Grandpère Sans Pareil

TSS Demsthenes

TSS Demosthenes

I have been thinking a lot about my grandfather lately, with this year marking the Centenary of the Western Front. I often wonder how he felt leaving a young wife and baby son, not knowing if he would ever see them again. (And, of course, how dreadful it was for my grandmother.)

He left on the T.S.S. Demosthenes, a steamer commissioned in 1861, described by my grandmother as a ‘leaking old tub in which the bilge pumps worked 24/7 just to keep it afloat.’

He was a remarkable man, belonging to a generation who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for ideals of freedom and justice for their loved ones. Truly, to quote one of my characters (and perhaps countless others) they were God’s finest sons.

In 1900, at age eleven, he was apprenticed to a Master Baker because, he reasoned, people would always need bread and he would always have a job. I still have his cake scales that he bought second-hand, at this time, and used right up to the end of his life. They take pride of place in my kitchen.

In the depression of the 1930s, his business went broke because he would not see people go hungry and always gave them bread whether they could pay or not. Unfortunately, the flour mills did not feel the same way about him. But he worked hard and finally opened another bakery with enough turnover to survive his generosity.

Every year, on Anzac Day, he marched with his mates in the morning; got drunk with them in the afternoon; and, in keeping with others of his generation, never mentioned or referred to the war at other times or in any other way. He also looked after Percy, his friend debilitated on the Western Front, until Percy’s last illness took him to hospital. Percy, who suffered from shell-shock(PTSD) and lung complications, was homeless after being thrown out of his accommodation because he was a hopeless alcoholic.

My grandfather was quick-tempered; proud and independent; took no nonsense from anyone; and called a spade a shovel, offending some. On the other hand, he had a wicked sense of humour; was loyal, kind and generous; a man of both physical and moral courage; and a man of honour.

The maxim: If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing properly; and if you can’t do it properly, don’t do it at all, was his rule for life. He set a high standard.

To his grandchildren, he was Farby; and he spoilt us with ice-cream and sodas from the Greek café up the street; to everyone else he was Jack: and you could take him or leave him.

In my dedication, I refer to him as a patissier sans pareil and so he was: It is many years since he baked his last batch of pies, but there are still people today who remember them as the best ever.

In keeping with his maxim, it took me three years to write this book. I worked hard on my research, as did my wonderful editor, meticulously cross-checking my references.

And so I am proud to dedicate Angel of Song to Jack: Grandpére sans pareil.