Saturday 20 July 2019

George Hook: I need to stay alive for nine more years

He recognises that time is not on his side, but George Hook has a few things he needs to do before he goes - mainly involving his grandchildren

George Hook
George Hook

George Hook

I did not have a grandfather. Well, that is not strictly true. I had two grandfathers like everybody else, but they died before I was born. As with many men born in the 19th Century, they did not see their 50th birthday, and my parents would have lost a father when they were still children.

My paternal grandmother I barely knew, because although my father and I would visit her in his sister's home after Mass on Sunday, she died when I was very young.

My mother's mother lived very close to us. In fact, the proverbial stone's throw away. We lived in Albert Road; 'Jewtown' to generations of Corkonians. The two-up, two-down terraced houses had an outside toilet and no running water, save a tap in the yard. My grandmother lived almost immediately behind us. We were in number 79, she was in 88.

Directly behind us were the O'Connells, whose daughter had a cleft lip. Nobody ever saw her as the parents were ashamed, and she was not allowed outside, nor to go to school. To this day, my memory is filled with the little girl's plaintive singing in an unintelligible language because of her disability. She was in the yard, hidden by the wall between us.

Visits to granny in number 88 were important. There was a shilling for the movies, and, in the evenings, the special treat of sharing her bottle of stout.

A pre-teen George was given a glass of the black stuff, sweetened with sugar and warmed with a poker from the fire. Modern parenting experts would be aghast, yet I suffered no lasting harm. Sadly, she died before I was old enough to know her as a person.

Today, I am a grandfather of eight. They are aged between one and 14 and I am resolved, if God spares me, to give them what I did not have.

However, I am old-fashioned in my approach to grandparenting. The children are lucky enough to have three grandfathers. One has a pet name, one is called by his Christian name, but I insist, under pain of corporal punishment, on being addressed as 'Grandad'.

The gender balance is perfect: four and four, but because three of the first four are boys, I have found kicking a football, hitting a golf ball or throwing a cricket ball to be a natural source of companionship. I am struggling to find common ground with the girls. Somehow, I sense that my love of reading will give me an entry into their young minds.

I want to be part of their education. I am appalled at modern teaching methods, and feel that what I learned in the 1950s still has a value. It is fun to do mental arithmetic with one, Irish with another, and business studies with the only secondary-school student.

Milestones I hope to reach

Yet every day is tinged with sadness. I have already passed the Biblical lifetime of three score years and 10. If I get another nine years of meaningful life to 85, only two of my grandchildren will have graduated college. The youngest will still be in primary school, and will view me much as I did my grandmother in number 88.

There are milestones I hope to reach. In five years, perhaps see one of the boys in Lansdowne Road for the Schools Cup final, and a proud grandmother in the stand with a new outfit.

It could be a great year. George the fourth might walk through the gates of Presentation College Cork for the first time, as I had done almost 80 years before. He would be 13, whereas I was five, but I want to be there on that first day.

Three girls would then be on the threshold of adulthood in school and facing none of the obstacles of gender equality that were part and parcel of their predecessors' lives.

I need nine years minimum to be complete; to be what my parents and grandparents were not. This will not be a period of babysitting or school pick-ups.

We are the generation of longevity, of new hips and knees, and an expectation of a pension that is real.

Do we waste it on bridge games or rounds of golf, or give to a questioning generation the life principles they crave?

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