Five Ways to Remember: Grandpa

John White, Wep's grandfather, c.1923
John White, Wep’s grandfather, c.1923 – born 1851 in East Looe, Cornwall, he was a Master Builder and former president of the Master Builders’ Association. He built many of the beautiful terrace buildings around Paddington including Paddington Town Hall. He served as an Alderman on Paddington Council from 1884-1913 and was elected Mayor in 1892. He was also the founder and first president of the Cornish Men’s Association.

I reckon that Grandpa was quite a character. He seemed always a bit like God to me. Not that his beard was over flowing and lustrous like the high cumulus that came over Taronga.

Grandpa always sat at the top of the table in the big kitchen and regularly complained about his lack of appetite.

Grandpa suffered no ills. Apart from lack of appetite which was cured at meal times – he suffered only the livings of cold weather.  These afflict the ageing and the thin like me, the un-diesel heated, the Grandpas. I suppose it was really Isabella Garrick McRitchie, his dour Scots wife who had the nostrum for all ills. Her recipes for cold agues had the genius of simplicity.

Grandpa wore, what Grandma sewed. A two inch bandage of red flannel around each wrist.  This was an infallible preventative against goose flesh and wintry shivers, and so far as Grandpa went it worked. We’d sit shivering over some bread and dripping and marvel over his pulse warmed vigour as his flashing crimson wrists downed with gusto a Scots Irish Stew.

I really think it was more a psychological matter thing than a good old viable commercial. Somewhere in the boggy ice ages Dracula had got to Scotland. The keen old biddies knew that if you had bloody looking red flannelled, medial tuberosities of the radius wrists – he’d be confused and drop you as a pass-over has-been, a very traumatic connection twice done-over somewhere about those thin blue veins on the inner sides of his wrists and consuming teeth.

It must have had something to do with the night he baby-sat me. God knows where Grandma was but I’m in the double bed with Grandpa paradisaically night shirted and me trendy in pyjamas. It was a handsome four posted cedar mausoleum with a horsehair mattress as soft as a concrete slab. Grandpa slept with the sonority of a Bach fugue.

I don’t know whether it was the austerity of repose or if dreams of vampires which woke me in terror.  I felt I was being masticated or impaled with an oaken shaft.  Awake, upright as the cold moonlight, my fears were resolved unheard.

It all came clear and simple in the cold light of the moon.  Rationality triumphed, cause and effect were vindicated as I unhooked his dentures off my flesh and slid them gently back beneath his pillow.

I hadn’t expected that – mostly they sat overnight on the mantelpiece keeping a purposeful vigil from their tumbler full of water.

[W.E. Pidgeon]

John White, W.E. Pidgeon [c. 1927]
Painted when Wep was 18, this is one of Wep’s earliest portraits.

“John White.” SYDNEY’S ALDERMEN Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.

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