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!
47 year old Author, Columnist and Blogger.