I’ve really cheated here, running well over target wordcount, but it’s hard to do justice to the concept of someone (me) looking back on someone who could look back even further.
She was my mum’s mum, and hence my nana, and I loved her to bits.
She was the very epitome of a grandmother. Short, ample bosomed, round faced, twinkly eyed. And stout. She genuinely used to wear corsets with stays. These creaked as she sat down, and she laughed at herself about it. Hugging her was like hugging a gently yielding barrel.
Nana Platt was born in 1900, the same year as the Queen Mother. Unlike Her Madge, Nana grew up on a farm in Herefordshire. She could remember coming home from market in a horse cart, with her dad swinging a lantern at the end of the lane so the carter knew where to head in the dark. She later saw two world wars, men land on the moon, Concorde, everybody owning a car, gas becoming ubiquitous, electricity becoming the norm. She was a human time machine.
She was a bit of a firebrand in her own quiet way. She once paid a princely sum of money for a flight round Blackpool Tower in a biplane, complete with leather flying helmet and goggles. Young gels were considered a bit loose if they did things like that in those days. Flighty, if you’ll forgive the pun.
Life on a farm? Oh no, not for Nana. She became apprenticed to a photographer (also considered a bit flighty), and through this met Arthur. He was older than she was and pursued her with a fierce yet quiet passion. Arthur wasn’t one for big displays, as you’ll find later. He wasn’t undemonstrative at all, just quiet. It was clear they loved each other.
My Mum was her eldest daughter. As a family we went for tea at Nana’s once a week. In summer this was always a salad. And it was always pretty much the same. Your plate arrived on the table with two lettuce leaves, half a hard boiled egg, a tomato (quite exotic) cut in half, two slices of ox tongue (perhaps tinned ham if things were good, or Spam if things were tight), a couple of radishes, which I wasn’t keen on at all, a half a spring onion, and two slices of pickled beetroot. Bugger me I hated that, the way it turned everything pink and tasted of pickled beetroot
The deal was that you ate everything, or you didn’t get afters. Nana had no truck with the terms sweet, or pudding. What you had after the main course was, by definition, afters. Tinned mandarin oranges with evaporated milk. I loved them. But best of all I loved my Nana’s Scotch pancakes. They were her tour de force. They may be called drop scones elsewhere in the world; I’m not sure about that, and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. They were exquisite.
When we didn’t go for a formal tea, Nana often served up Betty Chadwicks. This is pronounced Chaddicks, by the way. These were a bit like currant teacakes crossed with a hot cross bun, but not really like either. They were Betty Chaddicks. Nobody but a tyro would think of halving these and toasting them. You sliced them into fingers, and buttered them well. Sublime.
In the winter, Nana would serve for afters her amazing duff. A plain suet pudding (still referred to as afters), heavily salted, over which you drizzled golden syrup. Food of the gods.
Arthur died in the early 60s, but my nana retained a fierce sense of independence. She continued to live on her own for years. She also retained the quiet firebrand attitude. As her 70th birthday approached, she realised she had never been abroad. Without telling anyone, she took herself down the travel agent and booked herself a week in Spain. According to her, the old flirt, and she was an incorrigible flirt, though never embarrassingly so, the Manuels and Juans in the hotel loved her to death.
I hope they never asked her out, because I can tell you she was not a cheap date. Well into her seventies she would come round to my mum’s house for dinner on a Tuesday night. If I was home from university, it was my huge, and hugely expensive, privilege to take Nana to the pub for an hour or so. Boy, that cost.
Firstly she could drink Martini Rosso and lemonade as if it were tap water. Secondly she was an absolute bugger for fruit machines. I didn’t understand them, but she seemed to have a good grasp of the significance of the flashing lights and various arcane features. Even so I had to keep pumping in money as if it was going out of fashion.
At least she didn’t expect me to buy her fags, though she gave up smoking when she hit 80. I couldn’t see the rationale for this decision, but try as you might, you’d never convince her to do something if she didn’t want to.