Thursday, 9th April 2020
I do not know if anyone will read this piece and I’m not sure what prompted me, a little over a week back, to start writing it.
Perhaps it’s because of the strange times we find ourselves in? Our current enforced isolation from family and friends may have been what compelled me to write these few words.
None of us are getting any younger, are we? And, if you do happen to be getting ever-youthful, keep that secret to yourself. I don’t want that knowledge. I’m more than happy to be growing older.
Sure, I could do without my knees cracking painfully every time I bend but each twinge is a reminder of my journey thus far, of the memories I share with my loved ones and friends. Those same loved ones that this damned virus and lockdown is keeping from me. My aged parents, love you Mum 🙂 , and my daughter, all unable to visit me and myself, unable to see them.
I miss wondering how long it will take my dad to get from his car in our driveway and into our house, his knees causing him more issues than my own. I miss my mum wincing as she drinks the coffee I’ve made for her; it is rare that I seem able to make her a satisfactory cuppa.
I miss my daughter and her betrothed unexpectedly popping round to see us. I miss asking them if they are stopping for a bite to eat and sharing our tea with them.
I miss hearing them outline the plans for their September wedding. And I worry that those plans may be scuppered, leaving my daughter being disappointed and upset.
I miss our regular breakfast meetings with friends, Pauline and John, and the time in which John and I spend putting the football world to rights. I miss listening to the madness that John comes up with and the tales he often spins. I miss the opportunities these get-togethers allow me to wind-up Pauline about – well – about just anything I can, really. Thankfully, she takes my teasing in the affectionate manner it is intended.
I miss our semi-regular meet-ups for a curry with Amit and Sam and their two boys. I miss the boys calling me “Uncle G”. I miss how they ask to borrow my tools – the boys, not Amit and Sam. I miss letting them hold my drills and watching the joy in their faces as they press the triggers and the drill does its thing. I miss instructing the boys on how to handle tools safely, how to keep a toolbox neat with everything in its place, easy to find and ready to use.
I miss my family and I miss my friends and many others.
So, onto the piece I wrote. I originally intended to post it on 11th May but have decided “today” is as good a time as any to hit send.
I hope you enjoy reading my words and the words on the pages in the photos.
In the summer of 2019, I built a bookcase.
As proud and delighted with that accomplishment as I am, you’ll be relieved to read that this little piece is not actually about my bookcase.
I had been musing for a year or two before I eventually got round to making the bookcase. I’m not a joiner, far from it, but by learning from tutorials I found online and, with the exception of one or two small hiccoughs along the way – and some splendidly magnificent and creative swearing on those occasions (I came up with some humdingers when hitting my thumbs, screwing through the wood into my palm or when cutting a piece the wrong size) – I am rather pleased with the results. It was a fun project to work on; designing the bookcase, selecting the wood at the timber merchants, shaping and crafting it, adding the LEDs and polishing the top to a beautiful finish. Furthermore, I discovered new skills and I achieved a great deal of satisfaction from the act of building, from scratch, a unique and personal addition to my home.
The finished bookcase nicely houses my collection of books; a goodly number of which are signed by my favourite authors, writers such as the genius (and gentlemen) that is John Connolly; Bradford’s own “Dark Knight”, A.A. Dhand; the brilliant and entertaining Ben Macintyre; Tina Seskis, always a graceful source of encouragement; as well as the fabulous Don Winslow, who have all been gracious enough to scribble a few words into my copies of their work. One day I hope – with little expectation of it actually happening – to have an autographed Stephen King on my shelves too.
These shelves also provide a fine place to showcase photographs of family and friends. And they are a great place to house my – several – bottles of bourbon.
Now, despite the signed books, photos and bourbon, the most treasured item on these shelves is a small, slim volume that sits in pride of place above three particular photo frames.
These frames hold photographs of my paternal grandfather, James William Dimmock.
One, a studio portrait from sometime in the 1930s, is dedicated by James to his wife, my grandmother, Doris.
Another photo is of my grandfather, proud in his RAF uniform at the start of his WWII military service, looking directly at the camera, a charming smile on his face. My wife says I inherited his lop-sided smile. I’ll take that. I think he has the aura of a movie-star about him in this photo; he is young, confident and handsome. He looks ready to tackle the hard times ahead, keen to serve his country, ready to “do his bit”. The young man staring from that black and white six by four looks unbeatable, impervious to ageing. He appears immortal.
