I was probably 7 or 8 and my chubbly brother – perched on mother’s shoulders – a mere 4 or 5. We’re standing in the back garden of a holiday chalet home we’d rented out for a week in the summer – probably Hunstanton or Cromer – certainly nothing more exotic than either of those two places.
The lovely lady holding onto my elbow is my beloved Nan (maternal) and the man standing between both ladies is my Grandad (latterly referred to ‘fondly’ as Grumps because of his general demeanour) and dad must’ve taken the picture.
It’s not the greatest of memories because this holiday was one of the most horrific ones I’d ever had and I’ve always labelled it: ‘The Crane Fly Holiday’. The reason for this was simply that the bungalow/chalet had double patio doors (French Windows I think we called them back then) and on the afternoon we’d arrived I’d rushed excitedly over to them to open them up, before realising that the shadowey grey nets covering the glass were actually about a ten thousand (NOT an exaggeration to a 7-year old scaredy cat) Daddy-Long-Legs sunning themselves on the window panes and it’d freaked me right out. I’d always been afraid of them and this episode merely served to cement the fear. Ten-thousand-fold ;).
My brother who never seemed afraid of anything (and I often wonder if this holiday might’ve given him all the ammunition he’d needed) used to catch these leggy flies and run after me with their flailing limbs poking out from his fist threatening to put them in my hair and I would run away screaming (increasing the hatred I already had for this usurper of my parents’ affections). I actually only ‘re-learnt’ not to be frightened of them when I became a single parent when I also briefly ‘overcame’ my fear of spiders.
I’ve been studying this image of us all lined up in the back garden and I think it speaks volumes about the relationship and the individual characteristics of the ensemble. My Nan was always my protector and so it’s no coincidence that here she has her hand on my elbow; she steered me through a great many upsets whilst I was growing up and I can still feel the intense shock I felt when she died aged 72 (I’d been 18 and already struggling with her demise).
My grandfather stands tall and slightly apart with the means by which he could reach out and touch, firmly hidden from sight (literary waffle for hands in pockets) – as he did in life. I heard many terribly sad stories of Grumps from both my Nan and mum as I grew up, so know that he was a tyrannical, self-absorbed man who made both these females’ lives unbearable at times. He might have been a cheerful enough grandfather but that didn’t need full-time dedication and it also gave the appearance of being a happy grandfather in public. I’ve always had suspicions about Grumps having a reason for his hurtful demeanour and maybe I’ll touch on that at another time (or perhaps just put it into a story).
I think it’s quite telling that my own hands are pressed together as if in prayer, because I spent most of my childhood (and adulthood, I’ve come to realise) wishing and praying for something magical and ‘more than this’. Mother’s face says it all – she’s looking into the eyes of the man she absolutely and unconditionally (to the detriment of her children) adored to her dying day. Her smile was never broader than when she was with dad.
And then there’s my brother who suddenly appeared one day at the back door, my ‘new playmate’ which I simply hadn’t been prepared for, and here he’s being given the visual, physical elevation which I struggled to cope with and understand for most of our upbringing. I feel as though I’ve post-mortem-ed this snapshot but really it does say it all.