I was born in the early 1950s in Kettering. My Dad was a radio op in bomber command, my Mum a very beautiful lady who was in a reserve occupation in the tax office during WW2. They were a very attractive couple. They bought a new house in Windmill Avenue in 1948, and my Mother embraced (of course people didn’t always ‘embrace’ then) being a housewife, my Dad a gardener. My Mother loved homemaking, something I have (rather unfashionably) inherited from her. My Dad worked in Northampton for Courts the furnishers collecting cash on delivery money, but loved the garden.
A Kettering single decker bus in the 1950s
Sadly in 1949, my Mother’s Father passed away quite young. My Grandparents lived in an off-licence in Kettering and Gran was unable to carry on the business as it involved heavy lifting, so she had to move out the house. Society was different then, also just after the war there was an acute housing shortage. Long story short Gran (Edith) moved in with my parents. It was something that I always took for granted as a child and was reasonably normal at that time. Also, she had suffered from agoraphobia when younger so possibly wasn’t the strongest person. Mum and Gran did everything together, housework, shopping, and later childcare. Gran had been a children’s nanny prior to her marriage so had very set ideas on bringing up children. Born in 1899 she was one of the last Victorians!
I think Mum found it very helpful and comforting to have another pair of hands around at a time when housework took 60 hours per week plus. However it was difficult for Dad, though I did not really understand this fully till I was an adult.
My brother was born 3 years after me, and Gran almost became Mum to me as Mum looked after the baby. Gran and I would occasionally go shopping in Northampton or Leicester and we would visit my many great Aunts together. Gran often cooked as well, she was a dab hand at chopping home grown parsley or mint, made fab pancakes and chips as well as mutton stew.
I guess we always had a bit of a love/hate relationship. Gran was a very generous person but could be quite judgemental. To be honest she said some quite nasty things to me that I still remember. As an adult I can see maybe she was jealous of sharing Mum’s love and felt insecure after her husband died.
When I was 5 my Dad’s job moved us to Wales. It was a huge upheaval for Mum who had a lot of friends and relatives locally. We lived on the Gower, beautiful, but to be honest in the 50s a bit anti-English. I think Mum was very pleased that Gran moved too, otherwise she would have been isolated.
A Gower postcard from the 1950s
From there we moved to Swindon 2 years later, then 4 years after that to Cranleigh in Surrey. It must have been difficult for Mum. Dad was ambitious and earned good money. He worked his way up this multi-national company to become a Director in the 70s, and although the moving must have been unsettling, I think the money was appreciated.
So when I was a child, Gran was always there. She taught me a lot of things, probably more than my Mum at the time. How to knit (though I still can’t cast on!), crochet (I was no hoper), a lot about nature, which like me she especially loved wild flowers. When we were in Swindon, we would often picnic and walk on the Wiltshire downs in summer. Gran and I would pick wild flowers and press them. She walked with me after school to my ballet and tap class. She made my costume for the Brownie’s nativity play when I was cast as an angel. Just before Christmas, Gran and I would go to buy Mum’s Christmas present from me in the local (very upmarket) department store, always a special treat as it looked beautiful with decorations and we would go for a cup of tea and sometimes a cake too. Gran was quite religious and liked to attend church especially in Swindon. Sometimes she and I would attend the local church. It was very ‘high’ church, a beautiful Victorian building with lots of incense and ritual at services. I particularly remember going to an Epiphany service there one early January, singing “Brightest and Best” and how it was snowing when we came out. Like in Finding Nana, Gran and I usually shared a hotel room on holiday in Eastbourne, Devon or Bournemouth. She bought me a lot of dolls for Christmas and birthdays, which I loved and she made clothes for them too.
Gran would sometimes talk about life in the off-licence and shop during the war years especially. Screws of butter, broken biscuits, loose tea etc and sometimes saving a few things for families who were hard up or had a lot of young children. She would talk about playing cards at my Aunt’s houses, and indeed she used to play Rummy, Newmarket, Sevens and Beggar My Neighbour with my brother and I as kids too.
When I became a teenager Gran would make clothes for me. She was a very keen and competent needlewoman. She made clothes for Mum also.
At this stage, she did become very judgemental about my boyfriend who I started seeing when I was only 15.
In later life Gran had hearing problems which she found isolating. A couple of times I visited her as an adult when my parents were away and it was nice to talk just to her and for her to be able to hear me better.
It wasn’t really until my Dad was in hospital following a heart attack and I talked to him on my own that he said, and I realised, what a problem this had been for him. He had so little time alone with my Mum, her Mum was always there! Neither were bad people, but it was such a difficult and stressful situation. They both spent several years at the end hardly speaking to each other.
Gran passed away aged nearly 94. To sum her up she was: generous, kind, quite judgemental, a product of her late Victorian upbringing, a lover of nature especially springtime, a keen needlewoman, a religious lady. She was also dependant on Mum and Mum on her. There was a co-dependency that I only recognise in retrospect. Neither even walked into the village in Cranleigh on their own for example.
I still miss her now though. Especially looking at primroses (one of her favourites), or sewing, especially the blanket stitch which she taught me. At Christmas (which again she loved), and on hearing Elizabethan Serenade on Classic FM, a favourite of hers.