Tea and Cake!
Purple rinse, perfect nails and impeccable complexion, that was my Nan. A larger than life personality, full of character and wise words, she was the linchpin of family life and the voice of reason in an ever-changing World. Her reassuring words always reflected her sense of fun and ability to comfort those closest. Nan was my go-to person as a child, when I needed a friendly face; a constant in my life, with true embrace, a willingness to listen and a stickler for tradition!
Nan had mellowed over the years; as Mother used to say - no longer the formidable doyenne, she once was, now reborn into the naughty Nanny who never could say no. With a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she always looked the other way; ‘boys will be boys,’ she chuckled, ‘They’ll sort it out in the end!’ My Nan’s important family role, throughout my childhood brought security and affirmation, always welcoming her grandchildren with open arms and a rather sloppy kiss on the cheek. She was everything a Grandparent should be, archetypal in every respect.
Nanny was sat in the breakfast room, perched high on a stall; her colourful 50s à la mode hair, mirrored her floral ensemble. Neatly pressed and suitably attired, she was perfectly presented, her outfit flawlessly accentuated with a single row of pearls. She wore colourful rings on her chubby manicured hands; bright red nail varnish, catching the light of the morning, beaming through the conservatory door, as she beckoned me over for a hug.
I ran eagerly, burying my head deep in her bosom, trying to stretch my arms around her chest. She always gave the best cuddles. Not wanting to let go, I’d finally lift my head and breathe, Nan sat laughing exuberantly as she gently eased herself off the stall. Kettle on, I sipped a large mug of tea, strong, with no sugar, just how I did at home. With Mother and Nanny sat chatting, I caught the occasional glimpse of afternoon television through the patio doors to the lounge. Chorlton and the Wheelies today and Fenella the Witch, who gives me nightmares to this day. One eye on the TV set and an ear on the gossip in the kitchen, my attention wandered from one room to another, interjecting when I could, feeling grown up and part of the conversation.
Nan tottered around the kitchen wearing her red patent court shoes, different colours each day. I never saw her without them; neatly cleaned and polished, they were part of who she was. Standing on tiptoe, reaching over to the top of the fridge at the back of the room, she gently slid a cake tin to the fore. Grabbing a corner with her hand, grasping it tightly, she teetered back to the breakfast bar, talking as she went. Releasing the lid, trying not to break a nail, she took out a freshly baked fruit cake, still warm from the oven. Soft, moist and bulging with sultanas, currents and my favourite cherries, she cut a hearty piece, placing it neatly on a china plate. Still talking to Mum, she put it in front of my face, a smile from the corner of her mouth, signalled, it was time to eat.
Tea, cake and conversation, hugs and kisses, taking out her false teeth and making us all laugh. This was my Grandmother, with her perfect demeanour, nurturing nature and immaculate coffered hair. These enduring memories are priceless today, as I reach the same age as Nan was then. Sadly she wasn’t a part of my life in latter years, but I thought of her often as I still do today. She was a lady unlike no other and a woman I adored, never far from my mind, I remember my early years and the matriarch that could never be ignored. The everlasting, unremitting Memories of a much loved Grandmother, still very much alive!
Boys Will Be Boys!
The 1970s was the happiest time to be alive; I had a large extended family, who all lived locally; I even attended the same school as my Uncle, who was about six months older than me. We were very close growing up and had a relationship akin to Brothers, even placed in the same class, during our first term at school. Family were a lot more important back then and as I reflect on the past, the older I get, I realise the importance of times that made me who I am; the last generation to survive without the rigours of modernity.
It was a decidedly chilly autumnal day, perfect for running around, keeping warm and enjoying the fresh air outside. The family were in my Grandmothers breakfast room, all sat around the central aisle, chatting about the weeks events. There was always something to talk about; people who had sadly passed, Mrs so in so who was pregnant again or the neighbour down the street who hadn’t been seen for several weeks. Curtain twitching, knowing each other's business and passing judgement on someone else, was common place in a close-knit community like ours and part of the lifeblood of families everywhere!
Outside my Uncle Paul and I were amusing ourselves in the garden, as all lads do. Grandad had bought us a pair of toy pistols from the Taxi shop in Highlands Road and dressed as a Cowboy and Indian we played a game of skulduggery and subterfuge– fighting, tripping one another up and pushing each other over. Mum, forever protective shouted from the conservatory door, ‘it will all end in tears if you aren’t careful, play nicely or come inside!’ Well boys do what they are preprogrammed to do and our games became ever more boisterous, part of the course in a health and safety free, 1970s Britain. Disregarding Mothers plea for a truce, we hid in the garage, away from prying eyes.
