My Granny: The Original Girl Power

To celebrate what would have been my Granny’s 108th Birthday had she been alive today, 2nd April, I have decided it was time to write a little homage to her. Not necessarily as a grandmother, but as a woman.


She was born in 1907 and, actually, was an ‘undiagnosed’ twin. That is, she was not known about until labour/delivery. No ultrasounds in those days! When her twin brother was born, no one expected a second baby to come out, just a few minutes later.

One was born just before midnight (April 1st), and the second just after midnight, so Granny and her brother, although twins, enjoyed separate birthdays! Nor did they expect the second baby to survive; the doctor apparently said, “This one is too small, they both won’t live.”


Well, both my granny and her slightly-older twin brother survived and lived to be well into their 90s and 80s respectively. My granny reached 96. That’s quite a remarkable achievement, and always makes me think I am actually quite lucky to be here at all! I think they slept in a drawer for a few days to keep them warm as was the custom back then.


What will I do in my life to even approach that age? – I think she lived a long life because of a few things: family, many many friends and daily visitors that kept her amused, an active inquisitive brain, her daily “gin and mixed” didn’t do her any harm, daily exercise outside, gardening, plenty of fresh sea air, a keen interest in men, and frequent dips in the bracing Scottish sea!


When I was a young girl, I always remember my granny being in my life quite a lot, quite vividly. She lived in the same village as we did growing up, and we used to visit her and the cat nearly every day. Then, when she became older and more infirm, she actually came to our house to live with us permanently when I was a teenager. At the time I remember she was quite scary and a bit annoying and embarrassing, but now I am older I can appreciate what a pretty exceptional woman she actually was, and how she was a background inspiration to me in subtle ways.


She had so many admirable traits which thinking back I quietly absorbed and admired. She was a great woman. Yes, she had her flaws, but I think she left an ‘impression’ on most people she met. As a young girl, I think I realised we were basically like chalk and cheese. She was very loud and domineering and forthright; I was very quiet and shy. But that didn’t make me not like her. I found her very amusing.


So many ‘Alpha Female’ qualities she had… I think she was the original living embodiment of “Girl Power” – way before The Spice Girls made this popular in the Nineties! And I’ve heard stories from the 1950s and 60s that made her sound like a ladette! It must’ve been quite fun to have been a bit naughty in those days when there were different expectations on women. She apparently downed pints in pubs and smoked a pipe and “whistled for taxis in the street” that made her sound like a man – despite keeping up all the social decorum of trying to be “ladylike”. Times were different back then; she was a risk taker.


She was strong. She had moral ‘mettle’ in abundance and this is one of the things I most remember about her. Nothing appeared to get her down. Even though my grandpa had died many years before, she battled on regardless for a quarter of a century as a widow living alone and always seemed cheery and sociable; she never really dwelled on the past. Quite strong and stoical, she lived in the moment and for the what’s next. “What was the point in worrying about it?” was probably her motto. Hmm, I haven’t really inherited that!


She said what she thought. I don’t think she really cared! “Blunt”, “Formidable”, “Sharp” people have commented. She didn’t say the right thing: she said her mind. I totally admire people who have the conviction and bravery to just say what they think without worrying what anyone else will think too much. It makes me smirk. It can be funny. This makes them the stronger person in my eyes. And she seemed to have bags of confidence – something I didn’t really have at all.


She was full of wit and wisdom (as most grannies are). I remember her sayings and little witticisms well! “Never get OLD!” was a favourite of hers, as she struggled along with her sticks.

“Take your HAIR out of your eyes!” when I guess she wasn’t too happy with my hair clips falling out after playing up trees outside.

[I have tried to recreate a cartoon version of how I remember her here, (badly), capturing her pleated skirts that always rode up, wrinkled tights, button-up woolly cardigan, saggy bosom, and house keys that she always had on a string around her neck. Also her thick, brown-rimmed glasses, sorry, spectacles. What a pedant!]


“Put some GIN on it!” when I had cut myself in the bushes or stung my knees on nettles, and one of my favourites, “Never HEED!” – which is a Scottish phrase that means when someone is worried about something, basically “Just ignore it and don’t pay any attention, do your own thing.”


She was demanding. She instilled a sense of fear and old-fashioned respect. She had high standards (as many old traditional people did in those days) and pity any child that used their fingers to eat food at her dining table or who spoke with their mouth full or who split an infinitive in conversation! Then they would receive the full Wrath of Granny! We dreaded it. “MAAAANNERRRRRRRRSSSS!” came her battle-cry across polar ends of the table, as we looked down into our plates with red faces. She physically shook with rage.


Those who knew her knew that she was extremely sharp and quick-witted (a sign of cleverness, I feel) and always seemed to have a witty retort for anything. Even when she got senile dementia. Always the sharp riposte. She didn’t suffer fools or bores too gladly. I was one of the quiet ones and preferred just to watch in silence, but woe betide anyone who was dared say a stupid thing to her or ask something ‘impertinent’; she would kill it dead with some killer line, just like that. (This tended to be my brother, who wasn’t afraid to get stuck in with arguments about anything.) I sat and watched, amazed and a wee bit terrified.


