Thursday, 31 October 2013

On his grandfather's death

Sixty-two years ago today, Des' grandfather Andrew Whyte died at sea. Many commentators have agreed that Andrew's death had a profund influence on the young Des, and may well have been a formative experience that was to lead to murder thirty years later.

This is Des' own recollection of his grandfather's death.

For the most part mine was a female dominated world. Mother, grandmother, aunt. I vaguely remember my grandfather when he was not away at sea as a fisherman. I remember him as a tall, quiet, powerful figure who took an interest in me. He would take me out on long walks over the sand dunes and golf links. It would seem that he had no real interest in my older half-brother or my younger sister. On the dunes at the far end of the bay, near the stream flowing into the sea, there was a concrete pill box, built as part of the sea defences against a possible Nazi invasion during World War II, which had been over for about four and a half years. He would take me into the dark slit-windowed pill box and take down my short pants and hold my penis and tell me to urinate. I must have been about four years old at the time. 
Tired by the long (to a child) journey I would invariably fall asleep and be carried home in my grandfather’s arms. My conscious memory is of his strength and a feeling of comfort and security. These were my only real, one to one, personable physical contact with someone who took a beneficial interest in me. He may have been a tepid paedophile but I do not remember him as threatening or oppressive, unless the traumas of some unpalatable truth or event is still locked up in the sub-conscious. 
These days of granddad were of short duration because he died at sea, aged sixty-two, of a heart attack in October 1951. Then began my first encounter with the fact and mystery of ‘Death’. I remember being carried under my mother’s arm into the room where he lay encoffined and on display for all visitors. He looked asleep with his John Lennon-type spectacles and dressed, bizarrely, in white with his bare feet sticking out at the bottom. The rough weather-beaten skin of his face gave the impression that he needed a shave. I did not know how to react or what to think.  
After this brief viewing I was whisked back to bed in the other room. Apparently my older brother and, perhaps, younger sister were both subjected to it. He had been ‘laid out’ in the room in which I was born, slept and lived in. Thereafter he disappeared from my life leaving behind the stark memory of the uncertain fact of his disappearance. I was told that he was ‘in heaven’ but I knew not where that was. However it dawned on me that he was locked inside a box and buried six feet under the ground. If this – death – could happen to him, so tall and strong, then I feared that this could easily happen to me. I was shocked by the idea of death. The grown-ups had said that granddad had ‘gone to a better place’ and it horrified me that it seemed they were saying that, in many respects, what happened to him, and his fate entombed underground, was a good thing. 
As he lay there in his box that day, I was puzzled that he was ignoring me as if he had deserted me. I hoped that he would see me later ‘when he was better’.

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