Salad cream or mayonnaise
In the last couple of weeks, with family members moving, it has made me think of my own family and the importance of family history and handing down memories.
My maternal grandmother Blodwen was brought up in the South Wales valleys and having gone into ‘service’ in her late teen moved to London and met and married Trevor and settled in the beautifully named suburban Pinglestone close in Harmondsworth. They brought up my aunt, Isabel, known as Ann, and my mum Jennifer there, living through the Second World War with a young family. Grandma would talk of sheltering in the cubbyhole under the stairs during bomb raids.
We would visit frequently when we were children and enjoyed staying over as a special treat. We lodged there temporarily when Simon and I first got married with Joel - who she idolised - and knitted endless stripey jumpers for. His taste in stripey t shirts lives on today.
I remember the pleasure as a child of having a ‘salad’ for lunch, which she laid out on a big platter with lines of tomatoes, cucumber, potatoes, cheddar cheese, tinned ham and always salad cream, pudding would be a fruit plate pie with Libby’s ideal milk.
Ann, my glamorous aunt, worked for most of her career at nearby Heathrow for British Airways. Staying with her was fun - it's where I first tasted sweet and sour chicken brought from Marks and Spencer’s, which to us girls at the time was the height of luxury, often followed by M&S gooseberry cheesecake. Ready meals were the extent of Ann’s kitchen repertoire but such a treat. She used to come to our house for Christmas, most years to enjoy mum's home-produced feast armed with tins of cashew nuts, boxes of luxury chocolates and tropical fruit juices – M&S obviously.
In contrast Grace, my paternal grandmother was from Bristol. Living between Isleworth and Bristol during their married life, my dad Bill had an older sister Elizabeth and a younger brother Ted. We used to visit for afternoon tea, she specialised in sandwiches, homemade cakes and biscuits. I have this image of my grandad, also called Bill, buttering the end of the loaf and then cutting off a slice, he would hold the loaf vertically but always manage a perfectly symmetrical cut, always good white bread from the local baker, served with homemade jams, baked ham and mayonnaise.
Grace was absolutely stunning when young and a beautiful older woman, she wore tailored dresses, gloves and had numerous fur coats and stoles. Her mother Virtue Alice was unmarried and my dad used to imagine his grandfather was a handsome man from a wealthy family who fell in love with a pretty poor girl but wasn’t allowed to marry her. We never knew as Grace never talked about it and we never asked.
Blodwen wore cardigans, a-line skirts and an apron. Her parents were from Aberdare.
We had a big, warm extended family on my dad's side with a small army of cousins. We would meet up with on family occasions at one of the families' houses or for picnics and country walks. We keep in touch now via the power of social media and the occasional catch-up phone call.
Ann didn’t have any children of her own but spoilt us girls when she could, and our boys, who she became close to when she retired to Carmarthen. They still remember the infamous trips to Oakwood where Ann would accompany them on all the rides and stop at Little Chef, St Clears for tea on the way home.
Whilst Blodwen’s home was always relaxed and familiar, when going to Grace’s we were reminded beforehand to behave and to remember to say thank you. It may be something to do with grandad being a retired headteacher and Trevor a salesman.
A couple of years ago I visited a country pub and whilst sitting on a bar stool had a flashback of sitting on a chair at the table counting the strawberry print on Grace and Bills carpet, hen I had finished my tea but had to wait for everyone else to finish so I could leave the table. They had a highly patterned fitted carpet that many of you would recognise from your own childhoods.
Blodwen's home was more sparsely decorated, the walls had the standard paintings of the 1970s the flamenco dancer and the autumn woodland scene.
Both my grandmothers lived into their 90s, outliving their respective husbands by years and both ending up living close to my parents in Wales.