Unconditional Granny

I originally wrote this piece for the Scottish Book Trust‘s ( http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/ )  ‘Family Legends’ series. My husband reminded me about it the other day and I thought it would be nice to post it on the blog – especially since I now have the privilege of being a grandmother myself.

Granny Peggy

 She died two days after my eighth birthday. It was my first experience of bereavement. The last time I saw her was in the week before she died. It was a Thursday in August. On Thursdays she got the bus across Edinburgh from her home in the Boswall area of the capital and spent the day at our house on the south side. I could never wait to get home from school to see her.

On that last evening she left her cardigan behind when she set off for home. Mum told me to take it and go after her. I called out to her as I ran along the road. Eventually she heard me and turned to wait for me to catch up. I’ve never forgotten the hug she gave me for my trouble. For a long time after she died I often thought I saw her walking ahead of me in the street. I wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral and I found it hard to accept she was really dead.

My Granny had time for me.  I was the eldest of five girls and sometimes my mother needed a break. So in the school holidays I was often sent off to Granny’s to stay. The memory of the taste of her mince and tatties with HP sauce can still make my mouth water. Lunches such as this would be followed by watching ‘The One O’clock Gang’ on the television and then a trip to the ice-cream van for a vanilla cone with raspberry.

Granny was born in 1890 when Queen Victoria still ruled the Empire.  She was one of six children in a middle class Glaswegian family. Her intellect was sharp. In more modern times she would probably have been an academic or a writer.

In any event she should have lived a comfortable life. Two world wars meant that was not the case.  During the Great War she nursed wounded soldiers. My grandfather was one of these soldiers. They married in 1920 and settled in Edinburgh. She was 42 years old when, three months prematurely, she had my mother, the younger of her two daughters.

Everybody in the Boswall area knew Peggy. There are people in the area today who still remember her. She loved to write and she loved children.  In the 1930s and 40s she combined those two loves when she wrote and directed plays for the local children. One of her motivations for doing this, apart from a love of writing, was to give her extremely shy, younger daughter a chance to come out of herself.

At the beginning of the Second World War she took a party of evacuees, including her own two daughters, from the local primary school to rural Tayside. I still have the diary in which she recorded the fascinating account of their evacuation.

My grandfather died in 1942. In order to support herself and her girls, Granny had to get a job, her first job for thirty years, at the age of fifty two. She found work as a typist in Bruce Peebles, a local engineering company. From her modest salary she found the money to send my mother to a new school which opened in Edinburgh in the 1940s. This was the RudolfSteinerSchool, offering a very different form of education to the conventional model. Granny made a leap of faith, believing that the holistic and arts-based approach that the school offered would suit her withdrawn little daughter rather well.

All my earliest memories are permeated by the presence of this formidable but kind woman. I loved to get into bed beside her in the early morning and listen to the amazing stories she told. These were stories of feisty young girls, both princesses and commoners who triumphed over injustice, trouble and their own failings. I also loved when she got me ready for bed, washing my face while I sat on the draining board at the side of the kitchen sink, telling me I was her china doll. Afterwards I was allowed to put on a little of her special, Nulon hand cream.

The plays she wrote for my mother and her friends were revived for her grandchildren. My sisters, cousins and I, along with many of our peers at school and church, took part in several shows, pantomimes and concerts – all produced and directed by my grandmother.

One of my first memories of her, is of us sitting side by side on a bench outside the City Hospital in Edinburgh. I was only about four years old. My first little sister had acute bronchitis and was receiving treatment there. My parents were with her. I had insisted on going to the hospital too, but I wasn’t allowed in. So Granny and I kept vigil outside.

I also remember her barefoot on the beach, in her seventies, playing football with all the grandchildren during family holidays at Loch Long. I recall her nursing me and my little sisters through measles and chickenpox and the doses of some sort of tonic that she inflicted on us afterwards. I remember her administering poultices for my poisoned finger and her faith in herbal remedies.

Even now the smell of roses in a summer garden takes me right back to sitting on the seat at Granny’s back door, shelling peas into a basin, and listening to her talk.

She instilled in me her own values of self-reliance, independence and compassion; more than that, she showed me the power of unconditional love. And more than forty years after her death I still carry her in my heart.

I grew up to be a primary school teacher and have put on a few children’s plays myself during my thirty years in the job. My hobby is writing. Granny’s influence lives on.

Now, with grown up children of my own, I look forward to maybe being a granny myself one day. I would be proud to be even half as good at the job as she was.






Out Like A Frisky Lamb

And so March is coming to an end and it seems set to live up to its old reputation for coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. In common with most of the rest of the United Kingdom our little island has been having the most gorgeous weather for the last week. Apparently the Hebrides were hotter than the Balearics at the weekend. Daffodils are out in their hosts and my walk to work is scented by the coconut waft of yellow gorse flowers from the hedgerows and verges.

We’re trying not to get too comfortable without our vests and our cardis though. April often sees a fall of ‘lambing snow’ – but for now we’re soaking up the full spectrum light and giving the central heating a rest.

As for my end of month round up of my March reading and writing – well – it was tough but I’ve now got properly back into the writing groove. My second novel is back on track and I aim to have the first draft complete by mid July. Then after a bit of a break I intend to get on with the rewriting and redrafting of my novel for children.

I’ve always found that listening to music helps me get in the writing zone. All three of my books are associated with particular playlists. And playing the ‘Novel 2’ tunes definitely retuned my brain to the correct writing frequency.