Sadly, we are none of us immortal.
The third frame shows an older James looking contemplatively out the bay window of the house he shared for many years with Doris. The light from outside is diffused by net curtains and softens his face, still handsome but now lined by experience. In it, James bears the same sense of purpose and dignity as in the earlier uniformed picture. I think my grandfather composed and took that photograph himself. He was a very creative man and photography was one of his interests. He most likely even developed the film and printed the images himself.
Given how he is dressed, I would guess it was taken in the late 60s, possibly early 70’s. Maybe he took it on the day of his retirement to mark the end of an era?
In January 2018, I visited the house with my father. It was the first time I had returned in a number of years. It delighted me to see the house again and I thought about how I felt when, as a little boy, my father would turn the car off the motorway, head down the dual carriageway, drive through the ever-narrowing streets before finally pulling up outside number 16. Then, looking through the car’s window I would see James and Doris standing by their white-painted door, the mullioned glass panes glinting from the light inside. Smiles on their faces as they welcomed us. Hugs and kisses all round. I have such fond memories of that house in Romford, simply for the fact that my grandparents filled it with so much love and happiness.
In those boyhood days, my dad was at the wheel bringing his own young family to his parent’s house. Now it was me doing the driving, parking up and watching as Dad looked across the grassed area at my grandparent’s house.
The wheel in the sky keeps on turning, doesn’t it?
It has been nearly three decades since the house belonged to James and Doris. The pride and care they took in its upkeep and maintenance appeared not to have been in the minds of any subsequent owners. The patioed front garden was overgrown and untidy. The picket fence encompassing the flagstones no longer a bright white, its wood panels now unpainted and greying, several broken or missing. The gate swung open, the latch hanging unusable from one rusting screw.
Happily, and surprisingly, the tiled house number was still in place on the wall beside the door. That tile must have been there for the best part of fifty years, maybe more. Like the fence, it could have done with a coat of fresh paint
But, just seeing that colourful ceramic number 16 made me smile.
And cry, just a little.
After our visit to the house, I drove dad the short distance to a small row of shops. As a boy, when staying with my grandparents, we would walk to the shops and I would spend my pennies on a comic and some sweets at the newsagents. On that January morning with my dad, instead of the Beano and bubblegum, I bought two fried breakfasts in a little cafe. I didn’t recall the cafe being there when I was a child. Maybe it was and, because we never had need of it, I simply couldn’t recall it.
Just over the road from the newsagents was the school where Gran spent years as a dinner lady and, a little further along, in a small industrial area, were the glaziers where Granddad used to buy glass for when he framed the watercolours he had painted.
I told you he was creative, didn’t I?
Now, back to that small book I mentioned.
It is just seven-and-a-quarter inches long by four-and-three-quarter inches tall and is a little under three-quarter of an inch thick (7.25″ x 4.75″ x 0.75″). The inside-cover pages are a thick, almost silky, cream-coloured material and its many gold-edged pages are stitched into place. The cover itself is deep red, almost burgundy, on which a crest and lettering are set in gold blocking. The wording reads:
“J. W. Dimmock. July 1946 – May 1972″
James William Dimmock, my grandfather, was born in Portsmouth in 1912.
In the spring of 1914, his mother, Annie Alice Bolton, died, aged just twenty-eight, while giving birth to his sister, Nancy. This left my great-grandfather – also named James – with a terrible decision; how to continue in his trade as a merchant seaman while caring for a new-born daughter and an infant son.
We are not sure if both James and Nancy went to live with an aunt or if only Nancy went. Whatever the initial decision, the aunt could only care for one child.
Consequently, my grandfather was sent to a Barnado’s children’s home.
In 1917, at the age of thirty-three, his father, James, died of influenza. My grandfather and Nancy were now orphans.
Nancy continued living with her aunt.
My grandfather remained in the orphanage until he reached adult age. I know nothing of his time in care.
By the 1930s my grandfather was living in London – there were family ties to London as his father, despite his seafaring trade, was born in Watford.
