Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Happy days

Shopping for Christmas presents for grandchildren made me consider not only my relationship with them but also my relationship with my grandparents. And - quite obviously - by relationship I don't mean kinship: I'm talking about how we reacted with each other.

When I was but a weeny-bopper we lived next door to my maternal grandparents. Someone, probably my grandfather as my father had no DIY abilities and - like me - couldn't even knock a nail in straight, had made a gate between the two back gardens close up to the back-to-back coal sheds. That grandfather died when I was 9 and my memories of him are very limited. So limited indeed that I really have but one or two memories. Back in those days there was a paddle steamer called the Medway Queen (a Dunkirk veteran, I believe) which plied from the Sun Pier, Chatham, down the Medway and across the Thames estuary to Southend and back. One day, my grandfather (I don't even remember what we (my brother and I) called him: Grandad, Grandpa or whatever) took me on that trip. We must have caught a bus to Chatham High Street to reach the pier but I have no recollection of that. I do remember that my brother was not included on that trip, possibly considered too young.

[I have just been looking at a Google map pf Chatham. Grief, how it's changed! Mind you, it's probably 30 years or more since I even drive through the town and definitely over 50 years since I was actually in the town so it's not surprising that the roads I remember are not there any longer.]

The road I was looking for was where the old livestock market used to be held: The Brook. Our grandfather did take my brother and me there on several occasions and I can still remember the squealing of the pigs as their ears were nicked or pierced, presumably for identification purposes.

Having written that I'm having second thoughts about the location of the market. Was it in Chatham or Rochester? Not that it matters for the sake of this post.

And that, sadly, is all I remember about my paternal grandfather. His wife, Gran, is far easier to recall. She was a small lady (though not as short as my other grandmother) and wore a pinafore over her dress. She seemed always to be baking - rock cakes or buns - and many a warm delicacy was consumed in her kitchen. Every day she would wash the glass in the front door and polish the letter box, knocker and door step. She would spend hours playing board games with my brother and me - usually ludo but sometimes snakes and ladders. One corner of the living room contained a built-in cabinet. This has a cupboard at the bottom with two drawers side by side above. The cupboard above that was set back a bit to provide a narrow shelf. It was one drawer in particular that I found fascinating and would spend, it seemed to me, hours happily turning it out and rummaging through the contents. This was Gran's "bits" drawer where she kept bits of string, paper clips, the adhesive paper from the sides of stamps - anything which might come in useful one day and was small enough to be stowed away in this mini Aladdin's cave.

My maternal grandparents lived not far from the school my brother and I attended until we were 11. I have no doubt that in those years my grandfather, who was a shipwright, was still working in what was then His Majesty's Dockyard - this was a naval town. I know Pop was there at least sometimes when we visited because as we went out of the back gate (we never used the front door), he would surreptitiously slip a half-crown into my hand and another to my brother. My brother and I thought this was a secret on a par with state secrets, although we always told Mum later, but, of course, both Mum and Nan both knew very well what was going on.

Well, they were happy enough, those days, but I don't think I would really want to go back in time and live through them again. Life in the upper 60s isn't too bad.

It's six months today.


Stephen Hayes said...

The comment about your grandfather slipping coins into your hand brought a tear to my eye and made me think about my own long-gone grandpa.

Buck said...

Life in the upper 60s isn't too bad.

I'll second that and the previous thought, as well.

The only grandparents I ever knew were my maternal grandmothers, the plural meaning both my grandmother and great-grandmother. I was shipped off to their home in Atlanta every summer from ages 13 to 15... which made for GREAT summers. Grandmothers are SO indulgent!