I told you something about my grandparents in the joint blogger post about Grandparents that I put together last year, but today I’d like to tell you a bit more about my Granddad.
You see, when I think about someone deciding what they want and going for it, I often think of him.
This inspires me in an age of quick wins. Where people often give up when they hit the first obstacle. Where we are promised immediate gratification and people seem to feel hard-done-by if something isn’t easy or achievable on the first attempt.
Against the backdrop of all this, my Granddad reminds me that sometimes you just have to keep trying, against all odds, and if you are persistent, you’ll be rewarded.
So, in order for this to make sense, you need to know something about my Granddad.
He left school at the age of 15 and got a job. He had a bakery van and delivered bread. He ran a shop with my Nan. When I was growing up, he worked as a postman. He worked hard and made a living so that he could support his family.
When I was 5, I got my first computer. Who remembers the BBC Micro?
It had an entire 3-shelf trolley for all the things I needed for it. It was enormous. It had a huge keyboard that I typed my first words on, one of those floppy drives that took the 5¼-inch disks and made a satisfying clunk as you locked them in place, an external speech synthesiser with buttons and knobs on the front, and a “pocket user guide” that was two massive folders in Braille (the tactile writing system that blind people use to read).
You could connect a manual Braille input device to it, so whilst any programmes had to be operated using the keyboard, text could also be entered in Braille.
This was all great – and would set me up for life with IT literacy skills, which I would definitely need both throughout my education and my career.
There was just one problem – nobody knew how to use it!
My Granddad did not have a technical background at all. He’d never used a computer at work, and in those days, looking things up on forums wasn’t as easy as it is now. Basic courses or books from the library wouldn’t have given him all the information he needed. It wasn’t just the general information about how to use the computer, but also how the additional technology for blind people could be integrated, how to solve problems, where the access technology reached its limits, how to teach me to use it, and what to do about the error messages that popped up from time to time, or when the speech synthesiser went crazy and wouldn’t stop talking or making sounds (turning it off was usually a good fix for that!)
So he read the manuals. He didn’t have anyone to help him. He just got on with it, and learned. I was eager to learn too, so when I went to bed, he kept reading the books so that he could stay ahead of me and have new things to teach me, or answers to my questions, which never stopped coming!
At that time I had very supportive teachers and a classroom assistant at school, who also helped me to use the new equipment and encouraged me on the odd days when I didn’t feel like learning to touch-type when nobody else in my class had to! I’m so glad I did. But my progress would have been much slower if I hadn’t had someone at home who was interested in helping me to develop and learn.
Once he finished teaching me the basics, he learned how to write small programmes and created games for us grandchildren to teach us maths or word games. A lot of the games that were written for small children were very visual in nature and not accessible to blind children – but Granddad’s ones were!
When I wanted to know how they worked, he taught me as well. I didn’t write any of my own at that time, but I understood how to do it. There’s nothing that tests your knowledge of how to do something as much as someone else asking you to explain it to them!
Now technology is so much a part of my daily life that I don’t even think about it. Equipment got replaced as I grew older and learned how to use new devices. An electronic Braille embosser was added and along came the laptop. Granddad kept up, but I don’t think anything was as steep as that initial learning curve in my first years of primary school.
Now, if my cables are a mess, I still remember how he used to be on my case about them, saying that I should take better care of them!
What I admire is that he took the initiative and did something that he knew would be tough. Of course he could read, but he didn’t have qualifications or knowledge in this field. He was driven by the desire to help me, and so he just got on with it!
It was the same with smoking, or rather quitting smoking. He had been smoking for years, but after a fair bit of nagging from us, yes I was part of that and quite persistent I think, he decided to stop. The plan was that he would collect the money that would have gone on cigarettes, and buy himself something as a kind of motivational reward. He got his video player, and pretty much quit overnight.
I’m not going to get into a discussion here about how easy it is to stop smoking. I’ve never smoked and if someone told me to give up coffee, I would find it incredibly difficult. My point is that he made a decision and followed through, not giving up when it got tough.
I know that as I grew older and went into higher education, my grandparents didn’t understand many of the things I was learning. My love for languages was something they would never be able to relate to – which didn’t stop my Nan trying to read out handwritten letters so I could find out what my German pen-pals had to say!
But I know that if I hadn’t had that early help with my “talking computer” as it was affectionately known, I wouldn’t have had such a good start in life. And that, is largely down to the determination of my Granddad Stan.
Sometimes I think about that when I’m struggling with something that pushes me out of my comfort zone because it’s difficult or new. He didn’t give up, and neither should I!
Don’t forget that my Summer giveaway is still open – so why not have a look and enter if you haven’t already. The giveaway is international and it’s open until 15thJuly 2018.
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