GRANDMA IN IPSWICH : Site unseen

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The Independent Culture
Grandma in Ipswich

One of the perks of being active in Victorian local government was the near-certainty that you would be commemorated for future generations. Lord mayors, councillors and aldermen happily put up statues honouring their predecessors, confident that in due course they too would be remembered in bronze and stone.

Virtually every British town and city has its share of non-entities whose memories cause traffic jams and are studiously ignored by pedestrians.

In short, we are very bad at awarding tributes to the people who really do touch our lives, the comedians, cartoonists, film-makers, theatre and television people who have brought us pleasure (even if we can't always agree on which ones should be singled out). A puritanical strain seems to dictate that only the dull and humourless are selected for posterity.

Ipswich is absolved of this blanket condemnation, possibly because the Chaucer family hailed from this part of East Anglia - and nobody has rivalled Geoffrey's Canterbury Tales for their unabashed mixture of the serious and the comic.

Walk behind Ipswich's grandiose town hall and imposing Post Office and there is... Grandma. Not your Grandma or even mine, but the archetypal Grandma whose black garb and fierce demeanour haunts all our nightmares.

This is the cartoonist Giles's Grandma, complete with padlocked handbag and menacing umbrella ready to belabour the rude or recalcitrant. She's a figure familiar to millions, even those not familiar with Giles's work in the Daily Express, because so many have found the Giles Annual in their Christmas stocking. Close by are the indomitable twins and the snivelling Vera, a likely model for Dame Edna's much put-upon character, Madge.

Although born and bred a Londoner, Carl Giles has lived for many years in the village of Witnesham, travelling the few miles into Ipswich to labour away in his studio. Only the ignorant think that cartoonists simply dash off their work in five minutes and then spend the rest of the day in the pub.

Surely in the future, historians anxious to probe the condition of 20th- century man will spend more time examining the work of cartoonists like Giles or Mel Calman than any number of modern novels or paintings. Meanwhile, all it needs is for councils to ignore the claims of the chairman of the housing sub-committee and honour the people who really matter.

Grandma is to be found at the junction of Princes Street and Butter Market, Ipswich.

Andrew John Davies

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