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Older person playing chess with child

How to be a proper granddad

I feel at a disadvantage. But then, we all have our weaknesses. This one is serious, though. I have responsibilities. My grandson has come to stay for the weekend. Alone. Now, I don’t have to worry about food and stuff or making up a bed. That’s Miriam’s job and she’s got all the grandmotherly things nailed. She’s always has had, and little Peter’s visits with his parents have always been a pleasure. This time, though, Miriam said those worrying words, “Now’s your chance to be a proper grandfather”.

Just how? What does that mean? It’s not something you can look up on Google. I tried and the top hit was “How to move a grandfather clock in 10 simple steps”. Not very helpful; especially when you don’t even have a grandfather clock.

No, I’m at a loss. I’ve read about granddads in books, seen them portrayed in films, usually genial, often stooped, white-haired old gentlemen, doted on by their offsprings’ loving children, especially it seems, by little girls. But I’m only sixty-two. A few grey hairs, yes, and thinning a bit on top, but fit and upright. And Peter’s a boy.

Unlike my peers, I never had a granddad. Well not any I ever met. My parents’ parents had all departed, before I came on the scene. So, I had no one to teach me the skills I need now; no one to refer to in my mind. I was a sort of grandorphan, I suppose. So, this weekend is either going to be the great fun we have when Peter’s parents are here – or a total catastrophe. Do I adopt the storybook ideal, as maker of all things mechanical? The wise old man full of worldwide knowledge? The sage keeper of a teenager’s secrets, whispered in my ear at bedtime? The ancient sportsman with tales of glories past? Well let’s face facts. I’m hopeless with tools; can never follow those sheets of instructions – not even the wordless ones – and though good at my job, not particularly worldly wise outside my comfort zone of accountancy. I’ve never touched a ball of any shape or size since I left school, except playing catch with my daughter, when she was little. So, what hope have I of being a proper grandfather? I doubt if a six-year old has any teenage secrets, yet.

I just have to hope and pray I can get by for one evening and two days without appearing too much of an old fuddy-duddy who has little clue about what’s cool with kids in this technologically driven world.

Peter arrives with a case full of toys from dinosaurs to Whizz-Wheels, his best teddy and an iPad. He thanks me politely for the jigsaw I’ve bought him and sticks it under the bed he’s sleeping in, without even removing the cellophane wrapper. He asks where my X Box is and when I say, with a jokey smile on my face, ‘Oh! All our boxes have gone for recycling,’ he just gives me a steely glare. Downstairs, he wanders across to the TV, looks under it, behind it and turns to me, with his head cocked to one side, big brown eyes looking hopeful, and saying, ‘Where do you play your games, Granddad?’

This is my first glimmer of hope. I enjoyed games when I was a boy. Board games. ‘I’ve a load of games in the cupboard under the stairs,’ I tell him. ‘There’s Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, Draughts, Dominoes, Lotto, Snap… and Monopoly, but that’s a bit old for you.’

‘You mean those silly games with counters and dice? They’re all a bit old for me. And boring. Never mind, I’ve got my iPad. You can go away now Granddad.’ With that he hops onto the sofa, feet up, head bowed over the bright screen and starts swiping and tapping away, face tight with concentration.

And that’s the way it stays until the next day, when we go to the park and he screams around at such a pace I’m frightened of losing him amongst the trees, or him falling headfirst into the lake. Miriam is continuously calling ‘Come back, you’re going too far,’ while constantly telling me to keep up with him, not lose sight of him. I just wish I could. But, like I remember with my own daughter, he soon comes to heel when he knows we are going for ice creams.

Back home, while we wait for a late burger lunch, he picks up his iPad and leaves our world for that of Minecraft, dexterously building scenes, block by block, exploring and wiping out intruders. While I struggle to put together a few blocks of Lego he’d brought with him and make it look like something recognisable.

