This week would’ve seen my Gran’s 90th birthday and that made me think about the things that I might have learned from my grandparents.
I am not sure I took in that much from my Nana. There were occasionally useful things, such as if the roasting tin falls out of the hot oven, don’t try and catch it; or that you can wind up ardent communists by suggesting that the Morning Star must be rubbish because it is only about eight pages long and has no sport in it. I guess that the most significant things I learned from her were that fairness is everything, and that you can eat peanut butter well beyond the stated ‘use by’ date.
I really did learn little from Grandad Bob, as he died when I was 18. This is one of my big regrets, as I have since discovered that one of my few culinary skills involves jointing and boning meat and, as a butcher, there is so much he could have taught me in that respect. I also greatly admire that he became a butcher by accident – he was simply the first boy to get to the shop when they contacted his school and asked for someone – and yet he made it his career and stuck with it until he retired.
From Grandad I learned many things, not all of them ones which my mother would approve of. I can in theory (I have not done it for 25 years, but I still remember the basics) repair a flat roof. I know that, every now and then, a well aimed pound note will get you unexpected results (such as into the owners’ car park on Derby Day). Most of all, though, he taught me a lot about running your own business. Despite being entirely self-employed he would never take on work that he couldn’t do, or commit to doing something within a certain time frame if he knew that he couldn’t. I remember him saying to people “I can’t do impossibilities” and as they seemed to respect his honesty I have adopted that approach myself. (The success and respect he enjoyed is, of course, something I can only dream of.)
Which brings us to Gran. What did I learn from her? To be honest, I am not sure. When I broke my arm, she (having been though the same thing with Grandad less than a decade before) was the most relentlessly enthusiastic about me learning to use it again, and I have her to thank for that, as the only way in which my left arm is inferior to my right is in the angle that it functions at.
The things I remember most, though, are the little tricks of life that she taught me. She had a saying, “There’s no point getting old if you don’t get crafty” and she often surprised me by pointing out that there was a better way of doing something that I was doing.
The one that always sticks in my mind was when I was chopping up vegetables for dinner. I was probably around fifteen or sixteen and was demonstrating the other culinary talent (who knew that there would be two?) that I have – being able to chop things very finely*, when she stopped me and told me to cut much larger pieces. When I queried this, she pointed out that Lisa and Kevin, being young, would insist that they only had a certain number of each vegetable. By making the vegetables as chunky as possible, they would get the same amount of nutrition without a fight over how much they should eat.
Wisdom handed down through the ages is often the safest kind. I hope I have some of my own to impart one day.
*Yes, my only kitchen skills involve knives. I can’t explain it either. I’m quite safe, though. Honest.