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When I recently became a grandma for the fourth time, I started to think about the differences and similarities, with my granny. I was her first grandchild and made her a granny at the age of 46, I first became a grandma the day after my 50th birthday, so we were both relatively young. We each had four children: she had three girls and a boy, I had three boys and a girl.

There the similarities end, she was abandoned by her husband, for another woman, and had to bring her family up alone. This was before the generous benefit system we have now and meant she, and her daughters when they were old enough, had to work in the local cotton mill. I can remember seeing her walking home with lint covering her coat and her rollers covered with a scarf. The heat of a day in the mill set the curls perfectly. She would get in from work and, coat still on, start peeling earth covered potatoes from a hessian bag. Potatoes, carrots and onions would be boiled up and, if there was enough money, some meat, mince, neck chops or stewing beef would be added too. It tasted good to me when I ate there. Another of my favourites was boiled floury potatoes with salt and a cold slice of butter that would slide off as it melted. We would often eat this sat on her sofa watching rugby league on World of Sport, it was usually a Saturday when I went to visit. After we’d eaten she’d smoke a Park Drive, and we’d sit in the fuggy room watching the pristine white shorts of the rugby players get ever muddier until she said they looked like they’d got dirty nappies on. For some reason I thought that was hilarious, but I was only seven at the time. When there was nothing on the tv, she’d tell me stories, I always begged her to tell me about when she was young and about her mother and what my mum got up to as a little girl – especially the naughty things! She was very proud of the fact that she was awarded with a medal for never having missed a day at school. Not a single day off until she left at 14 to work in the mill.

Sometimes in the summer holidays, I was allowed to stay overnight. The spare bed had a metal frame and there was only Lino on the floor, not carpet, like I had in my bedroom at home. I enjoyed staying there, escaping from my brother and sister, I felt like an only child again. She let me stay up past my bedtime and sent me to the chip shop for our supper. Duly despatched with a large pudding basin, I was instructed for it to be filled with a ‘mixture, with soup on’. This culinary delight was chips and mushy peas, with the juice spooned over the top. We would eat this feast with slices of white bread and butter to soak up the juices, the butter dripping down our chins and fingers.

I always seemed to wake up early there, it was very light on summer mornings with the thin bedroom curtains, and I would sneak downstairs to get my breakfast. Granny didn’t have a fridge so she had sterilised milk in a tall glass bottle, with a frilly metal cap that needed a bottle opener to remove. This meant that my breakfast cornflakes tasted completely different than the ones I had at home with sugar and chilled pasteurised milk on them.

My granny didn’t go out to socialise, but she did love family get togethers, when she would enjoy a glass or two of stout and insisted that we sang ancient music hall songs. I can still remember most of the words thanks to the repeated singing of them over the years. She didn’t exercise for recreation either, I expect working on her feet all day in the mill and looking after my two aunties and my uncle was quite enough. She had none of the labour saving devices that I take for granted and wouldn’t have run anywhere, unless it was for a bus, or the house was on fire!

My granny didn’t do anything special, she couldn’t afford to spend a lot of money on us, but I still have happy memories. The only slightly negative one is when she asked me if I’d like a ‘cakey’ after my tea. I was envisaging some sponge and cream confection, perhaps with crunchy sugar on top. When she emerged from the kitchen with the much anticipated delicacy, I was dismayed to see that it was just a jam sandwich, white bread and strawberry jam. But given that she would defend me against anyone, tell me stories anytime I asked, let me do her hair and, remove her dentures when I was there (they looked too even and white and artificial and I found them a bit scary), it seemed churlish to complain.

When I think about my memories of my grandmother, I wonder what memories my grandchildren will have of me and how I can make them special. Hopefully I’ll do similar things for them, tell them stories about my childhood and what their parents were like when they were children, let them brush my hair and stick up for them if necessary, but taking my teeth out won’t be one of them as luckily I have a perfectly good set that are all my own!


Rohan at the red park



Who am I?

I was filling in a form yesterday, pretty standard stuff, till it came to ‘status’. There was a choice: employed, unemployed, dependant spouse, retired or ‘other’. Technically I’m not employed, though I work from home on a voluntary basis for two charities. I’m not un-employed or on Job Seekers Allowance. Dependant spouse sounded a bit pathetic, like some clinging helpless woman! Though I am dependant on my husband’s salary to fund my shoe habit! Then came the ‘retired’ option, I dithered. All my four children have now left home and are independent (except when they need some money!) Does this mean I am retired from what has been my main occupation for the last 34 years? I couldn’t bring myself to choose this title, it sounds so old, like a granny – despite now being a grandmother of four – it didn’t sound like me. I still run and cycle, wear make up and killer heels. I don’t play bowls or bingo and eschew elasticated waistbands and beige anoraks. In the end I was reduced to the last option – and firmly circled ‘other’.
Who are you?!

