Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Honor To Us All

There's a running joke in the television show Friday Night Dinner  that the family have Nice Grandma and Horrible Grandma. It's the only joke in the whole series that I can't relate to.

But it seems I'm the only one.

Almost every one of my friends has a Nice Grandma and Horrible Grandma, and has referred to them as such for as long as I can remember.

(The funniest thing about this is that the whole family refers to them as Nice and Horrible- including their own son/daughter, and it's just totally accepted.)

So apparently my brothers and I are three of the only people on the planet to be fortunate enough to have the four kindest and most amusing people on the planet for grandparents.

I was lucky enough to keep all four of my grandparents all the way up until five days before my seventeenth birthday, when my paternal grandmother (or Nanny as she will always be known) slipped away in her sleep, graceful and classy as ever, aged eighty.

Today is five days before my twenty seventh birthday.

Ten whole years have passed since then.

Which is totally inconceivable to me.

How has it been that long? She could have been here, yesterday, calling me precocious and producing jam filled cakes out of thin air.

Anyway, the arrival of today's date paired with watching Friday Night Dinner and discussing my best friend's Horrible Grandma with her got me thinking about Grandparents in general and how lucky Mowgli, Chip and I are.

I don't know about your grandparents. Maybe they're as wonderful as mine. Maybe your Nice Grandma is great and your Horrible Grandma is pure evil. Maybe they're full of funny, wise anecdotes, exceptional secret recipes, and classic one liners. Maybe they love Keeping Up Appearances and Porridge. Maybe all your memories consist of sitting on their knees as a toddler. Hopefully, whatever your memories are, you can enjoy- and maybe even relate to- some of my most treasured Nice Grandparent memories....

1) Cakes

The other day Dale and I were eating cakes (it's my birthday month, we've eaten cakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three weeks), and when we were sad that they were over and were staring resolutely at the empty cases, Dale asked whether I remembered as a child sucking on the empty paper. I did. And was immediately transported back. Back to around 1998. At least once a week we would come home to find that Nanny had let herself in with her key and left us some fancy cakes on the kitchen table. Normally filled with jam and topped with white icing and either silver balls, colourful sprinkles, or coconut.

2) Modern Dating

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my Grandad Ed that went like this:

"Your brother seems very happy with his girlfriend. Everyone's being a bit vague about how they met though. Can you tell me once and for all? How did they meet?"

"Well," I begin, still deciding exactly where to begin with explaining Tinder to a ninety one year old, "on the internet."

I stop there, thinking that will do for today's lesson.

"Right," he says, seeming to be taking it in. "You must have some real issues if you've got to turn to the internet to find a girl, haven't you?"

3) Young at Heart

Last week I went to see my Grandad Derek on his seventy eighth birthday. He was at the Bowls Club (his favourite place in the whole world) running an Open Day for new people to go along and trial bowling for the first time.

Two things struck me about my time there.

The first was how excited my Grandad was about his birthday.

You know the way old people say 'ah once you get to my age, birthdays don't mean much anymore'?

Not my Grandad. He was so excited. Which explains why my mum gets so excited about hers, and why I, in turn, get so excited about mine. And also is the perfect permission story for me to tell when people make faces about the fact that I tell everyone when mine is coming up despite the fact I'm over the age of ten.

The second thing that struck me was how sad he was to be back from his ten days in Fuerteventura. When I asked him whether he had a good time he looked genuinely gutted as he answered 'I just find it so hard settling back into reality. It was so great.'

I didn't know that anyone felt like that about holidays past the age of ten either (except my Mum. She's more like her dad than I ever realised.)

The final thing that I feel I should highlight to you at this point is that he was recently on Radio Two as a success story of someone who started learning the Saxophone aged seventy six.

Honestly, he is the original proof that if you can dream it, you can do it- and you should.

(Also he only looks about twenty five. Forget surgery, keeping busy might be the answer to maintaining your youthful looks!)

