The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times: Charles Dickens, My Grandfather & Me

My grandfather loved Charles Dickens. His favourite book was ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and I remember him reading me passages from it as a child. Sadly, he and my grandmother passed away recently. Their house is in the process of being sold and I’ve been helping mum sort through their belongings

I came across my grandfather’s Charles Dickens collection last weekend. It suddenly struck me how much the loss of a loved one is tantamount to the first few words of his favourite book:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The worst of times is self-explanatory. When you lose someone it feels like the rug is yanked out from under your feet. The axis of your whole world tilts. You’d do anything to have one last phone call. One last hug. One last indulgent smile as you encourage them to repeat a story that you’ve heard a thousand times before, just like my grandmother used to do.

And the best of times? In a way death instigates a celebration of life. Slowly, slowly the smiles start to intermingle with the tears as you recall all the wonderful things, the quirks, that made the person you love so unique.

My grandfather liked to cut out newspaper clippings and tuck them into the front cover of books. Invariably they’d be about the author, or an upcoming documentary or exhibition. I’ve just spent the last thirty minutes reading and re-reading a clipping that was slipped between pages 136 and 137 of David Copperfield. It turns out that Charles Dickens was a total shit to his wife. What a revelation! Was this common knowledge? Or was the Cult of Celebrity as infallible then as it is now? Perhaps he had some covert 19th Century PR firm on his payroll…

Most importantly, I love that even a year after his passing my grandfather continues to educate me. It reminds me that he was an accomplished man, and one who loved to impart his knowledge in a quiet, unassuming way.

Is this the reason why he placed all those cuttings in his books? Did he envisage me and my brother, or even one of my cousins, discovering them one day? If so, then thank you. I’m so grateful for this small legacy to me. I’ll be spending the next few days seeking out new clippings to pore over and absorb.

And thank you for opening my eyes to the wonder of Dickens. I look forward to sharing our mutual appreciation with my own grandchildren one day.


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