Following this short introduction is a freewrite inspired by the prompt a vacant chair and the passage that it inspired a dandy affair
‘A Vacant Chair; Freewrite’
In Nan’s lounge is a vacant chair. When Granddad was alive, his chair was a part of him.
I recall staying there and can still smell baking scones and cakes, and lavender in the bathroom.
Whenever I see Beryl Cook’s art I am drawn back there. Watching my
Nan read and how she would not answer me. I learned to bake and paint in that house.
I recall playing Granddad’s piano, and how his shoes were lined up beneath it.
I remember asking what the pedals were for, and not understanding his answer.
I still don’t know now, and I’m happy not knowing, because whenever I
see them now, memories of him singing ‘My Four Legged Friend’ are clear.
In the lounge there were two and three seater sofas,
Granddad had his spot as did Nan, so did his newspapers and her knitting.
I remember laughing at his stories of trips to Scarborough, Bangor
and Falmouth and looking through photographs. I recall Nan reading
Anderson’s Fairy Tales to me, and I can remember reading and rereading
A.A. Milne ‘If I were John and John were me.’ Returning from the caravan
in Wales and eating a takeaway, the only time I remember not eating
homemade food. On holiday, day trips included soup in a flask and an
enormous orange cool box with a navy lid. Granddad pointed everything
out to me, teaching me so much. Four Sudbury Road, walks on the beach,
Granddad’s chair, his corner, books about birds and aircraft, pencil
sharpeners in blue green boxes, watching BBC Wales, eating hot porridge
from the outside of the bowl first. I miss him, so does that chair.
‘A Dandy Affair’
Despite the distances that have always separated us, we are a family that has always remained
intimate. My mother, a mostly delicate woman, instigated our house move taking us closer to
my father’s family on the south coast. Mother said that this was because they could help both
the two of them and us children. I do not often see those relatives now, but I still remember the
meandering country lanes of their outlying village, as well as the time that they afforded each other.
Upon arriving in Cornwall we were Mother, Father and twins. However, now we children are three.
The latecomer is Del, short for Derrick and from dreckly, a Cornish word meaning later on.
My sister has moved north where she owns Jago’s Cove, a charming and restful holiday camp.
Del is a chef; he currently works at a revered restaurant on Jersey. I am the only one of us
siblings still resident in Cornwall, although I have moved up country somewhat to Padstow.
I work as a fireman for Great Western Railway, and it is how my love affair with steam
commenced that I wish to tell you.
It was the finest summer after the war, and the weekend of my Mother’s fortieth birthday, and
a dandy affair was thrown in her honour. Our snug cottage complete with a redolent rose garden,
but hidden from the street by tall hedgerows that shielded us from the road, and an increasing numbers
of motor cars provided an eloquent setting and the whole family was present. Even Aunt Cordelia
travelled down from Liverpool, bringing with her two of poor Nana Josephine’s fruit loaves, which
were sliced and buttered for the table; Nana was eighty two now and far too frail to manage the journey.
Pap and Nanna on my father’s side brought with them Uncle Joshua, whose piano playing I admired
tremendously, and a plate of rich, golden pasties. They were the finest pasties I have ever tasted,
but our family recipe will remain a secret. It was on that day, while Joshua played Édith Piaf songs
that Pap asked me to accompany him the following day. I was told that I should not wear my Sunday best to church.
I was fiercely excited and could barely stay still during Reverend Fox’s service, Mother scolded
me and told me to sit on my hands. As the congregation brought The Old Rugged Cross to a
crescendo, Pap had already pulled me from my pew. The tall windows of the church had a way
of making your heart sink if you ever had a sinful thought, and leaving early was scandalous.
Leaving behind the musty wooden panelled church was every bit as spine-
tingling for Pap as it was for me. Pap looked down to me from his six feet and gave me a wink.
He was wearing grubby, corduroy trousers with unpolished hobnail boots. He wore a shirt that
had once been white with a brown leather waistcoat. He pulled a cap from his pocket and placed
it on my head, I felt ten feet tall. Pap led me by the wrist to the roadside where waiting for us was
a Hillman Minx, in a glorious deep green, it’s engine purring.
The man driving, Ivor, was a whale of a man even when seated and his car bowed underneath him.
Inside, the car reeked of fuel and smoke. Ivor, who was coated in thick black smears of
something unholy, turned to us and snorted in his tender West Country inflection ‘Quick, gerrin.’
Pap and I clambered into the whirring vehicle eagerly, ‘Have you any idea where you’re going child?’
Pap asked me. I had no idea, all of this was new and impelling.
‘I dunno,’ I replied in my small voice. But I wish I did, you see now the anticipation of an event,
as I see it, can be just as important as the event itself, just as enthralling.
‘Wha’? You ne’er told ‘im?’ Boomed Ivor, ‘Boy, we are going were there is a wood and a canal, but most ‘portantly a railway.’
In my work as a fireman, I pass that same stretch of track which we rode that day oftentimes,
and when I do, I feel a sense of collectedness and am fulfilled. The shrill of a train whistle
delights me still, and the white heat and copper glow of a trains fire bring to mind that very
first adventure with Pap and Ivor: when I was allowed to ride up front, and pull that very
same whistle for the first time. The things that all young boy’s dreams are made of, and some grown men’s too.