A Mother’s Place…

When I was at home with my four children, I comforted myself with the fact that they would probably prefer to have me at home, than out at work all day. Now I’m not so sure. Just being a stay at home mother doesn’t automatically make a good mother, just as being a working mum doesn’t make a bad one.

I had visions of a Waltonesque family life, meals round a big table, making do and mend, all the children being helpful and caring and no-one complaining, being happy just to be able to run free in the countryside. Some of it was like that some of the time, though I don’t suppose ‘mommy’ Walton would have snatched a plastic recorder from one of her offspring and jumped up and down on it until it was in splinters, after having to endure listening to it being played tunelessly for what seemed like hours? No wonder none of mine are musical!

Staying at home meant sacrifices and while I was prepared to make them, I sometimes think the children weren’t too
impressed. As we didn’t have a second car all their activities had either to be within walking distance, or reliant on lifts from mums who did have their own transport. Trips to places like the cinema, or skating, or bowling had to be kept for special occasions, usually a weekend when my husband was home with the car. Although this proved costly with four of them and difficult to fit them all in the car anyway. And although I was at home when they came home from
school and cooked a meal for them every evening, I think they envied their friends when they went to McDonalds’s or KFC (the nearest to us was 13 miles away).

Holidays were taken in a caravan in Cornwall and though I, and they, enjoyed long days spent on the beach and a barbecue every evening, I think they would have enjoyed something more exotic.

When I see young families now, blogging or tweeting about How they are going to go out for cakes after school, going to see a film, visiting Lego Land, swimming, paint balling or even going clothes shopping or buying new toys, I wonder how they afford it. If I had gone out to work, my children could have enjoyed those things. I would have come home from work, not having seen them all day and enjoyed spending time with them. As it was, after being with them all day, I wanted them in bed by 7.30pm so I could watch Corrie or Eastenders and have some time to myself.

The reality was, I could only get a job in town (no car), would have had to pay extortionate amounts for childcare (no local family, and all working full time) and, as I left school at sixteen and married at twenty, no career to speak of. My husband was away all week and only back at weekends, so I couldn’t even work nights.

Looking back, I think I should have found a way round these obstacles, I could found something surely? I could have worked my way to getting a career? My children deserved more from me. Then again, I thought if we can manage, why should I take a job from someone who really needed that income? Is it patronising to even think that? I bought clothes from charity shops and accepted hand me downs from family and friends. I baked and cleaned and did all the decorating and gardening myself.(Not to mention ALL the childcare!) But who am I kidding? And why am I even going over all this now that my children have all left home?

Because, like all women everywhere, I’m convinced that we never get the balance right and my place is in the wrong!

For the love of horses

I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. Where this came from I don’t know, we lived in a terraced house with a small backyard and the only horse I saw belonged to the rag and bone man. The first book I can remember reading on my own was Black Beauty, borrowed from a neighbour, reverently wrapped in tissue paper and with old-fashioned colour plates. I loved it and was about 7 or 8. From then on I read everything I could get my hands on about horses and ponies: all Ruby Ferguson’s books, ‘Silver Brumby’ books, ‘Flicka’ books. I drew horses all the time, had a model stable and a subscription to ‘Pony’ magazine, though I had no pony.

Every birthday and Christmas, I hoped against hope that THIS would be the year I got my dream. It never happened, despite me telling my parents what I would be prepared to give up to have one and how we could keep it in the garage and ket it graze in our tiny back garden! I never knew at the time, but every year they were working out how they could afford a pony for me, but with a younger sister and brother, it was never possible.

I can still remember the excitement of my first riding lesson, the smell of the leather and the ponies themselves. I had a black velvet hard hat and cord jodhpurs, they were the only items of riding kit my parents could afford on top of the cost of the lessons. I was instantly hooked and looked forward to my weekly riding lessons, progressing from being on a leading rein to tackling cavaletti to small jumps, cantering and galloping, it was all so exciting. I would cycle two miles to the stables at weekend and spend all day there, mucking out and cleaning tack and occasionally being rewarded by being allowed to ride bareback to a nearby field where the ponies grazed. I would cycle home tired and happy, with my Sunday roast dinner having been kept warm over a pan of boiling water. It tasted like the best meal in the world after spending all day outside!

Still my love for all things equine grew. I started to make up and write and illustrate my own books about horses. Any school project where there was a choice of subject was manipulated to include them. I subjected the whole family to the Horse of the Year show on tv annually (this was in the days when families only had one telly). I managed to go with a friend on a pony trekking holiday in High Wycombe – very posh for a girl from Cheshire. We spent the week pretending the ponies belonged to us. It was heart wrenching when the holiday came to an end, and we had to leave ‘our’ ponies behind.

