Today would have been my grandmother’s birthday. She died 5 years ago and I think I still miss her almost every day. I have a ring on that she gave me today and tonight I’m going to my mum’s so we can be together on a tricky day. I have taken tomorrow off to spend the day with my mum. We don’t live anywhere near where my grandma’s grave is – it’s about 2-3 hours drive from me. I last went there last Easter and it took me some time to stop crying, driving away. But we don’t need to be there to remember her.
She taught me to cook – and she always let me choose what. Even when it was patently going to be disgusting. She taught me to embroider, read music, play the recorder. She read to me and with me. She embarrassed me and my brothers by singing loudly in her trained voice at school events. She listened to me, whatever I had to say – even when I was being stroppy and provocative. She told me that I looked good in hats – and that I got that from her. She offered to knit me a jumper and didn’t betray so much as a flicker of disappointment when I wanted a plain stitched v neck. She laughed when she could not teach me to knit and carefully scalpelled off the wool knitted so tightly on to the needles. She told me I as a "good kid" at 34. She said I was her only grandchild (of 4) who spoke properly; she had a beautiful voice and was severe about sloppy diction.
She took me on the train from Plymouth to London and persuaded the staff to grate carrot for me – the only vegetable I would eat, aged 8. She cut articles out of the Telegraph for me right the way through my life. She sent me homemade shortbread at university. She even took me shopping as a teenager when she understood how vital it was to have the right outfit (advised by the Telegraph that Warehouse was the place). She worried about everything and everyone – from people she knew to people featured on the News at 10 and saw the best in everyone. She did the Telegraph crossword every day – and mostly completed it. She thought that a cup of tea mid-afternoon was a cure for all weariness. Every gift was exclaimed over with delight, every tale listened to with interest. I never heard her cross and she rarely had a mean thought about anything; in fact the worst thing I ever heard her say was on the subject of disabled parking spaces – “I sometimes have very unchristian thoughts about people who park here and aren’t disabled”.
She defied her parents when she was young to marry my grandfather and lived quite alone through the blitz in London. She danced with Clark Gable. She swam in the sea off Scotland, hiked up hills, practised yoga from the 1960s and started each day with stretching exercises - and she travelled before people really did that. She learnt to drive as an adult and bought a bright orange mini – with her black dog taking up the entire back seat (and us kids squashed into the space reluctantly conceded to us).
She laughed when bf ran with her in her wheelchair when she got too old to walk through gardens with us. She had such a joyful laugh. She let me use her as a human shopping trolley, wheeling her around Bluewater shopping centre and piling her with bags as I persuaded her into buying herself pretty things (“I could knit this myself you know”, “I know Grandma”). She was game to try anything unusual with food – in a Chinese she told the charmed waitress “I last had Chinese food in 1943 in Chinatown” and only the escalator alarmed her at Wagamama. She was introduced to body butter in her 80s by my mother and she loved it – carefully washing out the tubs when she finished them and using them to store things in. She had an eye operation with only a local anaesthetic and some hypnotherapy and sheer willpower. When I went down to spend a week with her after my grandfather died, I took the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and she was transfixed: “Bother” she would exclaim when the phone rang. Strong words for her.
She was singing for “old folks”, practising yoga, painting, gardening, hosting tea partied – and even had a role as principal boy in panto (tunic and boots and all!) – right up until she died. I was with her when she died. Me and my mum. We went down there for her birthday and she had a massive stroke which she didn’t survive – luckily I suppose as she would have hated losing any independence. Even as I was calling her GP – and then the ambulance – she was telling me off for ‘bothering’ people.
I miss her every day. And when I get married next year, it will be with her wedding ring.