One of my Dad's poems
At the age of fourteen, just an ordinary bloke
At that age I started work to earn a wage
It was nineteen forty one, we were at war with Germany
That is how it starts, it soon gets out of hand,
There was no warning of the dangers involved
Most of the stars of stage or screen
Also the Prime Minister did not go far
As the war went on, my smoking got worse
At eighteen to serve my country I was called
We were given fifty fags a week for free
After all the damage was done;
I stopped smoking but far too late
Now I'm paying for my smoking mania
Not very nice but it could have been worse
Arthur William Graney
A rant against the evil weed
The last time I saw my father alive he was sitting in a hospital bed, propped on several pillows and being fed mashed fish with a teaspoon. He was not an old man although he had become very elderly. Never a particularly active man, he spent nearly all of his working life in sedentary, clerical occupations. Even in his youth he was never a sportsman and preferred a cigarette to a game of football. Therein lies the answer to why a man of seventy-one is dead and gone when people fifteen years older than him are running marathons and finding new challenges to fill their retirement years.
I was not a very dutiful son. To my shame I should have realised earlier that there was so little time left and visited more often. I should have tried to close the gap that had opened between us and now it is too late. That is not to say that we were on bad terms. When we met things were cordial enough but a little distant. I somehow felt that he did not understand me or what I stood for. In truth the problem was probably more that I did not understand him or what was important to him. Had he lived until I entered my own third age we just might have begun to draw closer together. As his oldest child I took on the responsibility of writing and delivering his funeral oration. It was the least I could do. I stood there in front of a congregation of about sixty members of our extended family and four friends. It was the way he chose to live his life, as a family man, there were very few people he would call a friend. It is a trait I share; I am not good at keeping in touch with people. I tend not to allow acquaintanceships to develop into friendships. In more ways than like to admit, I am quite like him except that I do not smoke. I am not saying that I never did. Like most teenagers I experimented with the evil weed. Unlike most teenagers I was a pipe smoker. I don't believe that I was ever an addict because giving up was so easy. Even thirty years later I sometimes catch a whiff of Balkan Sobranie and a nostalgic sense grips me and even tempts me to take it up again. I have not and I will not do so. I only have to remember the mashed fish.
I wanted to speak at the funeral about my anger against tobacco but my family said that it was not the right place. I doubt that they would have been so squeamish about the cause of his death if he had been run over by a bus.
At the family gathering after the cremation, singularly appropriate as his whole life had gone up in smoke, a large number of my relations were actually smoking! One of my sisters who has not up to now been a victim of the vile weed has actually taken it up recently! I cannot find the words to adequately express my stupefied amazement at this. I am stunned beyond belief to think that anyone could be so stupid. Paraquat is a far more merciful killer than tobacco and generally only takes a couple of days about it. On the containers that paraquat is sold in it says "Never drink this stuff - it's a deadly poison" or words roughly to that effect. On the containers that tobacco is sold in it says "Some doctors think that this stuff can harm you" or some mealy mouthed platitude like that.
There can really be no lack of available knowledge on this subject despite the well-documented efforts of the major drug dealing companies to keep it quiet. More is published every day. In the U.S. where any of the companies that peddle this dangerous drug are based, there are cases pending in the courts which could cost them untold billions. The fact is that they have untold billions so this may not upset them too much. Every day new recruits are added to the list of addicts. This is also true of the recognised hard drugs such as heroin and Cocaine. Millions are spent by governments all over the world in an attempt to prevent the distribution of these dangerous naturally occurring substances and punish the people who deal in them. Admittedly these efforts are met with only marginal success but the situation with these substances would be much worse without them.
Why then are similar efforts not made to suppress tobacco? If Sir Walter Raleigh was an explorer of this age and returned from some remote uncivilised area bringing with him a new drug which was highly addictive, lethal and unpleasantly smelly to boot, he would be in real trouble. The stuff would at least be confiscated and destroyed.
When will we wake up to this evil killer in our midst?
