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Time with Gran and Da

"I remember spending wonderful summers, holidaying with my great grandparents."
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When I was a child, I lived with my mum, dad and baby sister. It was quite hard going, as dad had a stressful job in the police force and mum was mostly busy with the baby. So, I used to look forward to going to stay with my great grandparents. When we moved house (the first of many times as it turned out) and I changed schools, I was delighted because although it wasn't all that far from our last home, we were closer to my great grandparents, in the same village in fact.

Da, as I called my great grandfather, used to walk down to the school and I'd get to go to their house for lunch. I loved that. I do believe I was their little princess and they used to spoil me rotten, the way in which only grandparents can. I don't mean that they would buy me things, I know that some show their affection that way. No, Gran and Da spent time with me, did things with me.

Mum and Dad never had much money back then and holidays pretty much always involved Gran and Da. I'd spend weekends there and long summer days. I loved it, I really loved it.

They were both long-retired, although Da was the sort of fellow who was always up to something. I get the impression that he was a bit of a wheeler and dealer in his day and I'm sure that his exploits sometimes took him outwith the boundaries of the law (not that I've ever heard those stories, but it's certainly been hinted at during family get-togethers). He'd had many jobs over the years; for years, he ran a van from which he sold fruit and vegetables, then he was a top salesman for a company that made cash registers (I know he won awards and prizes for that).

Now that that he was retired though, he and Gran used to make and sell knitwear. Gran was amazingly talented, she could knit just about anything, from socks to teddy bears (I still have Donald Duck - a strange looking creation, all knitted and with shiny, brown boot buttons for eyes. We all got beautiful clothes made for us and she was a dab hand with a sewing machine too and used to make me the prettiest dresses, even going to the bother of smocking the bodice part. I was always well turned out.

For their business, Gran would knit Fair-Isle jumpers, well, she did the yokes and pockets, you know the bits with the fancy diamond patterns? While Da would programme the hand-operated knitting machine and make the body and sleeve pieces for the garments. Once these were complete, Gran would stitch them all together. They sold them for, what I imagine, would have been decent money, certainly, they were always in demand.

Whenever I was there and Da was using the knitting machine, I would help him. Sometimes he'd let me move the big handle back and forth, knitting a new row with each stroke. It was a great feeling, the easy glide of the machine and I used to feel so important and grown up when he let me do that, even though I'm sure it must have really slowed down the 'production line'. I'd get to do maybe ten strokes before I'd think I'd contributed enough and in truth, he was probably glad to take control of the machine again.

Occasionally, a wee wisp of wool would get caught on the complicated set up and it would shoot up along the taut line of wool, which went up high on a sort of wire thing and back down into the machine itself. I'd always cry out with delight and giggle to see it. It was as though a piece of wool was making a break for it. It amused me so and I'm pretty certain that Da would sometimes deliberately add a wee woolly remnant for that very purpose, just to thrill me.

If I close my eyes now, I can almost smell the wool and the oil on the machine, I can hear the 'slaw slaw' of the knitting machine. When people ask which smells evoke happy memories, this is one of mine, right up there with fresh coffee and cut grass. It takes me to a place of safety and happiness, somewhere where I had not a care in the world. Gran and Da's house always smelled of knitting, or drying wool, or baking and cooking or, if Da was working on something, oil or glue. You know, he had this glue which he used to fix pretty much everything. It stank, but I still loved the smell of it. One time, my little brother was devastated, his toy aeroplane had broken, the wing had snapped clean off, but Da fixed it, with his glue. Sadly, the 'plane was made of polystyrene and the glue dissolved the two surfaces until the toy had one regular long wing and a wee tiny, deformed one… My brother was pretty upset, but had to admit that Da had fixed it. Of course, it never flew again.

Gran and Da's knitwear was pretty well-known throughout the country back then and they always had a full order book. They used to travel all over the place to deliver their jumpers and cardigans. It kept them busy and they loved to travel in the car. My Da's car was his pride and joy, always perfectly clean and polished. When I went with them, Gran used to let me sit up front and I would always ask Da to go faster. He did too. I would look round, to see my Gran holding on to the handle of the door, white-knuckled, saying, "For God's sake, slow down, Bill!"

He'd laugh and slow down, but it made me feel like he and I were in a gang or something. I know he liked to indulge me and I'm sure that Gran didn't really mind as much as she seemed to.

