Turning Grandma into a Mud Pie….
I have thought long and hard about writing about some 'bits' of my life. If I should? .. If I can? Like most people’s lives it has been an interesting journey, particularly with regard to my family and extended family. I have a great memory for detail sometimes the memories are too vivid, however and even better I have a good sense of the bizarre and the humour that is required to go along with it. Some of my stories are very black, but my survival technique is comedy. Turning Grandma into a Mud Pie, is the first of my stories, to be committed to public scrutiny. Here I can introduce you to some of the characters in my life! Enjoy ….. (I hope)…So welcome to my musings on a mad world …
Turning Grandma into a Mud Pie
So, for this momentous family gathering various members of the Jones family clan were shipped in from all over the UK and from far flung corners of the world. The party was to be a two day event… I did not attend the party on the Saturday as Trevor was attending… He cannot abide to be in my company … And it felt fair to me to give him and his long term partner Hilary some space with his siblings and others. My totally eccentric aunt Elvira kindly invited my mother and I to meet up with the rest of the family on the Sunday, as Trevor would have left the proceedings. So I took my mother and my nine year old daughter to meet grandma’s children, my aunts and uncles and her great aunts and uncles. I thought it would be an exciting occasion for us all … If not illuminating…
Grandma I was told had thirteen pregnancies and seven surviving children, five boys and two girls. Which, in itself is quite an achievement as my grandparent’s contempt for each other was so extreme that they could not bear to be in the same room together, in their own home, so as not to come across each other, with the exception of bedtime, she had the front room he had the back room… When they were out together in public there was a heartfelt and palpable atmosphere of utter disgust between them… One of my earliest and most shocking memories of my grandma Doris Margaretta Jones was that she would regularly have outbursts of a varying pitch and level at my grandfather publically. Saying in response to any comments he may have made…. “He makes me spit! He makes me SPIT!” She would during the day repeat this comment with unfettered distain toward him… As a young child this was quite shocking and alarming, as to me grandma was a pillar of society and the matriarch of the family, whom I felt safe around, which in my childhood was rare at times. To me she had the highest moral values. It was out of character to ever imagine that grandma would lower herself to spit… Like a navvy in the street! Simply shocking! … Although being the type of child I was, I was kind of excited to see her do it and wonder what effect it might have on my mother’s sensibilities … Wicked child I am! I can confirm that to the best of my knowledge grandma never did spit and over the many years I just came to accept that is what she said when grandpa was around..… Another childhood dream of seeing her spit was dashed!
It was a further source of equal bewilderment to me that grandpa, with equal regularity, when we were all out, in a restaurant, in an airport or any public place, he would hold up his hand and point out the signs to the Ladies toilets? …Raising his pointed finger at the sign of the WC and booming at my grandmother ….. “Doris there’s the Lavatory, ….. THERE… The lavatory Doris …The lavatory’s are there Doris.” I realise now, it was his way to irritate her and embarrass her…. But as a child it seemed very strange that grandma could not see and read the signs for herself and why would she not be equally interested in where the restaurant was, for example? I mean she was partial to a cup of tea?… Never once did he not do this …. He would then slide up behind me, grab my arm with the most painful iron like grip, which made my legs buckle under the pressure… And hiss his laugh in my ear through the front of what I think were his dentures, this gesture always ended in a quiet throaty whistle… Her obvious response was that he made her spit! But still, to my irritation, no moisture was ever forthcoming!Growing up in this strange world, finally at the age of about four I realised that my grandparents could not stand the sight of each other but were tied to one another in some form or other … Possibly because it was a generational thing … ? They were never to my knowledge kind to each other, except on two occasions, Grandpa was knocked over on his bicycle on the North Circular Road, on arriving at hospital he was given a pain killer for his injuries; unfortunately he was allergic to the drug and he had a major stroke, which rendered him unable to speak … He would stutter, stammer and shake, however I do remember on occasions he was able, under his breath to hiss the audible words, at grandma .. Bitch and Fuck … At times of his frustration … Despite this …. She sat with him day after day, for over a year, such was the determination of my grandmother to coax him back to health. Writing endless sentences and doing sums for him to copy and say to her out loud.
