My father had grown up in Bridport. At that stage (circa 1957/8) his parents still lived in a Victorian-style house that had cold multi-coloured tiles on the entrance hall floor and lead light panels on the front door. Today I would like that, but at the time I did not enjoy going to their house. Our grandmother suffered from tinnitus, and I think the shrill voices of children accentuated the constant ringing in her ears. Grandad, a very Christian man, always referred to her as ‘dear Mother’. Grandma wore her dark hair in a skimpy bun which gave her face a pulled back look. I don’t think they could afford new clothes, perhaps that was considered a luxury, because she always wore mid-calf length skirts in a shade of grey or brown, their severity enhanced on Sundays by the addition of a matching jacket. And always the thick beige stockings in serviceable lisle. She once told me I was an obstinate child.
Grandad’s baggy suit pants had a shiny behind; his jacket often stained and needing to be scrubbed with a damp towel. Some of his shirts had detachable collars that could be turned around so the worn frayed part was hidden. Those were the days when a thinning sheet would be ‘sides to middled’ before a restless foot should rip it and render it useless, although it would doubtless have been put to other uses, such as dusters and bandages, dust covers and floor cloths. Most of the floor cloths in our house were Adrian’s old nappies, now turned grey even though they were frequently boiled up in the big ‘boiler’, a large metal pot which was heated on the gas stove, its contents prodded and stirred with a long piece of wood that likely was once a broom handle.
When I was around seven years of age, the front drawing room at Delapre was turned into a bed-sitter for Grandma and Grandad. They had a TV, which we did not. We were allowed to knock on their door and ask if we may watch a specific programme, but mostly we didn’t at first, because the things we wanted to watch, like ‘the Lone Ranger’ or ‘Bonanza’ all involved shooting, and Grandad would sit there muttering ‘Terrible pictures, terrible pictures’. Grandma would sit at their dining room table with her back to the television.
One day Nigel and I got home from school to find a strange situation. Aunts and uncles seemed to be about, but nobody was in the kitchen. Grownups were seen apparently crying, and eventually Mum appeared to tell us something terrible had happened. Grandad and Grandma were out for a drive when they had an accident and Grandma had died.
I remember I cried, but probably from ignorance of the situation and the discomfort of seeing my solid parents so upset. It all felt very awkward and we children kept a low profile. We thought Grandad must be really sad, but little Adrian was a comfort to him because he was too young to understand what was going on. Grandad called him his little robin.
I climbed into Nigel’s bed that night for some company, but he had a high bed with a wire base and a hard feather mattress that dipped in the middle, so I didn’t stay there long. My bed was a modern low divan with a comfortable dent where I lay each night under my many blankets and pink candlewick bedspread. I had been allowed to choose my own wallpaper, which was pale green with pink roses to match the pink curtains. All the bedrooms had the original fireplaces, which were never used, but the mantelpieces above made useful surfaces for ornaments and pictures. I don’t remember ever dusting mine, and I’m quite sure my mother never did either.
Grandad was sad for the remainder of his long life. He felt guilty about the accident because he had got out of the car to assist somebody else, leaving the car on a slope. The handbrake failed and the car rolled forward, but Grandma died of a heart attack.