Wednesday, February 15, 2012

1973: And close the door

After turning the upstairs of her house into a self-contained flat, my grandma took in lodgers. Now she was on her own she didn't need the space particularly, being happy downstairs with a living room, kitchen and bedroom, with lean-to conservatory for warm days. She didn't seem to think that not having a bathroom was a drawback.

When we'd stay with her we'd use her pink tooth powder and clean our teeth over the sink. This didn't seem strange at all, as as far back as I can remember we always did this. I imagined mum did this too, though of course the house wasn't always two flats as I later discovered.

She was a proper old lady grandma, from the north, with a poodle called Andy which barked all the time, a teasmaid, false teeth she'd push out for us if we asked, with a prediliction for ITV light entertainment, a saucy comedy and a drink. She hated Les Dawson and Cilla Black though. Too much like her siblings. We loved staying the night with her, especially if it was at the Arms (see entries passim), but equally didn't mind staying at her flat.

She had a big garden, and often she'd let us mow the lawn (crafty one there) and she always had a bonfire smouldering away. The garden backed onto the grounds of a convent and you could slip through the fence and play in the orchards seeing how long it would take until a mean nun (is there any other kind? Call The Midwife is a myth) appeared from nowhere and shouted at us.

She was a legendary cook, too, and would start the day with bacon sandwiches, then one snack after another - pink penny wafers, giant-sized chocolate-covered coconut biscuits from the Co-Op, home made steak and kidney puddings and Cornish pasties and brilliant fluffy omelettes, drenched roasts, etc. Whenever I have runner beans she crosses my mind. She cooked fresh garden veg to perfection and her cream horns were the talk of Taunton Drive.

She was amazing at days out, and we'd always get the bus somewhere far flung: Hamble, the New Forest, the Tudor House, lunch at The Bugle or in Beaulieu, or trips to the cinema to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Railway Children or The Amazing Mr Blunden, sometimes with our two cousins. She'd get tumblers and orangeade out of her handbag. She wouldn't pay those prices for a Kia-Ora.

Her lodgers all loved her. They didn't seem to mind one bit that she'd use the bathroom once (!) a week. That was deal. When they left they all kept in touch, even the cross-dresser from Reigate. Her favourite had been a woman who went by the brilliant-yet-strange name of Miss Kneebone. I don't think I ever knew her first name. Gran was floored when a Christmas present she'd sent her was returned by her brother with a note to say she'd been knocked off her moped in Torquay and killed. The next one was a librarian called Cywyn or something unpronoucably Welsh, who hoovered up all meringue-topped lemon and apple tarts left for her at the bottom of the stairs.

She's been dead 10 years, but I think of her nearly every day. Her humour and her warmth, and when I hear this song, it reminds me of those long days out, long walks, stopping in at the newsagent where we laughed at the giant-sized posters of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, gritted teeth for visits to Auntie Maggie, a resident of a nearby old people's complex and not that moblile since she'd fallen off a bus in 1972 and broken her hip. A replacement just saw her sit in a chair, watch Emmerdale Farm and swear at her budgie.

So then as the afternoon drew on and it started to get colder and darker, it was back to hers for a high tea. She'd make a fire and we'd watch Opportunity Knocks or Crossroads. What could be more relaxing to an eight-year old? This song always reminds me of that era, Atora suet ads, etc. You know all the things that make me think: cosy. Somone once told me this song reminded them of an afternoon cleaning out a stables where their horse was, and it was one of the happiest times of their life. I get that.


  1. Ah, that's lovely. Lucky you, and lucky grandma for having you around.

    That song reminds me of the 'turn' by brother-in-law did on the Christmas night of the year it came out. It featured a particularly uncharitable impersonation of Lenny Peters which culminated with him walking into a door. I laughed so much I was sick, I'm afraid.

  2. Brilliant - everyone needs a cosy nan. My paternal one was always slightly grumpy, wore an all year mac and gave wet pecks on the cheek. My mum's mum was a delight - her house in Dalston (mum's childhood home) became too big and she rented the floors to lodgers (including a female librarian too) but she kept the basement flat. Which always smelt of dogs, gas (from the boiler and cooker - with a perma whistling kettle) and Vim..

    Saturdays with her were spent watching the wrestling and horse racing, flicking through PG tips cards and nipping to sweetshop which had the most spectacular selection of American comics on a rack (stamped 'T & P 12p')...

    Did you know Lenny Peters was Charlie Watts uncle. We played the P & L versh of Ray Charles Comin' Home Baby a couple of weeks back here...

  3. Poor Lenny Peters, the butt of so many what would now be considered hugely un-PC jokes. We still laughed though, not always until we were sick, mind.

    Love the sound of her, Mondo, and I did a big 'really!' when I read that about Charlie Watts. I had no idea.

  4. I think this is your best yet. I've read it a few times now and it strikes many chords. What with pink Euchryl tooth powder on a worn down brush and..

    "...then as the afternoon drew on and it started to get colder and darker, it was back to hers for a high tea. She'd make a fire and we'd watch Opportunity Knocks or Crossroads. What could be more relaxing to an eight-year old?"

    That reminds me of not wanting to go home, and who would?

  5. Thanks OP. I can't really shake off the yearning for those days. They've gone and they'll never happen again. Except on here of course.

    Yes, that toothpaste. That's what she had.