Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Inconvenients

My grandparents were awesome to me as a kid.

Grampe and Nanny. My father's parents. My earliest memories as a child involve them, coming over our house on the weekend, spending Christmas with us (and me pleading with them to stay past Boxing Day) and spoiling me and my brother rotten.

My mother worked in a job that she constantly reminded us she hated (a hairdresser) and was studying part time to get O levels, A levels and eventually a degree in teaching so she could get the job she knew she was entitled to, as a Primary school teacher. Nanny and Grampe would babysit me and my bro at 3 hours notice if my mother needed them to.

They were always there for us and always very generous. Nanny baked cakes (and left the orange and lemon peel in them, which I didn't like but my dad did) and bought us presents and once a week would let herself into our house with the spare key my parents had given them, and tidy our house from top to bottom. I came home one day at the age of about 11 to have my Grampe say solemnly, "What have you been doing? Your poor Nanny's been worked to death."

Turns out my pigsty of a room was the major focus of attention that day, along with my brother's. My Nanny told me that she'd worked from 9am to late in the afternoon without stopping, only pausing ever so briefly to carry on with a cup of tea in her hand.

Consistent as the sunrise, my grandparents were like rocks in my early life. They were kind, compassionate and loved me and my brother to bits (although my Nanny preferred me, a fact which she could have kept to herself but hey, she wasn't being malicious, just a little ignorant and that could be forgiven coming from such an all round awesome, super grandmother).

When we stayed at their house for the weekend we'd always have a hot water bottle in our beds and she'd always make certain that we had a handful of Opal Fruits to be going on with. She made us mugs of Ovaltine to help us sleep in slender, big handled mugs and would let us play a ricochet game like pinball that was kept under the stairs and we couldn't take it home as it was only for playing with at Nanny and Grampe's house.

One day that we came to stay she bought me and Gary a toy bow and arrow set each. She hid them (one in the kitchen and one in the dining room) and we played a game to see who could find one first.

Christmas she'd come over with heaps of presents and a huge tin of Quality Street and a Christmas cake and we'd have a wonderful time with her. In an age before girls or puberty of any of that more complicated stuff that happens in later life, my grandparents were the most important people I knew and cared about.

My Grampe would build things. He built me a big blue sledge once, with brakes each side. It was too heavy for me to drag up the hill so I could only use it when my dad was with me but it was awesome and I loved it. He always had pocket money for us, sometimes as much as 50p each. He loved the country and would take me and my brother on walks around Warwick (which we hated as we were kids and too young to know better) and tried to get us to draw pictures of something other than guns and lazer battles. Once he tried to show me how to sketch a bird.

Being working class they never had very much money. My Grampe had been injured in the second world war and had only been able to get factory work as a supervisor since. He was off sick a lot and my Nanny worked as a guide at Warwick Castle. She was old school working class, meaning she idolised Lord Brooke who (back then) owned the castle. She'd worked for him as a lady's maid and in later life a guide, showing people around the place she'd worked and still loved. The only time I heard my Nanny tell me off was when I poured too much milk on my cereal as they couldn't afford to buy any more. Nevertheless she still had money for us to have a comic each if we stayed on a Saturday. I'd usually plump for 2000AD while my brother got his choice. Once I came home with two copies of The Beano, and only later did I realise that it wasn't about "one each" and we could have simply shared it (after tossing a coin to see who read it first).

They carried my mother through her studies at night school and later university. My other grandparents were always "too busy" to babysit me and my brother and when my mother had pneumonia, my other Nanny said "but I can't leave your father" when my mother pleaded with her to come and sit with her as she was so ill. My Nanny and Grampe came over without a second thought.

They were kind, good natured and generous.

But....they, like all humans, had their flaws.

In 1967 my Nanny had apparently replied, when my mother and father said they were thinking of moving to Australia, "Oh! You'll kill me if you go!"

My mother NEVER forgot this and would sometimes bring it up as an example of just how horrible my Nanny could be. She would say through gritted teeth at least once a year when retelling the tale "She shouldn't have said that. We knew that anyway but she shouldn't have said it, it was just bloody selfish!"

My Nanny also favoured my father over my mother. This was natural as he was her only child and my mother was his wife. However this was perceived as a slight that was unpleasant and unnecessary not to mention hurtful.

Once on holiday my Nanny and Grampe came with us and my father had got lost while looking for me on the beach, not knowing I'd come home. While looking at at him through binoculars my mother kept tutting about "that stupid man" and how he was keeping everybody waiting. My normally placid Grampe then said loudly "If you don't shut up I'm getting in the car and going home. The only one suffering right now is him, not you!"

Totally unable to take criticism of any kind, my mother simply stared out the window going "OH!" in a trembling, high pitched tone and mumbling "I was only saying..." to which my Grampe replied "I know what you're saying and I don't want to hear it."

About a month later I made light of this at the dinner table and my mother rared up at me in front of my father and brother, shouting that "Your grandfather KNEW I was right, he was just being bloody stupid. Your father was keeping everybody waiting."

My Grampe had fought in and been injured in the Second World War, injuries he never recovered from. He believed he'd be looked after when he became too old to look after himself. Thatcher's Conservative government changed all that, meaning he wouldn't be. My mother arrogantly told my Grampe that he had to put money aside for his very old age. He wouldn't listen and again, it was something she never forgave him for.

As my grandparents' ability to be useful declined. My mother's patience wore thinner with them. When they started to become frail and age took its toll, my mother regarded having them around as an imposition. Their generosity in years past was forgotten. When they came to visit she had used to say to me "Are you going to sit in the lounge with your grandparents? Go on, they've come a long way to see you." Now it was (through a sigh and a frown) "Are you going to sit with your grandparents and do your duty?"

These awesome, vivid, cake baking, sledge building people became shells of their former selves and eventually began to simply wither away. Reduced to the level of a 'duty' my mother regarded them as nothing more than a nuisance.

In 1988 I was 17 and my brother 15 and we went on holiday to Greece with my parents. When we got back through passport control on the way home, a voice announced over the tannoy that Mr or Mrs Manley should attend the information desk. 10 minutes later my father emerged looking sad. I asked him what was wrong and he said that 3 days earlier my Grampe had died. My Nanny had woken up next to his dead body and when he wouldn't wake up she'd gone to a neighbour's saying "Can you come and wake him up, he won't talk to me." The neighbour realised he was dead and called an ambulance. Later they found he'd died of a heart attack in the night.

10 minutes later my mother said loudly "Oh! They always die when I'm on holiday, I wish one of them would die in term time so I could have a day off."

She repeated this joke again, and again and again over the next few days. When I finally plucked up the courage to tell her it was in bad taste she glared at me and said icily "I work VERY hard in my job Lance, and I can't take a day off when I WANT to!!!"

The day my Grampe died, my Nanny was beyond grief at the loss of her husband of 50 years but when she asked for my father my other grandfather had blocked her and her family from getting in touch with us, saying they should deal with it themselves until we got back.

My mother was pleased when she heard that he'd done this and said over dinner a few days after we'd returned:

"I think it was very good of my father to stop your Nanny's relatives from bringing us home early from our holiday. We only had three days to go and they were quite capable of dealing with it themselves. They expected your father to be there, just because he's the son. I work very hard in my job and I need a holiday. I think it was very good of my father to stop your Nanny's relatives from bringing us home early from our holiday."

Six years later my Nanny died too. Unloved by nearly everyone, unwanted by my mother and her kindnesses forgotten. She passed away doubly incontinent in a coma in hospital with no one by her bedside.

Nanny and Grampe, wherever you are now. I loved you very much. 

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