It was our Sunday ritual. We would pile into the car and head for the motorway, turning East towards London. I always looked out for the hotel, that’s when I knew we were almost there. We pulled off the motorway, past the Carvery, and then turned to drive past the smallest police station that looked like it was based in a flat. We turned again to the right, and then right again into a small cul-de-sac. Dad would park in front of the very familiar garage door. Once out of the car my sister and I would run for the gate, then run up to the house. The door was always unlocked, though we rang the doorbell anyway. Through the front door we went, into the porch and beyond into the house. We darted through the brown folding door on the right and gave Nan a big hug, before going into the lounge where Granddad would be sat in his favourite armchair by the television.
He would always turn slightly in his chair as we came in, and beam at us, acting almost surprised to see us there though of course he would have been expecting us. He gave the best hugs, both arms around you squeezing tight. Sometimes I’d spend hours just sitting on his lap with his arms around me, watching The Match on television. It was one of the safest places in the world.
Granddad used to be in the Mines Rescue Service. I still cannot comprehend what it must have been like for him underground. He would never really talk about it, at least not to me. He was on a rescue team at the Six Bells colliery disaster, though the attempts were hampered by roof falls and gas present after the explosion. 45 men were killed, and Granddad would have helped carry out the bodies afterwards. No wonder that shortly after that disaster he would move the family from their home in Wales, and settle in Berkshire. He did not want my father and his older brother going down the mines to work.
We spent many happy hours in that house. I can still close my eyes and picture every inch of it, from the ornamental miner’s lamps around the fireplace (many of which now occupy the same place in my parent’s house), to the fluffy Dusty Bin replica which sat by the television cabinet. There were cupboards full of cheap nature video tapes, the odd western, and some Disney videos my father’s cousin worked on. I can still see the coffee table with the enormous family bible that fascinated me as a child.
Sometimes we would have a full roast there. I can close my eyes now and remember the taste of the vegetables. Everything was boiled for way too long and then mashed up together in the colander to produce a vegetable mix where nothing was identifiable. Back then this was practically the only way I could be persuaded to eat vegetables. If we went just for tea we would have a salad feast, and I would hog the bowl of tuna. I would eat more in that house than anywhere else. After tea came the deserts. My father loved the trifles, but I loved my Nan’s Victoria sponges, and ice cream with the magic sauce that hardened when it got cold. Everybody loved the Welsh cakes, usually made with chocolate because I wouldn’t eat the more traditional raisins.
It must be around 10 years since my Grandparents moved to Cyprus. I have seen them a handful of times since, enough to get a glimpse of how Alzheimers has affected my Nan. I’ll confess to feeling a little bitter that they went. I’d have loved to have seen them more over the last decade, and for my children to have had a relationship with them. Some of that close relationship has been tarnished in recent months and years.
My granddad died yesterday. It had been on the cards; he was 91 and fighting a losing battle with cancer. I had expected to feel only a sense of resignation when he passed. Instead I find myself thinking back and indulging in nostalgia. I’ll miss the man in my memories greatly. In many ways, I’ve been missing him these last ten years. I’ll never forget those hugs.
I have written two pieces for my site this year, and both sadly are remembrance pieces. I hope that this is the last I’ll feel compelled to write for a long time.
Go hug the ones you love, and make sure it is a big hug using both arms and with plenty of squeezing.