In the early years of that decade, my grandfather worked as a jewellery designer for Cartier. (We have copies of some of his drawings; they are beautiful hand-drawn and painted designs of brooches, earrings and necklaces; intricate and colourful, the jewels seem almost to shine out from the paper.)
On the day before his twenty-seventh birthday, May 10th 1939, James married his sweetheart, Doris Slater.
Then, on 3rd September 1940, just days before the first German bombs landed on his adopted city, heralding the start of the Blitz, James joined the Royal Air Force. His papers record his Terms of Enlistment as for “the duration of present emergency”; this service, as with many of his fellow countrymen and women, would eventually last for the full duration of the war.
Corporal James William Dimmock was mobilised one month later, on 3rd October, and posted to Crail in Scotland in the role of instrument repairer. He was responsible for the design, manufacture and repair of cockpit instrumentation in aircraft; I believe he worked on Spitfires and Hurricanes. And, in a CV he typed in the 1960s, James states he worked on “experimental blind flying”. Whatever that is.
In August 1945, at the end of hostilities, James was de-mobbed. On his discharge papers, his commanding officer, recorded that my grandfather was “superior in his trade…and has shown industry and efficiency in draughtsmanship.” The underline is the Captain’s own.
A little under a year later – I do not know what he did during this period – James went to work as a draughtsman for the BBC.
At some time during his life – I do not know if it was pre-war, during his RAF service or his later BBC career – James was given the nickname of “Digger”. I have absolutely no idea how he got this name but I love the idea that my grandfather was known as Digger, sometimes as Dig, or Digg, by his friends.
In our family, we believe that, in some manner, James was involved in the design and creation of the original test card seen on British televisions for so many years. Whatever his contribution may or may not have been to that iconic image of the little girl and the, quite frankly creepy clown, I cannot help but smile fondly whenever I see it.
James stayed at the Beeb for the next twenty-five years – the remainder of his working life – and this book was presented to him on his retirement in May 1972. It is, in my humble – but, probably, extremely biased – opinion, the most magnificent “leaving card” I have ever seen. It sure beats any card I have witnessed or ever put my own name too.
I am filled with joy when I look through its pages. To read the messages and warm words of affection and love that his friends and colleagues penned is a delight. Knowing my grandfather, I am certain that he would have shed tears of delight at the realisation of the high regard and respect in which he was held.
I know this because I tear up when I read the words written on its many pages.
Not only are the messages and sentiments beautiful but, in most cases, the penmanship is too. For me it is a tiny window into a different era – a lost era – a time when handwriting was prized and practised. My grandfather had the most beautiful script and his signature was exquisite. As draughtsman, technical drawer and a talented painter, everything my grandfather did was done with great care, precision and with attention to detail. My own shabby handwriting and sloppy signature are embarrassing in comparison.
Regrets? I have a few.
During his retirement, my grandfather greatly enjoyed travelling. He loved America, as do I. His eldest daughter, my aunt, and her family had migrated to New England in the early 1980s, and he and Gran visited them as often as possible. Many of his paintings were of the area around Massachusetts where they lived.
I suspect by now and, as the American’s my grandfather liked so much say, you have “done the math”. Born 1912, retired 1972. It’s currently the springtime of 2020.
Sadly, we are none of us immortal.
James William Dimmock died in 1992, Doris in 1996. I miss them both very much and not a day goes past that I do not think of them. But I do get to see them every day in the photos on my bookcase.
Because of my own father’s military service and his various postings, I didn’t get to see my grandparents often or for long. And, because I was a young boy, I didn’t think to ask either of them questions about their past. That is one of my regrets.
Another is that my own daughter never got to know James. But, being born between the deaths of James and Doris, she couldn’t have. I know, however, they would have got along like a house on fire.
Grandpa would have adored Bethany right from the start, as he did when he met my (future) wife for the first time. That was Christmas 1984. We had travelled down – Mum, Dad, Sarah and I – to my grandparent’s. Surrounded by his children, their spouses and his grandchildren, the ex-Barnado’s boy, welcomed Sarah into his family as if he had known her forever; with love and open arms.
So, I count myself fortunate to have that little red book on one of my shelves. It shows to me just how much my grandfather was loved by his friends and colleagues.
And, in these strange days, that token of love and affection is a great comfort to me.