Beth sent me this yesterday, an addition to the family history. It moved me to both laughter and tears. She says it's not finished, she needs to polish it up but it looks great to me.
I thought you might like me to share it with you. The address edit is mine
Here it is:
A visit to Letchworth
The excitement as we rounded the corner into C***** Lane! Granny would always be at the kitchen window as we pulled in, waving merrily. We used the kitchen door, the ‘family entrance’, coming past the pantry and utility to a kitchen fragrant with baking smells. After hugs all round, Granny would usher Dave and I into the pantry and show us the goodies she had made. Ginger biscuits, pinwheels, something crumbly with coconut in; there would always be two or three batches prepared for the beloved grandchildren. Grampy, being hard of hearing, would frequently miss this, and we would be dispatched upstairs to let him know we had arrived, and for more booming hello’s and big squeezes.
If the weather was good, before much time had elapsed we would all be ushered into the garden, where Dave and I would fidget and interrupt our way through the inevitable garden tour. As frustrating as I found these garden tours at times, interestingly enough both us kids developed a taste for gardening as adults. I suspect seven-year-old Beth would have been baffled at adult Beth’s genuine enthusiasm for tomatoes and marigolds. The adults would admire, plan and discuss the finer points of the garden while attempting to quell two energetic children, with the occasional use of the full names from an exasperated mother adding to the tension- I knew I was pushing my luck when I was called Elisabeth, and heaven help me if it was followed with Joy Fiona because then I really was for it. Grampy was very proud of his lawn, and if it had been wet we weren’t allowed on it, which I suspect was usually the reason for the reprimand.
Eventually the ladies would stop admiring the flowerbeds and retire to the garden chairs to drink coffee, and Grampy would turn his attention from tour guide to children’s entertainer. That usually meant the blocks would come out; oversized wooden bricks kept in Grampy’s workroom, with which we could build forts, schools, houses, boats… the list was endless. If we were persuasive enough, and we generally were, we would also be taken for a spin round the garden in the wheelbarrow. I note that when it came to Alex’s turn some years later, Grampy was not quite so enthusiastic about these joyrides and Alex would get once round the garden rather than the multiple laps we used to take. Poor Grampy!
With the children gainfully occupied, Grampy would then retire behind a coffee cup for some more adult conversation. At some point Granny would slip away to pull together another delicious meal- they were always delicious at Letchworth- and it seemed no time at all before the instruction came to pack away the blocks and go and wash our filthy hands.
At some point in the afternoon, Granny would produce the paper box, a big tub of typing paper, with the holes down the side, scraps of coloured paper, gift wrap and other interesting oddments, plus the tub of pencils, scissors and glue, and that was me occupied until it was time to clear for dinner. Granny never expected the production of a ‘nice picture’; she encouraged experimentation and just having fun with the materials, something that delighted my artistic soul. I remember paper box afternoons as times of freedom, no expectation to conform and permission to just be creative and see where it took me. The end product was never the point, the creative process was, and originality was praised over conventional art. I felt understood with the paper box scattered messily all over the dining room table, and often the chairs and the floor as well, with piles of pens and rolls of Sellotape and stickers. It is one of my happiest childhood memories.
At just over an hour’s drive away, day visits were frequent, but sleepovers even better, with different books, toys and tall beds complete with sheets and blankets. Beds had to be made every morning with baffling ‘hospital corners’ and eiderdowns; at night those corners had to be tugged out a little or they’d squash your feet, but my goodness they were warm. I’ve never quite grown up enough to get through the night without needing a visit to the loo, and was comforted by a soft glowing plug-in light to guide my way. Evenings meant games of Sorry, Whot or pick-up-sticks and staying up late ‘because you’ve been so good’, whether we had or not. I can’t remember ever losing that privilege and don’t suppose I would have done it again if I had! I do remember being sent to sit on the stairs and ‘think about what I had done’. At home I was sent to my room when I was naughty, and I rather liked my room and my own company so it was rather ineffective; at Letchworth the stairs were ideally situated to be glared and tutted at by anyone passing through, getting a coat or visiting the toilet, and as such was utterly mortifying. I vividly remember several stair sitting moments, although the crime that sent me there in the first place has long since been forgotten.
To go back a little, meal times should have their own mention. They were, as I’ve said, always delicious. Both grandparents were early risers, and the house would be woken with the smell of hot coffee. Us children would start with fruit juice, and on the table would be a variety pack of mini boxes of children’s cereal; a novelty, as we were never allowed these at home. ‘Shocking waste of money’, Mum would say, reaching for the large, value packs, and having raised a child with a good appetite myself I concur, but as a child it was a wonderful treat. The poor Cornflakes would always be left at the end, but Granny would never insist we ate them, there’d be a fresh variety pack that morning and a bowl of cornflakes for Granny, insisting she didn’t mind a bit and really liked them. We’d round off with hot buttered toast and feel stuffed.
At the main meal, second helpings were expected, and encouragement would be given to finish off the last potato or slice of pie ‘lest it get lonely on it’s own, dear’. Hot meals were served the old fashioned way, in warmed dishes to be served at the table rather than plating up in the kitchen, with Granny at the head of the table and Grampy presiding over the water jug and wine bottles. Cold meals would include big dishes of crunchy salads and items we never had at home, like pickled onions, which Mum hated, and home made vinaigrette. Cloth napkins with special rings would lie by the side of the plate, and there was always a dessert spoon in place promising of more yumness to come. Even the water was made exciting by the addition of ice cubes, complete with a spoon to fish with if you were unlucky enough not to get a cube or three in your glass.
There would also be those exciting extra meals, ‘Elevenses’ and ‘Supper’, which felt a little naughty somehow, these not being meals we had anywhere else, but always welcomed. At mid-morning, Granny would mix the Nesquik or pour out fruit juice and bring down the tins of home baked biscuits. We could choose two, with a frequent third being offered conspiratorially, with Mum gazing out of the window and saying it was a good thing she hadn’t seen that, and that she did hope that children who ate THREE biscuits wouldn’t leave their dinner in a few hours. We never did. Supper was taken post bath, in pyjamas, just before bed. Whether it was a reward for good behaviour, or a bribe to get us up to bed, I don’t remember too many bedtime shenanigans.
Longer visits would include an outing, be it to Woburn animal park, Standalone Farm, picnics on the Common or a visit to the sweet shop, which still sold old fashioned sweets from two for a penny, meaning you could get a pretty decent haul for your 20 or 30p. Sundays would mean dressing in one’s nice clothes and being taken along to Norton Methodist, to be cooed over with a multitude of ‘I don’t suppose you remember me’s and ‘My, haven’t you grown’s, with several of the old folk calling my mum by her full name, Joyce. After all her ‘Elisabeth!’s it was very satisfactory to hear Mum being treated to the same! Granny regaling us with tales of ‘Naughty Things Your Mother Did As A Child’ was another favourite, and I seem to remember there was a partner in crime called Pamela who featured rather heavily too.
All too soon, the stay would be over. The final morning would involve Stripping The Bed, a task thought of in capitals and taken very seriously. It is a courtesy everyone seems surprised and touched by when I do so elsewhere as an adult, but it was an integral part of our stay. Top sheet, bottom sheet and pillowcases in the washpile, cellular blankets, eiderdown and bed cover neatly folded on the end of the bed. Sheets would be taken down to the kitchen, where Granny would be packing biscuits and cakes into a big margarine tub, for us to take home. Then toilet last hugs and into the car for the drive home, with grandparents smiling and waving at the roadside until we rounded the corner, and out of sight.