Since number 1 is away gapping, she wrote this for my mother for her birthday present. Enjoy!
I remember walking at the house, tucked away on a pretty lane outside the village of Barford, Warwickshire. Stepping out of the white doors of the living room with the hand of my grandmother, past the smell and rows of lavender, down the endless beds of roses before reaching the greenhouse, climbing carefully over the precipices of paved stones. Tucked under a tree, I would be propped up onto the second fence in my wellies and there would be the donkeys, Phoebe and Clover. If I was lucky, they would come gamboling over to us, so I could almost reach my hand over and touch the rough tuft of hair that stood between their alert pointed ears. Sometimes, we even gave them a carrot or two. And I remember being plucked off the fence once more and with the safety of my grandmother’s hand, toddling back to the house.
A picture stands on the family’s notice board in the kitchen, well worn, of my grandparents standing next to me as a baby. I wear pale pink and two happy fresh young faces look straight down the eye of the camera, beaming and proud. Being the oldest, I have been lucky to have a vague memory or two of Little Grandpa when we were young, our favoured name for him, but this picture stirs something in me - of his gentleness and a twinkle in his eye. The hard grip he would clasp you with. He was the apple of everyone’s eye. I still remember my mother coming home, having held his hand before he died. She fiercely adored him and I remember how important it was to her, to make her parents proud. That is something I will always carry with me.
I remember when I put my face close to her, the feel of my Granny Gin’s skin, soft and velvety and the smell of talcum powder mixed with perfume hits my nose. Now I enjoy coming home at Christmas, seeing the tree stacked up, heaving with trinkets in a glowering cascade of colour; feeling the smack of Granny’s pursed lips on my cheek welcoming me home. As a teenager, I would work hard to be naughty - the stern look occasionally being replaced by her irrepressible rocking laughter. It shakes off any awkward atmosphere - and we often had those with the coming together of relatives on Christmas Day.
At parties in Barford, Granny would make canapés of smoked salmon sandwiches served with swathes of butter on soft brown bread cut into squares with the crust kept on, sprinkled with black pepper and always, always served with a slice of lemon. This was the only fish I could enjoy for eighteen years, my despairing mother would disguise a fish pie with ketchup in the mashed potato and a mountain of peas. I would succumb to fish and chips easily, usually only eating the batter. And the chips. Now I’m an adult, I eat fish now and again. But I absolutely love smoked salmon.
She could sing sweetly - ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ from Oklahoma and when I was little, learning to play the piano, I would open the top of the piano stool and lift heaps of papers down onto the carpet, exploring her sheets of music and matinee programmes from when Grandpa had directed, and she had performed. Whenever we visited Stratford upon Avon, she would take us to the RSC - Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Later, when I would start acting professionally and read reams of Shakespeare with my speech therapist, I would remember sitting in the blacked out theatre:
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
I fell in love with Shakespeare five years ago, but the root of that most certainly came from Granny.
The intrepid granny, as our family also call her, always used to go on these grand holidays, occasionally taking us along as well - but always separately. Egypt and the Nile, the heart of Africa and safaris with elephants. She took me to New York when I was coming into my rebellious streak as a teenager, and I remember standing in awe at buildings that you could not see the top of, the yellow taxis honking in deadlock traffic, the blurred faces of people walking past and the strange smell of rubbish, fast food, the foreignness of it all. Even though I had been to London a few times, I had yet to grasp the sense of a city - to stand in awe at a 360 panorama of vivacity and I will never forget those few days - seeing musicals, getting lost in FAO Schwartz, climbing to the top of Empire State Building and waiting for ages to come down again, the pleasure of meeting a most remarkable man - Edward Finch and his wife Polly. His building had a doorman standing outside. I still have the bright pink boots with heels that Granny let me buy. I could stride right down Fifth Avenue in these, but it didn’t have quite the same effect in Harrogate. I know I was difficult on that trip and probably didn’t show much appreciation, but it was an unforgettable experience.
Ibiza on summer holidays is another place inundated with memories of Granny Gin and Jack the Crack. Jack the Crack was the first bald man to come into our lives, a long-time friend of Granny’s. He had perhaps one or two hairs on his head, and my sister and I would make the most of this by putting our vast collection of hair bobbles on his head. Long before Ibiza became the hotspot for clubbing-fuelled adrenaline, we would sit in this restaurant above the sea, jumping off the cliffs and learning to play bridge with Granny Gin. We would also meet the infamous Auntie Jean - always greeted with one finger on the side of the nose and a low bow much like the Thai welcome. Auntie Jean was famous in my mother's youth for a television programme with two koalas - Tingha and Tucker.
Nowadays, I don’t see my Granny Gin all that often, though she comes home to Yorkshire more than I do. When I try to imagine her, I picture her on the sofa watching cricket with my brother - this being one of her most favourite pastimes as the Warwickshire cricket club well know. Or I picture her with a gin and tonic, standing staunch and proud as the Queen, the same age as Granny, reads her speech on the television on Christmas Day. At first, this would make us giggle but it’s always a lovely moment when we, as a family, stand with my grandmother still and silently on this chaotic day.
When I was little and Granny was sixty three, she was always thirty six when I asked her. Now at eighty six years of age, reversing the numbers is probably not quite so flattering but I can and will say she looks and acts remarkably younger than her age. All six of her grandchildren are counting on having her genes.
Three days short of my own birthday, Granny’s birthday always brings about a reflection into the past - into my own achievements, memories and trepidation about the next year. If I have accomplished the things that she has, and continues to, then I will be a happy woman by the time I reach thirty six and sixty three.
Happy Birthday Granny, from 6196.31 miles away, your loving and oldest granddaughter,