Now my old Grandpa was a wise man. Not that I was always ready to acknowledge it. It’s a hasty, rush about, see-everything and reflect little world for your average eight year old. So I must confess I showed little interest in the meaning of his words, or any message they might contain. When Grandpa found himself unable to resist imparting a gem or two to his errant grandson I’m afraid the usual response was to listen politely (usually), make what I supposed was a suitable expression and then, largely, so it must have seemed, forget all about what he had said, and go straight back to the toy box.
I wasn’t by any means showered with advice and telling anecdotes. Quite the reverse. But perhaps here is evidence of how he, a slightly grizzled sage in my memory, was already a step ahead of me. The fewer words there were, the more I was likely to remember them. And it worked. What you’re reading is proof of that.
Despite my best boyish efforts to the contrary I stumble across moments when I hear his words again. My mind turns back to that small flat and again I can see that white head, the slow nod and the beckoning finger. I feel the warm arm which wrapped itself around me, drawing me close, and again I smell the pungent mix of tobbacco and … ‘Grandad’ – a smell that is impossible to describe because it has only ever belonged to him.
As I waited, nestled into his arm, looking perhaps at the grey stubble on his chin or the thinning white hair, his soft but clear voice would begin with an unchanging preamble:
“Now, let me tell you something son. Listen close and you’ll understand one day.” He’d fix my eyes with his, nod once when he thought I was listening and begin. Sometimes it was a simple sentence. Sometimes two or three, but seldom more. No explanation, just the words or statements, a smile, and I was released to carry on with whatever I had been doing. Or not, perhaps.
But here’s the thing. They do come back. And they are beginning to make sense. Or rather, they are helping me to make some sense of the world*. This week I find myself reminiscing about the wise words of that still familiar retired painter from West Ham as I read of the U.K’s apparent distaste for more E.U. directives.
For one thing my Grandad, who had survived one World War and sent sons to fight in a second, would probably have shared what seems to be the popular reaction to the new directives. He certainly had no love of Europeans. But actually, the news reports have reminded me of something else.
“Now, let me tell you something son. Listen close and you’ll understand one day. You can’t always get something for nothing.”
It seems that we in the U.K. are paying slightly more for the eggs that we use and may also have to pay a rise in air fares. Both results of Brussells legislation. But behind the presses indignant response lies a more human and, I’m afraid, painfully obvious fault. We want to have our cake and eat it (actually that’s one my grandad didn’t impart to my young ears.)
The rise in the cost of eggs is due to a change in the regulations regarding the farming of chickens. They now have to be housed in more humane conditions, given access to what were previous luxuries such as light and air, and allowed some element of choice in where they sit or perch.
The possible rise in air fares is because European airports will be imposing a tax on aircraft landing on their runways. The idea here was to encourage airlines to work co-operatively to reduce the amount of flights and thereby reduce the millions of gallons of fuel being used and sent straight out into the atmosphere.
So, both positive steps you would think. I’d rather eat an egg from a happy chicken. And I am yet to hit the heady heights of taking the ability to fly through the air as a right rather than a luxury. Especially when it is leaving a terrible legacy for my grandchildren. The only problem is that we will have to part with some cash if these changes are to be realised.
A slight pause here will suffice – yes, and there are lots of other things that we want to be better in the world but we don’t actually want to pay for them. How many of us balked at buying long life lightbulbs because they cost more? And organically grown food? Installing solar power? Or, at the other end of the scale, how many of us prefer to buy our clothes dirt cheap and not ask too many questions about why they only cost a few pounds? It should cost more than a few pence to pay someone to make clothes, surely?
We want a world of equality. A world that is sustainable and fair, for every living thing. But relatively few of us it seems, are prepared to pay for it. We prefer it to think it can be achieved for free.
We, and by that I mean the ordinary, everyday kind of person – I won’t say ‘man in the street’ (see Vox Pap) – we are going to have to decide whether we really do want genuine change. Because if we do, we are going to have to be prepared to pay for it. In cash.
Personally, I would rather hand over some money if it means a world that matches change with integrity. The alternative seems to be giving my conscience as a blank check to ‘progress’. **
So it seems that my old Grandad did teach me something after all. “You can’t have everything for nothing.” I just wish he were here to share it with him.
* In the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens it seems appropriate here to paraphrase him: By ‘the world’ we mean all the villians and rascals in it.
** I am all for genuine improvement. When I use the term ‘progress’ in the negative it just means all those things that we now do or aim to do… but for no other reason than that we can now do them.
- Hwk (slideshare.net)