I know; me doing something I’ve wanted to do for ages is hardly new. And getting excited and feeling the need to tell people about it is no big surprise. But I LOVE surprises, especially when they’re things I’ve conjured up for someone else. Call me sad, but I get uber excited seeing the look on people’s faces when they realise something they’d love to happen, is actually about to happen, or happening right there and then. It’s an incredible feeling, when you have made it happen.
For instance; on my mum’s 59th birthday, I kidnapped her and flew her off to Spain to spend a few days with her best friend, and the first thing she knew of it was when we got to the airport.
I’d told her I was flitting off on one of my random weekends away, to Milan, and she thought she was giving me a lift to the airport. Dad came too, for a ride out, and in the car on the way there, I couldn’t help but laugh as mum saw this as an opportunity to do a ‘big shop’ at Sainsburys on the way home. So spent the entire journey writing a list of groceries!
But I’m wearing my big winter coat?…
When we got to the airport, she said “I wish I was coming with you…” to which I replied “that’s good, because you are” Her face was a picture! Questions then came out of her mouth which were clearly blurred by excitement… “but I’m wearing my winter coat?” (No reference to her passport) “but I haven’t brought my toilet bag?” (the passport still didn’t figure in her thought processes) “what about my handbag? I’ve only brought my big one?” At this point, I revealed that with a little help from one of her friends in the village, I’d already packed her clothes in my case, booked her time off work, snuck out her passport, and as dad lovingly gave her a little envelope, with instructions not to open it until she was in duty free, she actually started to get excited!
As we trundled through security, mum proceeded to tell everyone she could, that she “had no idea about this until five minutes before, and was even wearing her big winter coat!”
By the time we reached departures, and she had her first G&T in hand, she was still under the impression we were going to Milan. It wasn’t until our flight was called (after a slight delay, a few more G&Ts and much excitement) that mum realised we were actually going to Spain. At that point, the penny dropped and she said “are we going to see my bestest?!!” …and the surprises just kept on coming, brilliant! The best thing about all this, was that mum had no idea what was going on, at any point. She was so focused on her 60th and planning her retirement trip of a lifetime, she didn’t consider that we’d do anything for her 59th, it was brilliant.
Since moving to London, I’ve been car-less. Now most people (including me) would agree that, living and working in London, you don’t need a car. It occasionally proves handy, but it’s far from a necessity. So when I moved here, I got rid of my beloved Bruno and, if I’m honest, day-to-day I haven’t missed him. However, having the freedom to just jump in the car and disappear was something I loved, and I do miss. But there are ways and means, it’s just a case of doing things differently.
So today, I’m jumping on a train and heading up to Suffolk to surprise my grandparents. They’re both 90-odd so I’m hoping they’ve not decided to do the same as me and flit off somewhere! Clearly I can’t call to check they’re at home, as they’d ask why. But dad spoke to them this week, and apparently they’re in all weekend.
The drainpipe (London’s shortest tube line)
Unusually for me, I’m not in a mad dash this morning. I think, having the morning off yesterday meant I got a few housey chores out of the way, leaving today to enjoy lazily. So I’m up at about 7, have a leisurely breakfast overlooking the river, before heading up to the station about 8:30, to make my debut on the Waterloo & City line… I didn’t even spot that this existed on the tube map! In my defence, it’s a watery green colour on the map (not striking) and only has two stations – Waterloo and Bank. I guess it’s designed to help commuters coming into the City from the South West, so probably crazy busy during rush hour… right now though, it’s Deadsville Tennessee, I have just an elderly couple and a festival-goer for company (I’m assuming the occupation of the latter, based on her attire of tiny denim shorts – no I’m not just getting old, cheeks were on full view, although fair play, no cellulite in sight – a flower power t-shirt, turquoise willies and a backpack twice her size.)
It’s a quick train and I’m at Liverpool Street by 9:20 – my train doesn’t leave until 10:00; excellent, time to people watch!
Passing the dutchy
My first targets are a West Indian-looking family getting coffee. Well, I think they wanted coffee, although I’m not sure they got anything? Costa Coffee in Liverpool Street station is a pop-up booth with no customer seating, but it’s cleverly positioned close to some station seating. Here sits Mamma, wearing the most flamboyantly coloured dress (I think Nanny used to have a tablecloth with a similar pattern?) accompanied by her flock: two girls with their hair tightly pulled into bunches on top of their heads – too cute for words – and two boys dressed in yellow (Pele?) football shirts. The girls sit quietly surrounded by ‘stuff’ – I say ‘stuff’, because I’m not sure if it’s their possessions, their shopping, or just some random articles they’ve chosen to bring along? Think metal cooking / mixing bowls of various sizes, a rolled-up rug, a plastic bag (not sure of its contents) and a wheelie bag (the kind Nanny used to use to go for her shopping, as opposed to the airline variety).