Uncompromising and focused, I was determined to get the upper hand, throwing a piece of wood towards my Uncle, who lowered his head just in time. Shocked that the object missed, I hid back in the corner by the garage door, waiting for the onslaught that would surely follow. Five minutes, must have passed, and I couldn’t hear a sound. From the protection of the darkness, I gradually stood up, unaware that my Uncle was standing, just a few feet away, holding a hammer in his hand. As I lifted my gaze, there was a thud; I was struck across the forehead, throwing me backwards into the recess. At first, I was too shocked to cry, but as the blood started trickling from my brow and the pain began to smart the tears also came to pass.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Mum came running in, opening the garage door and lifting me up towards her chest. ‘ I told you it would all end like this, you kids never listen!’ The tears were cascading down my blood stained cheek; taking a tissue from inside her sleeve, Mother tried to wipe the blood away, all the while, rubbing my arm, to make me feel better. After a few minutes, she carried me inside, followed gingerly by my Uncle Paul. Placing me on the draining board, next to the sink, she finally cleaned the wound and placed a butterfly plaster or two over the cut. Within a couple of minutes we were outside once again finishing our game of Cowboys and Indians, ignoring Mums plea for calm and wreaking havoc in our wake!
The rough and tumble of childhood was a large part of growing up, unlike today. Of course parents looked out for their children, but they did so without over protecting and stifling their sense of adventure. Kids will be kids, they will play, fight, kick and scream, throw each other around and generally let off steam. This is what young life should be about, as we take our first tentative steps into the World outside.
It was 4 o’clock; the sun still high in the sky, as Grandad dropped me off at Nanny’s house, after a few hours in the Forest of bere. I had a carrier bag stuffed full of woodland goodies; moss covered sticks, twigs and bright orange leaves; holly, pine cones and large shiny stones; some with holes in, collected from the forest floor. I ran into the side gate, bag slung around my back, excited to show everyone what I had collected. Through the conservatory, narrowly avoiding tripping, on the step to the kitchen; I emptied the contents of the bag on the dining room floor, satisfied with my Saturday afternoon hall!
It took about fifteen minutes to wander home from Nan and Grandad’s, walking up Fareham Park Road, bags of shopping in hand, right to the very top. Fareham was a small place, where everyone knew each other, exchanging greetings as we walked by. Mrs Adams rubbing my head furiously as Mother and Father passed the time of day; a welcome breather from carrying the bags of shopping home; panting, sore feet, runny nose. As we approached our house, children were playing in the street, neighbours chatting over a garden hedge, others were proudly cleaning their cars or walking an unruly dog. In the distance, I could here the faint humming of a lawn mower; Shirley next door pottering down her path, waving us through the door!
On Saturday evening, we would always have a ‘make do’ meal; Mum, having cooked all week, took respite. A Vesta Curry for Dad, a sandwich for mum, a boiled egg for my brother and I; something simple, non taxing, before a large Sunday Dinner tomorrow; my favourite meal of the week. Mum made up a salad, some ham cut from the bone, hot, spicy home made pickled onions and a jar of piccalilli, sat chatting at the dining room table, looking out across the garden. Ben our cat sat at the window, looking in hungrily as we finished our meal; the sun gently fading away as day turned to dusk.
Television turned on, Dad listened to the final half hour of Grandstand; football results displayed across the screen. Familiar music signalled the end of a sports filled afternoon; football, wrestling with Big Daddy, horse racing on ITV. At just gone five o’clock the news came on; Dad and I both glued to the box. Even at ten years old I was a political animal; listening to my Father raging, banging his fists, sighing loudly; Margaret Thatcher on the TV!
All was quiet on the Avenue, street lamps turned on, illuminating the empty road. Mother drew the curtains; lifting the nets briefly, head bobbing from side to side, checking to see who was about outside. Sat quietly, my back against a chair, Mum lit the fire, smoke filling the air. It was a chilly night as the wind whistled, down the chimney, gently rattling the metal framed windows, blowing into the lounge. Running upstairs, I quickly grabbed my dressing gown, tying it tightly around my waste, pulling the collar upwards, protecting my chest, trying to keep warm. Suitably attired, I ran back down, not wanting to miss the beginning of ‘The Generation Game’ with Larry Grayson, who always made my laugh; ‘shut that door,’ his spectacles dangling from his neck on a beaded chain, slightly camp lisp and kick of the heal.
