Saturday, 14 May 2011

Two World Wars and One World Cup, amongst other things

Hello everybody. Sorry for the silence yesterday. I had several philosophical revelations which would have enlightened a darkened world, but Blogger was broken and now I've forgotten them all. Ah well.

I didn't plan to be online at all today. What I really planned to do was ensconce myself in a Stoke pub and watch Stoke City smash 12 past Manchester City in the FA Cup Final.

Instead, I'm at my mother's house, mourning my grandmother. I can't pretend that she's been snatched from us in an untimely fashion: she was 98 and had suffered quite enough.

I'm not really up to a coherent and evocative narrative of her life, but some flashes might illuminate her character.

Her one and only driving lesson ended with the car being dragged out of a ditch by a tractor - sometime in the late 1930s.

This Catholic girl with a Jewish surname decided that 1938 was a good year for a cycling tour of Germany with her Girl Guide troupe. 'Very tidy and polite' was her verdict on the world's most evil regime. In the main, despite having lived through 2 world wars and almost a century of the momentous and terrible events in history, she seems not to have been unduly affected by much of it. Her interests were the Women's Institute, her family, her Catholicism and the cats we were finally allowed to have after my granddad died: he hated them.

My grandfather (who died in the 1990s) was ill for most of his life, and so they were desperately poor for decades - they lived in 13 places one year, always a step ahead of the bailiffs. They once bought a locked box at an auction in the hope there would be things they could sell in it. It was an old sea-captains chest, and contained all kinds of treasures which kept them for months. Having been poor, I don't think she got used to middle-class life. There are still wedding presents unopened in cupboards ('it's crockery') - since 1940 - and rooms full of used wrapping paper, tins of old buttons and pieces of string plus assorted junk: the family motto is 'you never know when it might come in useful', which can be applied to anything from a broken pram wheel to the many stone hot water bottles and the 1930s Hoover lying around upstairs. We also have the massive hockey stick she used in the 1920s. It will of course come in useful one day.

In recent years, she had no idea who I was, but could still name Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Marge and Homer. She made us watch Coronation Street, we made her watch The Simpsons. I'd like to think that we all learned something from these experiences.

The most characteristic thing she did happened well before I was born. She had breast cancer in the 1960s and underwent major surgery. Typically of her, she didn't mention it to my mother until later because she didn't want to disrupt mum's medical school exams.

She came to live with us 26 years ago, when my grandfather needed dialysis three times a week. Before that, they'd been the guardians of paradise - inhabitants of a beautiful, ungentrified country cottage surrounded by a garden full of fruit, glow-worms, grass snakes and puffballs (which grandad fried for our breakfast). Time didn't pass there, it hung suspended. With her, we ate gorgeous porridge (her culinary high point, I'm sorry to say), made mud pies, I drove a combine harvester (the last mechanical vehicle I got my hands on bar dodgems), visited an endless number of funny, mad and terrifying old ladies) and I read her entire collection of terrible books. I also remember driving a garden fork clean through my foot during an abortive attempt to tunnel my way through to Australia. Having lived through plenty of actual tragedies, this was considered a minor mishap and dealt with extremely calmly - we're not demonstrative types.

Apart from her collection of Richmal Crompton's William books, which she bought as they came out in the 1920s (still on her shelves), she read stories about rural vets, stories about people moving from the city to the country and having hilarious disasters along the way, and terrible romances like Castles In The Air. In her last years, she returned to her childhood favourites, giving me an excuse to whip through some when I visited.

Despite being fairly quiet, occasional flashes of a dark wit would appear. Her 90th birthday was a moment of obvious satisfaction to her: when asked why, she said with a gleam in her eye 'I've beaten my mother', and returned to the cake.

So, my grandmother, 1913-2011.

4 comments:

Blossom said...

Lovely tribute to your grandmother. It was a pleasure to read.

Ewarwoowar said...

Agreed, Blossom.

oldgirlatuni said...

Beautiful - thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

Brought back lovely memories of my grandma, thank you