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Thursday 31st January 2008

Thursday 31st January 2008

Days Without Alcohol - 32. And the end of month report is that I have lost 5 kilos (inexplicably put a bit back on over the last couple of days) and am feeling happier, sharper, fitter and generally pretty smug. I am going to press on with this in the short term at least as so far the positives far outweigh the negatives. But with my tour starting in a week or so, it will be interesting to see how I cope alone in crappy hotels without booze to knock me out. I am fairly confident that it will be fine. There is a part of me trying to persuade the rest of me that it would be a terrible shame and almost offensive to go to Dublin and not drink a pint of Guinness, but the logical part of my brain knows that I am being weak. If it's that important I can always go back to Dublin another time. No-one there is going to care. They'll all be too drunk on Guinness themselves to notice. I am joking Dublin.

I was interviewed today for the Guardian feature "Pieces of Me", where they get you to choose a dozen objects from your life and then discuss why they have meaning for you. I wasn't sure I would have too many things to talk about, but after a quick trawl through my home I found about 15 things that I thought were suitable. These included Histor, the rowing blade we had made after we won the boat race, my Scrabble board, my Loch Ness Monster killing sword and my Marathon 2004 medal. I wanted to include the ventriloquist dummies that my great-grandad made and which were passed down to me by my grandad, but my dad has purloined them for the moment (all four generations have used the dummies for some purpose or other - initially for religious instruction, then education for the next two generations and then I came along and used them for puerile comedic purposes) - but I managed to find the photo of said great-grandad with Ally and Sally, which is just as good.
Then I remembered the charcoal drawing that my other grandad had done of me when I was 7 or 8. It's up in a frame in my lounge, but is a great reminder of Don Hannan, probably the family member I most closely resemble. He was short, stocky and had a shock of white hair right into old age - which doubtless as my own locks continue to naturally peroxide, but not fall out or retreat, will emulate.
I remember reluctantly posing for this portrait (and many others), frustrated at having to sit still for half an hour, hating the whole process, which my grandad skillfully captured. Look at the cold resentment in my eyes. But now, of course, it is wonderful to have this memento of a much loved relative, who I realise with a start has been dead for twenty years.
I talked about grandad to the journalist. Unlike me he stayed slim most of his life, but then he worked in proper jobs - down the mine and on the roads - and didn't have the sedentary cushy life-style that his grandson enjoys. He was a self-educated man who loved opera and reading, even though these things were frowned upon as pretentious by some of his friends and family (his dad once threw a book that Don was reading into the fire, such was his hatred of education). I think he must have been amazed that his daughter got to go to University and that two of his grandsons went to Oxford. He lived in a different world, working his whole life to provide for his wife and child and especially with the benefit of hindsight I admire him very much for this. On the rare occasions I am doing something luxurious like flying in business class or staying in a fancy hotel, I wonder what Don would make of it all. As far as I know he never flew anywhere in his life and once nearly had a heart attack when he offered to buy a round of teas at a service station only to find it would cost him the (then admittedly) exorbitant fee of 50 new pence.
He was the first person to really make me laugh and also to want to be funny myself. As a young kid I loved his silly voices and impressions and his jokes, even when I didn't understand them. When he worked on a farm, he would stop by the pigs and ask me, "Have you ever seen a pig with one eye?" and then when I said, "No," he would put a hand over one of his eyes. At the time I thought he was saying that he was the pig, which made me laugh, but years later I finally got it properly - ie, if you cover your eye and look at a pig, then you are seeing a pig, with one eye. But grandad was funny anyway, so I didn't need to understand to laugh.
In my teenage years I fell out with him a little bit, as he had a typical, old fashioned view about races being inferior to white people and I couldn't countenance such a thing, but he had so many admirable qualities and these views were the norm back then, so again I can't judge him too harshly for his wrongness. He had a very good heart.
I ended up talking about his death to the journalist. He was the first of my grandparents to die - unbelievably I had got to 19 with the full complement (my brother was 25). I was in my first year at college and in those days there was no way to readily communicate as there were no mobile phones, so messages had to be left at the porter's lodge. Grandad had been declining for several months and I knew the end was very near and was going to come at any second. My mum knew that I knew this and so when the time came she, not unreasonably, thought it would be OK to leave a message to that effect, rather than wait to speak to me personally. Perhaps she should have just asked me to ring home, but doubtless she was very upset herself and having to sort out all the arrangements and comfort her own mother - so she just wanted me to know what I effectively knew. The porter though was clearly flummoxed by the personal nature of the missive and the piece of paper stuck to the message board (folded over as they all were, so not thankfully for the public eye) said "Tell him his grandad has died." Perhaps the porter struggled with simply writing "Your grandad is dead" and thought that was too blunt. But in any case it was a slightly unsettling and detached way to find out the news of the first significant family death. These days I suppose I would have got a text.
Only after the interview did it strike me that because I was talking about the drawing, that it was now going to be reproduced hundreds of thousands of times in a national newspaper. It made me really proud and slightly moved me to think that a piece of art that my grandad had created would be seen by that many people. I don't know if he would have been able to get his head round such a thought, but it feels like a fine tribute to him and his talent that his sketch will go into so many homes (not sure he'd be too chuffed about it being in the Guardian, but you can't have everything, Don!)
And I am also putting it up here on the world wide web, which he would surely have had no hope of understanding
I have many happy memories of my grandad and as with Barrie, when I think about him I always smile. It's also always good to be reminded of how lucky I am to have the life I do. But if Don is looking down from Heaven (though clearly he isn't as there is no such place - I remember him being annoyed by my atheism also, so if he is then at least my own wrongness will give him a laugh, though he might be upset that I am destined for Hell) then I hope that getting his work published will be a satisfying moment. I miss you grandad.

And doubtless I will mention this in tomorrow's entry, but Andrew Collings and myself have just recorded our first ever official podcast. You can listen to our tentative tweetings right here and we're going to try and get it on iTunes and stuff soon, but are both quite pleased with ourselves for having got it this far unaided! Hope you enjoy it. Too many people have tried to hear us apparently, so instead go and hear us here.

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