Back to the Future




It’s strange to be back.


I look out upon my parched and scorched – a fire raged through whilst we were away – garden and wonder that I was ever away.


France and England, wind and rain, red wine at lunchtime … it all seems an awfully long way away. An awfully long time ago.


As if it never happened. My Pictures proves it did though. And recently.


France, Sept 2008.


I open the folder and watch the slide show.




A friend phones to catch up. My husband says, ‘Would you like to speak to my new wife?’


He remembered.


And I smile.




I ask Hat, ‘What was the best thing about your holiday?’


She does not hesitate, ‘Time with Gran’, she says emphatically.


And I am tugged back more than thirty years. To a time when I was eleven. And spent time with my gran.


She was called Alice.


I was her eldest grandchild. Born when she was fifty and my mother 25 (I obligingly sustained the symmetry; my eldest was born when I was 25 and great gran 75).  She took me swimming on my own – no younger siblings – and let me eat sugar on bread afterwards.  She was a Roman Catholic who often, and vociferously, questioned her faith, but manipulated it to get me out of my (C of E) boarding school for weekends anyway.  She told mum that I needed some instruction in Catholicism.  Then she took me to the theatre and the pool and out for a curry.  Mass was almost incidental.  Gran kept her eyes closed throughout and was very still. I stood quietly beside her, mesmerized by the sun filtered rainbow through stained glass.  I learned from Gran that religion is about personal peace and space. About gathering your thoughts, collecting yourself.  She told me she wanted to become a Buddhist – so perhaps she was meditating beneath her mantilla, not saying the rosary? 


She let me help her cook, which she did with wonderful abandon and careless regard for the cookery books she owned which were splattered with evidence of the last dish she’d prepared and bound together by rubber bands.  She sent me back to school with the Peppermint Creams we had made. They melted in the tin so my friends and I scooped handfuls of minty sugar into our mouths. She loved books and owned hundreds.  I inherited most of them.  She wore trousers and colourful blouses and long strings of beads.  And chaplis on her feet in deference to happy days in India.  She never learned to drive; she rode a moped. I thought that was cool.   She was broad-minded and often controversial, scowling about the Vatican as she offered me a cigarette. She smoked long Mores.  I thought that was cool too.


When I became engaged, she told me that marriage wasn’t about whether you could live without the man, but whether you could live with him.  She was right.   She taught me never to judge a book by its cover, which meant I inherited from her an intolerance of snobs and a library as eclectic as she was.


My mum won’t offer Hat cigarettes. She does not smoke, never has done. Nor will she swim with her. She does not wear chaplis.


But she will patiently teach Hat how to knit where I say I do not have the time. She will seek to answer every question Hat poses.  If she does not know the answer, they will look for it together, within the pages of a book; she endorses the same passion for the written word that my own grandmother did. She will feed her chocolate biscuits with her morning tea and scowl when I make a face. She will remind me not to nag, ‘Is it important?’ she will ask and I will consider that no, it’s not. And I will be quietly grateful that she reminded me what is. She will take my daughter to museums and expose her to things that I – in the Outpost – cannot. She will let her play her new Mama Mia CD at volume 10 in the car. And they will sing along to it together.


She will take Hat’s small warm hand in her own cooler one as she still sometimes does mine and they will walk and she will tell Hat stories of a sometimes isolated childhood in India and Africa, so that Hat feels less alone.


And all the while she will be tipping gems into Hat’s memory bank, gilding it with what will become treasured recollections.


Hat’s as lucky as I was.











29 Responses to “Back to the Future”

  1. lulu campbell Says:

    Gorgeous photo and lovely words – I hope you’re pleased to be back – can’t believe you had a fire in the garden. Lucky your house wasn’t involved! Lx

  2. Lindsay Says:

    Your post brings back memories. My mother gave my brother and I sugar sandwiches for tea, also we had sugar on salad!!

  3. tamara Says:

    Aaah, welcome back. I missed your posts. You made me smile to remember my own childhod moments with my gran, snuggling in bed with her on early mornings – one of my best memories. Sadly she has alzheimers now and so barely knows where she is. But she still remembers early days (born in India) and childhood in Zomba, “Nyasaland”. Precious relationships, grans and little girls…

  4. Roberta Says:

    I’m so glad you are back! Lovely pictures and even lovlier memories.

    My grandmother would tell me stories at bedtime – Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. (I thought it was very kind of Disney to make movies of my Grandmother’s stories)

    Funny how we remember things.

  5. kitschen pink Says:

    Oh my goodness. You didn’t say so maybe it was only the garden! Wonderfully matter of fact – I tried to imagine my reaction should that happen here – it made me laugh!
    Lucky grandma’s too! My nana was a fan of demerara sugar sandwiches, digestive biscuits piled high with whipped cream and jam, and for poorly tummy’s – coca cola with a huge spoonful of white sugar to take out the fizz. I never have worked that one out but it did the trick! The bottom of the glass was just a gloop of coke soaked sugar – can you imagine my reaction if my mum gave that to the beautiful boy? Probably worse than my reaction to a burned out garden! 🙂 Glad you’re back. t.xx

  6. valley girl Says:

    Welcome back to blogger land. Your post made me think about my granny too – she died last year. She taught me to play Scrabble and always made my favourite pudding – cherry crumble. My Littleboys have no grannies (both sadly dead) and I am so terribly sorry that they will never have this kind of bond.

  7. Iota Says:

    We used to have hundreds and thousands on bread – which made us the envy of all our friends.