These are the inadequate words that I said at my father's funeral
I was going to start this part of the ceremony with the words "Our Father" but I thought that some of you might get the wrong idea. Dad was, after all, not simply that. He was Father-in-Law, Brother, Brother-in-law, Uncle, Cousin, Granddad and Friend to each of you here. He was father to me Jenny, Lynda, Susan, Billy and Sally and husband to our mum Betty
Arthur William Graney was born on the 30th of December 1927. His mother, Alice, was a housekeeper and his father, William, was a sometime soldier, postal worker and gardener. He had an older brother John, whose name I carry, two sisters, Joan and Phoebe, and two younger Brothers Teddy and Ronnie. All except John are with us today.
He grew up and went to school in Croydon. Like most working class children he left school at 14 regardless of ability. What he might have been if he had had the opportunities generally available today is impossible to say. Nevertheless he made his way in the world using his brains and in that he was an example to all of us.
Tragedy struck the family in 1944. In the space of a few weeks John was killed when HMS Blackwood was torpedoed off Portland and Joan's Husband, Percy died serving with 126 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery in Normandy. Both these events had a profound effect on him and the whole family.
Towards the end of the war Dad joined the RAF. He used to tell the tale that he had volunteered for aircrew but instead found himself flying a desk at the start of his RAF career rather than at the end of it. Who knows if we would have been here to day if he had taken to the skies in those dangerous aircraft in dangerous days? (There is at least one person here who survived the experience.) On the other hand some of us, me included, might never have been born.
Amongst the jobs Dad did in those early days was to operate a lift in Allders department store in Croydon. He used to tell how a group of VIPs got into the lift. One of them, possibly the then Mayor of Croydon, was unnecessarily condescending to the point of rudeness. Dad, reasonably as it seemed to him at the time, pointed out a few of the man's character faults and personal failings and offered some helpful instruction on how to deal with people. This led to him finding a job in Marks and Spencer's and eventually that led to him meeting mum. Therein lies the story of the rest of his life and it is where the six of us come in. They were married on 24 December 1949. Whatever the trials and tribulations along the way, and the path was not always smooth, the permanency of their partnership was another of the examples we were offered.
When I was a little boy I noticed that my father was different from the other fathers in the street. He didn't have mucky overalls and he always had a row of pens and pencils in his top pocket. He rode his bicycle about twenty miles a day to and from work. Every Friday night he brought home sweets for us kids. When he could get it, mine was a Mackintoshes Toffee Cup wrapped in silver paper. I don't think that they have been made for years.
In the middle 1950s we were one of the first families in the street to get a television and the house was, for a while, full of curious, not to say odd, children. I remember the day that Dad had to explain to me, and my cousin Barry, why it was that different television sets appeared to have the same programmes on them.
Every year that the money could stand it there was a family holiday at the seaside. One of the features of these was the walks. Not strolls you understand, not a gentle promenade along the esplanade to take in the sun. Oh no. I remember one in North Devon, by Westward Ho! with Mum and Dad and Me and Jenny and Lynda in the pushchair, which was probably a ten or twelve mile circular route over shingle beach and rough country and included having to climb a sandstone cliff because the tide was coming in behind us. Memory plays tricks over the intervening forty years but I really can't believe that it is very far out.
Dad was a complicated man;
He was an instinctive arithmetician. Who found it hard to believe that not everybody could crunch numbers in their head as well as he could,
He was a keen follower of the turf. Who would often bet pennies on long odds but never bet pounds in a way that might cause his family to go without. And who sometimes got it spectacularly right! There have been holidays and new things for the house that came from a few pence invested if not wisely, then certainly well.
He was a comic poet of considerable talent. Whose odd odes about family life will stay with us all for the rest of our lives.
Most people can do some things well. Many people find something in life that they do really well. In later life Dad found a new vocation. He became a granddad. This job started twenty-four years ago and continued right up to the last. As with any job he did, he believed in working hard and not whingeing about the overtime. Sadly he missed the chance to be a great-grandfather by only a few weeks.