Family ties

I wasn’t what you’d call a pretty baby.

There’s nothing good about getting old. I can say this confidently, as at the moment, I’m getting regular reminders about the horrors of being elderly. As you already know, DB and I are staying in his grandparents’ house, as said grandparents are both in a care home suffering different forms of dementia. My own grandmother – positively bursting with life and good cheer four or five years ago – is poorly and frail, currently also in a care home – possibly on a temporary basis, possibly not.

Granny. She practically raised me – for the first few years, at least. She and Gramps had farmed for years, but retired either just before or just after I was born. The house they bought after selling the last farm still had a good two and a half acres round it, plus a paddock, because how could it not, after years of fields and fields? The paddock was, at various times, home to sheep (a ewe butted me into a shallow ditch when I was two; needless to say, I was not impressed) and pigs, named Pinky and Perky. We kept them for a while, then ate them. How’s that for food miles? Between the ages of 8 and 12, I frequently asked if, since we had a paddock, couldn’t we keep a pony in it?  Maybe even two? “Well, the fencing’s not good enough, and it’s costly to repair” came the reply. When I was seventeen, the fencing was suddenly repaired – because someone in the village was going to rent the paddock off us. To keep her horses in it. Pfffft.

At the other end of the property was a chicken run. As soon as I could walk, I was following Granny up there first thing in the morning, collecting the eggs with chubby toddler hands. I can still smell the chicken house now – a bit musty, a bit like damp straw, mostly just warm and feathery.

And then I got a year or two older, and we would go for walks on the common – the sizeable stretch of woodland onto which the property backed. We had Samuel, the springer spaniel, until I was 13 or 14. God, he was a brilliant dog. Smart (ish) for a spaniel, and always full of beans, in the way that the next dog – another spaniel, called Buffy – wasn’t.

Writing about it now is like opening a floodgate. Each memory sparks another; I could be here for days, trying to cover it all. Learning to ride a bike without stabilisers on the lawn. Falling off said bike on the patio, skinned knees, ripped jeans. Evenings in the summer holidays where I’d be in the garden til 8 or 9pm, seeing the wild rabbits scamper about where the lawn met the woodland, watching the sun set in a riot of orange and pink, sitting on the swing between the silver birch trees and imagining being ‘grown up’. I still have a soft spot for silver birches.

She taught me so many things, my gran. Some of which I will always live by: “never go to bed on an argument” and “never have an empty biscuit tin”, and some of which I’ll just remember with affection, such as her G&T making quantities: half and half. If I’m half as generous and giving as she is, I’ll be happy (I suspect I’m not there yet) – one of her most-used mottos* was “there’s always room for one more at the table”. Sunday lunches were tight on elbow-room. Whenever we spoke on the phone, she’d always, always ask “is there anything I can do for you? Anything I can send you?”

*One of her other, more nonsensical ones was “coo, it’s chilly-willy-wombles” whenever the weather took a turn for the frosty… Nope, me neither. I will, however, be saying that one to my kids, just to witness their bafflement. 

It’s hard to know how to end this post without sounding morbid – Gran really isn’t well at the moment, and I don’t know if/when we can expect her to recover. So I will just say this: I am incredibly lucky to have had her help to bring me up, and I count myself lucky to have inherited her love of animals and the countryside, and her sense of humour, and her tendency to start laughing and not be able to stop.

I will hold on to those things.

This week I’ve been re-visiting Lissie’s Back To Forever. It’s such a gutsy album, that veers between gentle post-break up introspection and rowdy, snarly rock. So, if you want to feel like a woman on a mission – and who doesn’t? – I can highly recommend it. Again.

Despite promising myself that I absolutely will not buy any more books until I’ve read all the ones I got for Christmas, I’d heard a lot of good things about The Girl on the Train, so when I saw that it was half-price in WH Smith’s, I grabbed it and tried not to feel too guilty. I’d finished it by midnight the same day – it’s a delicately-written “domestic thriller”, which manages to keep the final twist close to its chest until impressively late on.

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