Sunday, 18 December 2011

Grandad Tom and The Dragon

12:06:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , , , , , , , 4 comments
by Rachel McGladdery

My childhood was difficult. I spent large tracts of it with my grandparents at times of trauma (which were frequent), not that I’m complaining. When I stayed with my grandparents, I was bathed, warm, fed and always had clean clothes to wear, this was due to the wonderful mothering I received from my grandma - granddad did the other stuff every child needs, he filled my head with rubbish... other dimensions, fairies, elves (told with such astonishing flair that I actually saw them, digging for coal in the cellar) in addition, each evening that he wasn’t ‘on nights’, granddad would tell me stories at bedtime. He would hitch up his trousers and sit with a sigh on the little chair by my bed and begin.

Each story had me as the eponymous heroine, whether fighting for Earth’s survival against aliens in ‘Rachel and the Spaceship’ or hunting for rainbow cloth in ‘Rachel and the Fairies’. But my favourite was ‘Rachel and the Dragon’. This would see me questing for gold and magic rings, looking to slay an ancient dragon and steal its hoard, but eventually panned out to a battle of wits in which me and the dragon would become firm friends and I would get a fair share of the treasure, leaving the dragon enough to see it through till old age. I swear that the man had magic. No doubt the tales were forged from a mixture of Ursula Le Guin and Tolkein with a smattering of C.S. Lewis thrown in for good measure, but the detail and the clarity not to mention the affection which he wove into them, made them as real as could be. He read a lot, complained as he was getting older that there were ‘no new stories.’

Granddad died 7 years ago, and I miss him, I mourn more for the fatherly comforting presence that my younger children are denied, I do tell the children stories in which they emerge as the heroes, I base them loosely on Enid Blyton but they aren’t a patch on granddad’s. He began telling stories to his brothers when he was a lad, carried on telling them in order to survive school and openly admitted that he made them as bloodthirsty and erotic as he could as he moved into his teens, then a hiatus for the war, before more stories with his own children and eventually his grandchildren. The last time I saw him before he took to his deathbed, he sat with my two boys then aged 7 and 8 and I went out to the backyard to watch the tableau through the window. My view was made swimmy with old glass and tears, but he leant forward, spittle on his lips, in the certain knowledge that this was his last chance, vehemently telling them tales of his childhood and the war, teaching them, through stories, how to be men.

Granddad once said when I was very young, ‘You’ll be a writer when you grow up, because you’ve had a bad childhood’. Granddad, some of it was terribly bad, but I survived, thanks to you and Grandma, and I am a writer, not because my childhood was bad, but because you made it enviable.


vicky ellis said...

Rachel, your grandad sounds wonderful :) What a good idea to make the child the hero in the story. I'm going to try that out on the next child I tell stories to (not mine, I need to borrow one!).

My mum used to make up a story for me every night. They were stories about a little mouse who lived in the garden. The mouse used to make use of the flora to make practical items for her house - an acorn cup to drink from, large leaves for rugs and curtains etc. Stories from books are great but there's nothing quite like having someone make a story up 'just for you'.

A beautiful guest post Rachel - thank you :) xxx

Ste said...

As someone who never really knew their grandparents I am super jealous reading this. What a great grandpa and great post too :)

Ashley R Lister said...


Your Grandad sounds like an inspirational storyteller. I really admire anyone who can make up a story on the spot and doesn't have to sit down and draft and revise a dozen versions before it's ready for public consumption.

A great post.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff, thanks. Dave.