite a long way if you’re all having fun. Generally, there is not such a level of fuss when you all come home covered in mud if you’ve been out with grandad….

Being grandad is not something that you consciously prepare for, but it is a privilege to be embraced. I feel that I was born to be grandad. Give me a heavy shopping bag to carry and I’m done after ten minutes. Give me a squirming grandchild and I’m in for the day. Being grandad has consumed my former personality: when I am in grandad mode, everybody, including my wife and daughters, calls me grandad. I call myself grandad. I have discovered my superpower: I am Grandadman. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do realise – I’m not that stupid – that there will come a time when visiting grandad becomes a chore: when I tell the same old stories interminably, make the same old embarrassing jokes and always smell faintly of wee… Oh, hang on… It’s just all the more reason to enjoy it now.

One of my grandads died when I was very young and I have few memories of him (although I do, bizarrely, remember very clearly the day he died). My dad told me that he was a great man and I believed him. Why would I not? I have tried so hard to remember him, but I can’t. I know him, through photographs, but I can’t remember his voice, his smile, his jokes and I feel that loss even now. My other grandad was my childhood hero and I was aware, even as a young boy, of the need to spend as much time as possible with him while I could. He let me bang about tunelessly on his piano; he taught me to paint; he slipped a tot of rum into my half-time tea at a cold winter’s football match. Clumping around, doing ‘stuff’ with grandad always made me feel very grown up and I knew, for fact, that I could never come to any harm while I was with him. Everybody called him Pop. Pop, too, died much too soon. Both of my own children’s grandads did the same – although, thankfully they do have happy memories of them. In the end, that’s all we have to leave.

I was going to be Pop too, but when my grandson started to speak, he had other plans and as soon as he was able, he started to call me GraGra. Pretty soon everybody called me GraGra – except for my grandson, who had by then moved on and had taken the unilateral decision to start calling me grandad, which he did, and still does. Everyone, including my granddaughters, now call me grandad. Grandad is who I am and I am very happy with that. Being grandad is what I was born to be and I will be grandad until I die…

P.S. the photo is of stuff from my office that looks kind of grandad-y.  I bang about (tunelessly) on the guitar, I wear the hat for thinking, and I do the crosswords when I’m on holiday.  The stick and the car are just a representation of the junk I have about me as I write…