The idea was to come up with three pieces, each responding to a different photo. This piece was in response to this photo:
Old man, staring at me from across the room
Old man, your face lined with such experience and wisdom
Your back bent from a life well-lived
Your unpleasant smell hiding a noble heart
Old man, your eyes shining blearily
As my grandfather’s once did
Are you anything like him?
He who was always there for me, no matter how many friends abandoned me, no matter how many bullies taunted me, no matter how many mothers set me on fire
He was always there
I remember when I was eight, having a nightmare,
And that was the first time I woke in the middle of the night, to find my grandfather there, spooning me
I’ve never told anyone about it before
Because he said he’d kill me if I did
Are you like him, old man?
Do you, like my grandfather, know what it’s like to kill 16 Germans with a bayonet and a hand grenade?
Of course, that was a long time ago – the early 90s
But now, when I look at you, old man,
Your eyes have that same look I remember from my grandfather as he reminisced about his colourful life and hate crimes
That look I knew so well…
Stern yet caring
Strong yet tender
Loving yet violently misogynistic
He would say to me, is it a crime to hate women?
I told him it wasn’t, but he wouldn’t take my word for it, and insisted on asking a solicitor
We didn’t know any solicitors, so he took me along to abduct one
3 weeks later, as I stood in our cellar, listening to the sirens outside and watching grandfather taunt the sobbing lawyer with a marionette carved from his own arms, giggling at the gasping pleas for mercy, not for the first time I marvelled at how much this gentle man had to teach me
What can you teach me, old man?
What lessons from your life are you eager to pass on?
Can you teach me how to bake?
Your enormous chef’s hat says yes, but the placard around your neck reading I AM A MENTAL PATIENT says, tread warily
Because only 2 kinds of people wear enormous chef’s hats – chefs and mental patients
And only 2 kinds of people wear signs saying I AM A MENTAL PATIENT – mental patients and people who want others to think they are mental patients but have little idea of the best way to go about it
Are you one of those, old man?
Are you trying to convince me of your dementia in a clumsy and inept way?
Like my grandfather, when he attempted to dodge charges of treason and bigamy with an insanity plea based entirely upon his supposed inability to pronounce the word “lackadaisical”
I learnt a lot about life in those three days in court – about the indomitable nature of the human spirit
About the majesty of the rule of law
About the inadequacy of courtroom metal detectors
My grandfather died some time ago
But while he lived, he taught me one very important lesson: cherish the elderly
When he died he one hundred and twenty six years old and could communicate only by vomiting in suggestive patterns on the floor
But he retained the childlike wonder at the world around him that he had since he was just a lad
And it’s that childlike wonder I see in you, old man
Staring at me across the room, as if I were your long-lost son, or the ghost of your long-dead best friend, or the man who molested your granddaughter
Perhaps, in a way, I am
Because no matter how time may separate us, we are all one
The young, the old, the healthy, the infirm, the fun to be around and the repellently liver-spotted
Take my hand, old man
I lost the man who meant the most to me
Perhaps you have lost someone too
Perhaps we can be each other’s comfort in these times of sadness
Perhaps we, too, can spoon
Because if nothing else remains of my grandfather on this earth – not his collection of unidentified hair; not his multiple screenplays about suicidal babies; not his many incinerated wives; there is always a little piece of him that will live on,
In my deep-seated and utter inability to achieve sexual arousal except from contact with extremely old men
Old man, I see it in your eyes
Be my grandfather, just for tonight