Monday, October 15, 2007


I only ever had one grandparent when I was a kid, my mothers mother, the other three possible contenders having died before or shortly after I was born.

She's in the middle of that photo to the left, the one with the daft hat on, my grandad to her left, my mother to her right, a family day out on a beach somewhere in the early 1930's.

The bloke i the bowler hat is rumoured to be related to me too, I like the cut of his jib, suit, tie and bowler hat for a day on the beach, I could get along with someone with his standards.

My grandma lived close to us when I was small, in a modern bungalow built by the council and only rented out to those pensioners who were most deserving and trustworthy, or in the case of my grandma, only rented out to you if your deceased husband had been the manager of the local housing office and one of his members of staff had taken pity on the widow.

Her bungalow always smelled.

It was a modern bungalow, brand new in fact, with underfloor heating that we kids thought was hilarious - it burnt your feet when you walked on it - but because she'd brought all of her old furniture and fabrics with her it still smelled of "old peoples house" constantly - that undefinable smell that you suspect is the result of a growing incontinence problem but it can't be because this is your grandma and thinking things like that is unthinkable.

Another smell that was mixed in with the unthinkable incontinence was burnt milk, I think she made a pan of Horlicks every night and every night she must have burnt the pan because every time we went around there it was burnt milk that we smelled, it may not have been burnt milk, it may have been caused by something else that was unthinkable but we'll leave that one there I think.

I haev other memories of our grandma's house - her sitting in the same armchair, us sitting on the hot floor (for she never learned how to switch off the underfloor heating and it burnt your arse when you sat on it), watching "Watch with Mother" at dinnertime (lunchtime to you non-Yorkshire folk).

The bottle of American Cream Soda that was always in the cocktail cabinet in her sideboard at the back of the room and the small shot glasses that were also kept in the same cupboard, stained and greasy, always requiring a wpe round before you dared tip anything in them, our grandma lived off one plate and one knife and fork and bugger the rest of the cutlery, if she didn't use it it never got washed.

She didn't cook very well, in all the stories I ever read as a child your grandma was supposed to be forever baking treats for her grandchildren, cakes, buns and biscuits, but our grandma was a crap cook and her culinary skills extended only as far as opening a Fray Bentos pie tin and burning milk for some Horlicks.

She liked to gamble her pension at the bookies up the road, just sixpence at a time and I'd love to have seen the bookies face when she walked in the shop to put her weekly "last of the big spenders" sixpence bet on any horse that was vaguely Irish, for her parents had both been Irish, the McHales, and while she didn't have the accent she was steadfastly a paddy and a very strict catholic.

But not so strict that she couldn't marry a Protestant and my grandad wouldn't let her bring their daughters up in the catholic church even though she still attended Friday Mass right up until the week that she had the stroke that paralysed her and committed her to The Leeds General Infirmary for a year until someone kindly turned off the life support machine.

And that is where the guilt kicks in - the catholic mass bit.

You see she never stopped talking about her husband, my grandad, who had died when I was three years old, never stopped telling her four grandsons about how if he was still alive he'd be out at the park playing cricket with us for our grandad was a famous local cricketer with the Woodhouse club, she still worshipped the ground on which he had formally walked, for fourteen years she hurt over his death from lung cancer and every Friday she would take the long walk to her local catholic church "Our Lady of Lourdes" and every friday when we'd call for dinnertime (lunchtime, remember ?) fish and chips she'd ask our mother if she could take us boys to Mass and light a candle for our grandad and every Friday because of the suspicion of the catholic church that had been built into our mother by her own father she told our grandma no, we had to be off.

Lighting candles was something that sounded fun to me and I'd often say that I'd go with her, but as the time drew near to wander up the road our mother would make an excuse to leave early and so we never went and never lit a candle with her - one of the last memories I have of her is when we had moved a little further away from her house and had to catch a bus home, she walked us to the bus stop and then left us there as she went to light a candle, the bus came shortly afterwards and as we passed "Our Lady of Lourdes" I saw her hobbling up the path to the front door all on her own, a little old lady dressed in a shabby old coat, scarf tied tightly around her head, possibly smelling a little strange, heading for her lone weekly appointment and her memories of her husband.

Even as a small child that image struck me as being incredibly sad and its still as strong as ever it was.

I don't know what prompted me to write this today but as I near the end I have the growing realisation that she died in October 1971 and if I dare to go and check I bet I'll find that it was close to this day...


Anonymous said...


Go light a candle :)

Grannymar said...

I like the story.

Go on, light a candle for her. It won't do you any harm.

If she was alive you would light one on her birthday cake.

Gary said...

See above :)

Anonymous said...

You are a Darling! :)