Howard Croft column: Grandchildren proud of their old relatives

Grow old gracefully and embrace the introudction of young life.

People go to some lengths to conceal evidence of advancing years, some of them starting from an early age. Lying about age is, I suppose, fairly common but I detect a gender (if I may use that word) difference: women will tend to claim to be younger that they truly are, whereas men don’t do that – they wait for years and then start claiming that they are older than they truly are. I cannot explain this.

Obvious signs of ageing are greying hair and the deployment of chemical dyes is popular, though usually unconvincing and when abandoned in the face of reality leaves the erstwhile deceiver looking like a badger for many weeks. This is not attractive. Baldness is another sign, afflicting men in the main if I may be sexist for a moment, for which the only remedy is a wig, and wigs don’t really work on men. For one thing, wigs don’t turn grey but the fragments of remaining hair do, and it’s a dead giveaway.

I have been lucky in that my hair started receding when I was still in my teens but greying came rather late, by which time I had so little hair that it was barely noticeable. I never considered a wig, though I did threaten to buy a cheap one when Mrs Croft became agitated about a few grey hairs and threatened herself with chemical dyes. Grey hair can be very attractive, but don’t tell Mrs Croft that I said so – she will think that I am preparing to ask her for a small loan.

I have never been much troubled by the milestone decades, although 70 did make me a bit thoughtful – next one is 80, after all – but I have known a number of friends who became either hysterical or depressed when 30 arrived, which I never understood. In any case, seventy is a bit late to start covering up grey hairs and buying unconvincing wigs and there is damn-all you can do about liver spots on the backs of the hands. You could wear gloves all the time, I suppose, but then people might take you for a cat burglar and alert the police.

What I do not understand is those who dread or resent the arrival of grandchildren, a sign that cannot be concealed or surgically altered – the rib-eye of life. A common strategy is to forbid the traditional forms of address, grandma and granddad. My grandchildren address me as granddad (one of them sometimes calls me “stinky” but I think that there is something wrong with him) and Mrs Croft goes by granny which suits her grey hair very nicely. These are delightful honorifics and they should make us proud and happy. When our children are very young we are too busy making a living and climbing our chosen greasy poles to notice much, or to remember anyway. As limbs get heavy, joints creaky and bladders dodgy the introduction of young life is very welcome and should be embraced.

Most of us will have had experience of our children becoming, if not ashamed then embarrassed by us – instructing us to walk a few steps behind and become deniable, that kind of thing. Grandchildren don’t do this – they want their friends to know us. When I retired and came back to Yorkshire 11 years ago I had no grandchildren, now I have four – about the consequences of this more another week.

I recently went to collect my youngest, Oscar who is three, from nursery. I arrived at tea time and found him with nine others at a low table perched on tiny stools. I was invited, instructed might be a better word, to join them and Oscar found me a stool.

He introduced me and there was a ripple of applause and beaming smiles. After about 10 minutes he announced in a loud voice, “Everyone loves my granddad!” an assertion that was greeted by cheers and offers of half-eaten corned beef sandwiches. It was charming.

Half an hour later, when we left and tea was still going on, we said our goodbyes to my new friends who sent us on our way in an extraordinary manner; with gales of laughter and more cheers they waved their napkins like MPs waving their order papers in the chamber of the Commons, also known as Halitosis Hall by the uncharitable.

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