x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

A phone call long overdue

A reminder of the importance of keeping in touch.

The human mind (well, mine at least) is a strange thing. As much as I love my granddad from my mum's side of the family, it has been almost two months since I last made the effort to call him. Even longer still since I saw him in the flesh, dressed in his staple flat cap, woolly jumper and ancient grey (used to be green) corduroy trousers, his cheeks flushed after taking his morning walk to the beach.

I'd love to blame it on the fact that, nearing 90, his hearing has gone to pot, making a long distance call even harder to understand, but that would be a lie. The truth of the matter is that my cowardice has stopped me time and time again from calling him. Once an aspiring tennis player from Perth (he was a ball boy for Fred Perry when the British tennis champion played an exhibition tournament in Scotland) my granddad has since spent most of his life in isolation, every waking moment spent looking after my sick grandmother. Sad for the life that passed him by, my selfishness - because goodness knows I wouldn't want to come off the phone after speaking to him feeling blue - has stood in the way of an otherwise loving relationship.

I remember behaving similarly when my dad's father, once a highly successful ophthalmologist from Baghdad, came to visit us in Abu Dhabi over a decade ago. This was not the granddad I remembered, not the same man whom I had had to be dragged away from, some 11 years before, screaming like a banshee, when we moved from Abu Dhabi to Scotland.

Once a happy and sociable man that I had been mesmerised by as a child, my beloved granddad was now a shadow of his former self, the war in Iraq - coupled with two successive strokes - having had an irreversible effect on his spirits. I'm ashamed to say that, as a young teenager, I was terrified of talking to him, choosing to watch from afar as he cried to my father about the situation in Iraq.

Having grown up with only one clear memory of the two of us together - when I hid under the family kitchen table and waited for him to bring me a chocolate biscuit, which he subsequently shared with me, a moment between us that I will never forget - I couldn't cope with seeing him in any other way. Not long after his visit, my granddad died in Baghdad, through a combination of old age and ill health. My one lovely memory was intact, but at what cost?

I think, tonight, I'll make that call.