Wednesday 2 November 2011

My Grannie

My Grannie is the youngest of four children, from a nice family, and claims that growing up "we were the lowest of the low...we only had two live-in girls." And a Nanny, and a Governess, and the ubiquitous Groom who was also the handyman and milked the cows. My Grannie, as a girl, went into Boston in the Governess Cart. But can't remember what Groom did with the pony once they got there.

My Grannie went to a boarding school, and was taught that when she met boys, including relatives, from the neighbouring boy's boarding school, she should "Smile, Bow, and Pass On." It is possible she was not always a model pupil; at one point the head girls of the respective houses had a meeting to discuss which house could best cope with her.

My Grannie was Not Allowed to Stay In London during The War, despite the fact her older sister was running a tea shop, then a worker's canteen, before becoming the cook for the nursing home which would later become Burrswood when it eventually moved out of London.

Instead, my Grannie was a VAD working on a TB ward in Boston Hospital, before Joining Up, and eventually becoming a Filter Officer.

My Grannie got lost driving home in The Blackout, and called the operator from a telephone box, to ask her where she was. Her Mother was not amused, especially when she had to spend the night in a pub rather than drive any further through rural Lincolnshire in the dark.

And then my Grannie married, and had a boy, two girls, and a boy again. And her husband could not cook - one day she left him instructions when she had to go into hospital, and he complained the mashed potatoes were a little runny - the instructions had not included "drain before mashing."

Scattered Cinefilm recorded onto DVD shows snippets of married life. A rowing boat on a honeymoon in Tenby. Four children and a giant rubber inflatable duck on a beach in Cornwall. Billing Aquadrome. Photos of boys in boarding school, girls in Guide uniforms. Knees and elbows and woollen swimming costumes. A copy of Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children, inscribed "to the dear girlies." Snapshots into my Mother's childhood, my Grannie's parenthood and early widowhood.

My Grannie looked after my brother and I for a month when we were little, and I went to the village school, where I had to share an exercise book with another girl in the class. She wrote in the front with her right hand, and I wrote in the back with my left. In the afternoons, we walked to a flooded field by the mill, and made rafts out of bits of old wood. They sank. Then we walked home via the village shop for ice lollies.

My Grannie came to stay with us when I was ill, and my baby brother was newborn. She made me wake up and have a wash before the doctor came to visit. But she also made biscuits and kept me company. I showed her how to fill the baby bath from the shower. My Grannie used to make the most disgusting hot lemon and honey drinks for us whenever we had colds. My Mother let me pour them down the sink.

My Grannie kept bees, and eating the honeycombs was an extra special treat. The honey, Rapeseed honey, was so firmly set you needed a chisel to prize it out of the jar. But spinning the centrifuge to separate it from the combs was very nearly worth the risk of being stung whenever you went out into the back garden.

My Grannie's big sister taught me how to do a backwards roll at my baby brother's Christening. And my Grannie's next biggest sister taught me how to bake bread when she visited us the year we lived in California. And my Grannie stayed awake all night, the time they visited us in California, poking her sister with her walking stick to stop her snoring and waking the family. Who happily slept through it anyway.

My Grannie took up the 'Cello again when her fingers started getting a bit stiff for the piano.

My Grannie came on holiday with us last week, and she fell over, and it took two of us to get her back on her feet. And I wonder who would have picked her up if she had been at home. My Grannie stood up a bit fast, and impaled her leg on her knitting needle. And it missed the vein, and was only a shallow cut, but I wonder who would have bandaged it if we hadn't been there.

My Grannie has a new wheelchair, and it has brakes which don't stay on by themselves. So my Grannie had an interesting trip out of the carpark and across the field at Scolton Manor when we failed to park her next to a tree. And as my girls and I looked at the displays, my Grannie found something to tell about each of them. Like the fact that not until she was at college did she ever have to clean her own shoes - leave them out by the boiler overnight and Groom would have them done by morning, despite not actually living in but having a house in the village. Like watching her Mother separating cream in the settling room. Like the team of threshers who came visiting each harvest. And the time a small legion of army officers comandeered the front of the house and the telephone line, explaining the next day that they had been expecting the Invasion of Britain that night. Churning butter, and going to visit the Land Army girls with her Mother, and consoling one girl who "Didn't like them lions" - a circus billetted on one farm for the duration.

My Grannie used to eat great slices of Bread and Dripping after scrubbing down the walls in Theatre, and then moving all the TB patients outside for the day. And last week, my Grannie claimed she shouldn't eat another thing, and then snuck extra spoonsful of sugar into her coffee when she thought we didn't notice. And said she wasn't hungry, and then ate all the ginger biscuits.

