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Granddad Nemo

I seem to be getting a lot of people asking more about my granddad from whom I took my name so here is a short biography of thet man that never quite was.

Grandfather Nemo was born into a wealthy family and his father owned a thriving bookbinding shop. He had a very strict upbringing and every night when he was young he was made to stand outside the dining room with his seven brothers and sisters and sing hymns while his parents ate. This was strange enough in itself but more so because his parents weren’t in the least bit religious. It was because of this authoritarian upbringing that Nemo developed an intense dislike for authority and rejected convention of any kind. Being a man who hated conflict the closest he got to rattling authority was to make a cock a doodle do sound every time he left the house.

All he ever asked for from life was to remain anonymous and play cards and that is exactly what he did. Every afternoon he went to a whist drive and then straight onto a solo drive at night. Whist is like bridge without the bidding and solo is like bridge with the bidding except you don’t play in pairs. An entrance fee was paid and the winners took whatever was in the pot. With his desire to remain anonymous he always gave his name as Nemo and in the working class environment of those places none of the people there would have known that Nemo was Latin for nobody. At the end of every day he returned home, ate a raw onion and a piece of cheese and then went to bed.

Nemo inherited the bookbinding shop from his father and was himself a highly skilled bookbinder but he only ever did just enough to pay for his card playing. Even that became to much for him after a while so slowly he started selling the stock until he got to the point where even if someone did give him a book to repair he was unable to take the job because of a lack of materials. He gave very little to his wife to bring up their five children and so my father was brought up in a slum. He didn’t drink but he did chain smoke and developed the ability of opening a new packet of cigarettes while they were still in his pocket, taking out a cigarette and lighting it while no one was looking so he didn’t have to offer them around. With all the stock gone he spent the rest of his life waiting for small legacies from wealthy relatives and the occasional win at a whist drive. My grandmother got by with some help from her parents and a small income from buying old prams, doing them up and selling them. You might wonder how Nemo was able to pay the general household bills and the answer to that is that he didn’t. His favourite saying when anyone from authority approached him was “lock me up” and that is what they did. Every couple of years he would get a demand for unpaid property tax which he refused to pay so they put him in prison for a few week. He referred to these periods as his visits to the health farm as while there he was unable to smoke, ate much better food than he did at home, still got to play cards all day and when he was released his debt was written off. His only concession to responsibility was when things were desperate he went to the local charity to collect a box of food. His only real worry in life was if he didn’t have enough money to pay his entrance fee to a whist drive and on those occasions his daughter Doris was happy to give it to him despite having none herself.


He was a very attractive man and charming man and there was always women chasing him although he was never interested as it would have been far too much effort to respond. When he first met my grandmother she was already engaged but she dumped her fiancé to marry him and spent the rest of their married life telling him what a big mistake she made. He was infamous for his bad habits although the only two I have been able to ascertain is spitting into the fire (which he frequently missed) and insisting in always leaving his trouser fly open. It is not surprised that eventually my grandmother kicked him out so his son Cyril built him a shed in his garden where he lived for years in the hope of my grandmother taking him back but not surprisingly she never did.

Towards the end of his life he was fortunate in being offered a job by a very rich Jewish man called Mr Dent who owned an extensive book collection and had an apartment above a dairy in the Strand, London. If anyone has information about this Mr Dent I would love to hear it. It was Nemo’s job to repair some books and make others appear older than they really were in return for living at the unoccupied apartment rent free.

 In 1939 Nemo died at age of 70 with the cause on the death certificate being bronchitis and pneumonia, no doubt caused by his chain smoking. Ironically the only family heirloom that has been handed down from him is a battered old cigarette case which amazingly still smells of tobacco.

One thing that surprises me is that none of his children seemed to hold any resentment towards him for depriving them for what should have been a healthy inheritance. All his children went to the funeral and it was his elderly son that made up the rhyme “he died as he lived the poor old sod, even his funeral was on the nod”  on the nod meaning on credit. The funeral was ordered by his daughter Doris who in honour of her father’s memory never paid the bill. Despite his shortcomings he was a very popular man and in some strange way I suspect my father was proud of his popularity.

I am happy to say my father inherited none of Nemo’s character flaws but surprisingly had a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility ensuring that his family was always safe and secure. The only good character trait my father inherited was Nemo’s razor sharp wit.

 So at the age of 91 my father has always considered Nemo as being a likeable but selfish and  irresponsible waster who avoided life and conflict of any kind but last year I heard something about Nemo which just shows we never really know anyone. A distant cousin of mine living in Canada is an expert in genealogy and purely by chance came across a court case in which Grandfather Nemo appeared as a witness in 1898 in a murder case at the Old Bailey. It seems that he saw someone being shot and so chased the gunman down the street, threw him to the floor and held him while bystanders took the gun from the killer and during the struggle two more shots were fired. When I told this to my father he just simply wouldn’t believe it even though I showed him the Official Old Bailey Court Transcripts where several other witness collaborated Nemo’s story. You would think that any father would spend the rest of his life telling his children how he wrestled a desperate gunman to the floor but it seems he kept the whole thing to himself as no one in the family was ever aware of it.

The final irony is having spent his whole life in anonymity, 81 years after Granddad Nemo’s death I am putting his short biography on the internet for the whole world to see. I have a feeling if he is up there somewhere reading this his only reaction would be to shrug his shoulder and say “lock me up.”