Words - Rachael Otterwell
Ever since I was knee-high, I remember both my Nanas and their love for cleaning. I remember the joy on their face as their sparkling reflection gradually appeared in freshly polished brass, the sense of pride at seeing my whiter-than-white terry towelling nappies blowing on washing line and the spring in their step, as they sprinkled the 'Shake n Vac' over swirly patterned carpets.
They were proud, immensely proud of what their elbow-grease had achieved. This warm, comforting family environment would be the place where candles on cakes would be blown, endlessly hours of Coronation Street would be watched and Sunday dinners (always on Sundays) would be shared.
In the rare, unfortunate times when either Nana were taken ill, the younger generation of women, most of who had fled the nest, stepped in to ensure the picture-perfect homes were maintained. They knew that no bunch of grapes, bouquet of flowers or stack of Women's Weeklies would help their Mothers on back the road to recovery, but sure enough a floor 'you could eat off' and a fridge filled with fundamentals (bread, milk, butter and cheese) would restore normal family life in no time.
The tradition may have altered slightly in that the responsibility of keeping our home clean and tidy is now shared between me and my husband but the values remain the same. Like many households we live incredibly busy lives, trying to meet the demand of works, over-committing to social events and squeezing in gym sessions when we can. The one place we know we can find solitude is our home. It wasn't then and it isn't now about 'Keeping up with the Jones' ', it's about taking pride in your personal space, showing respect for the things you've spent your hard earned cash on and most importantly creating a nest that be enjoyed and shared by others.
Words - Gemma Thorpe
My great, great grandma died in the early 1980s but this Christmas she joined us in our living room for a family get-together.
She lived through three major wars in her time: the Boar war, the first and the second. This didn’t break her spirit though-she died at the glorious age of 99 of a broken ankle. I’ve been told this short tale countless times and then walked into my mum’s bedroom to look at four black and white portraits of a stern, glamourous looking woman. She was later known only as “Little Grandma” on account of her swan like frame reverting back to its small ducking starting point as she got older. In the end, her feet were a mere size 3.
Over the years I’ve heard many stories involving Little Grandma, for example: her inability to see well in later life combined with her ritual baking meant neighbours ate tarts infested with flour bugs. They never knew. And of her drinking stamina after consuming nearly an entire bottle of whisky, later claiming with a twinkle in her eye and a blush to her cheeks that: “it ‘wor a lovely bit’o wine.” Not forgetting her escapades in her early years making costumes and performing with the circus and “stage folk,” in long gone theatres.
But these stories are second, third hand. They give you a sense of the character who “was” but leave you with enough gaps to carry out your own artistic license. Inevitably, I would mould this figure with which I have a connection to, into a shape that I wanted her to fit into.
This Christmas, the gaps were filled and we let Abbie Slaney, aka Little Grandma, take her own shape thanks to a box of old cassette tapes my own nan and now my mum have stored and added to.
You see, because Little Grandma had lived such a long, varied life within the perimeters of Sheffield, a local historian wanted to interview her. That archaic cassette now features the voice, the idiolect and the first hand stories of a character infamous in our little family.
We listened to the tape after dinner, it felt novel to be “re-winding” and “turning over” the retro square of plastic in hope of hearing muffled voices. When we did, we sat wide eyed at the sound of voices from the past.
Her wobbly voice filled the living room as the helpful interviewer asked her many questions my brother and I would have, if given the chance. Her responses were sometimes incredulous in their tone, her distain for marriage made her not of her time; she seemed fiercely independent even at 94 when the interview took place. There were moments of tragedy as she talked of the death of her children, giving her life another shade I didn’t know it had. Her references to Joan, her granddaughter and my grandmother, brought a lump to my throat as my older and wiser nan was suddenly transformed into a naïve girl. My entire family was mesmerised.
The sound of Little Grandma on that flimsy cassette momentarily brought her back. She was with us on Christmas day. Photographs and third hand narratives don’t compare. There is something about hearing the voice on its own that is so telling and sharp. I felt I had met a family member from the past in a way I never could have, had that interview not taken place.
And, luckily for us, my own nan carried this on; we have cassettes of her poetry readings as well as her take on the “conditioning of women,” recorded as she baked my grandfather Eccles cakes. My family and I have now decided we will all record ourselves in the same way. Hopefully, in 40 years’ time, when we are glowing with warmth as we reminisce about those we have loved, we can hand it over to the people themselves and let them do the talking.
THE ART OF TEA
Words - Sarah Britton
A cup of tea is a simple pleasure. Seldom are the words ‘shall I put the kettle on?’ met with anything but delight in our home. It’s often said there’s not much a cup of tea can’t solve and its not hard to see why, there’s something very comforting about a cup of hot, ambery tea.
Taking tea is a tradition passed down to me by my maternal grandparents, days at their house were always punctuated by satisfying cups of tea. I’ve carried on much the same ritual into my adult life, even purchasing the same Old Hall teapot to make the experience all the more authentic. The process I use to make a cuppa remains reassuringly unchanged from the method I was first taught, steep Yorkshire tea for four minutes then pour onto milk and enjoy.
Slowing down and savouring a cup of tea is something I’ll happily advocate. It can be a social exercise involving meaningful conversation and mutual contentment or a relaxing moment of peace.
We should all make time for a cup of tea.