    Grandmothers – a wonderful invention, I think.

  8. Yvonne Says:

    My paternal Grandmother died when I was 2, all I was told of her “She had endless patience putting on your bootees when you kicked them off.” and my maternal Grandmother died when I was 5, I have a few memories of her. But a big regret of mine is in not asking enough questions about them from my parents. Now they are gone too. I recently caught up with an old school pals mother and she talks for England about things like, taking a jug to the dairy to have a pint of milk poured from an urn. Please ask your kids to question like there`s no tomorrow.

  9. Mapesbury Mum Says:

    Hey HC, I’m back too – after having given my little daughter memories of her far away grandparents and cousin bonding. In our short space of time watched her trying to realise that these strange people are family – I haven’t seen my mum laugh so much for a long time so its very definitley a 2-way relationship! Sorry about the fire – but makes the grass grow back nice and green when it does…

  10. aminah Says:

    what a lovely little story

  11. nuttycow Says:

    Welcome back and I’m glad you had a good time. How lovely that Hat has spent some time with her grandmother – hopefully her memories will be as wonderful as yours.

  12. nuttycow Says:

    Grrr – where’s my comment gone.

    Um… what did I say. Oh, welcome back and I’m glad you had a good time. How lovely that Hat had time with her grandmother. I hope she has as many fabulous memories as you obviously do.

  13. savanvleck Says:

    What a fantastic story.

    I was one when my maternal grandmother died. I saw my paternal grandmother often but we never shared private times. I do remember her working around with a whispery whistle and making special dishes for people at holidays.

    Thanks for sharing with us

  14. livvy u Says:

    This is such a beautful, wistful post. I too am very glad you are back, and you will find a small award over at my blog which I hope you don’t find too onerous.
    Livvy x

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you lulu; yup, lucky house not involved. i remind myself of that when i look at charred reamins of life of frangipani which should have been decked with egg yellow blossom now … Pleased to be back? Always nice to be back in your own bed, but the isolation is brittle after the company of so many x

    Lindsay – sugar on salad!!? Perhaps I should try that with Hat, make the rocket more palatable?

    Thank you Tamara, i’m sad your gran has alzheimers. a horrible illness. And so disorientating, not to know where she is but remembers days of India and Nyasaland.

    That’s sweet Roberta – that you thought Mr Disney had reworked your gran’s stories as movies. I bet lots of little people think similarly? My gran was a Babar the Elephant fan.

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Kitschen Pink – just the garden. no other way to be than matter of fact (though I did have a little weep when i discovered pot plants melted at the bottom of hte garden). I like the digestive biscuit recipe, i may try that. when the outpost fills me with gloom and i need a pick me up (and in absence of a patisserie or capuccino here). coke and sugar – the sugar is new to me but flat coke, stirred to take the fizz out, is an upset tummy remedy in this house too.

  17. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    valley girl, that is sad. I’m sorry. children and grans do seem to form a valuable bond. my mum laughingly told me it was because they have a common enemy: parents!! x

  18. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Iota: hundreds and thousands. Another recipe worth nicking for outpost use, thank you. I agree: grandmothers are a brilliant invention.

  19. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Yvonne. You’re absolutely right: it’s imperative we ask questions of older generations. I regret not asking my gran enough – so thank you for reminding me to ask Mum who told me that she had unearthed a stash of my grans diaries and scrap books and has urged me back to read them. I cannot wait. And i feel lucky that she left such a legacy to be discovered. perhaps as much as we should encourage our children to ask questions, so we should leave recorded recollections for them?

  20. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Mapesbury; it is precious watching children understand who belongs to them. And then later, when they’re old enough to understand who does, you hear them counting up cousins!

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Aminah.

    And nutty, thanks for that. I’m sure Hat’s will be – as wonderful as mine x

    Savanvleck, thanks for dropping by. funny the things we remember about our gran’s isn’t it?

  22. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    livvy – thank you, for your kind words and for the award which looks really interesting, seven questions, seven word answers. it’ll give me something to do today. and that’s good. sometimes i don’t have enough to do in a day in the outpost. quite often, actually. sometimes my days here are just too big and empty. And anything i can find to put in them is good. x

  23. R. Sherman Says:

    Love the photo at the bottom! It’s a keeper.


  24. Janelle Says:

    about bloody time too! jesus! was starting to get worried…and with a beautiful beautiful post too. thanks anthea and sounds like you had a fab time. next time you pass through LET ME KNOW!!! XXX janelle

  25. scribbles08 Says:

    Hi just came across your blog which is lovely and great fun to read. I can understand a little of what it’s like to live in Africa. My uncle and family lived in Zimbabwe for 30 odd years, (returned to England now) and I’ve spent several long holidays there.

    You write very well indeed. Must be plenty to write about too!
    Will pop back and have put you on my blogroll to remind me! Hope you don’t mind.


  26. doglover Says:

    This is just to say how glad I am to read your blog again. And I agree with all the comments others have made!

  27. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Janellabella – yup. back. arusha month end, would love to see you.

    thank you scribbles – and for reading. please do blogroll me: i’d be flattered.

    doglover, hi there. and thank you.

  28. Wife in Hong Kong Says:

    That is quite simply the most beautiful post.

  29. paradise lost in translation Says:

    Such an evocative, poignant post. I loved the bit about Hat’s gran sharing her stories of growing up in India & Africa, to make her feel less alone. So vital to feel someone understands you as a child, & has time for you. And a lovely collection of vigntettes into why she’s a fantastic granny.

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