I never really got to know him and he didn’t loom large in my life. Quite the opposite to my maternal grandfather, Robert Frank was distant and undemonstrative.
After my parents divorced, when I was eight years old, my contact with him was even more reduced, and before my eleventh birthday our awkward Sunday meetings had ceased completely, at my father’s request. Then, in the early 1990s, shortly before his death, he wrote to me.
For a short while, we enjoyed an exchange of correspondence, during which I discovered little more about him than I already knew. He was a dyed in the wool socialist who had applied himself to qualify as an electrician by what we would now call ‘distance learning’. He worked hard and became chief electrician, working for a large shipbuilder on the south coast.
One of my clearest childhood memories of him is centred around a family daytrip to Brighton, his old stamping ground and the birthplace of my father. I remember it was an overcast, rather depressing day and we all bundled into a small café for tea and cakes. As we sat down and got settled, we became aware of a commotion at the table next to us. An impatient waiter was raising his voice to an elderly man who was throwing his arms about in response. I think this was the first time I had witnessed the Gallic shrug.
As the situation was in danger of reaching boiling point, Robert Frank casually leant in the direction of the debate and delivered a string of words I had never heard before. The eyes of the old gentlemen lit up. “Parlez vous francais monsieur?” he asked. “Oui, un peu,” my grandfather replied.
It turned out, the French visitor couldn’t get to grips with the foreign currency and Robert Frank’s memorised French phrases from his waiting days helped to resolve the matter.
Having said all this, maybe I have a slightly clearer picture of the man than I had previously thought.
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© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges