This week would’ve seen my paternal grandmother’s 90th birthday. Sadly, she died in 1996, passing away the day after she found that she could not walk to the back door of the home she was living in.
Nana (as we called her) was a Yorkshirewoman and proud of it. Fiercely independent, she trained as a nurse and moved to London, becoming a war bride along the way. She had three sons before he first husband, my grandfather, left her for a woman who she only revealed very late in life (or at least only revealed to me at that point) to have been her best friend.
She was to marry twice more, producing one more son, my Uncle Val, who I wrote about last year around about here.
She was a communist for all of her adult life, a devoted reader of the Morning Star newspaper. As a child, I thought it dull and uninformative, but mostly I thought it very poor value for money, seeing as it was only ever eight pages long, cost more than a ‘normal’ newspaper, carried very few pictures and no sports section.
In fact, my favourite way of winding her up was a conversation along these lines:
Nana: Can you take out the rubbish?
Me: Of course, where’s the Morning Star?
Of course, her ardent communism had some advantages – it means that members of my family are almost certainly on a strange list of both potential communists and potential Irish terrorists, for one thing – and did result in the highly amusing spectacle of Helen, a Tory so died in the wool that she might have been made from one of Margaret Thatcher’s suits, singing the Red Flag at her funeral.
My favourite story about Nana, though, dates from the day I was born. It was very late at night, as I was born at 11.35pm (in fact, it may therefore have been the day after I was born, strictly speaking). Nana had almost certainly been working. My very excited (I hope) father rang her from the hospital to tell her of my birth*. This particular conversation went as follows:
Dad: Hello, grandmother
Nana: I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number
Later in life, she would telephone me for a long chat about once a month. If I wasn’t in, she would happily chat to my answering machine until the tape ran out. When she died, a strange thing happened – all of the telephones in the house started ringing at the same time.
*There was a shocking lack of lights in the sky, earthquakes, things like that to alert the world to my birth