The importance of oral history and family
My dad is 77 in February and my boy has just turned ten. I stand at 44 years old and am the bridge between two very different worlds.
I mean, how many changes has the world seen in the last 50 years? My boy will never know the world my dad was born into and grew up in ... post-war Greenock in Scotland. My dad struggles to use cash points.
I however have a reasonable grasp of both. What I have been privileged to see is a life starting from scratch, taking on the characteristics of those personalities bringing him up.
The humour, positivity and energy and, what I think is the most important trait, the ability to laugh at oneself.
My old fella is knocking on but one thing that keeps his outlook young is the laugh he has with his grandkids and people around him.
Getting old is no fun, he says, when you reach the point where life stops giving and starts taking, when you’re the last of eight brothers, a widower and you're losing teeth quicker than Leeds United losing a two-goal lead at Spurs due to eating toffee and various other calamitous confectionary concoctions. Why should I stop eating what I enjoy, he asks?
He likes a bet, a pint and to keep busy.
My lad Sonny is blessed. By that I mean to have a grandparent he has, the stories and influences this brings.
Don’t get me wrong, my dad's a master at social intercourse and, as anyone who meets him once will tell you, is definitely a character.
Via the magic of social media and the following of the Argyll and Sutherland FB page, we had the chance to attend my dad's army regimental reunion in Scotland.
With a bit of juggling around, being the busiest and most stressed I've felt in my life, I arranged for us to go away together, mindful that this could be a good opportunity to learn a thing or two.
As my dad gets free travel for us after years on the railway, we were OK for the trains. But the one thing that drives me mad is poor accomodation. It's one thing to stay at a basic Travelodge but it was my boy's first visit to Scotland and we were stopping in three places, the itinerary being Glasgow, Edinburgh and last stop Stirling.
Being on the move, it was really important to have a comfortable base, be fed and watered and rested properly. But what chance of that was there with the Three Stooges we are and ridiculous situations we find ourselves in.
I need not have feared for, after doing my research, we decided on Cairn Hotels in each city for our stay, as they looked amazing.
We got great rest, excellent food, the whole experience of quality digs making the whole break that much more special.
I cannot recommend these hotels enough. Nothing was too much trouble for our hosts and the facilities were spot on.
Having this time in these surroundings enabled my dad to relax enough to tell his tales of growing up joining the army, enjoying some real quality time away from all the distractions of home, having those conversations and making lasting shared memories for Sonny that I unfortunately never had with my granda's.
They passed before I was born so I never got to know anything about the kind of people they were, only tales of their character and feats in a world where technology meant inside toilets and gas ranges inside houses.
My dad often claims his grandmother would not be able to comprehend the changes in society as the world was a much more unforgiving place back then. Social and economic poverty rife at the turn of the century, it was hard work just raising a family.
Things are being taught in schools that were not only frowned upon, but are still seen as taboo for folks over a certain age.
Men wearing skirts? "I was wearing one when I marched into Crater and retook the city with my regiment!"
The importance of oral history must not be lost to modern technology. There was no Instagram, Snapchat or other impersonal recording techniques. Your scars were your stories, as my dad puts it. And the preservation of family identity must be nurtured.
While we were away, the best thing we had was time together, time away from screens and time for my dad to talk and listen with us. Every tour bus we went on, café we sat in or castle we looked around, in particular Stirling Castle, where my dad was based for his training.
We spent a good few hours looking at the marvellous exhibits, listening to my dad tell his tales, my lad soaking everything in, maybe seeing my dad in a different light.
The reunion came and went with my dad seeing some old comrades, showing us he was at one time part of something bigger. But that belongs in the past.
The whole point of this trip shifted from me trying to do a good thing for my dad getting back up the road, watching the transition of knowledge and experience, appreciation of not only a life well lived but life worth talking about.
My old man once said the most important thing you can give anyone is your time. I know when my time comes, if I'm blessed with grandkids, I will be the one biting feet and telling them they don’t know how lucky they are. We never had flying scooters in the '90s!
It turns out my old man can say whatever he wants, whether he gets into trouble or not! I don’t think he'll be worrying about getting a telling off anytime soon. I think he's earned that right too!