Whilst the girls are immaculately behaved, the boys are full o’ beans; running around tripping over the metal bowls, which makes quite a tune, and I half expect a flash reggae ensemble to kick in. Then Mamma pipes up “now you boys, come sit down and be’ave, gotta get me a drink, yeah…?” Despite her request and desire for hydration, she never actually moves any closer to Costa. Is this a ploy to get them to sit down with the girls? Is she in need of something stronger than coffee? Is Popps with them, already queuing for coffee? Who knows. I just queue for my latte, as the tuneful metal bowl dance continues, with the boys choreographing different moves each time a bowl goes flying. By now, I’m not sure what’s more entertaining; the fact that Mamma continues to shout at them, without actually getting more irate, or that fact that the boys seem to have made a game out of tripping over things, and each time, striking a new pose. My fellow coffee queuers are clearly as aware of the show as I am (it’s hard to miss, to be fair), yet in true British fashion, no one dares turn round and look… we’re so British!
So I’m now aboard the Great Yarmouth flier. This is weird – I’m tempted to stay on the train to GY and explore the Norfolk / Suffolk coastline… I haven’t done that in nearly 30 years. I’m long overdue a trip to Southwold, and Aldborough would be a high choice for a coastal retreat, if I ever won the lottery… But today is about Nanny and Hampa, so I’m changing at Ipswich and heading for a little village a few miles from Bury St Edmunds called Thurston…
As my train speeds across the glorious Suffolk countryside, I’m wondering how to make my entrance. The simplest way is to just ring the doorbell, but I want to do better than that. However, I need to think about logistics here. Nanny and Hampa age over 180 years between them, so can’t just jump up to answer the door. If they’re in the garden, they might not hear the doorbell. I could call them, to make sure they’re indoors, then ring the bell whilst I’m on the phone, finish the call (on the pretense that they have to go to answer their front door) and there I’ll be. Perfect…
Flowers; ah I can’t turn up at Nanny’s without flowers. I have a 13-minute connection at Ipswich – long enough to get flowers? Probably, if we were running on time, but I think we’re about 5 minutes late. That just leaves Thurston village shop. Well, I’d be supporting their local community that way, the flowers would have less time out of water, and I’d have less distance to carry them. That’s if the shop sells flowers. Let’s hope so…
I’m now on the train back to London, having spent a lovely day with my grandparents. The post office sold flowers, which made Nanny smile on my arrival. I telephoned as I was approaching the house, and when he answered, I told Hampa he should open his front door. And as I walked in, Nanny said she knew it was me because of Hampa’s welcome of “Hello sausage!” and my squeels of excitement (never too old!) The picnic went down a treat, and conveniently left two of everything, so they can have some supper later on.
Despite being 92, my grandfather still has his marbles and is pretty quick on his feet. Sure, he has a few niggles, but he seems incredibly well, probably better than I’ve seen him in a long time. No coughing, no visible pain, he was even singing – I always know when he’s feeling affectionate, because he sings back to me the song I used to sing to him when I was 5!
Nanny was also very well. She’s 89, and although she did recite to me the same story she called to tell me last week, about getting a bottle of Cointreau for her birthday, she too has all her marbles. She probably should think about getting a hearing aid, as her hearing seems somewhat intermittent; she hears Hampa singing in the morning but fails to hear common details as well (he says two, she hears three, he says Saturday, she hears Sunday etc). But they are wonderful – they’ve been married for 66 years and she still refers to him as ‘her chap’. He is talking about changing his car, she rolls her eyes at me, giggling; he quotes Spike Milligan, she doesn’t hear properly, he winks at me and wiggles his eyebrows up and down… They are wonderful parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, and I love them dearly. I’m so pleased I went to see them today and because I wasn’t’ driving, I was even able to enjoy a pint of IPA with Hampa. Ahhh, there’s lovely.
If Top Gear tested zimmer frames…
Around 3ish, my uncle (Dick) and cousin (Tom) arrived for a cup of tea. Whilst not unusual, this brought much entertainment, as the cross-room looks, loving giggles and Milliganesque winks became abundant, as we noted silly habits, age blunders, ‘Nannyisms’ and Hampa tendencies’ (even more frightening when they came from my uncle)… Nanny referring to my laptop as my ‘pod thingy’… Hampa asking my uncle to show him how to make a call from his mobile phone… endless entertainment. But the finale came when Dick decided to give Nanny’s new ‘tricycle’ a try out.
A little background. People often ask me where my passion for Formula One came from. When I was young, and the family congregated at Nanny’s, the men would generally be found keeping out of the way in the garage, with their heads under the bonnets of some car or other, and if anyone had recently brought a new car, they’d all have to have a test drive in it. Meanwhile, the women would generally be found in the kitchen, putting the world to rights over a G&T or three. At the time, I was a tomboy and would rather be in the garage with the boys than in the kitchen with the girls. Sunday afternoon telly would generally be either Rugby Special or a Grand Prix, and so began my love of cars and preference for rugger over footie.
So when Dick spotted Nanny’s ‘new wheels’ today, he just had to have a test drive. Tom and I were almost crying with laughter, as Dick whizzed it around the living room, testing the brakes, the turning circle, the torque and the power:weight ratio, which was surprisingly good, for a zimmer frame. Its aluminium build makes it more lightweight than its predecessor, and with a 50-something year old rugby player driving it, the result was frighteningly nifty, for a zimmer frame.
An afternoon snooze (by me, Hampa was merely inspecting his eyelids, as usual) and it’s time to head back. So I wander back to Thurston station and head back to the smoke.
Thank you Nanny and Hampa – I have always loved coming to see you, and nothing changes. Big huge love xxxxxxxxxxx