Our Hazelwood grandparents lived in Christchurch, so we only got to see them two or three times a year. The car journey there took longer than it should have done because I generally had to call for at least one emergency stop so I could be sick, in spite of eating a suitably bland breakfast.
Grannymums had a large tin with a picture of the Tower of London on the lid, in which she kept buttons. There must have been thousands in that tin, from tiny pearl baby buttons to large four-holed coat buttons, from plain white to pillar box red. These kept us entertained for hours as we strung them together or sorted them into sets. We always had salmon sandwiches and fruit cake with cherries in for tea and strangely enough, I was never sick on the way home.
Sometimes we went for a walk in the forest, which was probably only a small clump of pine trees not far from their house. The forest had a mushroomy earthy aroma that I imagined truffles would smell like.
After Grandpa died, Grannymums took up piano lessons and joined a choir that went around entertaining ‘old folks’ in nursing homes. She also had a marvellous memory and amused us all every Christmas by reciting a long victorian moralising poem, such as ‘Matilda the Cat’ or maybe it was ‘Matilda and the cat’.
The last Christmas Eve I spent with her, she wound my children up into a fever pitch of excitement as she kept hearing sleigh bells and running to the window to look out, followed by four wide-eyed, pyjama-clad hopefuls.