I could hear Mum in the kitchen making a mug of coffee, immediately I asked for a cup of tea; hot, strong without sugar, accompanied by a milk chocolate digestive and custard cream. Dad shouted from his chair near the fire; ‘a plain crisp and brown sauce sandwich please Mary and a cheeky half a pint of beer.’ This was my Saturday night, relaxing with Mum and Dad, talking, watching the TV. Fond memories with loved ones, recollections from times gone by; happy, carefree childhood, full of contentment, precious memories, with family!
The sky looked grey, just the odd patch of blue, breaking through the thick cloud swirling around outside. It was a typical British summers day and I was up bright an early; today I was going to the beach with Nan, Grandad and Aunty Pam; Littlehampton by the sea. Mum was preparing lunch to take with me, putting it neatly into a brightly coloured holdall, along with some bathing trunks and my china giraffe. I used to carry the Wade Whimsie around everywhere, buying a different figurine, every time I went to the Post Office on Highlands Road. I was a collector even then and always felt secure when I had things around me. Finally Mum packed a packed of Discos, some orange cordial and a towel in the bag; zipping it tightly, placing it over my shoulder; it was nearly as big as me, slipping off my arm, hitting the floor. Rather perturbed, I grabbed the handle tightly, dragging the offending item into the hall, throwing it awkwardly by the front door; breathing heavily, I fell forwards onto the top of the bag, my head narrowly missing the floor. Angry, frustrated, I kicked it with my foot; it wasn’t going to get the better of me!
I sat patiently waiting half way up the stairs, swinging my legs back and forth, banging the step below with my heal. A shadow appeared in the glass of the front door, impatiently I ran back down, slipping down the final few rungs; the figure passed by. A shrug of the shoulder, I turned away and walked back in the kitchen, sitting miserably at the kitchen table. Suddenly there was a knock at the door; my head immediately perked up, a large smile across my face. I jumped up from the chair and ran forth, followed by Mum, greeting Nan at the door. ‘Come on, come on, hurry up, lets go!’ she said, standing there with her perfectly coiffured hair, kept precisely in place with a purple silk scarf, tied around her neck. She tightly grasped my hand and we headed to Grandads car!
I sat in the back of the brown Cortina with Aunty Pam, laughing all the way to the beach: Pam tickling me, playing ‘Eye Spy’ and naming the colour of the cars on the road. Half way there the sun finally came out, streaming through the windows; sunglasses on we finally reached the shore.
There were four folded up deckchairs in the boot of the car; Grandad took two, Nan and Pam two more. Grabbing a blanket and a small plastic carrier bag; we set off walking to the water front, finding our spot, in front of the jetty. Nan helped me change into my bathers, put sun cream on my face and shoulders and took a Marathon from her bag; half for me, half for her. Covered in chocolate, head to toe, she walked me down to the sea, splashing water on a hankie, wiping me clean; carrying me back to the safety of the beach.
The sun rose high in the sky, reflecting majestically off the waves licking the coastline. I knelt building a sandcastle, bucket and spade in hand, unwilling to venture into the sea. Nan sat on her orange and yellow chair reading a book; Grandad, earnestly flicking through a newspaper; Aunty Pam on her way back from the Winkle Store on the promenade, a cup of crustaceans for all; swimming in vinegar, the smell of the sea. After a second trip for some ice cream and beer for Grandad, we sat looking out towards the pier; waving at the fisherman hanging over the railings, throwing bread to the seagulls, dive bombing the shore.
As the sun dipped below the horizon and the summer breeze turned cold, wrapped in Nan’s cardigan, I fell asleep, eyes slowly closing, flickering; a deep red sunset in full view. I could hear the voices of children, running along the sand, a speedboat pass quickly by and Pam singing sea shanties in the background, as I happily drifted away, warm and cosy at the end of the day!
The tartan trolley was full to bursting, as I helped Mum haul its contents up Highlands road. Over the zebra crossing we strolled past the Post Office and around the corner, waving to the lady in the chippy as we walked by. Bent forwards, we turned into Coppice Way, stopping briefly to retrieve a stone that had become lodged between my socks and shoes. After a quick shake of my sandals, we turned into Nan and Grandad’s drive. Grandad’s racing green Land Rover was still parked outside; he hadn’t left to take the dogs out for their weekend walk. Saturdays were always busy at my Grandparents house, people in and out for most of the day!
I jumped up, as high as I could, opening the side gate, lifting the latch. We were greeted by barking dogs; lurching forwards they laddered Mum's tights. Licking my face, I was knocked to the ground and a bag of shopping from Gateway was spilt all over the terrace. After a few tears, Mum wiped my face with a tissue, she kept in her sleeve. A cuddle, kiss on the forehead and a tap on the bottom later, I got up, helping Mum pick up the scattered items. I placed them precariously on the old bench, that sat in front of the conservatory window, facing a small, well maintained garden. Birds were singing in the aviary; Tina, Nan’s cat was laying in the sun, yawning, stretching her claws and Grandad was in the garage putting the finishing touches to a walking stick he was making for his afternoon walk. I could here Nan in the kitchen, pots and pans clanking, as she made cakes on a Saturday afternoon; the smell of baking slowly drifting around the garden.
