Sunday, 30 August 2009


I have just returned from delivering Charlie to my mother-in-law. She lives 160 miles away in Bath, so we arranged to meet half-way in Hampshire. Charlie's excitement grew as we got closer to the rendez-vous point, as did his worries about how he might change cars in the middle of the motorway. It was lovely having him to myself for a couple of hours and we chatted about how I had been to stay alone with my grandmother at about the same age. My children are at the age now that events such as this will remain with them, as similar experiences have stayed with me.

I imagine that my parents dropped me off at Grandma's house in Hertford, although I know that when my older sister went to stay there she travelled by Grandma's favourite mode of transport: the Green Line Bus. We didn't see Grandma very often; this was in the days before the M25, so circumnavigating London to get from Sussex to Hertfordshire was quite a trek, although I imagine the trips might have been more frequent if my grandmother and mother had got on better. Whichever grandparents we were visiting, we were always wearing our best clothes and would always stop in a layby just before we got there to have our hair combed and our faces cleaned with lick and Kleenex.

I do remember feeling rather nervous about staying there on my own. After all, this was not someone I knew particularly well; I did know that Grandma was quite bossy and I certainly wasn't sure about keeping up my good behaviour for several days. But the memories of that visit are happy. I remember that we walked into the town centre to buy my birthday present from Woolworths. I chose a red, blue and yellow plastic saxophone. How Grandma must have loved me serenading her for the rest of my time at her house!

I stayed in what had been my father's bedroom and remember lying there looking at the wallpaper covered in trains (or were they planes, perhaps?) trying to imagine Daddy as a boy. It seemed such an impossible and funny idea.

I clearly remember Grandma asking me if I liked custard and I must have pulled a face, thinking of the thick-skinned yellow slime of school. But the tinned Bird's custard she extracted from the larder was a revelation: smooth, creamy, sweet and delicious. Grandma's larder was a wartime hoarder's dream. In those days which predated "best before" dates, it was anyone's guess how long those tins had been there.

When I think of Grandma, she is a tiny, old, rather querulous lady. And yet she had the patience to have small girls to stay with her. She let me choose my own present, even though she must have hated it. She always made us tangerine jelly with segments in because we loved it. And most of all, she sent me letters like this:

In this one she hasn't signed off with her usual XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX (dozens of kisses and hugs) but I love the way she has stuck all those shapes on, licking and sticking each one individually, in those days before sticky stickers.

I hope that my children will have dozens of memories of all their grandparents. The way they interract with them is so different to the formal, best-dress, best-behaviour relationship I had with my grandparents. I am sure that it helps them to feel an integral part of a huge family of all ages and better equipped, therefore, to communicate with all generations.