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Sophie’s Choice

Fathers’ Day is fast looming and for this first-time grandfather the excitement is overwhelming. Surely grandfathers deserve grand presents? How will little Sophie know what to get me? Will it be a loathsome pair of socks or a new laptop computer? If I’m disappointed, how should I react to avoid a repeat next year? Do I say OMG or ROFLMAO, whatever they mean?
And then there’s the biggie. Will the value of my present be influenced by what I give her for her first birthday just three weeks before Fathers’ Day? When my children were little I’d reward good behaviour by pinching them each a straw from the tearoom to drink their Oros through – they’d somehow got the idea that straws were expensive. Has Alan spilt the beans to Sophie, though?
My granddaughter and I got off to a great start last year. The day after she was born I met her in the maternity ward for the first time and we bonded instantly. I looked into her eyes and, to my surprise, saw a real, intelligent being with a sense of humour. Then, at her dedication a few months later I blew it. It was one of those group affairs with half a dozen babies being processed on the same day, and after Sophie had had her turn I sneaked out the back door of the church for a couple of slow laps around the garden. Fifteen minutes later the formalities were over so I ambled back to join the crowd milling about the tea and cake outside the hall. There my eye was caught by a tiny little thing sleeping peacefully in a carry-cot near the door. “Look at that little one!” I exclaimed to my Short Blonde soulmate. “I wonder how old it is?”

“That’s Sophie,” said Jenny.

Anybody can make a mistake. In October 2013 the British authorities launched an investigation into the Napier Community Primary School in Gillingham, Kent, after a pensioner was entrusted with collecting his six-year-old granddaughter from school for a visit to the doctor. The unnamed grandfather did exactly as he was asked but everything fell apart because the school handed over the wrong child – a girl in the same class with the same colour hair and the same Christian name as that of his granddaughter. He dutifully took her to the bus stop, caught the bus, told the doctor what the problem was, sat with the little girl during her consultation, and then delivered her safely back to school afterwards.
Everything seemed well until a bemused but perfectly healthy little girl who didn’t have the faintest idea who her nice old companion had been arrived home that afternoon clutching a bag of drugs with somebody else’s name on it, and told her parents about the marvellous outing she’d had with an old man who took her to see his friend The Doctor while her friends laboured away in the classroom.
All Hell broke loose. Eventually it was established that nothing sinister had happened, but the short-sighted grandfather and the school staff are still in the dog-box with two sets of parents.
Grandfathers aren’t nearly as soppy as new Dads. I don’t know how Winston Churchill got on with his grandkids, but his grandson, Sir Arthur Nicholas Winston Soames gives some insight into his grandpa’s grumpy ways. When Soames was about five he barged into Winston’s room, shouting “Grandpa, Grandpa, is it true that you’re the greatest man alive?” “Yes,” said the irascible Winston. “Now bugger off!” Ex-Defence Minister Soames, an MP who once suffered the humiliation of having an ex-lover describe his lovemaking as being akin to having a large wardrobe with a small key fall upon you, grew up to be as eccentric as his famous grandfather. In 2008, after political opponents mailed a spy photograph to the authorities, he was convicted of driving an unregistered quad-bike on a public road whilst towing a trailer laden with three young children and a pregnant woman. Although none of his passengers was named in the court documents, there’s a better than fair chance that at least one of the kids was a grandchild, and you can bet your bottom dollar that nobody was forced to board that trailer at gunpoint.
This all took place in May 2008, and I think maybe Soames was buttering up somebody for Fathers’ Day a month later.
I wonder what he got?


  • Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and researched stories for Carte Blanche. Winner of the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa PICA Profile Writer of the Year Award in 2008. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2015/16/17. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Overall) 2015/16. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorsport Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2017 - Runner-Up 2015/16.