After lunch, Miriam tells Peter to go and play in the garden, while she tidies up (mainly my mess with the Lego and where I splashed tomato ketchup on the carpet, giving it too hefty a shake onto Peter’s burger. Luckily, I missed his tee shirt, just a small blob or two on his arm. He laughed and said he’s got measles). He runs up and down the path, trailing a long stick he’d spied behind the garden shed (from where I’d cut back the willows at the end) and then he ran to the big conifer that spreads halfway over next door, and started to climb. ‘Mind yourself,’ I call out. ‘Some of the branches are a bit springy. You might slip.’ While my heart’s in my mouth, imagining what I’d tell my daughter if he did fall, he goes up like a builder up a ladder and his head pops out near the top.

‘It’s great up here, Granddad. You can see into everybody’s gardens,’ he calls down. ‘Even the fat lady at the end, hanging out her knickers. They look like kites.’

I cringe, hoping his voice hasn’t carried that far. And hope he says nothing worse, as he points to somebody’s trampoline and another’s fancy fountain. Finally, after a good ten, long minutes he climbs down and runs back over to me and in a low voice says ‘Thanks, Granddad. Mummy hates me climbing trees. You won’t tell her, will you?’

‘No, Peter,’ I say. ‘It’s just our little secret.’ I wink. He smiles. And with few quick skips he’s back inside with his iPad.

Sunday comes, and I manage a sword fight with Peter in the garden, using an old broom handle, cut in two, which, of course, I let him win, and then we kick a football around, for twenty minutes, narrowly missing the greenhouse, twice. After which, he’s back to the iPad followed by some pirate video he’s brought with him.

The afternoon is now drawing on – and I’m counting every minute until six o’clock, when his parents will arrive to collect him. They’ve been away at a wedding that wisely drew the line at youngsters being invited. I know the couple. Not my type. All big SUV’s and loud voices. It was most likely a boozy affair; lewd jokes at the reception and seriously bad adult behaviour in the evening.

By now, I’ve realised that as a granddad, you get exhausted just standing or sitting around staring at the little mite, who buzzes with energy one minute, then dissolves into an app gaming stupor the next, while no matter how hard you try, you can’t think of one thing to break the cycle. And you’re constantly worried if he’s enjoying himself.

It’s four-thirty, after we’ve had tea, and it’s when Miriam is putting away the posh plates in the sideboard that Peter spies the chess set, tucked to one side. ‘Is that your game, Granddad?’ Is that what you play?’ I say yes and ask him if he knew what it was. ‘Chess of course. Daddy plays it.’

I bring it out and set it up on the table. He tells me what each piece is and says, ‘Sometimes Daddy plays a sort of draughts with me, with the pawns.’ So, I ask him if he’d like to play with the other pieces too, thinking I could teach him the rudiments of chess and impress his father.

I show him how the bishops move diagonally, the rooks only in line with the chequers and the knights in L shapes. He seems unimpressed, so I start a game, being careful not to make it too short, by putting him in check to soon. Though Peter has other ideas and soon has me in check, removes three key chess pieces and keeps me struggling to keep the game going. ‘Checkmate, Granddad,’ Peter shouts, looking elated. ‘You’re not very good, are you? Good job you’re not playing my Daddy.’

The parents arrive and are in a hurry to get Peter back home, so not much is said about his stay, other than copious thanks for us having him. But as they all disappear down the drive to the car, I hear Peter asking his mum. ‘Can I come here again, Mummy? It’s much better than my other Granddad’s. I can do what I want and I don’t have to play silly games and make things out of bits of wood or draw pictures with scratchy felt pens. This Granddad is a proper Granddad. He knows what I like to do.’ Then he looks up at his dad. ‘Mind you, he’s rubbish at chess.’
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Just a couple or so short stories for now, but there will be more to follow soon.
You'll find stories like these in two of my books, available as Paperback or a Kindle read from Amazon.
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The Schooling Chair

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