I cycled four miles to take Granny a bunch of buttercups. 'Thanks for the weeds,' she said
Monday 22 January 1996
"You mean just one type of food?"
"Yup." He mouth-snatches a piece of cheese straight from the cheese knife (a Myerson habit).
"Mashed potato - but I don't know if it's got enough in it nutritionally."
"Forget nutrition, that's not the issue - we don't have to worry about that."
"Definitely mashed potato then."
"I might have known you'd go for that." He sighs as though this confirms some private, depressing theory about me.
"So what would yours be?" I ask him.
"Chaumes," he rocks dangerously back on his chair (another Myerson habit). "It's unbelievably wonderful. Or maybe apricot jam."
"Chaumes? You couldn't! It stinks of feet, it's so rich. I really could eat mashed potato for the rest of my life and not get sick of it."
"You're a sad woman."
"You're a sad man."
"Deathless Wildean riposte - I feel thoroughly humiliated."
He sits there in his shabby moleskins and baggy sweater, legs stretched, tipping his chair. Then, looking around for new mischief, he flicks my angel chimes with a disdainful finger - "Jesus, how long do we have to have this here?"
"They're supposed to be put away with the Christmas decorations," I say.
The angel chimes were a sentimental buy. Three flimsy mock-brass angels hang from a little carousel, which is spun round by the heat of four skinny candles. As they go round, their dangly bits hit two little cymbals - ching-ching, ching-ching.
Granny Pike had angel chimes on her table, with the plastic fake-doily tablecloth. My sisters and I would watch them go round as we ate our Campbell's cream of mushroom, synthetically soft white rolls and Dairylea triangles. Granny Pike had a hiatus hernia, which isn't remotely funny, but for some reason my sisters and I just could not hear those words hiatus and/or hernia - without bursting into uncontrollable giggles.
We'd be eating our lunch and the angel chimes would be going ding-ding. Granny would be talking about Esther Rantzen or the Queen's latest outfit, and then she'd turn to our father and say, "I had a bit of trouble with my hiatus hernia last week," - and that would be it. The harder we tried not to laugh, the worse it was. Our bodies ached, our faces were puce, little, spasmy snorts escaped. Once I nearly wet myself and had to leave the room.
Granny had false teeth and a wig (you could see the black strap if you were shorter than her). We also suspected her of false bosoms, though it may just have been the fortified way in which her bra was structured. And she wore glasses and a hearing-aid.
We were tantalised by the notion that she was almost entirely false. When we occasionally stayed the night, we did our best to stay awake and spy on her - hoping to witness the moment when she removed all her bits. What did she become in the middle of the night? A toothless, hairless stick-person, unable to hear or see? Luckily for her, we never found out. She always went to bed very late - after the Hammer Horror film - and in the morning she always seemed to be miraculously rebuilt.
She'd been a widow for years, and she enjoyed it (she'd abhorred her husband, who seemed to have died just in time). She liked golf and bridge and cocktail biscuits and fur coats that made us sneeze if we stood in the cupboard. She kept Maynard's fruit pastilles in a plastic, pearl-encrusted screw-top jar by her bed. The jar said Helena Rubenstein on it and smelled of ladies' face cream. I remember the crunchy, gritty feeling of the sugar in the thread of the screw-top.
Granny Pike never liked us all that much. Once, I made her a pair of slippers for Christmas, from a pattern in my mother's Golden Hands craft magazine. I made them from an old green velvet cushion cover, cutting out the cardboard templates for the feet and sewing sequins all over so they looked like the princess slippers from Aladdin. Granny gave them back to me because they were too small. Another time, not knowing why, I deliberately picked a rose transfer off one of her "guest soaps" (she had "guest" everything, though she practically never had guests) and she punished me by not speaking to me for what seemed like a very long time. I was six.
At the height of his bitterness about our parents' divorce proceedings, Daddy decided not to see us any more. Granny never contacted us again either. The last time I saw her, I cycled four miles to take her a bunch of buttercups picked in the hedgerows. "Thanks for the weeds," she'd said.
"Why did you buy those angel chimes?" asks Jonathan. "They're so completely tasteless - look at them."
"Piss off," I say. "They're part of my childhood. Granny Pike had them."
"I thought you hated Granny Pike."
I pause. "I loved her angel chimes. They're a good memory. And the kids love them."
"You're an optimistic old thing really, aren't you?" Jonathan says - and I am suddenly at a loss.
I put the chimes away - they dismantle neatly into a flat little cardboard box.
Granny Pike lived to be a very old lady. When she died in a nursing home - barely visited by her son - she hadn't seen us for eight or nine years. But we later heard she'd had photos of us by her bed - pictures of three little girls, frozen in time.
It was a dark, snowy day and we were nearly grown up when a nurse rang from the home. "Mrs Pike has died," she told us. "She thought you'd want to know." It was typical of Granny to be making contact, finally, just as there was no more contact to be had.
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