A tribute to my grandfather, Derek ‘Skinhead’ Hughes

My grandfather, Derek John Hughes, sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago following a battle with Cancer, Emphysema, Alopecia and African NHS Nurse-itis;  he was a colossal influence in my life and I miss him immensely.

I was very honoured to be asked to speak at Pop’s funeral service in memory of his larger-than-life personality;  when I began to write Pop’s eulogy, I wondered how I could possibly sum him up as a person in a few minutes?  I eventually reasoned that I didn’t have to sum him up, anyone who ever spent time with Pop knew exactly what sort of person he was due to his charm and directness.

To me, Pop was the towering, shovel handed patriarch of our family, he cooked the family roast at Christmas and was always on form on Sunday afternoons when we frequently all got together.  I can still remember my Nan playfully scolding him from the front room each time she’d hear him open a can of lager in the kitchen over a deliberately timed cough.

I loved Pop for his unique sense of humour and the outrageous banter that we both shared.  I have never met anyone who could hold a candle to his razor-sharp wit, nor do I ever expect to.

He was a self-taught walking encyclopaedia who was always fascinated with life and nature; always at the ready to discuss various documentaries and books that he’d read.

Aside from his sense of humour, the one thing I loved most about Pop was the fact that he had his own opinion, about everything; and he did not flatter to deceive when he gave it to someone either.

At times, he was an obstinant, pompous, belligerent old git, and I absolutely idolised him for it.

Mum often spoke of her strict Victorian-like upbringing, by an iron-willed man who quite simply ruled the roost.  I heard many stories of how dangerous Pop was with his fists when provoked by anyone stupid enough to get into a fight with him; he was simply someone you did not argue with.

So you can imagine the look on everyone’s face when I directly challenged Pop as a toddler, all because he decided to turn the Muppets off in our front room one Sunday afternoon.

I turned to him and asked “Who do you think you are!?!?” and told him “Go and watch television in your own house!”  Pop was stunned, everyone in the room was speechless as it was unthinkable anyone would say something like that to him.  I still remember the atmosphere to this day.  You’d have thought I’d have jizzed on the Queen’s face!!!.

Pop saw the funny side of it and similar confrontations between us during my childhood brought about the very unique relationship that we shared.

Growing up, I spent countless hours watching television programmes with him; like Spike Milligan’s Q series, The Benny Hill show and the Two Ronnies.  I’ve absolutely no doubt in my mind that I owe my love of comedy, single malt whisky and classical music to Pop.  And I will always be very grateful to him for that.

Walking home from school, I’d always pass by his kitchen window and hear the distinct tones of Grieg’s piano concerto; eventually Pop’s huge Dragon-tattood forearm would come out from behind the net curtain in order to greet me with a two fingered salute.

In response to this I would repeatedly smack my forehead to mock the lack of hair on his head and shouted ‘Skinhead!’ at him.  This eventually became my nickname for him and something he enjoyed referring to himself as; much to the puzzlement of others outside the family circle.

On my birthday, his was always the card I looked for first; “Happy Birthday Scraggs Arse (his nickname for me), keep it in your trousers” was usually his closing remark to a profane and smutty birthday message that became more elaborate each year.  Who writes “Keep it in your trousers” to an 8 year old?

Mum said she grew up frequently hearing Pop’s favourite platitude “Delinquency begins at the dinner table!”.  By the time I was in my teens, Pop had mellowed into someone who took great delight in breaking wind whilst sat at the dinner table or poking out his false teeth at to whomever he felt like shocking.

Although I am absolutely devastated in his passing, I am consoled that Pop lived the extremely full life that he always wanted for himself and that I had him in my life for so many fun-filled years.

He remained my Grandfather right to the end, his will never breaking, his dignity intact.

Cheerio Skinhead.  Love you always.