Nan was stood behind the breakfast bar, mixing bowl in hand, beating eggs vigorously with a whisk; not an electrical appliance in sight. Momentarily distracted as we walked through the door, she smiled; eyes sparkling, she put down the bowl. I ran over, putting my arms around her legs; she lifted me up as high as she could, kissing me on the lips as I swung back towards the floor.
Mum scooped me up, placing me on a stool; I sat there watching Nan as she finished the last cake of the day. Slowly she poured the fusion into a tin, banging it down on the bar; evenly spread, she finished by sprinkling brown sugar on top. With a wink, she passed the bowl over to me, to lick the leftovers inside; it was sweet, tasty, leaving my face covered in the sticky mixture. Once again Mum took a tissue, this time from her bag, wiping my face, shaking her head, tutting, ‘you are such a messy boy!’
Grandad had finished in his workshop, walking up the garden path, whistling as he went. The dogs were getting excited, it was time for a walk. Ambling into the breakfast room, he grasped his tweed cap, hanging on the back of a dining chair, grabbing the leads hanging near the door, shaking them with gusto, ‘Come on, come on, time for a walk.’ Two hounds barking, tails wagging, salivating, whining, bouncing up stealing the reins from Grandad’s hand.
‘Are you coming then,’ enquired Grandad? I nodded my head, cautiously slipping down the stool. Bye bye Mum, bye bye Nan, running excitedly outside, followed by two mercurial dogs - boisterous and unruly. As I reached the gate, tightly gripping a wrought iron post, Gramps came up behind me, clutching my waist. Dangling from under his arm he walked me up the path; opening the back door of the Land Rover he threw me inside, dogs clambering in afterwards, panting loudly. Door firmly shut, no seat belts required, we were off for a Saturday afternoon trek in the Forest of Bere. Collecting pine cones, leaves and sticks, we walked through the undergrowth, climbing trees enjoying the perfect fresh air fix!
Laying in bed, I could smell the joint of beef cooking in the oven; potatoes boiling on the stove; it was Sunday, not my favourite day of the week, with school coming up the next day, but I did love my roast dinner. Mum was a great cook, spending most of the day preparing Sunday Lunch, while Dad and I went to the pub with Nan and Grandad, when Grandad was on shore leave that is; he was in the Merchant Navy and away quite a lot. At home, he always liked a drink or two in ‘The Club,’ a short distance walk from their house. ‘The Club,’ was a C.I.U working men’s club; It looked like a tired, warn industrial unit, perched on the side of an Edwardian house; a meeting place, where membership was a must. Drinks were cheap, conversation in abundance; a welcome break from the drudgery of life.
I could barely see in front of me, the air was thick with smoke; the smell of stale beer, cheese and onion crisps, Old Spice and cheap perfume punctuated the air as we walked in. Music was playing from the stage; voices chattering, laughter, children running around the tables. Holding Nan’s hand, we approached the table between the bar and the hall, separated by a plastic screen, facing a long wooden bar. People were sitting on stools, pint in hand, talking about football, politics and the state of 1970s Britain. As a child I hated being there, holding my nose, trying to avoid the smoke, being blown from every direction. Dad and Grandad stood at the bar, talking to people as they waited to be served, waving at others who walked past, shaking hands with this person or that. Hill park was a small place, everyone knew each another, even if they didn’t always get on. Like most small towns and villages, it had its fair share of drama!
Nan was talking to Aunty Pam; she wasn’t a real Aunty, but we always referred to her in that term. Pam had a large booming laugh, that echoed throughout the bar; the more she drank, the more she laughed, the funnier she was. I had a lot of Aunties and Uncles at ‘The Club,’ Aunty Jean, Uncle John, Aunty Vera, the list is endless. All of them would come over, kissing, wet saliva all over my cheeks, the smell of alcohol on their breath, rubbing my hair, throwing me up in the air, bouncing me on their knee. It was a brave new World for a young boy - faces everywhere, the clinking of glasses and those foul-smelling ashtrays in front of my face. It was a place so different from the security of home; smells, tastes and sounds all merged into one, in this mayhem of Sunday life.