As I said, Da's car was his pride and joy and he loved taking me out for picnics. He'd built a table for the back of the car. It was made from an old door I think and there were legs which screwed in to hold it in place. Gran would pack a box with a lunch in it; usually salmon rolls, or gammon, some fruit and of course some of her wonderful baking. Gran was an excellent baker, I mean really really good. I used to help her. She'd let me measure out ingredients, always keeping a watchful eye and then I'd get to help mix them up in her old Kenwood mixer. Of course, my favourite part was cleaning out the bowl, but I loved getting to taste the wonderful creations she made when they were ready; scones, cream horns, Empire biscuits, coffee buns, marshmallow cakes, fruit loaves, you get the picture. I would be practically jumping from foot to foot with excitement as Da set up the table in his car. Then the three of us would sit in the back of the car and have our lunch. They'd have their flask of tea and I'd get 'Irn Bru' soda poured into a plastic beaker from the glass bottle. It was a real treat. I must only have been small, as I remember I always got to sit on the armrest that folded out from the back seat. Sometimes, if I was very lucky, we'd not take a packed lunch with us, but instead get a fish supper from a chip shop. That was only on special occasions though, probably when Gran and Da had made a particularly good sale.

There were favourite places we'd go to. The ones I best remember always involved birds. Gran would usually put some extra bread in so that I could feed them. There was a wee loch that we'd go to sometimes where there were swans and ducks and although I liked them all, the swans were my favourite. I was an avid reader, even at that young age and I loved to read books about nature. I knew all the different types of birds and could name most of the species that we'd see on our travels. Sometimes, there would be a pair of Mandarin ducks at the loch. They weren't always there, but I'd get so excited when I saw them, knowing that it was special when they graced us with their presence. I would always marvel at the feathers and the way that drops of water would bead on the smooth surface. I just found them fascinating. I'd stand, mouth agape as a large Mute swan would come out of the water, waddle towards me, shaking his feathers, amazed by the way that they just fell back into perfect place. Sometimes I'd pick up a feather from the ground that was all scruffy looking and I'd smooth the strands back together until it looked perfect again.

I was never scared of the birds, although they were HUGE to me. Da would always warn me not to get too close, that a swan could break your arm, but that never stopped me. I'd throw bread towards them, making sure that it was broken into very small pieces so that I had more to throw. I'd fling it closer and closer to myself until the huge birds would actually come and eat from my hand. They always did and I remember how it used to pinch a little as their sharp bills opened and closed on my outstretched palm. The ducks would be running around, almost between the swans' legs, catching any dropped morsels before the swans had a chance to chase them away. Then, when I ran out of bread, I would pick grass and they would eat that too…

I'd always keep a couple of pieces of bread in my pocket because there was always at least one bird who never seemed to get their share. It was usually a lame one who couldn't really come out of the water. I'd make sure that it would get some of the food I was offering. One time, a duck did come out of the water and I could see that it was unable to walk properly and when I looked, I saw that there was fishing wire wound tightly around one leg and tangled onto the other. As he hobbled along, perhaps hoping for a morsel, some of the other birds began to peck and bully him, to chase him away. I ran right through the birds and scooped him up. He made that hissing, quacking sound that a distressed duck will make and flapped his wings, trying to escape. I managed to keep hold of him and wrapped my arms around his wings and carried him back to my Da. I knew that Da would be able to help.

By the time I got to the car, I was crying for this poor wee bird and of course, Da came running when he heard me. He told me to sit down on the bench, to keep hold of the bird while he went and got his pen knife. He came back with a duster, which he wrapped around the upset creature, to hold its wings down and I held it, while he cut and untangled the orange webbed feet. You could clearly see that the wire had been there for some time, as his legs were swollen and the wire had cut deeply into his scales. However, Da managed to get it all off and my tears of upset turned to tears of relief as I set the duck back down onto the ground.

The duck seemed to look back at me, then he gave himself a shake and waddled off to the crowd. I'd forgotten all about that until now…

I was always travelling around with Gran and Da. Wherever their orders for knitwear took them, I'd be there, charming their customers and keeping them company. Sometimes a delivery would take them down to the coast and we'd make a day of it at the beach. Gran would be sitting, knitting in her deck chair, while Da and I made sandcastles. We'd paddle in the waves, catch tiddlers in a plastic bucket and dig holes which I would fill with water from the sea. It was a never-ending task, as the water always drained away. Da always used to tie a handkerchief over his bald head so that he wouldn't get sunburned. I have pictures to prove it, a cute, cheeky, red-faced little me, beaming at the camera, proudly pointing to my sandy creations.

I loved the time I spent with my Gran and Da, the days seemed warmer and longer back then, with summers that I never wanted to end. Sadly they were over too soon and it was time to go back home, to school and reality.

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