It was a dreary Friday at the beginning of February, 1931. According to the Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press, Tate’s on Corporation Road in Chesterfield had a sale on, selling a 3 piece suite for £9-£10 (even after inflation, to £617 today, that is a pretty good deal). Robert, James, John, William, Richard, Charles and Donald were the in vouge baby names for the country. And It was a day which had no discernible historic merit for most. But for me, despite my lack of existence, it is one of the most important days in history.
For George and Dorophy it was a lovely, yet probably quite stressful day. The couple welcomed the birth of their fifth Son George Frank Wright into their home, but he was known to everyone as Frank. At the age of 14, as the second world war ended, he started as an apprentice motor mechanic, from which he would have many stories.
Four years later, at the age of 18, he would serve his national service, spending three years in Singapore & Malaya, taking part in the period in history known as the Malayan Emergency. He told me stories of the Guerrilla warfare tactics employed by the Malayan Liberation army. As a child I thought he sounded like a superhero. As an adult I can admit that we were on the wrong side of that conflict, but I can respect that he was doing his duty. His military time, though short, had obviously made an impact on him. As a naïve and curious child, I once asked him if he had ever killed a man when he was in the Army, to which he did respond, to his credit. He told me that there was one time where he thought he did, but that he couldn’t be sure. He was on patrol, and their was a raid, he and others shot into the brush in the forest and some opposition combatants died. He said that he could never be sure, but even as a child I could see the regret in his eyes.
His military stories weren’t all scary, although one in particular always comes to mind when I have a glass of water. He told me of one man in his platoon who would drink four pint glasses of water before every meal, and that he once drank so much that he nearly drowned. I’m starting to doubt the validity of that story now, but I look back on it fondly every time I pick up a glass of water.
After his time was served he returned to Derbyshire and continued his career as a motor mechanic. Through ups and downs he continued at the job from 1951 to 1989. He would tell stories about the cars he had driven, I even think I remember him telling me about a bus he drove into the mechanic bay once, terrified as he did it. My favourite story of his time as a mechanic was something that I think was one of his favourite memories of the job too, driving Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang down to the movie location south of London (correction: I’ve since been told he just drove it around Nottingham, but still very cool!) in far less time than it should take to drive from Derbyshire to London.
In 1955 he lost his father to a Stroke at the age of 61, caused by a blood clot which he had developed following a work accident thirteen years earlier, when Frank was just 10 years old. I don’t really remember him talking about his father much, if at all, but I’m sure he would have loved to have his father see the man he would become.
A year later, on 16th of June 1956, He married the Love of his life Mavis Saville, my Granny. They would spend the rest of his life together and have two wonderful daughters, Joanne Margaret Wright (Mum) and Heather Louise Wright (Aunty H). His Daughters would grow up and have Children of their own, with him eventually having four grandsons and one (favourite) granddaughter.
My memories of my grandad are full and varied. I remember walks in the park, being told off for not looking when I crossed the road, staying up late and playing mastermind or chess with him (I always lost). But most of all, beyond all that, I loved listening to the stories he would tell me.
We used to stay up late to talk when I stayed over, It was probably about 9pm, but I was young. He was a man full of stores. He once told me that he had dreamt the lottery numbers, written them down, and then they were correct the next day. He told me fantastical stories about silly conspiracy theories, about historical events, a lot of stuff I didn’t understand about trains. I could have listened to him forever.
He would often drive us to the park, where we could feed the ducks (and geese, who he would try to protect us from), usually with my Gran, but sometimes to give her a break. He kept a little tin of sweets in his car that I will always consider grandads driving sweets, and have only ever seen sold in petrol stations. He actually kept gloves in the glovebox, and he used a physical steering wheel lock to keep his car secure.
As a mechanic it was no surprise that he loved cars, old and new. As I myself recently became interested in motorsport, I can really see why he loved it so much. In July when me and my Brother Ben hopefully go to Silverstone for the Formula One Grand Prix, current restrictions allowing, I know that we will both be thinking about him as the cars fly past us.
I will always remember the day he went into hospital. I was at home, alone I think, when my dad showed up. He was supposed to be at a conference or retreat near Nottingham. He had been told that my Grandad was ill, and to save my mum the heartache of being told on the phone, he had driven all the way back to North Wales to tell her in person, and to take her down to see him. When I saw my dad, without knowing anything, we both burst into tears. I must have known, somehow, that him being home was a sign that something, somewhere, was wrong.
My last memory of my grandad is one that I think tells you a lot about the person he was. I went to visit him in hospital, and he apologised that he hadn’t shaved. I chuckle to myself every once in a while, thinking about his beautiful mindset in that moment.
I was only fifteen when he died, but seeing him in his hospital bed made me feel like I was five. I was scared of life without him, I was afraid of losing out on my time with him. Now that I have lived nearly as long without him in my life as I did with him, I can safely say that he is still with me.
The beginning of the year is always difficult for my family, as we remember the death of my grandfather. As we come around to February however, we have a great excuse to remember his life. Grandad would have been 90 today.
My grandfathers life was full and interesting. He was complex, thoughtful, and varied. He never let anyone win, you had to earn it. He was intelligent and kind. He was not perfect, but to me he was as close as could be. He continues to this day to be an inspiration in everything that I do, and I believe always will. I wish he could see how he inspired me, and I wish he could see me get married later this year. I think about him every day, and hope that I will never forget a single memory.