My siblings and I spent a lot of time with her in our school holidays, and just thinking about her a lot recently has brought back a flood of memories of happy times playing at Grandmas House in my childhood so I'd like to post the memories lest I forget them again.
The house is in a small town in the UK called Wallingford, which I always remember as a great place for us to spend time in the Summer holidays. Hope it hasn't changed too much. It's a place steeped in history, a town started in the 9th Century that has a Castle, a river and a whole heap of child friendly attractions.
The Old Corn Exchange building, during my childhood in the 70's, had been bought by an entertainment company and converted into a cinema where we'd go movie viewing with Grandma. My first cinema experiences were here. You had to bring your own food and drink and my most vivid memory is of seeing Dark Crystal with her. She liked it, I remember her laughing in the dark beside us.
Pettits was our favourite stop. They had a fantastic Toy and Joke section where we'd spend our pocket money mainly, I recall, on plastic dog poo, whoopee cushions, itching powder and the like. Oo, and those little rubber monsters you stick on your fingers.
There's been lots of development over the years, but the park over the road still exists. Actually, as kids we thought of it as a park with really cool hills around the outside but older now I can appreciate more of the history. The park, called the Kine Croft or "Krinny" to the local kids was part of the town's Saxon defences, the hills underneath all the grass that's grown are actually walls.
|c/o University of Leicester|
A lot of local kids spent their holidays playing there so we were never short of friends. Or a gang of strange kids to rival and glare at from 'our' camp. As well as the hills there were nicely overgrown areas behind, perfect for hide and seek games.
I recall having my first real kiss in the middle of one such game, hiding in the bushes, all of aged about 12 I think. His name was Gaz (so very appropriate for the 80's) and we later carved our initials in one of the Krinny's trees. I must visit one day and look for it. By the following day I think we'd split up and moved on. How fickle was love at the tender age of 12.
Lots of fallen down tree logs to climb on, many camps and dens were made and even named. I remember one inside an old tree trunk we called 'Badgers Set', I think if I were at the Krinny now even after all these years I could lead you to it.
There was a kids Holiday Club too, called W.A.S.P. I think, maybe my brothers can help me here? I've googled, hoping to find a Facebook page or something but I can't find any info on them. I don't even remember who ran it but it made a change on rainy days, we could go inside their building and play there.
Across the road from Grandmas, a new housing development last time I visited, used to be a tree at the entrance to the Krinny that we climbed all the time. I remember being told it was a Monkey Puzzle Tree, but I can't find an image that looks anything like how I remember it. It's branches were smooth and a maze of curls and bends. With a childs imagination, your chosen branch could become an aeroplane ... a horse ... a motorbike.
Behind Grandmas house, out through her back gate, there was a piece of ground that had simply been left alone in the housing development all around it. There were more great tree climbing trees, den and camp potential all around. Ah the joy in those days of just playing with sticks, climbing trees, swinging off ropes, digging random holes in the ground and making camps.
The house itself is I think (?) Victorian, a red brick terrace with three bedrooms and ridiculously steep stairs. I recall actually being fearful of climbing upstairs in her house when I was small. Even more so of coming down.
|c/o: Geographic British Isles|
And when we weren't at the river, in the castle grounds, swimming and eating ice cream at the outdoor pool, hurtling around the Krinny, watching a movie with Grandma or spending our pocket money in Pettits - we were in Grandmas house. Making our own entertainment the old fashioned way.
No Sony PS anythings here my friend. There was a front room with a T.V., but that didn't get used during the day unless there was either visitors or Grandad wanted to watch something special. A Royal Wedding, for example, would be a reason to turn the T.V. on during the day. So the front room was 'special' we didn't play in there during the day but the rest of the house was our playground on many a rainy day inside.
We'd play hide and seek (obviously a popular game in my youth), the house had dark corners and you could often get lost for a while. My brothers were particularly good at this, I remember one of them curling up under bedding and becoming a pillow. Hiding in cupboards and wardrobes, amongst our Grandparents clothes, smelling the mothballs. Grandma and Grandad's room was never out of bounds, certainly first thing in the morning when we'd all jump on the bed, but we respected that it wasn't really the place to play. Hide and Seek was an exception somehow so it always felt kind of special to tip toe into their room and hide somewhere. It would be the last place anyone would look.
We'd play shops with the contents of the kitchen cupboards. Fake money and a toy till plus all the tins and boxes, can you believe we had so much fun selling tins of Grandmas peas and boxes of jelly back and forth to each other on the kitchen floor?! Well, we did.
The cupboard under the stairs in the back room was many things, depending on the game. A great hide and seek spot, our backstage area and dressing room when we were putting on 'Shows'. It was home to the carpet sweeper, Grandmas sewing basket - itself an interesting find if you're looking for something to do, and all manner of household items that fascinated us as children.
There were so many things in Grandmas house that fascinated us as children. If I just list them now, I'm sure they'll only make sense to members of my family.
Grandmas sewing basket, which I mentioned earlier. With crochet needles, a box crammed FULL of colourful buttons, material swatches, pin cushion and one of the funny wooden things for darning socks.
Grandad and Grandma's cupboards, which were built in cupboards either side of the back dining room wall. Carefully positioned in front of them (so little prying hands couldn't get them fully open) were Grandad and Grandmas high backed chairs.
But if you sat on those chairs, and leaned a bit, strained a lot and squeezed your fingers through, you could get the cupboards doors open a little. Enough to peep inside.
Grandmas contained the first aid kit, so it was sometimes opened to locate a plaster or a Karvol capsule for sniffling noses at bedtime. Sat atop Grandma's cupboard was Grandads aquarium, tropical fish was a hobby he experimented with through my childhood. I remember loving watching the school of little bright neons through the glass, wondering if the Siamese Fighting Fish Grandad had just added to the tank would eat them all .....
Grandads cupboard contained his war memorobilia. I remember sitting on his knee and seeing medals and an old silver match box he claimed to have nicked from a German Officer.
Mum's violin, up in one of the bedroom cupboards along with Grandmas (I think?) old accordion. We didn't know how to play either, but that didn't stop us trying.
And just the furniture, the ornaments. The old tiled fireplaces, the beautiful dressing tables in the bedrooms, with old brush, mirror and comb sets. I remember a big old china cat that I think was a coffee pot. He was black and white, his head came off (!!) and one of his paws was a spout.
The curtains in the back bedroom with a big repeat pansy flower pattern on them that, after dark when peeping out from under your bedclothes, looked just like a dozen or so Chewbaccas from Star Wars glaring down at you.
Pretty scary when you're 8 or 9, I can tell you.
Ah, Grandmas house.
My Mum and her family now have the unenviable task of 'sorting out' Grandmas house. Although I say unenviable, but part of me wishes I wasn't overseas so I could help.
Whatever the next chapter for that house is, it will always be Grandmas house to me. I find it hard to believe that should I choose to visit that house, at any time in my life in the future, I'll not find it there exactly as I remember it. Chewbacca and all.