Wednesday, 4 January 2012

This Post Isn't About Chickens

And yet, in a round about way, it is. It firstly concerns a clock.

From a distance, this clock looks like a handsome brass carriage clock. That might even be gold leaf marking time on its dial. At first glance, you might even suppose that mother of pearl makes up its face. It is only on closer examination that you realise things are not as they seem. It is far too light to be brass, far too shiny for its casing to be anything other than gold sprayed plastic. There is no wind up mechanism, just space for two AA batteries. In is the kind of clock given as a free gift by an insurance company, or the Readers Digest people. Yet it was given to me as a precious object. I was assured that the giver had wanted me to have it for ages, but had just been waiting for the right time. She also told me that it was valuable, and that she'd had it for many, many years. The giver was my maternal grandmother.

My grandmother was a formidable lady throughout my childhood. My earliest memories of her involve her standing in my parents' kitchen, jangling car keys in her hand, and organising everyone. She was always busy, and when I was young I would often go along for the ride. She tried for years to make the grapevine in the greenhouse do something useful. She made amazing and elaborate cakes. Her cheese straws and pickled onions have never been bettered. She taught us to do handstands against the garage wall, and how to skip double dutch. Periodically, she'd pick up a new hobby and run with it. The entire family sported aran jumpers one winter, like it or not. Her hands always had to be busy. For a while, everything was knitted. Dolls, clothes, decorations. Everything. Then, growing tired of knitting, she turned to cross stitch. There wasn't a wall in the house that didn't have at least one framed masterpiece, and everyone else in the family had their share too. I have one in the downstairs loo.

She travelled extensively, regularly disappearing to the other side of the world for months on end to visit her sister. She often exasperated her children, stubbornly doing whatever the hell she liked whether it seemed appropriate or not. Like driving, despite being shocking at it. I stayed with her regualrly at weekends, and she taught me to knit, sew and bake (with varying degrees of success). I discovered 'Gone With The Wind' at my grandmother's flat, and it remains one of my favourite films. She told me I was clever, capable, amazing. She copied down my primary school poetry in to a book as if I was a proper poet. We played many games of Scrabble, which she always won. Sometimes she farted elaborately and audibly and pretended she hadn't. My cousin nearly had a hernia trying not to laugh.

But, like I said, she was formidable. If you annoyed her, you knew about it. Her favourite way of conveying disappointment was to write letters. Woe betide you got one of her letters. Quick tempered and tongued, you knew if you'd stepped out of line. Yet to me, she was always an inspiration, and still is.

My grandmother now has vascular dementia. The cheap clock she insisted I take she has mistaken for the clock which stood on her mantelpiece for years, and which is now safely put away in a cupboard. She gets confused and misremembers things. Sometimes she gets stroppy and can be less than pleasant to my mother and my aunt. Taking care of someone with memory problems is wearing, heartbreaking and frustrating. She has been scammed out of money, wandered off and got lost, misplaced precious jewellery. Daily dramas which test her daughters' patience and nerves to their limits. The strong woman she was has been replaced by a vulnerable person who needs care. In fact, the kind of person she would have delighted in helping and fussing over (and bossing about). When I was in hospital poorly with my second child, my 75 year old grandmother was attempting to hoist the 'old dear' (a woman about five years older than her) out of her bed and on to a commode. She never really retired from nursing.

So this post isn't about chickens. Yet in a way, it is. Because this woman helped shape me, and I doubt I'd be the same person I am today without her influence. And while she is in the slow, heartbreaking process of forgetting me, I will never forget her.


  1. That's a brave and moving post, and I was in the same position with my grandmother a few years ago so I know how you feel and the hard road you still have to travel. In the end the only thing that gives any comfort is the legacy they leave behind, the memories and experiences - and she has and will always be an enormous part of who you are. While my gran was ill I became an expert in how to deal with & motivate social services to get the support she needed, so if you need any advice at all just shout.

  2. So beautifully written, expressing with eloquence the feelings of so many in a similar situation.

    Thank you . Take care of yourself x

  3. Your post has everything a good story should have - both laughter and tears. Thankyou so very much for sharing it with us.