I would like to tell you about my grandmother who always insisted upon being called Nan as she felt too young to actually be a grandmother. She was a pretty amazing lady and a very strong influence in my life. When I was a young child, I lived with her, and for quite a long time I thought she was my mother even though I always called her Nan and I was quite distraught when I had to go and live with my mother and stepfather at the age of seven. Although my mother had actually lived with us, she had been working away a lot and so although I knew she was my mother, I had no real concept that she was the person who was supposed to care for me as my Nan was the person who just did that. My stepfather was a complete stranger to me, someone who I had only met just once for afternoon tea before my mother had married him, still that did not matter as I was to be packaged off to boarding school, I didn't really need to know him.
It was a heart breaking wrench to be ripped from my Nan, a woman who could make everything alright with a tinkling laugh. She had done some amazing things in her life thanks to a tyrant of a father, my great grandfather who would never never acknowledge my existence - he was a thoroughly nasty little man actually, although who knows what happens to cause people's behaviours and it is not, I suppose, my place to pass judgement upon him. My Nan was an excellent competitive swimmer as a child and won many trophies which have since disappeared in burglaries (yeah thanks for that you scumbags) and she was a sensational dancer who danced her way around the country in a line-up known as The Bluebell Girls I believe. They were quite the turn in their day high kicking and tapping and shoe shuffling and singing and she also played the accordion which is something that she could be persuaded to do well into latter years until a final burglary saw her beloved accordion also stolen (you scum) - I think that was the point at which she gave up on life and stopped going out at all unless it was by ambulance which was so very sad.
There is one particular story of my Nan that I would just briefly like to tell you and it comes from the second world war. It was in 1942 and my Nan was living in a place called Bluebell Hill which is in Kent and as the name implies, it is at the top of a hill and a high point where planes came in from over the Dover Straights. My Nan just like everyone else, was suffering from the deprivations of rationing and on this particular morning her sweet tooth had gotten the better of her and she had gone to the local shop to swop her precious ration coupon for some toffees. As she was making her way home with her paper bag full of sticky sweet creamy toffee, the air raid siren had sounded. Now she had a dilemma because the nearest shelter was down in the village where she was, but that would lead her family to worry about where she was and why she was missing from their Anderson shelter at the end of the field, which was shared with the neighbours. She decided that she had to run up Bluebell Hill, which is very steep, and join her family in their shelter so that they wouldn't worry. It wouldn't matter because the flipping siren was always going off and the bombs rarely fell nearby. She reached the top of the hill and was puffing badly and so she stopped to catch her breath. That's when she heard it, the plane, a single german plane, an advance plane. She knew immediately by the sound of the engine, you could tell the different engine sounds and identify them without seeing them by that time in the war. She froze for a moment and then started running again knowing that she had to get to the shelter. He was very low and then she heard the rat-tat-tat-tat of the machine gun. She dived into the hedge, toffees flying, life her only thought and she saw his face as he was firing directly at her. He was barely older than she was this German pilot trying to shoot a young English woman running for her life. Her heart was pounding and the adrenaline had turned her legs to jelly but he was turning his plane around, she had to move or she was going to die lying here bleeding in the brambles and nettles and that was not going to happen to her. She drove herself up and ran along the hedge line towards the Anderson shelter screaming now "Let me in!" at the top of her voice. He was firing again but her determination to survive was strong and fortunately his aim was not true.
Well she made it and received a right rollicking and a clip around the ear in spite of being almost 21 years old for going to get toffees, poor Nan, they almost cost her her life. I often wonder what was going through that young pilot's mind as he sort out a young unarmed woman to cut down with his machine gun. I would not be here had his aim been true and this action was not an isolated event as I heard of many other accounts of similar incidents happening during the war. Why were the pilots told to just shoot indiscriminately? It makes no sense, but then genocide makes no sense I suppose and those were times of war.
My Nan had a lifelong fear of thunderstorms like many of her generation who had survived the second world war and the bombing, the thunder reminds them of the bombs at a subconscious level someone once explained to me. Indeed I remember her making me hide in a cupboard during one particularly intense storm as a very young child which left me with a terrible fear of storms myself for many many years (I'm fine now!) with calming words of how it would soon all be over. Poor Nan, like so many of her generation she was bearing the scars of the war with a stoic stiff upper lip, never dreaming to complain, never thinking it was anyone else's fault, just getting on with it.
She was amazing, she was my Nan and I miss her.