I've been thinking about my (maternal) grandfather - "little grandad", as opposed to the other one who was "big".
He was in the trenches in the first world war and that gives me a sense of connection to those awful events, months, years - because he was there and because he was also part of my life.
Somewhere in my family there is a great photo I remember of him, aged probably in his 40s, with a couple of mates in the sunshine, baggy trousers, vest and braces, cigarette... but I couldn't find it in my scrapbooks and stache of old photographs. The search has taken more time than I'd planned to spend (time, tears, smiles) so I now don't have the time I'd planned to spend scanning in pictures.... sorry.
His name was Harry, he was an east-ender - too young to fight in WW1 but he lied about his age in order to go to war and he and his brother and best friend Tom were there in the mud and blood and thunder, in the first gas attack at Ypres and other horrors and lucky to ever come safely home.
Little grandad couldn't fight in WW2 because the shattered ear drums he came home with in 1918 left him very deaf - so he stayed in London and served as a first-aid officer. I remember him patching up my childhood scrapes and scratches and wish it was still possible to buy kaolin poultice, I know the smell would transport me right back there to his gentle firm hands on my little legs.
He dug for victory during the war and one of my strongest childhood memories is his long, long, narrow immaculate garden in north east London - fruit, veg, greenhouse, the smell of tomato plants also transports me back to him. And chrysanthemums, dahlias, old fashioned pinks and aquilegia.
I so loved staying with nan and grandad, I remember a huge soft puffy heavy old eiderdown and the hard heavy towel-wrapped stone hot waterbottle. He was strict in a way which made me know I was safe and loved. He loved war films and westerns and his hearing aid whistled constantly.
Heres a photo after all, quickly photographed - one of my favourite family photos ever, July 1920.
My daughter was quite profoundly struck by the death, recently, of the last surviving participant in the 1914-18 war - she is troubled by the fact that there is no longer anyone with us who was actually there, who could tell us.
I very much wish she could have known little grandad. If I could spend time with and get to know better one of my grandparents, it would be him.
This morning I finished reading Avilion - a very long-awaited sequel to Robert Holdstock's (wonderful) Mythago Wood, which I was going to write about but there are quite enough of my words here already.
But one of the images in the book is that of a battlefield of tartan, and at the end of the book is this poem written by the author:
The Field of Tartan (written for my grandfather. Who walked across this field on the Somme: July 1916).
I walked for my life, across a field of tartan
The Scots went first. They had it worst. The First, the Twenty-First. Highlanders. They sowed the seeds, the soft touch Of fabric-woven earth, over which we walked. They had been mown down to a man.
They made a field of tartan.
Before they went, they sang, The songs were haunted. We joked about their skirts; they took it in good part, there was a sense of peace, Resignation! That touch of Spartan in each heart.
(He walks for his life, across a field of tartan)
No mud when the top was crossed, When the iron wind blasted and counter-crossed, Seeking the marrowbone, the head, the heart,
Taking us down into that field of tartan.
It was so strange, so savage. Astonishing to find no earth, just fallen flesh To briefly meet a dying gaze, A last remembered highland day. To walk over limbs clad in scarlet tartan. And we slipped and slid upon the patterned cloth, but made the other line. There was killing, then. No charms, just arms, the sinking down, the frightened frown, Flesh suddenly shaped into dirt, life dearth, Blood silt, Nothing to hearten us Except our unwanted luck at walking over hand-weaved kilt. Not sinking into earth. Walking across a field of tartan.
Robert Holdstock, March 2008 (revised September 2008) published in Avilion, London: Gollancz 2009, p.339-340