My current read is the book I received as a Mothers’ Day present. It’s Mary Quant’s autobiography. I dropped heavy hints about it – i.e. said to the husband that I’d like it and to tell the kids if they asked for ideas of what to give me.

I’m a child of the sixties so Mary Quant – fashion designer, trendsetter and  feminist was a role model, heroine and figurehead for lassies of my vintage. I’m whizzing through the book. Quant is no great writer, and the book might annoy some by being a bit haphazard in its organisation and a mite repetitive here and there, but i find that to be part of its charm. There’s no airbrushing or ghost-writing. It’s honest and I’m gripped by it. It’s really like sitting down and having a right good blether – or rather, listening to anecdote after anecdote – in no particular order – but all lively, interesting and full of insight. It shows Quant’s take on her life as a wife, mother and woman as well as a grounded and highly successful businesswoman. The book is an original and refreshingly female take on an amazing era. The hardback is available now and the paperback (cover above) will be out in September.

So the first quarter of 2012 is almost gone. I began the year with a new motto – ‘NOW’ – 2012 is to be, for me a year of ‘Carpe Diem’, of less procrastination, of feeling the fear and doing stuff anyway… And so far I’m doing not a bad job of sticking to it. My main focus is on the ‘now’ – only the odd glance backwards – and no worrying about futures that only exist in my over-anxious brain.

On that chilled note, I’m off on holiday on Saturday for a week. Yes – it’s the school holidays – yes again!  The husband and I are going to Ireland with the son and his lovely lass. And when we get back the daughter, her wonderful husband and our gorgeous wee granddaughter are coming to stay for a week. Totally gle mhath (very good)

Whatever your Spring festival of choice or conviction – Enjoy and be in the moment!

Tioraidh for now…

The Craic from Packing Cases to a Housewarming Turbot…

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
Image via Wikipedia

So, where was I? Ah, yes, moving house. It’s done. Hurrah! We’re exhausted, but it’s done. It was quite a bourrach for a while there. But now the boxes are unpacked and it’s good to be reunited with all our stuff that’s been in storage for the last seven months. It’s also good to bring our nomadic existence to an end. Once more we have a home of our own. There’s still all the pictures to put up and some new curtains to be made – but mostly everything is in place.

We have surplus furniture in the garage, but I’ve already managed to sell some of it by advertising on the local free ads page on Facebook. Still got a couple of wardrobes to go and then there will be space for the ‘Big Beamer’ – otherwise known as the husband’s motorbike. Needless to say there will never be space for the car to go inside.

We have had a great incentive to get on and get the house organised as our daughter, her husband and our gorgeous eleven-week-old granddaughter are coming to stay on Thursday for a long weekend. It’s hard being three hundred miles away from them, so I’ll be making the most of the visit.

I still can’t quite get over the fact that I’m a granny but I absolutely love this new status. The love you feel for a grandchild is as, if not more, intense as you feel for your child – but it’s also different – in an (for me) inexplicable way. We’re also very glad that my very dear father-in-law got to meet his wee great-granddaughter before he passed away so suddenly in January. His passing has left a large gap in our family life, but his children carried out a most poignant and fitting funeral service for him where we felt his presence more than his absence.

My new study is very comfy. I’ve commandeered the fourth and smallest bedroom as my lair. It looks south over the garden to the Portree hills and the Cuillin ridge beyond. I think I’ll be very content to write in this room and I’m so grateful to have a room of my own. My writing has been so disrupted over the last few months – with one thing and another – that it will be good to finally get back some rhythm and momentum. My children’s novel is ‘finished’ (first draft) and is fermenting quietly in the background. My second novel for adults is almost finished the first draft stage and that is my priority. Then it will be back to the children’s book to start the rewriting process.

I still write for Words with Jam – the bi-monthly writers’ mag – haven’t missed an issue and am so proud to be associated with Jane Dixon-Smith’s most marvellous creation. Next edition is out in April (available both in e-format and paper copy) and the theme is storytelling. After my visitors leave, I must get  on and write my next piece.

The island continues to be almost permanently swathed in grey. It’s hard for us Hebrideans to believe that there’s a drought in parts of England. We have had almost unrelenting rain, wind and dreichness for many weeks now. The bairns at the school are hardy though. We make sure they’re well wrapped up and out they go in all but the most foul of weathers. But the children – and the rest of us – desperately need to see some sun. It would be nice to go for a walk without all the waterproof gear on.

The current main concerns for many islanders are – lambing in a few weeks time, the Co-op’s plans for expansion in Portree, the possible arrival of one of the ‘big boy’ supermarkets, the continued practice of some companies to charge outrageously for delivery to the island – we have had a fixed road connection to the mainland, i.e. a bridge, for many years now – and the change over from the Crofters’ Commission to the Crofting Commission – yeah, spot the difference?! We can only hope the new governing body for crofting is less bureaucratic and more efficient and crofter friendly than its predecessor.

Oh – just been interrupted by a knock at the door. Scuse me.

Windowpane flounder

Aw, our next door neighbour is a fisherman and he’s just handed in a humungous turbot. He told me there’ll be plenty more. The kitchen smells of the sea – incredibly fresh fare – Mr T was swimming in a loch this afternoon. Right must go – have to look up turbot recipes on interweb.

Oidhche Mhath/Night Night.

PS if you’ve spotted/been puzzled by the muckle amount o’ guid Scots words in this post – that’s because I watched a braw wee programme on BBC2 Scotland the nicht a’ aboot the Scots language. It was called Scots Scuil and followed six Scottish bairns who spent a week at a special residential Scots school and developed their abilities to talk, sing and write in the language. I was fair ta’en wi’ it, so I was.