She would put a heavy glass ashtray in front of him to pick up, to try and reverse the paralysis in his arm and hand. After a year or so …. I think in order to get away from her he made a full recovery… He wanted to get back down the bus depot where he was a bus conductor and where there were men and free whisky! She had done her job and he was off her hands again. The second time there was some kindness from him was when he was dying and she was at his hospital bed and he wanted her to hold his hand …. She refused …
For the party grandma’s ashes must be found … So the search was on … To put you in the picture and describe Elvira’s and Uncle Doug’s wonderfully shambolic and rambling home. You approach the property via a joint driveway shared with the large old house next door which has been converted to an old people’s home, their house is on the right as you approach. This Sussex property has beautiful views over the adjoining countryside. The house has a large number of rooms on the ground floor, on the second floor is a more open planned area, stuffed full of their life’s accessories, bits and bobs. To the back of the house there is a large acreage of overgrown scrappy lawn that has been vaguely tamed into walkways by a ride on lawn mower, to be frank it is really too much for two people in their seventies to handle, but this is the way they want to live their lives. To the left of the house, on a lower level is a 1970’s style building housing a very old and rather frightening swimming pool, with water that has more than its fair share of shades of green and in one corner looks slightly like a swamp.. Beyond that is further bumpy scrubland lawn with a five foot hedge denoting the perimeter of their property to its neighbours, the old people’s home. However the hedge just stops and you can walk around it onto the neighbouring lawn. To the right of their property there are a number of scattered outhouses one of which is a dance studio, where my aunt has been a very successful dance professor. There are many glasshouses scattered around the main house, that are filled to the brim with overgrowing plants that have pushed their way out through smashed windows. Other outhouses are filled to bursting with more relics from their past, Doug who was in the film industry, has containers of scripts and reels of films billowing out of boxes in these storage huts. Under the house is my aunt’s collection, thirty plus years of The Telegraph newspaper, bundled into piles tied with string. Elvira needs these newspapers just in case she may require an article contained in these precious documents, she has a penchant for cutting out snippets of articles and sending bits of news to you in order to demonstrate a particular point or to inform you of something you might not have known or understood, in a previous life! I have received a large number of cuttings over the years as have the rest of the family. Nowadays Elvira sends the information via email. Interestingly the emails arrive in the most unusual staccato format that is sometimes difficult to follow, she uses stars, exclamation marks and full stops like some people use emoji. Without exception Elvira always signs off her notes or emails with; ‘So busy’ or ‘In haste’. Both ‘sign off’, comments over the years have really irritated and infuriated her brother Trevor. Because he likes to think that he is the more important and busier than anyone else! Families and their foibles … Don’t you just love ‘em! It makes me laugh!
Back to the party …. As ever with all families there is always a back story, ours is a black comedy drama. Grandma's final resting was agreed to be in the back garden of Elvira and Doug’s house. A marquee had been erected and vast amounts of food had been ordered from Marks and Spencer to see us all through the weekend, as Elvira now refuses to cook. Grandma's seven children and their respective wives and partners and some of the eighteen or so grandchildren and any vague relatives with the similar surname were wheeled in for the event. The Jones have a strange ability and need to find distant relatives to enthuse over, I think this is mostly as they don’t particularly like their actual close family who have seen them for whom they really are! Therefore new shinny relatives are always handy and welcome at any event. Having the common surname Jones you can imagine we have a lot of potential new family members to choose from!
The final resting place for Grandma was to be under a newly planted tree, by the hedge adjoining the neighbouring property. The placing of the semi-mature tree turned out to be significant and was to be paid for by Trevor. Uncle Doug had confided to Trevor that the position of the tree was critical, as he and Aunt Elvira like to sunbathe in the nude, this had sometimes confused the old people in the nursing home next door. Particularly the Captain, who resided at the home, and whose window looked down on to my aunt and uncles back garden. Confused or not the Captain sometimes with other occupants of the home would wonder over into the garden, to join the fun, possibly in the hope of something more than your average cup of sugar? If you get my drift? ..
I suppose, if you think about it, sometimes the days in an old people’s home must drag a bit so the occupants must look for other ways to be amused? Elvira and Doug provided perfect adult entertainment in this regard! …. So to avoid unwanted guests the tree needed to be placed in a precise location. Some of Trevor's many staff were dispatched prior to the ceremony to plant the ‘modesty’ tree.
On the day we were there, drinks were flowing well and my uncles were making a great deal of fuss over our daughter who is always rather pleased to be the centre of attention and enjoying the fuss, and why not! As ever in the UK the weather was living up to the “not as summery as it should be” factor, in fact it was quite chilly and there was a hell of a wind. So instead of eating in the marquee, which was bellowing in the strong breeze, we were to eat in the main house. One of my cousins, Elvira’s child, was entertaining me, telling me all the gossip about various members of the family and all the goings on at the party the day before. Really is that not the point of these meetings … The gossip? My cousin told me to look at the fireplace, “we could not find grandma’s ashes anywhere in the house or in the out buildings!” Elvira had put grandma somewhere safe but she could not remember where? Therefore Elvira had had no choice and was forced to scrape out the ashes from the fire place for the event until she could lay her hands on the real grandma! I told you at the beginning of this story … facts or reality rarely affects what the Jones do! Totally irreverent of both us, but it added to the humour of what was to come! And it was most probably true!
