If I were a grandfather I would like to be a proper, old-fashioned grandfather, but without the arthritis or dental decay. Or the whisky addiction.
I should like to smoke a pipe, very slowly and thoughtfully, so that when my grandchildren asked me a question I would pause significantly before answering. The answer would then automatically have more gravity and depth. The children would listen with wide eyes. They would not be looking at their smart-phones, nor would they be thinking Grandad an irrelevance, a washed-up fool.
They would gather round me and excitedly ask me about the Old Days. “Tell us about your schooldays,” they would ask, or “How did you buy things without a credit card?” I would, of course, suck thoughtfully on my pipe before answering. Or, maybe, to keep the tension, I would tap the bowl and refill it with fresh tobacco from my old leather pouch that had been given to me by a Fijian chief.
I would have things in my pockets that grandfathers should, and I would use these to illustrate my stories. I would have a marble and a conker, both champions of their time. I would have a cannibal fork from Fiji, a present from the said chief. I would have a creased and faded photograph of the sailing ship I sailed on out of Portsmouth as a boy, stones from the tops of mountains I had climbed, a length of tarred string and a tinder box from Ray Mears, the survivalist, and a piece of birch bark, with which I would show them how to light a fire in the tropical jungle or in the wilds of Rannoch Moor.
And oh, the stories! They would be rapt, captivated. Even when they had heard it before.
And eventually, they would ask, with all the respect that my age and experience and wisdom demanded, “Grand-dad, after all these things you have been through . . . “ (I would not insist, on this occasion, on the more correct After all these things through which you have been, for I am a kindly gentleman and can afford an indulgent smile . . . “after all these things you have been through, what advice would you give us children, who are just about to set off on the stormy seas of the world in our tiny boats? How should we live?
Now this is the time to suck deeply on my pipe, relight it, scratch my beard for a moment, then lower my voice. The children would be hushed.
“There are only three things you need to do in order to steer your barque through the stormy seas of this world. The first is to foster the ability to sit still and quiet, listen, taste, smell and touch the world, and have the patience to wait for it to come to you on its own terms.
The second thing is to learn to listen to other people. This is the secret of conversation. When you become teenagers you will worry that you have to be a witty conversationist. You will practise chat-up lines and clever things to say to impress. Don’t bother. Other people just want to be listened to, and it is the easiest thing in the world to get others to talk about themselves. Work at being a good listener, not a good talker.
And finally, get an animal and learn its needs and the way it can talk to you. It doesn’t matter which one, but I’m not talking about tropical fish or a tortoise. Share your life with a dog, or a horse, or a hawk. Learn to communicate with it, learn that the world is not just about people Learn to listen to an animal, care for it. Put yourself out Accept responsibility for another living thing. Only then will you understand commitment and be able to put another first. You will do this later with your children, but it helps to practise first.”
And then they will quietly and solemnly clean their teeth and go to bed, to dream of pirates and fairies, flowers and forests.
And I shall have considered it a job well done.