When I was a kid, my Nan and Grandad lived in a place called Usk Road in Aveley. I remember thinking that Usk Road sounded really exotic, even though I knew it not to be. They lived in an end-of-terrace house with a big garden and a little side gate with a brick arch that went between theirs and the house next door.
The house always smelt the same, a mixture of Imperial Leather soap and new carpets. It was spotless and I was fascinated by the nick nacks that were scattered around – the Toby jugs on top of the unit in the living room; the Teasmade in the spare room; the Sylvanian Families video that they kept for my cousins and I.
None of this fascinated me more than my Grandad John’s shed.
Grandad’s shed smelt (and still does) of creosote and had a million interesting and complicated-looking tools hanging from the ceiling and walls. There were vises attached to a work area and things with menacingly sharp blades kept on high shelves. It was in this shed that Grandad made my dolls house. This dolls house was better than any that I have ever, to this day, seen in a shop.
The walls were covered with brick dust and individually pointed with white paint, each brick lovingly created by Grandad’s patient hand. Every room had an electric light with its own light switch, powered by a big battery compartment, hidden under the roof. The roof had individual tiles, cut out of a terracotta coloured lino. The rooms were carpeted and a proper staircase ran through the middle of the house. Then came Nanny Rene’s work, individually made curtains, duvets, light shades and linen, all in co-ordinating colours.
The attention to detail is incredible, made possible by the loving care and teamwork of Nanny Rene and Grandad John. It’s still in my Mum’s loft – I must get it down and give it to Sausage to enjoy.
In the early nineties, after Grandad retired, he and my Nan decided to make their dream move to a place with a slower way of life and chose Lowestoft, a little seaside town in Suffolk. Every year, they’d drive back to Essex at the start of the penultimate week of the summer holidays and take my cousin and I back to Suffolk with them, where we’d spend a glorious week being taken on a different outing every day. Over the course of the week, we’d visit Great Yarmouth pleasure beach, Pleasurewood Hills, go for a boat trip along the Broads, spend a day shopping in Lowestoft town, go bowling, to the Sealife Centre, so many trips in such a short space of time.
I was talking to my Dad the other day about our weeks in the summer with Nan and Grandad and it occurred to me that it must’ve cost them an absolute fortune every year. Of course, as we got older the visits stopped and our lives moved on, but I still look fondly back on those times.
Sadly, we lost Nanny Rene (I feel I should point out, Rene is said like “Reen”) in 2004 and our little family hasn’t been the same since. We’ve grown apart and things have changed. The last time we were all together was at my Nan’s funeral. The day my Nan died, Grandad turned to me and said “Well, that’s it girl, I’ve lost my best friend. I suppose it’ll be me next”.
He’s lived on his own for almost eight years, suffering one illness after another, and a couple of weeks ago we received the news that he’s developed advanced lymphoma. I’ve been to see him a few times in the last few weeks (sadly, more times in those weeks than in the previous five years) and the thing that keeps striking me is his hands. My Grandad has always been a sturdy bloke, not the tallest, but always incomprehensibly muscular and solid. Now, he’s looking old, thin, withered and his hands look huge and incongruous with the rest of his body. But those hands are the hands that worked to provide so well for my Nan, Dad and uncles. Those are the hands that built us the most amazing toys. Those are the hands that always smelt of mint or tomatoes or creosote from hours spent tending his immaculate garden. And while I’ll be devastated when the inevitable end finally comes, I’ll be very happy to know that those hands will once again be holding Nanny Rene’s tightly, two best friends reunited.