This week I went to my Nana’s funeral. My Little Nana to be exact, such as she has been known for the entirety of my life. Both of my Nanas were called Margaret. Both of my Nanas were also called Nana so, to avoid confusion for small people who are easily confused, my parents made most of the fact that there was almost foot’s height difference between the two women, in order to devise the subtle monikers Big Nana and Little Nana, Big Nana being my maternal Grandmother and Little Nana being my paternal one.
You personally might not have a Nana, maybe you have a Gran or a Granny. The term Nana is said to derive from St. Ann, mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus. A Nana is the natural order of lineage. Me, Mum and Dad, Nana and Grandad. The female first as it is clear to me that it is the women who are in charge. A child’s world is the home and thus women rule the world. It is somewhat a shock as you approach double figures and have the realization that this is not in fact the case.
As said, Little Nana is my paternal grandmother, she has made my Dad. She is 4 feet and 11 and three quarter inches standing, the three quarter inches being particularly stressed after my mum tells her that 4’11” is the height at which one might be legally classified as a dwarf. My mum does not really like my Little Nana. My Little Nana left school at 14 in the not so distant past when childhood did not extend until 25 years old and does not think to question the veracity of this statement. We go to Little Nana’s house on a Sunday for Sunday dinner which my Grandad makes because my Grandad used to be a cook in the Navy. My Grandad also used to be a fireman. He has hair which is slicked back with Bryl cream and wears a Bolo tie like a cowboy. He tells us that there are lions which live in the unused outdoor toilet in the back yard. I think my Grandad is impossibly exciting.
Little Nana and Grandad live in Crumpsall which seems a long way away from our own house in Salford but in reality is less than five miles away. Whilst we can get to Big Nana’s house to play in the garden by walking around the corner and crossing the “busy road”. To get to Little Nana’s four children must be squished into the back of the orange Volkswagon Polo and later into the black Ford Capri. My little brother sometimes goes in the footwell whilst me and my sisters kick him accidentally on purpose for being the most loved by my mum as the youngest and the only boy. Occasionally we get the train from Victoria Station which is now the Metrolink line. Victoria Station is full of polished wood and glimpses into a different time. Trains are exciting and I feel as if I have been on a very long journey, when in reality I have travelled less than five miles.
Little Nana gives us jelly and ice cream in plastic bowls which are kept in a cupboard in the back room. Little Nana’s kitchen always smells like roast beef. She has a white dresser with a drop leaf compartment where glasses are kept. We play in the back room after dinner and she records our chatting and singing onto cassettes which are painstakingly labeled in neat, cursive handwriting. She records our height and the date in a small notepad after we have been measured with a large wooden ruler. Little Nana’s banister is made of wrought iron and there are knick knacks at the top and the bottom. The carpet has different coloured swirls on it and you must hop from one to the other else you might fall in the carpet and drown. Little Nana has a dolly on her toilet roll. She has a small plastic motorized doll which crawls across the carpet. She thinks the doll is very funny. Little Nana talks a lot and she knows a lot of people.
Little Nana and Grandad are members of the Crumpsall Conservative club. There is a large portrait of Margaret Thatcher in the entrance hall at which my Mum sneers when we visit. There is another large portrait in the lounge of Winston Churchill. We are allowed in the lounge but not in the other room where Grandad plays billiards because that is only for the men. There are dominoes but they are not for us to play with. Little Nana plays Crown Green bowls and at the back of the club there is a bowling green upon which it is expressly forbidden for us to play, walk, run or stand. At the back of the club is a fire escape which looks to me as if it goes right up into the sky.
On our birthdays, Little Nana sends us a card in the post, even if we see her on that day. The card is always addressed to us using our full name, middle name and title which makes me feel very important indeed. The card is covered in many little stickers which to this day I have never seen for sale in an actual shop. The cards continue until we have our own children and then cards with sticker arrived addressed to them and it makes me smile to see my children referred to as “Miss” and “Master” as if we were right and proper Edwardians and not the feckless, slouch backed New Elizabethans that we are.
Little Nana takes me and my older sister to the see the Nutcracker Suite and we go to see my first musical, Oklahoma at the Opera House in Manchester. I have never been in a theatre before and I cannot understand how they have fitted something so colossally large into the building that I saw from the outside. Little Nana wears a lot of gold and always smells perfumed. As an adult I realise that some of what I thought was perfume when giving goodbye kisses is actually the taste of brandy.
Mum and Dad split up when I am 10 and we don’t go to Little Nana’s as often. Little Nana comes to visit us when we are at Dad’s. Little Nana works in the bakery on Lansdowne Rd and brings cakes for us. The bakery has a “brick lined oven” and this is apparently what makes the bread taste so nice. She brings flapjacks, crumbly mince pies dusted with half an inch of icing sugar and rings of honey buns in white paper bags which you eat with butter on and are the most delicious things in the world. As adolescence hits I realise that some of my Little Nana’s language is less than politically correct and as I reach adulthood I realise that whilst language is indeed a powerful weapon, it is always better to judge someone by their actions than their words.
Little Nana spends a lot of time on the phone and the first five minutes of any conversation are given over to Little Nana telling you off for the fact it has been too long since she last spoke to you. It is for this reason that sometimes phone calls from Little Nana are avoided. Little Nana knows a lot of people and Little Nana’s stories can involve casts of hundreds and span many generations. Little Nana’s stories are always full of moral certainty. Good things happen to good people and the bad are punished. Little Nana knows every single one of her neighbours and all of their children. Little Nana is good with money and has religiously put her cigarette money into the bank since she gave up smoking before I was born. Little Nana runs the diddlum which is where people who are not as good with money as my Little Nana give her money to save for them until Christmas.
After I become a mother myself, Little Nana initially refuses to call my son by his given name of Patrick, because it is a “navvy’s name” and insists on referring to my sister’s first child as “number 8” as he is her eighth great grandchild. As young women Little Nana’s appreciation of the male form becomes apparent to us as all of our partners regularly have to find themselves some distance to avoid a wandering hand. After the death of my Grandad, Little Nana has a social life better than that of much younger women and is constantly busy. She makes regular trips to Cleveleys where she fastidiously follows a lounge singer from her hotel and befriends local aged drag queens.
At Little Nana’s funeral there are approximately 100 people. Little Nana was 82. Until it gets to my children’s birthdays and the stickered cards don’t arrive in good time in the post I can’t quite believe that Little Nana has gone. I look at bits of myself and my siblings and I see how they are actually bits of Little Nana and this makes me feel better. I hope I live to 82 and have 100 people at my funeral.