After lunch we were all forced out of the house to undertake the main event and indulge in a little mud pie making! My beautiful mother dressed as always like a supermodel was asked by Elvira to make her way to the back of the marquee, where my mother came across a wheel barrow of soil and another wheelbarrow filled with dried manure! Elvira holding grandma’s ashes in a canteen in one hand and a desert spoon in the other explained to my mother that she had worked out, presumably into a kitchen bowl a night or two before? That each of the family had two and a half scoops of grandma’s ashes, to mix. The plan was to scoop out your allotted amount of grandma into a Tupperware box then take two spoon full’s of manure from the wheelbarrow deposit that on top of grandma and then sprinkle an appropriate amount of soil of the top of the mixture! Yes really!! There was a watering can on hand so you could pour some water over the grandma mixture and combine her into a smooth ‘roux’. Finally, the wet human slop was to be deposited in another wheelbarrow located nearby, which had a net covering it, containing the contents of the day’s before ceremony of grandma’s “bake-off” mix congealed together by other members of the family! … Quite literally turning grandma into a mud pie!
I could tell something was up as I could hear shrieks of hysterical laughter from my mother, there is no stopping her once she gets started, and then you could hear loud chastising from my aunt who was trying to control my mother’s guffawing. To my aunts horror and my mother’s lack of reverence in the face of the ensuing ludicrous task. My mother’s attempts to deposit two and half scoops of grandma into a Tupperware box was being hampered by the wind and the ashes were being blown away. My mother, due to her violent laughter attack was not quick enough to secure grandma’s ashes under the manure and soil and slosh her with a gloop of water.... So as a result some parts of grandma became unattached, blown away by the wind and are now residing somewhere over the Sussex countryside, a lucky escape for that bit of grandma if you ask me!
When it came to mine and my daughters turn .. I went all haughty and said that I could not be involved in turning grandma into a mud pie, the idea was quite ridiculous! In hindsight, writing this, I think this was wrong .. And I should get a life! Perhaps grandma would have found it quite acceptable ….. And funny … Let’s face it some memorials are boring!
The interesting thing was that once we had a barrow load of grandma’s mud pie mix. It sort of just sat there and no further progress was made on that day…. We just got chatting and the scattering of the ashes got put to one side! Grandma was immortalised into a mud pie, so I guess she could wait, other things were going on.
A bit later, having gone into the house to hide from the weather, I had an interesting if not surreal conversation in the kitchen with my aunts and uncles, with the exception of Elvira and Doug, they took me to one side to discuss on where my aunt kept the breakfast cereal? Not exactly a scintillating conversation, but each to their own! My aunts and uncles, knowing how close I am to Elvira told me of her habit of repatriating the breakfast cereal back to the bottom cupboard in the kitchen, they were all taking it in turns to put the cereal into one of the top cupboards. However each and every morning, the cereal would find its way back into the under counter cupboard! … As you might imagine, I could not quite grasp the importance of where the breakfast cereal was housed, I mean did it really matter? But they were most insistent that I discuss the matter with her! Delving further to see what the actual problem was, why does it matter where the cereal is kept? Well you would think!!?? It transpired that Elvira has always kept the breakfast cereal in the lower cupboard… For my Uncle Doug’s delight and personal enjoyment!
Then the penny dropped … It emerged that my aunt does not wear underwear in the mornings a long standing arrangement between her and her husband, she wears the equivalent of what we would call a baby doll nighty, I guess having being a sex kitten of the 1960/1970, why not??.. Incidentally, to her credit at the opening of the premiere of the film Entertaining Mr Sloane by Joe Orton, produced by her husband July 1970, Elvira knocked Princess Margret off the front pages of the newspapers at the premiere … So beautiful is she?
However back to #cerealgate. In the mornings when Elvira enters the kitchen, to her siblings and respective wives horror, who are happily sitting at the table eating breakfast …. Elvira bends down, full ‘flash’ to get her breakfast cereal!??… What can I say??? And indeed that was my question to my aunts and uncles….. What do you want me to say to her? The general consensus was that I am close to my aunt and I would be able to make her see sense … Christ this is my family, no one sees sense! But okay … I will give it a shot …!
