We always said the booze would kill him.
It was the family joke: at every wedding or christening or funeral he’d be propping up the bar, and we’d all say, “God, what must your liver look like?” and pat him on the back, and laugh, and he’d laugh, and cough, and take a long drag of a cigarette. I used to hate that he smoked. I’d bring him NHS leaflets back from the gym and the doctor’s waiting rooms. “It’ll kill you,” I used to plead, and he’d look at the picture of the cigarette with a red line through it, and thoughtfully take a sip of his whiskey. “Aye,” he used to say, “if the fags don’t get me first, the booze’ll finish me off!” And it did.
He was the life and soul, was Alfie… Alfie! He was my Grandad, but he insisted I called him Alfie. “Don’t bloody call me ‘Grandad’, it makes me sound like a right old bastard! It’s Alfie, right son?” “Right, Alfie!” …Life and soul. He was on particularly good form that night, at Jimmy Goodwin’s 70th birthday party. The Club threw Jimmy a party, and Alfie, a club committee member and good friend of Jimmy’s, organised the whole thing: buffet, free bar before eight o’clock, bingo, raffle, and then a karaoke. Alfie ran the night like a seasoned redcoat. Butlin’s loss was Farringdon Workingmen’s Club’s gain.
He fixed the raffle, so that Jimmy won the first prize: a minute behind the bar to pour as many drinks as he could. Ten pints, twelve bottles of Becks, and four double whiskeys – and that was still with ten seconds left. There would have been more but Alfie, his specific duties as a committee member being as club treasurer, started to get a bit concerned about the profit margins and rang the bell early!
I was there because Jimmy Goodwin’s grandson Matt is my best mate. The four of us were sat together all night, and soon put a dent in the ten pints, twelve bottles and four drams. Matt and me got up to sing that Blues Brothers song. Alfie and Jimmy did Summer Nights! Come closing time, we were, as the natives say, bladdered! And the night didn’t end there! The four of us got in a taxi and went back to Alfie’s for more of the same. An hour and a half and a bottle of whiskey later, Jimmy tried to stand up and teach Matt and me how to do the foxtrot, and fell into the mantelpiece and smashed a vase.
4.17am we left the house. I was the last to leave. As I was going out the front door, Alfie was right behind me, ready to close the door and then go straight upstairs to bed. I even waited just outside to make sure I heard him slip both the bolts across. If I’d only stood there just a minute longer.
I usually pop in on a Sunday morning. Take him round a News of the World and some bacon, and we have bacon butties for breakfast and talk football. I didn’t that Sunday morning, though, what with the hangover. Anyway, I expected he would have one too, and he wouldn’t be up. I was right, he wasn’t.
It wasn’t until Monday evening when I went round. I knew straight away that something was wrong. I could see something through the frosted glass in the door. The bolts were still locked, so I couldn’t get in with my key. I smashed the side window and climbed through.
There was a picture that hung on the wall at the top of the stairs. It was of him and me, when I was only about six or seven, at my uncle’s wedding. I’m wearing an elasticated red bow tie that he’d made for me the week before. A gorgeous big toothy smile on my face, and he’s standing behind me with his hands on my shoulders. If you look carefully, you can see he’s holding a cigarette in his right hand. That was the only part of the photo I never liked.
It was on the floor at the foot of the stairs, the glass smashed and the frame buckled and bent. It must have been the only thing he could grab a hold of as he lost his balance at the top of the stairs, his arm flailing wildly and pulling it off the wall as he tumbled backwards. I wonder, sometimes, what fell down the stairs fastest; the picture, or him.
I don’t buy the News of the World anymore. Or bacon, much.
I smoke now, though.
This story was originally posted on the ABC Tales website, in November 2008