My Grannie was taught never to ask to be passed an item at the table, but instead to offer the item to someone else, in an attempt to remind that person to offer it to her. And my Grannie was taught to "Bend at the hips, not at the waist" when drinking soup from a spoon. But now my Grannie is getting smaller every day, and can reach the soup bowl without lifting the spoon at all. And is permanently bent somewhere between the waist and the neck, in a perfect position to catch sneaky cat naps during lulls in the conversation.

My Grannie won at Scrabble. And got all seven letters out on the very first go. But wouldn't let me use hordes or thews, despite allowing jo and romeos. And my Grannie spent lots of time bickering with my daughter over the rules to Happy Families, and reading sad stories about toys abandoned on Boxing Day to her, and watching the tide come in and go out and inventing stories about the fishing boats with her. And my Grannie and my Little Princess both spent large parts of the week standing (or sitting) in doorways, not wanting to miss out on anything happening, but making it impossible for anyone else to make anything happen.

And I try to imagine a life where four or five servants was just barely the minimum acceptable level of staff. And where my Grannie's mother had to remake my Grannie's outgrown clothes into clothes for herself, in order to be able to afford to buy clothes for my Grannie - but where it was still necessary to keep on the maids and Groom. Where Groom was paid a weekly amount which was significantly less than the weekly cost of the boarding schools the children attended, and yet managed to create a living for himself and his sisters out of it.

And I cannot imagine how it was, to be working as a Filter Officer, to get to know the pilots doing their ground duty, and then to know that they were flying the planes which were not being plotted and filtered during the next shift.

And I don't know how it must have been, to be caring for three children under two, with a back which had been broken by a fall from a horse, and having to do all the work herself having grown up with significant numbers of staff helping out.

And it is worlds away from living in a bungalow, and driving a mobility scooter. From seeing Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren on Skype. My Grannie had a Box Brownie, and did trick photography by not advancing the film between shots. And now she watches her Great Granddaughter clicking away on a digital camera, reviewing and deleting the pictures instantly.

My Grannie was born at the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars, and then went to work in the next one. In the great cold winter, she went ice skating with her sisters at another local farm. Cinefilm shows scattered and scratchy coverage of Grannie and my Great Aunt jumping daintily over branches and weaving their way along the river. And now she watches Wimbledon at home and wants digital television so she can switch views to suit herself.

And I can't help thinking it's no wonder she calls staff in shops "you, boy!" and comes out with some excruciatingly awkward phrases every so often, and considers that she has the right to approve or disapprove of her adult daughters' apparel, and dispose of their time in the way she attempts to do. I wonder what it is like, to watch your adult children not just grow up and become parents, and then grandparents, but also to watch them retire and begin to grow old themselves.

My Grannie is pretty ordinarily extraordinary. I wonder if she feels like living history, or considers that many museum pieces are younger than she is? And I wonder how much longer she will be able to keep up with her bungalow, and how much longer she will want to? I wonder if she knows how exasperating she can be, and whether old age earns the right to drive the younger generations mad, or whether that is an inevitable part of the generation gap? But I look back and see how the world has changed beyond all recognition in her lifetime, and I look at my six year old, and wonder if there will be similar leaps in technology, in lifestyles, in everything - and what that will look like if so.

Most of all though, my Grannie is my Grannie. She is my Grannie who used to like to have us come to stay at half term. She is the Grannie who would borrow her friend's dogs, and let us take them for walks around Wicksteed Park. She's the Grannie who had endless books and ancient games in the middle bedroom and the garage. She's my Croquet Grannie and the Grannie who had the caravan in the garden where we Grandchildren could camp out on visits. The Grannie who made the best ever Lemon 'Fridge Cake, the Grannie who seasoned her vegetarian pies with pheasant stock because they didn't taste of anything without it, the Grannie who has threatened to shoot my Friend should I ever take up smoking (although that sneaky Cinefilm revealed that she did infact smoke herself as a much younger woman), the Grannie who knitted my beautiful Willow Pattern Plate jumper, and who is now knitting for her Great Grandchildren.

She's My Grannie.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

And a very special lady she is!
K x

weavers&whatnot said...

And mine! And, beleive me, there's a lot to be said for staff about the house! (But then again, there are probably advantages to reliable water - we're told it might be 2 months before we get it back, electricity, and not being regularly harrassed by immigration!)

pippinsmum said...

What a fascinating life your Grannie led. I suppose she is too old to write down her memories? She sounds a lovely lady, and has earned the right to make comments at which younger people might cringe. I full intend to be eccentric when I am old enough!

Yvonne said...

I hope she is okay after hurting her leg on the knitting needle and falling over too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Tania, you have written this beautiful account of your grannie, my mother. It is so accurate that I nearly had a weep - but instead plan to make sure all her other grandchildren and great grandchildren share it. GAF

Sara x said...

She sounds and incredible lady just like her granddaughter xxx

Tina said...

What a beautiful tribute to an amazing lady. Thank you for sharing xxx


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