For John S. Hadjicostas, in memoriam.
John Hadjicostas – or as I called him, Grandad – passed away this morning at Southend Hospital. The man that we thought was invincible, who survived strokes, heart attacks, and cancers, has gone.
I spent summers down at his guest houses on the seafront, folding bed linen and washing up and eventually cooking breakfasts, listening to his stories of growing up as a boy in Cyprus, and drinking Aldi lemonade. It was at the dining table of 12 Hartington Road that I had brawn for the first time, ox tongue, squid (he told me that it was an onion ring) and various other culinary delights. He taught me to fry an egg, to use an old fashioned laundry press, and how to spectacularly lose my temper.
He taught me how to raise my middle finger, at Boxing Day dinner in a party hat, telling me he’d give me a pound if I stuck it up at my mother across the table. I did, and he clipped me round the head for swearing at my mother. We both laughed then, but I still got my pound.
The last time I saw him, he was hunched in a chair in the Castle Point Ward at Southend Hospital. He sat there quietly, not the Grandad I knew, but soon found his voice to grumble and growl when the lad in the adjacent bed started chatting up his granddaughter!
The man I remember was laughing, always laughing. He laughed as he told stories about growing up as a boy in Cyprus, he laughed as he waved people off from his doorstep that he didn’t like the look of, he laughed when I stuffed a handful of olives in my mouth on thinking that they were grapes, and he laughed as he called me a ‘bloody idiot’ for leaving the Fire Service.
He laughed as he took my brother and I to Woolworths and filled up Pick N Mix bags for us, to the top with brightly coloured jelly sweets and sugared almonds. He laughed at the thought of sending us home to our mother, high as kites and sick as dogs. He laughed as the ice cream van parked outside the guest houses, and he sent us outside for Cornettos all round.
He laughed when I had my tattoos done, and called me a ‘bloody idiot’ again. ‘Like your bloody father’, he said.
He laughed as he asked me when I was going to get married and have children. Well, Grandad, I managed the children part. He laughed when I told him that someone would have to be ‘a bloody idiot’ to want to marry me. He laughed when I named my son after him, my first born boy, with the hope that he too would grow up to be headstrong, happy, and at the heart of it all, kind and giving.
He taught me that you can do anything you want, be anyone you want, if you work hard enough and give two fingers to anyone who tries to bring you down.
I’ll leave you with one thought, written on a lurid green and pink postcard that was pinned to his wall:
“DON’T LET THE BASTARDS BRING YOU DOWN.”
Rest in peace, Grandad, and thanks for all the laughs.