Today, 2nd February, is my maternal grandad’s birthday. He died at the back end of July, almost four years ago. I remember him as a cheerful and independent man who loved his garden. He painted, he made beautiful things with his hands from wood. He built on a collection of household tools and gadgets to rival the contents of a hardware shop. He sold poppies.
When you lose someone, you realise that you didn’t know them as well as you thought. You remember all the questions you wanted to ask but never did. Stories come out, the kind that only emerge when people’s thoughts are settled on the one who has left; stories that you never heard before, that paint a completely different picture of the person you knew. Sometimes these stories are best left unspoken. Others are truly beautiful.
Of all of last week’s news reports, the one that struck me the most was the rather bizarre incident in which a headteacher of a school in Lancashire told his pupils that World War Three had broken out – at morning assembly.
Playing prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s original 1939 address and showing the children footage of the Blitz, he then told them that London was being bombed and then – here’s the cruncher – led them all into a cellar and set off a firework to simulate a bomb.
Have you ever read Neil Gaiman’s short story of the twelve months? The idea of personifying the months of the year is by no means one that Gaiman invented, or even a particularly new idea. It’s one that has long existed in folklore. Personally, I like to think of the months in terms of colours, flavours and textures. For me, a month is personified in things I can touch, hear, see, taste and smell.
November is the time of year which is the most sensory to me. November smells of damp earth and clean air, it sounds like fallen leaves crunched underfoot. It tastes like homemade broth. It feels like cold rain; and its colour is particularly significant. November is the only month of the year which is dyed red.