My paternal grandfather died in the early hours of Monday morning – a chest infection, although dementia and blindness took him away from us some time ago. I’d like to think that, had he been able to read it, he’d have enjoyed this column I wrote for .net a year or so ago.
I found it by accident during my annual clean-up: a battered and bent folder full of yellowed pages. On each page there’s a poem written by my grandfather. Poems about my father, written when he was still toddling; poems about my grandmother, written in the first flush of romance; and poems about my grandfather himself, when he was young and strong, fit and fiery. My grandfather – the man he was then, not as he is now – leaps from every word.
Today, my grandfather is in a nursing home. His sight has gone, and so has the fire. If you met him now, you’d find it hard to spot the keen intelligence – and sometimes, anger – that made him a fearsome and funny letter writer whose wisecracks appeared in all kinds of publications. If you caught him on a good day you might see a flash of amusement, but it’d be a pale echo of the wicked humour that so often put him in the doghouse – like the time he shaved off his eyebrows before an important interview for no other reason than to freak out the interviewer, or the time my grandmother found him drunk, trousers impaled on the railings of a fence, hanging upside down and crooning “Don’t Fence Me In” with a grin like a Cheshire cat. But it’s all there in the poems. In their pages, he’s forever young. And on the internet, so are we.
I’m 35 this year, but in a scanned photo I’m sixteen, photographed at a gig where I tried and failed to hide the stage fright and dressed like an explosion in a tramp factory. In an MP3 I’m 22, battering guitars in a studio with a bunch of friends, convinced not just that music could change the world but that we were the ones to do it. I’m 29, arm around a beautiful girl in Amsterdam, and I’m 31, shaking in my kilt as the same girl says “I do”, and I’m 34, jumping around like a maniac because the pregnancy test’s turned blue.
It’s not just photos. Everything that’s scared me, worried me, made me laugh or made me furious in the last several years is still there on my blog, and long-deleted HTML is still hanging around on the Wayback machine. Our Flickr photos, our MP3s, our blog posts and our online profiles are time capsules, a mood or a moment caught, captured and preserved – possibly forever.
And of course, the bad stuff is preserved as well as the good. But even the embarrassing stuff has its charms. Sure, I looked like an idiot, the song’s terrible, that shirt’s utterly repulsive and that pose is ridiculous, but hey! I had hair! And when it’s my turn for the home, when it’s my sight that’s gone, when it’s my fire that’s flickering out and there’s only a trace of who I used to be, on the internet I’m still sixteen, or nineteen, or thirty-four.