Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Gay George...

Gay George was my dads uncle, one of several siblings of Percy, my dads father, I knew none of them and only became aware of Gay George when I had reached adulthood and had taken out a mortgage, the local agents for whom turned out to be a well known estate agent and chartered surveyors - Gay George was a well respected director of said estate agent and chartered surveyor.

I met him once when he just happened to be working in our local branch one Saturday morning - remember the days when you used to go to a branch to pay your mortgage in cash - and I handed the payment book over the counter to a very pleasant old man who perused the book, noticed my name and remarked that we had the same surname and initial.

I'd heard of him and knew that he was a director of the company and so told him who my father was, his face lit up and we spent the rest of the morning in idle chatter about the nieces and nephews that he'd never kept in touch with.

I didn't mention that my dad always referred to him as "Gay George" though.

No-one really knew whether he was gay or not, its just that he was the only one out of eight siblings who never married, or who never seemed to find a space in his life for a female companion, in those far distant days such behaviour was all the evidence required to be labeled as "queer" and as the label "gay" came to replace "queer" then "gay" and "george" just seemed to fit hand in glove.

I inherited two things from him.

A couple of years after I had met him in his estate agents branch office (and I was always treated with more respect there after I had met him than before, being related to "Mr George" had its advantages), my dad took a phone call to say that Gay George had died and after his funeral would he like to go to the house where there was a grandfather clock waiting for us to collect, it being willed to our dad as Gay George knew he was still in the clock business.

I went down to the house with our dad in the van one evening after work.

Gay George had a nice detached bungalow in a quiet suburb of Leeds, not ostentatious at all, it didn't scream out "money" and I suspect that Gay George had hoarded a lot of cash in his estate agency rather than spend it on a lifestyle, but still, it was a nice bungalow.

We were shown into the now almost empty house by a woman who introduced herself as Gay Georges housekeeper and shown into the living room where the "grandfather clock" stood in the corner.

I'd been expecting to find an antique, something that could be flogged off for several hundred pounds, something worth dragging me out there in the van for.

Instead we found a homemade imitation "grandfather" clock which exhibited no trace of fine workmanship in its manufacture and upon opening it displayed the interior of an old time recorder rather than an ancient precision timepiece.

But our dad was delighted, for he recognised the clock, as he should because it was his father who had made it. In the 1920's he'd taken the carcass of an old spring wound time recorder with its short pendulum and encased it in what was an empty case to make it look like a grandfather clock - it had stood in the corner of their family wooden house when our dad was a child and then somehow found its way into Gay Georges lineage.

It smelled musty, it was ugly and worthless, cruelly if my grandad hadn't canabilised a 1920's wood cased spring wound time recorder but had instead hung said time recorder on his wall then we'd now be looking at something worth several hundred pounds, as it stood, it was firewood, nothing more.

Our dad took it and put it in his garage, from whence it eventually found its way into my garage and then eventually it found its way into our workshop at the office - Ned and me chopped it up and threw it in a skip last year.

But there was something else in Gay Georges house that attracted our dads attention and he asked the housekeeper if she had any idea what was going to happen to the old radiogram in the corner, "you can have it" she replied, "all the good stuffs already gone" she continued in a tone that left us in no doubt that there had been no "good stuff" left in the will for her.

Christ knows why he wanted the old radiogram but we took it and its huge extra speaker case as well, our dad told me it would be worth a bob or two as it was one of the first radiograms to grace these shores and that it was made of solid mahogany "its got a lovely sheen on it" he told me, I thought it was an ugly monstrosity and I knew for sure that our mum would not let it grace their front room.

I was right, the next morning he arrived at the office with it and there it lived for several years with him polishing it once a week to keep "this lovely sheen" on the mahogany case, "its solid mahogany this you know" he'd expertly tell us once a week.

One unusual thing about the radiogram was that it had the shop receipt issued to Gay George in 1961 when he had bought it and like the building society pass book the receipt was made out to someone with my initial and surname - I did suggest that perhaps I could take it back to the shop 30 years after its original purchase and see if they'd give us the thirty guineas back, but our dad wouldn't hear of it.

Eventually we moved from those offices and as part of a big clearout I eventually persuaded him to get rid of the radiogram that didn't work but "had a lovely sheen", he was heartbroken and wouldn't hear of us throwing it in a skip somewhere but after I promised to take it to a second hand furniture shop and get the best possible price for it he relented and bade it farewell.

I took one of the lads out of the workshop and we took it straight to the council rubbish tip where they had a nice big yellow crushing machine just for this sort of disposal problem, dropping the huge radiogram in the crusher took some doing and we had to enlist two of the council workmen to help us and when it was in there they pressed the button for the big ramming thingy to start closing in on the fine piece of 1960's audio/furniture - a time long past when you couldn't just have a record player, it had to look like furniture too.

When the crusher hit the radiogram there was a huge crack and all of us instinctively ducked as splinters of wood flew from the bowels of the machine, on closer inspection these were revealed to be cheap plywood with the thinest of mahogany veneers.

I laughed all the way back to the office at the thought of Gay George and our dad polishing plywood furniture for all of those years, and of course I had to tell him when I got back to the office, he wasn't amused at all, not at the plywood revelation but the fact that I hadn't taken it to a second hand furniture shop and flogged it off as solid mahogany as promised...

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