4) Therapy

Sometimes I feel like my Grandma is my therapist. Quite often I'll 'pop' in for a coffee (she provides me with special fancy cappuccinos) and end up being there talking at her for hours about everything that's happened to me and happened to cross my mind in the past month. And she listens to all of it. Never has to get on with something more important, never has a vacant expression, never busies herself with other things. She listens and then responds with sensible, Grandma advice, and is always on my side. Always.

5) Technology

I can't write about my grandparents without mentioning this subject.

Not a week goes by when there isn't a funny story about my Grandad and his computer. This is the same man who loves his birthday, holidays, and takes up new hobbies as and when he fancies. He has an iPhone, iPod, hotmail, computer, printer, scanner and Facebook account.

There are so many stories that I could tell about his adventures with these various pieces of technology, but when I asked my brothers which story was their favourite, they both said the same thing.

It's his Computer Rules.

He's very strict.

He deletes emails almost as soon as they come in, and when he goes on holiday he calls around to his family and friends and asks them not to send any emails for the next two weeks as he really does believe (no matter how many times everyone tells him) that they will clog up his computer.

He treats his Facebook friends the same- much to the amusement of my cousin Hannah- whom he asked to delete his friend who had written a lovely message on his wall about how great it was to be in touch again, because he 'really didn't need him on there, clogging things up.'

My mum then reminded me of her favourite story.

The time that somehow- and we will never know how- my Grandad managed to change his Facebook profile to say he lived in Cambridge (he lives in Essex) and 'works at Raise These Sails.'

'Raise These Sails' is the name of my cousin George's band. They describe themselves as 'Progressive/Post Hardcore.'

What a shock that was to those of my Grandad's bowls pals that had been lucky enough to be added as a friend.

6) 1940s Fairytale

There's a little quote making its way around little wooden plaques in people's homes and on centre pieces at weddings the country over that says something along the lines of "Every love story is beautiful but ours is my favourite."

Never has that phrase been truer than with my Grandad Ed. Almost every time I see him he retells the story of his first date with my Nanny.

She was late. So late, in fact, that my Grandad assumed he had been stood up and gave up hope of ever seeing her again. He decided that if she wasn't on the next bus, he was leaving. Bear in mind, lovely readers, that there was no Facebook in the 1940s. No whatsapp, no mobiles, no Linkedin, no Twitter.

No way of getting in contact.

She was on the next bus.


Because if she hadn't been, according to my calculations, there are twenty two people that wouldn't exist today.

Which leads me to my next story...

7) Too Much Information.

The time my Nanny told me that she hadn't planned my Dad.

"Oh no," she said, blissfully unaware that she was about to scar her fourteen year old granddaughter for life, "we hadn't planned him. But we went to a wedding, we had a good time, and then that was that. I was pregnant."


8) Marriage Lessons

I have learnt so much from both sets of grandparents about how relationships should work.

Every single time I left my Nanny and Grandad's house for seventeen years, it was always to wave them off together. And after fifty eight years of marriage they always cuddled as they waved their family off. It's something that struck me- even at the age of twelve- as true magic.

My Grandma should run classes on marriage. Seriously.

Sometimes I watch her in awe and feel I should be making notes.

"Derek do you think you could do the bacon dear?"

"Can't you do it? I'm just in the middle of showing Rebecca something on my computer."

"Oh I would darling but I'm just not as good as you. I just don't know how you make it so crispy, you really are the expert."

Now written like this it might all seem really obvious. But it's actually genius. I watch as he physically puffs up, his chest rises slightly, and he replies "Oh well it's all in the way you place it on the pan. Quite simple really," and then proudly struts to the kitchen to show us what he can do.


My Grandma and Grandad also always do their shopping early on a Thursday morning and always have Fish and Chips for tea on Friday night. No expert has ever told me that's a secret to marriage, but I think having weekly rituals that involve guaranteed time together might just be one.

I have learnt so much from all four of my grandparents, and do my best to appreciate them every single day.

I like to think that I will continue to carry these wonderful traits, that they will continue to be a part of me, and then of my children, and that I will be as funny, determined, interesting, wise, and loving as my absolutely amazing ancestors.

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