I didn't only have a mass-murderer for a grandfather.
The grandfather that did the majority of the grandfathering had indeed, as I mentioned in a previous post, been responsible for a whole heap of innocent lives being taken, but my other grandfather, the one I only had the pleasure of knowing for a couple of years, was the Spandex and armour clad, cape wearing, masked vigilante who'd been responsible for bringing down many of Gotham City's most murderous miscreants.
My grandfather was Batman.
Hard to believe, I know. I struggled with it myself when my father, the son of Batman, mentioned it whilst teaching me to use a grappling hook. Turned out, though, it was true. Kind of.
The only memories I have of my father's father are of a slight man lay on a beige, leatherette settee, clad in a dressing gown and smiling. I remember his voice from just one of those occasions, the occasion upon which I'd come home from the local Co-op with a red butterfly net, bought with the coin he'd pressed into my hand as I'd kissed him goodbye on my way out of the door with my grandmother. I can still remember the sweet smell of his skin, a smell I became more familiar with in later life.
I asked him if he could take me fishing with it and he said he would, but not this time.
The sweet smell was the sweet smell of the cancer, in his case of the lungs, that had ravaged his body and transformed him from the mountain of a man in the old photographs I still possess to the painfully thin and fragile bag of bones that is my memory of him. By now, his illness had made any fishing expedition impossible but, on the following visit, he kept his word courtesy of a paddling pool, some metal fish and a couple of magnets on homemade, Huckleberry Finn style fishing poles. My granddad had never had a garden before the garden in which we spent that afternoon fishing. He had been lucky enough to be given a lovely, new, three bedroomed council house in Sale as a result of the slum clearance program undertaken in Miles Platting and he loved both of the gardens that came attached to his new, and final, home.
I wore a cowboy hat and sunglasses and had his pipe clamped between my teeth while granddad wore a knotted handkerchief upon his head. It turned out that I was really good at fishing and he was shit, I caught way more fish than he did.
But back to his Super-Hero days. He wasn't, as I'd imagined, THE Batman (even if, by the end, his voice had taken on the timbre of Christian Bale's portrayal). He was just A bat man. No capital "B" and a space in the middle, very disappointing.
Whilst in the army he'd been bat man to Lord Gort, the chap in charge of sneaking our boys back from France in 1940. There has been debate about whether Gort's decision to abandon a counterattack on the German forces alongside the French was brilliant or cowardly. I've no idea, but if we're ever forced to fight that war again I'd vote for taking the same course of action, just in case. I'm sure Hitler saw the retreat as a victory of might and aggression over weakness and cowardice, but look where that got him. The prick.
Before he'd left for France (then returned before leaving again to spend most of the remainder of the war under siege in Malta) he'd come from Monmouth, our ancestors having drifted slowly west since, hundreds of years earlier and during the retreat of the Spanish Armada, our last Iberian ancestor had jumped ship and settled in Wales. The Welsh hated the English more than they hated Johnny Foreigner so he and many of his like minded shipmates had been welcomed warmly into the communities. So much so that, today, the Spanish colouring has become more commonplace among the Welsh than the Celtic colouring that existed before. Take a look at a traditional Welsh doll, you'll not see many ginger examples.
For some reason, we English don't have a traditional, national doll. However, we do at long last have our own national bird. I say our own, we have to share it with the rest of Britain, but fairs fair, they've had to share their oil and coal.
After much debate and a recent national vote we have a winner. Having staved off stiff competition from birds of prey, from puffins and penguins, from kingfishers and from tits both great and small, one bird has emerged from the flock and been officially recognised as our favourite bird, as the bird that epitomises Englishness,
Small, brown and generally unremarkable creatures (aside from a brief spell in winter when, for goodness knows what reason, their chests turn red and we send Christmas cards with their image on), famously territorial and aggressive. I didn't agree with the choice at first, but I suppose it's quite fitting.
One notable and little know fact about our new national bird is that they steal bikes from small children.
Whilst out walking with Dickfingers and her son back in the early days of our relationship during that stage where everything was new and we were still pretending to like one and other we came across a robin. It being close after that season in which we must be jolly, the robin was sporting it's crimson waistcoat. Also as a result of that recent bell jingling season, the spawn of Dickfingers was riding a still-shining new bicycle along a tow path a few feet in front of us. He pulled up suddenly, his progress barred by the aforementioned red breasted robin,
"Shoo!" He called, wafting his hands in the air, "Shoo!".
Up until this point, I had been under the impression that "shoo" was pretty much universally accepted to mean "piss off out of my way", but no. Apparently, to a robin, "shoo" means "fly at my face screeching and scare the shit out of me". The bike clattered to the ground as the terrified child fled.
I didn't laugh but, fuck me, it was funny.
Eager to impress the latest-current-potential-second-Mrs-Spacey I strode over to the bike to reclaim it and vanquish that pesky bird. Turns out, those pesky birds are feisty. He wasn't for giving up his new found and completely impractical mode of transport easily and, my being unwilling to hit him with a branch, I found myself to be the very epitome of a paper tiger. Big enough and with the capacity to smite this winged bully but lacking the killer instinct. And didn't he bloody well know it? I'm sure the blasted bird saw my retreat as a victory of flight and aggression over my own weakness and cowardice, but fuck him. He's probably dead now anyway. The prick.
Eventually, once he'd tired of taunting me and having evacuated his bowels furiously all over the bicycle, robin did as robins do and flew away, taking with him a good chunk of my dignity. Still, to the child hiding behind his mother I was, at least, the bloke who'd valiantly wiped the bird shit from his saddle after being forced into retreat by a currently-remarkable unremarkable bird. To the child's mother, I was the man whose hand she now refused to hold until he could wash it properly.
Sometimes running away is a valid option, sometimes based on instinct and occasionally on cunning or guile. Take, for instance, our pets. Proper pets, not bloody budgies or hamsters. Real pets.
Besides the obvious differences between cats and dogs (the most obvious of which being that cats are evil and dogs are the best thing ever) there's another, less obvious, difference. If a dog gets hurt he returns to the protection of the pack. A cat does the polar opposite. A cat runs away to die, a dog comes home. Both have perfectly fine reasons for their actions. They don't know if their way is the best way, and they'll never know because they only get one shot at shuffling off this mortal coil
People run away a lot. They run away from their problems, run away from bad situations, run away from fights. They run from advancing armies, from big, scary birds and from stricken warships, but running away is subjective. Anyone running is running both away from and toward something. Running from danger is running to safety, hopefully. Whether they're coming or going depends at which of those two points we ourselves are standing.
Whether it's the safety provided by the English channel, the Welsh valleys, your pack or that which the latest in a long line of mummy's new boyfriends can offer, we all need somewhere to run to when things get tough. Loving arms, a warm Welsh woman or a paddling pool in a beloved back garden, they're all in the future and that's the ultimate destination. We can't help but arrive at it, but we can choose where we are when we do. Those points in our lives where we ran away appear as a zig or a zag on our timelines, making for a far more interesting journey before the flat-line of contentment morphs into a very different flat line.