Elvira came into the kitchen to collect some more food so I seized the moment and took a deep breath. Whilst my uncle and aunts shuffled conspiratorially behind me to see what the response would be! “Elvira!” I gesticulated toward the assembled members peering on with childlike interest. And they shuffled back slightly, again! “Elvira why do you or Doug keep moving the cereal from the top cupboard where your guests are putting it, back to the under counter bottom cupboard? Did you realise they can all see …. Well, em see your naked bottom?” She turned around with condiments in her hands and stared at me, seemingly with her mind elsewhere, so I continued, as if to try and point out the obvious … “these are after all - your brothers?” Without even a blink she shrugged her shoulders, glanced at the assembled crowd and just confirmed.“ Oh they never see my front bottom they only ever see my back bottom, I do it for Doug!” And off she went out of the kitchen … To stunned silence … What can you really say? Well I am sure we can say a lot …. But I suppose the nub of the matter is that it was their home and she can have her cereal in whatever cupboard she wants to put it … I guess?? …. Each to their own! … I turned to my aunts and uncles, picked up my glass of wine and attempted to copy my aunt’s aplomb .. Suggesting that they admired the ceiling in the kitchen when Elvira was deciding whether to have Rice Crispys or Co-Co Pops! What can you do! … Clearly they are nudists!
As I said, grandma, or what was left of grandma thanks to my mother’s hysteria was never on that day, consigned to the ground as on this family occasion talking and musing on life had taken over and the weather became windy and dull so grandma remained quietly in her wheelbarrow… As it turned out this happened to be a good thing … As some weeks later the ‘modesty’ tree which had already been planted with a hole left to one side for grandma’s ashes… Died before the ashes had been scattered! It had been planted over a Nissan hut which had restricted its root system and killed it off. I have to say another bodge-up by Trevor.
So some weeks later another tree was purchase and delivered to the house for replanting in the same location… Two more Polish workmen were dispatched to my aunt’s house to undertake the planting of this fine new specimen. However before planting the Nissan hut needed to be dug out first, as you can imagine a fairly major job, particularly by hand! These poor men dug and dug, extricating chunks of concrete as they went. The weather had improved, it was now a heat wave and the sun was shining down upon their backs, making it not only back breaking work, but they ran with sweat in the heat. They dug and dug and dug over a number of days.… Eventually they were close to the end of the job.. Back filling the hole with manure and soil ready to plant the tree. The hole was deep enough at this point for the men to stand with just their head and shoulders above ground level….
In the house there was a knock at the door and it was Elvira’s teenage granddaughter; who had been taking a student gap year and had turned up to see her grandparents. To see her granddaughter was a great excitement to Elvira. She wanted to show her the progress of the final resting place of grandma, which her granddaughter had missed due to being abroad … In the ensuing excitement Elvira on the way out of the kitchen door to the garden, grabbed a canteen that was on the shelf, proclaiming to her granddaughter that she too could be part of grandma’s final resting place as these were grandma’s ashes … Elvira ran toward the two workman, slogging away, digging in the hole, glimmering with sweat … And in a moment of supreme dramatic gesture, ripped of the lid of the canister and threw the contents into the air directly above where the two workman were digging, both who had stood to watch what Elvira was doing…. Too late to get out of the way, the men were open mouthed at this performance, yes grandma’s ashes flew into the air in a blacken smoke only to land on the sweaty workman … Sticking and clogging to their wet skin …. The men spat and gasped and spat again trying to rid themselves of the dried ashes of grandma … Scraping at their bodies trying to brush off the dried powdery residue of grandma off their shiny wet bodies ….
To this day I am unsure if the two workman were fully aware of what was thrown at them, really not nice … But a number of things spring to mind? Firstly, I do wonder at the quantity of ashes grandma managed to create, she was only a small woman. There was the measured out number of spoonful’s at the earlier family party occasion and a further canteen of ashes thrown at these two unsuspecting workman. And secondly, I feel somewhat gratified, as grandma had spent most of her life announcing that she wanted to spit and to my knowledge never managed to carry out this threat.. So at least in death she managed to make someone else spit and I secretly think that she would have been pleased…
As a footnote to this story, some years later when my uncle Doug had been diagnosed with a mild form of Alzheimer’s. I called the house to speak to Elvira and Doug answered the phone.. We got chatting and he advised me to his delight that Elvira was riding on the lawn mower … Presumably mowing the lawn? He then told me that she was knicker-less! This is not the sort of thing he would have normally said to his niece under ordinary circumstances therefore I was desperately thinking of ways I could divert this type of conversation and so to speak … Get him off topic!! …. Then he announced that he was sitting watching Elvira with his Percy … To this day it makes my toes curl.. I mean what the hell do you say to that? I was stammering over my words .. Anything to move on with a different conversation …. One of those dying moments… I carried on chatting about whatever came into my mind other than my uncles Percy! … Then over the line I heard a meow…. “What is that Doug?” … “It’s Percy my new cat … He was a stray and he has adopted me…” Well as you can imagine not only a welcome relief to me … But a lovely moment .. As Percy gave them both such delicious joy in the years to come and Percy, I am guessing had no problem with where the cereals were kept!
I guess all families are like this right! ?? ….