I recently had the pleasure of the company of my 91-year-old great aunt and 84-year-old nan. Both of them are fighting fit and full of mischief.
Listening to them chatting away, my mind always conjures up Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses, whose catchphrase was ‘during the war’, swiftly followed by Del Boy and Rodney telling him to shut up.
But seriously, the stories of that generation are fascinating and I now feel compelled to listen in the knowledge that if me and others don’t, then these stories will be lost forever.
It turns out that my great grandfather worked at the Fratton railway yards in Portsmouth in the early 1900s as a coalman.
He met my great grandmother at a pub on The Hard. She was a barmaid and would travel over daily on the paddle steamer from her home in Ryde.
He then transferred over to the St John’s Road railway yard in Ryde, where they married and had five children.
They lived in a railway cottage a short distance from the works. Just like in Fratton and Southsea, rows upon rows of houses were built for railway workers.
They lived in a three-up, three-down cottage. But all seven of them shared the back of the cottage as the front section was rented out to drivers who worked seasonally on the island before returning to the mainland.
During our chat, stories of the war soon emerged. Auntie Nin would watch the German bombers pass over Ryde, then wait for the boom as Portsmouth was attacked.
The city would be aglow as the big anti-aircraft guns on the island fired into the dark night sky, offering little protection.
During hours of darkness, blackouts were mandatory. Even smoking was forbidden as the red glow could be detected from above (a good reason to quit).
I had a wonderful morning with my great aunt and nan. It struck me how spoilt we are in modern times and, in some respects, lucky. But also how we lack the spirit and pride of our forefathers.
So next time your grandparents or other elderly relatives go on about yesteryear, why not listen and learn? I bet it will be fascinating stuff.