Back home, we found two ponies in a local farmer’s field and, fuelled by Jilly Cooper storylines, we went and asked if we could ride them in return for looking after them. Surpisingly he agreed. I think they must have been bought for his children who had since grown up and/or lost interest in them. They were mother and daughter, Bonny and Lindy, had no shoes, their hooves were overgrown and hadn’t been ridden for years. They had no tack, except halters, (he would pay for saddles if they were just out to grass. We went down to the farm at every opportunity, grooming them and trying to ride them, goodness knows what health & safety would have said, although both ponies never managed more than a trot!

I can’t remember why we stopped going, I think it was when my friend moved away and I couldn’t manage both of them on my own (we were both about 12 at the time). For a couple of years though, I almost had my own pony. I still love horses and ponies and it would appear that my first grandson does too, that also, seems to have come out of no-where. Perhaps if he’s ever lucky enough to get a pony, I can share it with him and fulfill a childhood dream?


It might not be all his own, but my youngest grandson is enjoying this hair!

Suits you sir!

The Perfect Place to Live

As I go running most days, I am aware of subtle changes around me, depending on the time of year. At the moment it is the ever increasing signs of Spring, primroses in grassy banks, the green fuzz of buds on the trees, lambs their fleeces smudged with red or blue numbers and also the growing number of houses up for sale.

Of course this is traditionally the best time for marketing your house, you’ve probably given it a Spring clean, tidied up the garden and done a bit of DIY and your mind turns to pastures new. But where should that be? A lot depends on your circumstances and
budget, but for me, and I’m biased, the ideal family friendly place is
a small market town.

When we moved here in 1982, our market town was only slightly bigger than the village in Cheshire where I’d grown up. We originally started looking at villages in this area, but I soon came to realise that with two small boys, no second car and a husband that worked late and was away a lot, this was not a sensible or practical option. We turned our attention to bigger places and finally settled on Buckingham.

We ended up in a new house, at the end of a cul-de-sac, about three quarters of a mile from shops and schools. For me it was perfect, the children could play safely outside without the worry of traffic. The town ‘centre’ was within easy walking distance, and despite having to push the pram up a steep hill to get back home again, it was a walk I did daily for the next twenty years!

Of course, there were, and still are, drawbacks. The nearest ‘big shops’ are thirteen miles away in Milton Keynes, we have no cinema, Starbucks or Costa, no Nandos, no bowling alley, skating rink or night life. We have a leisure centre now, instead of the open air swimming pool (which has been replaced by a skateboarding park), though I’m not sure if that is an improvement! However, there were playgroups which I joined to get to know people as all our family was over two hours drive away. Walking to the shops meant someone was always around to talk to, either on the journey, or in the shops themselves. When they were old enough, all the children (I had two more after we’d been here a few years!) could walk to school alone, go the park just across the road and even to the shops. When they were older teenagers, it was a bit more problematic, there isn’t much for them to do in town, although teenagers seem to say that wherever they live! Having no car meant relying on friend’s parents to give them lifts, or having friends staying here. Once they could drive and got their own cars that problem was solved.

Now all my four have grown up and left home, I feel that I should now be looking to move somewhere else. It would be nice to have theatres, cinemas, museums and cafes on the doorstep, but I would miss the friendliness of people. Walking into town and always passing someone who knows me, the shopkeepers knowing my name. The lady at the library asking after the children, the butcher knowing the cuts of meat I like, neighbours waving to me when I’m out running, or asking if I’m doing the London marathon this year
Trouble is, the house is a bit too large now and I’m thinking that perhaps we should downsize and let another young family enjoy living here instead!

A Present for Victoria

Next week a great twitter mate is going for an epic trip round the world with her husband and three young children.  I am SO envious and admire their courage visiting all these far flung places and Victoria’s organisational skills in planning it all.  I’m sure the nine months will pass in a flash – well certainly quicker than a pregnancy feels!

I would like to give them a guardian angel to watch over them and take care of them all on their wonderful adventure – and good health for all of them too!

Can’t wait for the tweets on their journey,bon voyage!

How important is Grandma?

In my highly technical research and  experience of life in general  (well watching re-location, escaping to the country type programmes!), it seems that once people have children, they like to live nearer to their  family.  Most women want to move to live near their mothers – just not TOO close!  Is this just because they want free babysitters and childcare, or are they thinking it would be good for the children to grow up knowing their grandparents?

