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!
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.
I was spending the day with Nan, Mum and Dad had gone out. Outside the weather was cold, I could see the neighbours trees swaying gently in the bitter northerly wind. Sitting in the kitchen, I was warm, sheltered from the January chill; Nan was making dinner, the smell of steak and kidney pudding drifting throughout the house. Rich thick, dark gravy was simmering on the stove, as Nan finished lining each ceramic pot, with a hearty suet pastry. I watched as Nan spooned the meat into the cases, sealing them tightly with a muslin cloth, left to boil as she started to peel potatoes for the evening meal.
Nanny often told me the story of when she worked in Lyons Bakery, during the War, baking bread. She always took great pride in her appearance; even at the height of the conflict, when rationing was in force; she still made the best of a bad situation. In all the years I knew my Nan, I never once saw her without make up; needing dough at Lyons was no exception. A smoker at the time, she would puff on a cigarette, even when on the production line. In Nan’s words, ‘often dropping ash into a bowl of flour!’ Times were very different then and nobody seemed to mind, let alone die from embers in a loaf; if anything, Nan continued ‘it added flavour to the bread;’ looking up for divine inspiration, jesting in fun!
I went outside in the garden with Nan, it was time for a quick cigarette. Wrapped up warmly in her thick woollen cardigan, me in a duffel coat and bobble hat, which Nan had buttoned up to my neck, we stood shivering by the conservatory; I could barely move my head, as she flung a scarf around my chin. Nan always smoked ‘Cadets,’ in a red a white packet; she opened the box, and realised she had none left, tipping the packet upside down just to make sure. She sighed, took my hand and walked back inside.
‘If I write you a note, will you go and see the lady down the road and get me another packet?’ Nan asked. I nodded my head, looking forward to going out on my own. I suppose I couldn’t have been any more than ten years old at the time and knew the lady in the Newsagents well. She always seemed happy to see me and gave me a few penny sweets as I passed by. I often walked the short distance to the parade of shops in Highlands road, on my own, without an adult in tow! There was no fear or paranoia from an over worked Mum, not letting their child out of site. We were safe and able to walk unaccompanied, an altogether unfamiliar childhood by today’s standards.
Nan wrote a note on a piece of paper:
“Please can you let my Grandson have a packet of 20 Cadets, From Mrs Frampton at number 8 Coppice Way!”
She folded it neatly and placed it into my top pocket with a crisp one pound note. “Don’t lose it!” she said, as I ran out the door. Jumping up at the side gate, I managed to lift the latch. Nan followed close behind, securing it as I ran around the corner into Fareham Park Road. “Ring the bell, when you come back,” I heard her shout, as I enthusiastically waved goodbye.
I waited patiently behind the Man in front, as he bought a packet of Woodbines, coughing all the while. He paid for his cigarettes, turned and walked towards the door, patting me on the head as he left; mumbling something as he did so. “Hello there!” said the lady behind the counter, “what can I do for you?” she asked, leaning down towards me, trying to catch my eye. I placed the note on the counter, which she duly read. “Ah for Poppy,” I heard her say. Everyone knew each other in our little town!
She put a packet of twenty, four rhubarb and custards and the change into a white paper bag. Finally she scribbled a message onto the back; taking stapler from the counter, she secured the parcel tightly; gently she placed the package into my hand. “Don’t lose it; Nanny wont be happy.” she shouted as I skipped out the door.
Nan was waiting for me, when I got back, standing on the drive. I handed her the bag, she smiled as she read the words; probably a few lines of encouragement to help her give up smoking, which thankfully she eventually did; carefully removing the cigarettes, she positioned them in my hand. Nanny knew I liked opening a new packet, I loved the smell of the tobacco, as I removed the foil tab, tipping it towards my nose, enjoying the aroma. “Don’t you ever smoke like me,” Nanny always said; of course I never listened and Nanny was always right!
33 years a smoker, finally nicotine free!
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 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!
As a child, I gave each day of the week a colour; Wednesday was blue; a happy hue, vibrant and full of life. Blue reminded me of a summer sky; dreamy, bright, sparkling in the warm glow of the sun. This was my favourite day; sausage and chips for lunch. Slouching, slumped on my desk, arms folded, supporting my head, watching the clock tick slowly by; a momentary glance out of the window, told me it was nearly time to go; the caretaker opening the rusty gates at the end of the school drive, to herd the throng of children running quickly home. With one minute to go, I began to pack away my pencil case, haphazardly throwing it into the dark recess of my bag, hanging from the back of my chair. Finally the bell sounded, chairs noisily scraped backwards, as we all scrambled towards the door; unruly, disorderly; ignoring our teachers plea for quiet!
On the way to Nanny’s house, we took a slight detour, stopping at the local takeaway on Fareham Park Road. The smell of fish, battered sausages and chips, steak and kidney pie, pickled onions, pickled eggs, pea fritters, everything fried; wafting up the street. Salivating, licking my lips, I anticipated my lunch. A leisurely walk turned into a hurried sprint, as I tried to reach the head of the lunch time queue; skating, precariously around the glass door, briefly tripping on the front step, hands firmly gripping the frame, stopping my fall. I made it, I was first; standing proudly waiting to be served. Barely able to reach half way up the counter, I shouted my order, jumping up and down, waving furiously. The lady smiled back warmly, a wink from her right eye; she knew me, like everyone else who came in each day. She was large, with red rosy cheeks, booming voice, imposing laughter; jolly, jovial and jaunty; hands folded, tucked neatly under her chest.
It was a short walk to Nanny’s house; running in the door; hands stretched outwards a big hug my reward. Nanny was a remarkable, extraordinary woman with blue and purple hair, bright red lipstick, perfectly manicured nails. She always wore high heeled shoes, a string of pearls around her neck, sparking rings on her fingers, immaculately dressed.
The plates were warming in the oven, as our newspaper packages were handed out. Climbing up the stool towards the breakfast bar, I always sat in the corner, next to the green rotary phone, that hung on the wall. I could see the television from the corner of my left eye, in the sitting room beyond; perched neatly on the end of Nan and Grandads stone fireplace, quietly talking away to itself. Leaning slightly backwards I would try and watch ‘fingerbobs,’ ‘Charlton and the Wheelies,’ ‘Rainbow’ or ‘Button Moon,’ occasionally taking a bite, more often not, distracted, preoccupied!
Everyone was there on a Wednesday; my Uncle and Aunt who I went to school with, Mother and younger Brother; everyone chatting away, in the middle of their own conversations, discussing the latest local gossip, the price of groceries or which member of our rather large family was pregnant again. These were indeed happy times, spent in the comfort of my Nan’s house; innocent fun filled days, where a fish and chip lunch was enough to satisfy all my dreams and aspirations. Wednesdays were a special part of my life, because the memories are still there, burning strong. As I write these words down, I am immediately transported back to 1978, listening to the voices chattering around me, the smell of ‘proper chip shop chips,’ magical children’s television and Nanny’s face peering lovingly down towards me, chuckling to herself as I ate my meal.
My blue day was never quite the same again, faded into the past. As I moved ever onwards, far from my home town, Wednesdays have become a tradition once again, remembered fondly, whenever I eat fish and chips. Memories come flooding back, as I sit, thinking about those happy School days, spent with family at Nanny’s house. Memories are precious; I’m glad I lived the life I have; I wouldn’t wish for anything more, just time, to go back and relive them all!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.