Every time I see a solitary magpie I have to salute him. A tricky manoeuvre when walking through St Stephen’s Green during the morning rush hour (trying not to look mental) but it’s a compulsion I simply can’t suppress. Oftentimes this essential salute has to masquerade as an odd but altogether saner eyebrow scratch so as not to cause fellow commuters any alarm. Equally, dinner plates have to be piping hot; potatoes have got to be Kerr’s Pinks and I simply cannot tolerate bad grammar. And when I’m freaking out over an inappropriate apostrophe or an ice-cold plate, I regularly hear: “Well you didn’t pick that up off the ground” or my other favourite: “you’re definitely a Griffin”.
How is it so? Well, it’s important that I explain the source of what could be construed as my madness. You see Patrick Griffin (otherwise known as Granddad) departed from us over 20 years ago, but daily I’m reminded of him through habits I’ve inexplicably formed or mannerisms that collectively add up to form this elusive creature that is “The Griffin”.
He was a Wesht of Ireland man; a teacher, headmaster, gifted storyteller and one of life’s true gentlemen. Rare nowadays that a guy would stand up if a lady entered the room or left the dinner table. In fact I know plenty that are still struggling with the door-opening basics. Through his impeccable manners, and that of his sons and daughters, it’s difficult for me to accept anything less than a firm handshake and a genuine compliment. Really, anything less is a farce.
He would stay with us for weeks at a time to avail of the sea air and I loved coming home from school and watching his beloved Blockbusters with him. “Gimme an aitch please Bob”. Elder and lemming vying enthusiastically for the most impressive word. My limited vocabulary battling pointlessly against a lifetime of literary experience. Yet all the while his teacher instincts coming to the fore as he made me jot down any new words. His lyrical dexterity inspired my love of language. Because of him I’m a “word nerd”.
People say that music is a powerful trigger to childhood memories. And I’d love to say that Granddad and I rocked it out at early U2 concerts or that we ran wild with the Sawdoctors. But I reckon that’s more Ozzy Osbourne’s style. No, my memories of music with Granddad revolve around Phil Coulter and his Classic Tranquillity album. It was ‘Steal Away’, ‘Fields of Athenry’ and ‘The Town I loved so Well’. Traditional Irish tunes emanating from the car stereo as we made our way towards Connemara or “God’s Country” as he would call it. Granddad’s long, strong legs ensuring that bickering brother and sister were separated by his presidential presence in the back seat.
Only with us for two days and he’d be well in with the neighbours – new friends to salute (alongside lone magpies). That’s just the kind he was – interested and interesting. And a fanatical sports fan. We’re talking anything with a green pitch be it Gaelic football, rugby, hurling, soccer, bowls or snooker -you name it and he could tell you the latest scores and who had scored them. Mom often regales the story of a family holiday in Cliften where this love of sports was most evident. We were all at dinner in the hotel restaurant; Mom, Dad, Granddad, my brother Keith and I. Dad left first, seemingly to go to the bathroom but a bowl of cold soup later and we knew that this wasn’t the case. Then it dawned on Granddad: “I know where Seanie has gone”. Up he leapt (any chance of arthritis forgotten) and with the agility of a man thirty years his junior he fled the restaurant. Mom, Keith and I abandoned for the delights of the Champion’s League.
I’d love to meet Granddad again, perhaps hear first-hand the more bluer of those famed stories. Even just to let him know the Blockbuster sessions worked well for me. But for now I’ll have to make do with preserving his legacy as best I can by keeping the spuds Kerr’s Pinks, the plates hot and those black and white birds saluted.