When I was small, my granny lived round the corner from us along with my aunties.  In those days, lots of families had relatives living on the same street, never mind in the same town.  When I was about three we moved to another town and I didn’t see them quite as much as it involved a long bus journey – my mother didn’t drive then.  A few years later we moved to ano ther county and now only saw them once a month.  Although I can’t have spent that much time with my granny, I can still remember the things we did.  She would tell me stories about when she was a little girl and how poor they were.  We used to watch wrestling and rugby league on ‘Word of Sport’ on ITV and she’d make me a dish of boiled (old) potatoes, with a slice of cold butter on top.  Once she asked me if I wanted a ‘cakey’, I eagerly waited for this special treat, which turned out to be a jam sandwich!   I stayed at her house overnight a few times and  can still remember the cold lino under my feet in the bedroom and getting sterilised milk out of the pantry for my cereal in the morning.  She used to let me run errands for her too and I would go to the greengrocers where they would pour potatoes and carrots straight into the old hessian shopping bag I took with me.  She would defend me against anybody and told me I’d ‘look bonny even if I was in rags’ and that I should be entered into the ‘Miss Pears’ competition.  (younger people will have no idea what that was!)

My dad’s mother lived about five hours away in Bournemouth and I can only remember her coming to stay with us a couple of times.  My brother had to be pushed out of his bedroom and I had to share with my sister.  Special things were bought and soap and towels put in the room, along with a mirror and clock. (Stuff that a five year old boy’s ropm didn’t normally have)  We visited her a couple of times and I can remember a garden with flowers and a swing outside.  This was a far cry from my other granny’s terraced house with its backyard and outside lavatory.

When I got married and had my children, all the grandparents were working full time (well my parents were only 42!) although living only 15 minutes away.   Because of this we used to see them about twice a week.  When my then youngest was two, we moved a two hour journey down south, so visits were rare but special.  Do children need to see their grandparents often to develop a bond with them?  These days it is easier with the internet, skype, twitte & facabook, but can that replace actually seeing them in the flesh?

By the time my parents had retired, my brother and sister both had children and lived near enough to visit and benefit from babysitting and childminding (I had two more children by now).  My sister in law lived with her parents and had childcare on tap.  I felt my children missed out having that closeness to their grandparents. the abilitiy just to call in on the way home from school.  Being able to visit them without parents in tow, so they could have a moan, or be indulged with stuff that parents won’t allow them to do or have.

Now I have my own grandsons, they also live far away, two of them in the US and the other a two hour car journey away (more if traffic’s bad).  I would love it if we were closer, so that the special relationship could develop.  Luckily they have their maternal grandmothers close by.  It would be lovely to do the little things together on our own. Just going for a walk, or doing some cooking, visitng the library or the park.  At the moment they’re all a bit young to do that.  It’s lovely however, when we do see them – it’s a special occasion and a holiday (particularly in US) and hopefully when they’re older, they’ll all be able to come and stay with us, without their parents. so we, like all grandparents, can indulge them, knowing we can hand them back at the end!

You might want to look at this too, kindly suggested by @himupnorth


Are you embarrassed by your roots?  I know I like to keep mine covered when the grey starts to show through! But with the current series of  ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, I’m thinking more of historical ones.  It always seems that they find some glamorous character in the ‘victims’ family tree, or a famous or infamous  person, sometimes even royalty.

I have done a bit of digging up my roots, but so far nothing glamorous.  They all seem to have been weavers, or railway workers.  All working class people living in soot blackened terraces in the north of England. Nothing remarkable there.  Then I found the joining up papers of  Richard Bullough, my late father’s uncle, my great uncle.  I’d never heard of him before,  But here he was, signng up for the first World War.  He must have been desperate to join up – a way out of a humdrum future perhaps? He joined up on 25th  August 1914 aged  ’17years and 170 days’. 

For a standard form it made sad reading:  Height 5′ 5″ & a half inches – he must have been proud of that extra half inch!  Chest: 33″, Weight 107 lbs, Eyes: Blue.  He was only a child.!  Delving further, I found receipts signed by his mother for his pay, which was sent home,  a record of him being ‘absent without leave’ in town in France after a few drinks.   I could picture him dreading going back to the sights and smells of the trenches.  Blotting it out with beer.

Then on 25th September 1915, a year after joining up –  another note ‘killed in action’ it said bleakly. Even though Ihadn’t known of his existence before, it was like a blow to thee heart. Poor , poor lad, what had he seen and been through? How must his mother feel, her youngest son gone at only 18 ?  Richard Bullough

A little further on, I found a receipt signed by his mother, not for his wages this time but for a war medal and a victory medal.  I hope that gave her some comfort, though that ewasn’t until 1921.

So although there is no royallty or famous people in my familytree, there are people that made a difference, who worked hard for little reward.  Without them me and my family wouldn’t have what we do today and I wish they could know how grateful I am.   I will never hide my roots, it would be denying their contribution to history.