This is the first year without Nan to ask her stories about The War. Her eyes used to light up every time we talked about it. At school, we were tasked to take some item of war memorabilia. Both Nan and Gang pulled out one of there many old boxes of pictures and clippings (the smell was 100% fust) and laid out a selection for me to choose from. There were ration books, old money, photos in various stages of decay and couple of RAF crucifixes made from aircraft perspex along with telegraphs detailing the name and circumstances of the loss.
At the time there was a big print ad campaign (remember those?) for Eternity aftershave, images of sepia-toned handsome young men with impossibly chiselled features and swept-back oiled hair. I was amazed that one of the old photos showed a long-lost relative who shared a resemblance. Young, handsome and looking terribly British (ie his teeth had a bit of a wonk).
Nan and Gang would share stories about the dances they used to go to (every night!) and how they would have to walk back home in pitch black making a 30 min walk last at least a few hours (alcohol didn’t help). Dancing, drinking, courting and getting bleach and nylons from whoever you knew on the black market were highlights from the war. Friendships, relationships and loves were forged quickly. Time on some days was normal. Some days life came to an end quickly and without notice. I remember Nan telling me that they were all at a dance once and halfway through the men were scrambled to their planes. One pilot never made it to the air as his plane blew up once he struck up the engine. Sobering stuff.
They didn’t linger on the sad/harrowing events. They gently prospered after the war getting a mortgage for £3,000 which they never thought they’d pay it off in their lifetime. They had a baby (my Mum) and both worked until they retired. They never had too much or complained about having too little. There was always enough money for a pint on a Sunday and a cigar for Gang. I still love the smell of a big fat cigar.
I think about how we used to watch Shine on Harvey Moon and Dad’s Army together. How it would trigger some memory for them and how they’d remember something together, at the same time, that had been long forgotten.
One of Nan’s favourite expressions was ‘I’m glad I’m on my way out and not on my way in’. I can understand her perspective. Some of the things she never worried about and couldn’t understand were:
- Social media – Facewhat?
- Ladyparts – waxing, periods
- Obsession with talking about labour (the verb not the party)
It’s pointless to think back and assume that they had a better or worse off life than we have now. But it’s hard now not to be envious of a time when things were a bit more straightforward. Hitler was bad, Churchill was good, family and friends came first and you never hung your washing out on a Sunday.
On this Remembrance Sunday I’ll be thinking of those who made the ultimate sacrifices so that I could do something as simple as share a personal blog out into the ether freely. But I’ll also remember Nan and Gang and their ability to share happy stories of people and friendships when the world was at war.