I sat at the wobbly table, playing with beer mats, flicking them up in the air, bored waiting for my bottle of coke and crisps to arrive. Looking left occasionally, Nan made sure I was OK, as she continued talking to Pam and Uncle John. Dad and Grandad returned with a tray of drinks, poised to put them down. Nan lent over, taking a beer mat from my hand, folding it into quarters, placing it under the offending unsteady table leg, before the drinks were handed out. Finally, the table stopped moving, and the tray was emptied. I always had a fizzy drink and packet of salt and vinegar Rock ‘n’ Rollers, my favourite crisps of the time. Nan would have a packet of ‘Big D’ peanuts and probably a gin and tonic, although I can’t quite remember what her tipple was. Dad had a pint of Skol or cider and occasionally a cigar, the smell of which I loved; Grandad a very large whisky!
Wearing a lime green turtle-neck, short orange skirt and fur coat; Nan would dance the afternoon away; her perfect back combed hair standing tall, Windsor style, just like The Queen. Her manicured nails and high heel shoes gleaming, under the lights of the hall; laughing, joking; a social butterfly. This was my Nan, not sat at home knitting or reading a book, but part of the fabric of ‘The Club.’ A place full of fond memories, spent with people long since gone; happy times celebrating, family milestones, Weddings and coming home parties; ‘The Club,’ where their laughter lives on!
I sat there shivering, in grey tailored shorts and a wide collared shirt; fiddling with the bottom of my woolen tank top, neatly attired to compensate for the chill in the hall. Looking up towards Mrs Hat, squeezing my right eye tightly, I did my best to avoid the shouting above. I lent my head to one side, trying to cover my ear with my shoulder. Mrs Hat was mad, more angry than I had ever seen her before. Bending forwards, a shadow cast across my brow. I could feel her peppermint breath on my head; her big round face, obscured by her red felt hat. I could just make out her tiny little eyes, peering over her cheeks, as she moved closer and closer, nose to nose. She wore cats eye glasses, suspended on a golden chain, always tangled around her neck. They kept hitting me on the chin as she continued her screaming, bellowing ever louder. Finally I placed my hands above my head and pulled the top half of my body towards my chest; curled up I hid from her rage.
It was Wednesday and the Gospel Hall was filling up; children, all shapes and sizes, were once again attending an hour long session, of religious instruction and music. Mrs Hat was in charge; in all honesty, I can’t even remember if that was her name, or we called her that because of the ostentatious headpiece, she wore each week. She was stern, strict and without humour; a portly lady from an altogether different time. Sat in the pews, next to my friend from school, I was in a rather fidgety mood, not wanting to comply with the teachings of our Lord. I began kicking the bench in front, with my brown clarks sandals; a constant tap, as Mrs Hat began her sermon. I was in no mood for listening. Slouching, my head hit the backrest behind and I began to slide down the hard wooden seat; legs wide open, tapping my knees together, back and forth, making a clicking sound with my mouth.
Mid flow, Mrs Hat, looked up from her notes; removing her spectacles forcefully. Grasping them tightly in her left hand, she began banging them on the lecturn in front; the sound gradually getting louder, radiating throughout the hall. She glared across the auditorium, quickly picking up on my uninterested composure; eyes wide open she stared candidly in my direction. I looked around the room, to see if anyone had noticed our posturing. Gingerly I put both hands on the seat, either side of me and gradually lifted myself up, trying to look innocent and interested; all the while, Mrs Hat focused on my demeanour. As soon as I was upright, she popped her glasses back on her rather commodious nose and restarted her laborious rant. It wasn’t too long before my head began to nod in front of me; barely able to stay awake. I fell forwards, banging my head on the seat in front, knocking a bible, placed precariously on my knees, to the floor. Screeching loudly, I rubbed my throbbing temple, trying to ease the pain.
This time Mrs Hat was in a rage; once again she removed her eyeglasses, getting her thumb tied up in the chain around her nape. Even more enraged, she shook the adornment free, all the while looking at me full on in the face. After a deep breath, she lifted her arm in the air and pointed towards my position; I looked around quickly, hoping someone else was in her line of sight. Everyone else was looking downwards, not wanting to catch her eye. I just froze and realised the game was up; I was in trouble and waited silently, patiently as Mrs Hat began her descent from the pulpit.
She walked down the isle, towards the back of the room, where I was sat, all the time pointing, breathing hard, muttering to herself. As I waited patiently, I looked up towards the stark white ceiling above. Maybe God would intervene and whisk me away from this place, before her wrath and damnation; no such luck. God deserted me and I was left to the mercy of Mrs Hat; my career in the church was over before it started; my worst fears confirmed. There was no God, just her, her rage and displeasure and the unabated fury for the children she thwarted!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.