On this day five years ago, my precious Nan, Beatrice East moved on to better things at the grand old age of 91. You can’t help but wonder at the range of experiences she must have had spanning that length of time. My Nan met my Granddad when he was delivering the milk by horse and cart. He asked her to play tennis – perhaps they should have left the score at ‘love all’ for they were married more than 50 years. In her later years, Nan could have ordered her milk and other groceries online although I do remember her often saying, “Well I don’t know about all this dot com business” when websites were mentioned on television programmes.
For all the time I remember, Nanny lived in a bungalow in the village of Ashill in Norfolk. My brother and I would always look out for the “pink house” and then we’d know we were nearly there. We only realised as we got older that the pink house was actually The Swan pub!
There are some things that I always remember about our times with Nanny:
- Crowding round the fold-out dining table squashed into the middle of her living room
- Peaches and custard for dessert
- The milky coffee she would eventually get round to making in-between the chatting
- The story of Little Jack Horner
- Feeding the ducks on the village pond
- Playing Sorry and Tri-ominos
- Her Beatrix potter biscuit tin
- Liquorice Allsorts
- Her love of reading
- The rocking chair we used to squabble over sitting in
- The silly kids song ‘Fling it here’
- No-fat cake (also affectionately known as polyurethane cake!)
- The theme tune to the BBC’s House of Elliot
- For some reason, I really remember the look of her hands. Perhaps it’s the time I spent watching her trying out all her crafts – like lacemaking and tatting.
But what I always think of first when I think of Nanny is the sound of her infectious giggle; I can still hear it now in my mind. We have an audio tape from a childhood Christmas where we were messing about recording silly songs and you can hear Nanny giggling away in the background. In my leaving card from work, somebody had written that when I laugh I light up the room – I probably get that from Nanny.
I’m sure there are other things that have been passed down from her. Yesterday, as I was telling my parents how much I’m enjoying my renewed interest in knitting, my Dad said I sounded like Nanny who was once known to fall asleep knitting; her hands still moving through the stitches even though her head was bowed in sleep. I’m not that clever!
But I have definitely inherited “The Wellsy Imagination” to its full strength. The name comes from Nan’s maiden name and involves our marvellous knack of dreaming the most ridiculous dreams, frequently and vividly. Most mornings I could tell you at least one dream that I have dreamt in the night in great and comical detail. Famous ones recounted by Nan included ‘the man with the wheelbarrow walking through the bedroom’ and ‘riding down the Old Kent Road on a knitting needle!’
Nan and her two sisters also tell a story or two of their antics growing up together in London during the 1920s. They would laugh about how Auntie Fran used to put a hairnet over her face while she slept as she was afraid of mice running into her mouth if she snored. They used to laugh about “that school photograph” where all the girls were standing all beautifully neat and orderly and you can pick a young version of my Nan out from a mile away by her frizzy, wayward curls. I wouldn’t have wanted to have grown up in London in the 1920s or lived through the wars that they saw, but I’ve often wished for a tardis to travel back and see what those three were really like growing up.
Recently I’ve been remembering the stories Nan told of her village church as I read the books the vicar Martin Down wrote about his time in Ashill. It’s been interesting to read of the prayer and spiritual background of some of the village gossip Nan had heard about his impact on the village. Nan would never join in the gossip or sign any of the negative petitions against his work. She had a lot of time for Martin Down because of his pastoral support when my Granddad died. The story of the village church, where my Nan is now buried with my Granddad, inspires me as I seek to be instrumental in moving churches from maintenance of themselves into mission for their communities. It was with a little bit of emotion that I read about how the church in Ashill felt burdened to support the widows in their community and how a lady called Grace (how perfectly named!) would personally visit each one in the village. I remember Nan telling of that visit and subsequently attending the social group “New Beginnings” which I believe was a strong catalyst in igniting her faith.
The only piece of video I possess of my Nan is from my wedding. As I arrive at the church door, you see her look at me and though my Nan wasn’t brought up in a generation that openly shared their feelings, you can see by the way she looks at me how much she loved me.
I used to write letters by hand to my Nan. After Nan’s funeral, her home-help told me how she would read them to her and Nan would remark how the descriptions made her feel like she was in the room with me. I miss writing to her and the knowledge that she enjoyed my letters so much has spurred me on to believe that I can write something of value for people. I know she would have loved to read my blog – maybe printed onto paper to avoid the dot com business!
So this one’s for you Nan – your life still touches mine.