Don’t mention the war!


To celebrate his four score and ten years (and counting), we organized a get together for my last remaining Grandad.

I never remember if he was in the airforce or the navy. Turns out it was both. He was in the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), the airforce branch of the Royal Navy. Confused.com.
To cover my balding patch, and as a wink to my aged ancestor’s past, I wore a Sea Captain’s cap from our East Anglian boating hol.
“You outrank me!” said Grandad in his FAA blazer, and I was going to make a joke about out-camping him too but then I remembered the £90 notes Esther had made for the occasion, superimposing his cheeky face over the Queen’s, her coiffeur and crown peeking out at the top.

There were 80 guests: cousins he’d not seen for 40 years, secretaries who’d worked for him 30 years ago, a 20-piece brass band and one single, room-filling, Phoenix Nights style throwback DJ.

It seems Political Correctness was the only person not invited.

The DJ jokes about “the Jew’s table!” who haven’t paid up, and Mum orders Dad to go and have a word with him, giving him chance to escape the clutches of his brothers who have pummelled him with questions (he usually manages to avoid all contact).

Other highlights include my gay Verger Godfather coming onto me:

Him “I used to be able to lift you up, now look at the size of you!”
Me “Shall I pick you up?”
Him “Chance would be a fine thing!”

For the rest of the evening, he came over periodically to take my photograph under some pretense or other.
“You’ve got a lovely smile” he’d say, and snap away.
When it came time for the 400th family photo, he elbowed Esther out of the way with the line

“You’ve been replaced by a younger model!” (he’s nearly twice her age).

It must have taken a herculean effort to plan and choreograph the party. Guests had been summoned from far afield and from the dim and distant past, and a brass band, my g’dad’s favourite musical tipple, arrives halfway through to play.

“Are you enjoying the band?” I ask him.
“One of them’s out of tune” is all he says.

Grandad has laid out photographs of his youth and young manhood on a table for the purple rinses to reminisce. You never get to see your Grandparents as peers, but there he is, instantly identifiable in each photo by his grin, like a provincial Frank Sinatra. After the performance, a trombonist comes over and points to a photo.

“Ooh I remember him!” she says with animation, pointing at a photo.

I look at which family member she’s aiming at.

It’s Hitler on the front of a wartime newspaper.

“My parents used to hide me under the table so he couldn’t get me” she explains, as if he were the family dog.

I imagined the air raid siren going off and her parents whispering “quick he’s coming!” and this frightened girl with a quivering kiss curl listening from her table fortress for the sound of a mustached murderer creeping past the window.

“I know where you live”

During the national anthem (yes really), Esther’s irreverent balloon-waving causes an old chap on the table opposite to point and sternly act out a more jingoistic effort. The enthusiastic demands this approved arm-waving required cause her elbows to flick out, knocking her half a lager & lime over the table of relics (the photographic ones, not the guests). A rescue party is sent out, and after frantic swabbing, the photos are rescued.

Finally, it’s time to get a lift with gay godfather back to Grandad’s house. “Ooh, lovely” G’dad exclaims as Esther helps him out of the car, and she thinks, I’m not doing much, before looking down and realizing he can see right down her top.

Happy Birthday indeed.