Friday, 8 August 2014

Fire and concentration…

There he is, he never changes. Same cap, same jacket, same expression on his face. The granddad I remember wasn’t much of a smiler. A quiet man, I only saw him laugh once or twice and he spoke in pauses, silences, and a collection of grunts. But then I wasn't around him much, so I'm sure that there was much more to him than I knew.

My memories of him are few. I only saw him for brief holidays and when he and my grandmother came to visit at Christmas. They always brought the most enormous fresh turkey, as big as me it seemed. I always thought that he looked sad somehow, my granddad not the turkey. But that could be my memory playing tricks, maybe I interpreted his quietness as melancholy. I have a much later memory of him on a Friday night drinking whisky at a strange little pub, playing cribbage, and laughing. I think that’s one of the last memories I have of him.

Most of my recollections are tinged with the views of my parents and their judgement on people is particularly poor. So somewhere between what they said, and the fleeting time I spent with him, I've built up an image of my granddad that will be far less that the truth. He bought me a huge box of old Meccano from an auction one time. The original stuff and the best present I ever had. Perhaps he wanted me to become an engineer or a blacksmith like he was; anyway I like to think so.

Once, I must have been five or six, I watched him make the rim for a cartwheel. I seemed to know what was going on without being told and I think understood instinctively what was happening and how it was done. Maybe that’s just hindsight and wishful thinking. He told me to keep away from the fire. But of course I didn’t and moved in far too close, getting full of smoke and soot. I was like that - a naughty, disobedient, not very likable boy.

Hard, hard, work with a rim of steel deep in the fire until hot, red hot, then hammered on the round stone you see in the background onto the wooden cartwheel in the doorway and plunged into water from the tank to cool. Look how he watches the fire, waiting for the iron to be hot enough to expand and be ready to hammer onto the wooden edge of the wheel. Fascinated, I watched him hold the rim with long metal tongs and hammer it on, round and round, round and round, until it fitted perfectly.

Of course this picture, lent to me by my cousin Sharon, was taken years later. Some time in the seventies. He’s shoeing a wheel for a Romany caravan; a real one, not a tinker’s rig. I wonder if they paid him in cash or lucky charms and homemade whisky? The children from the local school in Wragby came to watch, and Yorkshire Television filmed him at his work. Even then wheelwright work was a disappearing art.

So there he is; same cap, same jacket, same expression on his face. I doubt there are many who could hammer a metal rim onto a wooden cartwheel these days. I don't think I knew him very well, just those opinions of my parents and the short experiences I had of him. Looking at this picture of him gazing into the fire, watching and waiting for the heat to be just right, I can almost see what he is thinking - almost, but not quite.

I know that look. I feel it on my own face when I am trying to work something out; where to put the next splash of paint, what that sentence should really feel like. I can’t rim a cartwheel though, I only wish that I could.

Fire and concentration. That is all there really is to everything.


  1. A disappearing art. In his own way, he was an artist just like you. It's not a very clear picture but I think I see your likeness.


    1. From:

      Yes, I can definitely see the resemblance. He had a proper job didn't he? My own grandfather on my Dad's side had a proper job too. He was a steel worker at Shotton. He was practically blind when he finished due to the glare of the furnace. Safety goggles weren't enforced in those days. They gave him a 'bloody clock that I can't even see' when he was pensioned off. I remember him as a taciturn, grumpy bugger too, but salt of the earth.

    2. Proper job, proper clothes, proper gardening (vegetables)... Not like us nanceys.

  2. Sharon Taylor on FB
    Thank you to my cousin Andrew, who has beautifully brought to life a black and white photo of our Grandad, a little piece of my childhood I will be eternally grateful for. Frederick James William Hieght (aka Billy) was a wonderful man whom I loved dearly.

    1. Andrew Height
      I envy you your memories Sharon. Mine are limited to say the least. x

    2. Sharon Taylor
      I don't think I appreciated him as much as I should have, but I suppose that is the same for everyone you lose.

    3. Andrew Height I think that depends on the person you lose Sharon. I have good memories of granddad though, and no negative ones.

    4. Sharon Taylor
      Unfortunately I have lost a lot of people over the years, most of whom are important enough to pop into my head on a regular basis. You may have been lucky, I do hope so xxxx

    5. Andrew Height
      Lost a few one way or another. Depends how you define lost. if you mean died, then yes, I've had a few of those too.

    6. Sharon Taylor
      not like xxxx