She was good fun. Even in her mid-70s when she was getting on a bit, there was nothing she liked better than to get out into the garden with my brother and me aged about 7 or 8 and show us how to play football. “You’ve got to DRIBBLE it!!” she would yell. She showed us how to dribble the ball and “get in there and tackle”, rather than just punting the ball from one goal to the other as we were wont to do rather wanly. She showed us some backbone!


She was sporty. Though a bit infirm in her 80s, she liked nothing better than to come in from gardening and watch the latest sport on the telly. I remember going round to her house and on the (then just 4-channel) television, she would be happily watching a bit of the darts, a bit of the snooker, footie, boxing, a bit of the wrestling. What a lad! She loved a “good game”. That Alpha Female streak again…I would happily have just gone and browsed round trees in her garden, but she demanded much more participation. She was competitive but fair. “Let’s have a game of draughts!” she would bark. And so I would have to get the chess board out and play draughts or dominoes and this kept her old mind ticking over as she interjected one of my moves with “Good!” or “Bahh!” (when she was losing.) “Read me another clue from the crossword!” – I had no idea what I was doing, but she made me do it anyway. I think that’s where I picked up a love of words.


She was totally up for it! I think she tried anything. She was fun. She was the original rule-breaker, and though she looked fairly traditional and smart, she had a deep-rooted naughty streak which I guess ran right through her life. She was pretty independent, no one was going to tell her what she could and couldn’t do – and I liked that about her. A wee bit eccentric. They don’t make characters like these anymore!


And yet, she was artistic in a way, and had a quieter side; she enjoyed painting watercolours outside and so I suppose that had a bit of an influence on me too.


She was very generous. And I mean ‘genuinely generous’, a rare trait; not superficially so or distracted by her own self. Even though she came across a bit fierce at times, she was a real people person, genuinely interested in making conversation with other people. Whoever knocked, she opened the door and made them a cup of tea and a scone (or sometimes it was a stale biscuit). She definitely wasn’t an introvert in the slightest; she was an “extreme Extrovert”! A conversationalist.


I think that’s the bit I remember most: no matter who someone was, she loved to chat with them and engage them in conversation. I don’t think she liked living alone; she was gregarious, sociable, and needed people daily to bring her the latest ‘news’, to keep her going. We used to go down after school to her cool garden and play, and then we had to go inside and try and make sensible conversation as she sat in her chair. She demanded news. She barked for “more news!” If we didn’t have any news, we were told to just “make some up!” – no mean feat for an unimaginative 9 year old. I had no idea what to say!


I have known quite a few twins and they say they like spending time in each other’s company, perhaps more than other siblings. Well, at the end of their lives both my Granny and her twin brother ended up living in the same village. When I was a girl I would sometimes meet her walking along the road with her walking sticks and say, “Hello, where are you off to?” and she would say, “I’m going to my brother’s for afternoon tea!” – and she did (and I followed), and there the pair of 80-something twins would sit and have arguments (good-natured ones) with each other! It was quite amusing, but I suppose I don’t know how that relationship must feel as I am not a twin myself.


Everyone likes a warm, funny, sociable person. People gravitated towards Granny, they liked her company. She was good company, she was entertaining. They went round to her house, for cups of tea, for fruit scones, for gin parties – as we would probably say these days “for the banter” – because she was good to be around. I think that’s probably the highest compliment people can say of anyone.


I can’t imagine Granny ever, in her life, turning down a party. Ever. She didn’t ever say, “No I can’t go out this evening, I’m washing my hair”, or “No, I’m watching the telly”. She said, “Come away in! Tell me your stories” – to anyone that was passing really! – which is totally awesome. She was very generous and welcoming and would blether away to anyone.


In fact, she would be really upset if she couldn’t go to a party. Routinely, through my teens, we would take her (and her zimmer frame) to the pub, to parties, with us, and she would put on her lipstick and get excited and usually then get bought drinks by old men that she fancied – even when she was well into her 80s! She would become wobbly after a few too many double gins and we sometimes had to literally carry her out one arm over each shoulder as we described her: “Oh no, Granny’s got her mermaid legs again!”


She was literate and well read and had committed all these poems and Shakespeare quotations, dirty rhymes and limericks to memory; she liked reciting them whenever she had an audience. She had a wicked sense of humour; I liked that. Yes, she could be unbelievably stern at times, but she was always the one to keep the mood light. I think she was a bit of a flirt!


My granny had many admirable qualities that, only now as an adult, I can fully appreciate. The original “Strong Woman”, she seemed to have this suite of bracing qualities that had she been born today I have no idea where she would be capable of going in her life. She had that “indefatigable spirit” that probably owed itself in part to, well, when you think about it, living through two World Wars, surviving as a widow for 25 years, and perhaps being an undiagnosed second twin! Part stiff upper lip, part inborn fierce determination, she had the sort of natural resilience and energy and enthusiasm for life that many of us today at even half her age struggle to sustain.


Hard. Determined. Strong. Independent. Intelligent. Quick. Witty. Smart. Sociable. Friendly. Kind. Confident. Charming. Funny. Sporty. Energetic. Enthusiastic. Fun. Up for it. Saucy. Outrageous. Artistic. Generous. Welcoming. Entertaining. I remember my Granny well. She was an amazing woman!



— I hope I have got the main factual elements of this story correct. I have done my best, and a lot is just my own memories of stories handed down by word of mouth. Thanks. – AC


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