but when I grew up, I didn’t entirely put away childish things, particularly relationships set up when I was very young. Several of the books which were my most loyal companions through my youth remain in my library. The equally steadfast toy dogs Pippa and Pinkie have pride of place on my pillow, although I have aged rather better than they have. Nor has my relationship with my beloved grandmother dissipated or altered as the years have gone by. We are both women now, equal on many levels, talking about things as adults. On another level, our roles are reversed. I’m now the care-taker: making meals and clearing up after them, driving her to things she wants to do, checking she’s OK and worrying about her. On the very most basic level though, she is still my granny and I am still her granddaughter.
Over our long weekend together, we went to an open garden and sat on a trellis seat as the rain fell soft as icing sugar. I took her out for dinner to a restaurant she loved but had not visited for years, and she was excited, as we talked about what we’d wear and compared outfits. On Sunday evening we watched (unseasonably) The Nativity and then sat together reading.
Most, but not all, of these were read at the weekend: After Before by Jemma Wayne; the story of a young woman recovering from the Rwandan genocide, and her collision with two other disturbed, disintegrating people is very hard to read because of that power – yet impossibly not to. The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith – a young woman who was an orphan by the time she was 30. Very astute and honest. The latest and (I think, sadly) last Ruth Rendell: The Saint Zita Society. Wry, a little mean and immensely readable. Gyles Brandreth’s Westminster Diaries which were very interesting and entertaining. Poor John Major, what a dreadful cabinet he had! Find Me by Laura van den Berg which was a bit apocalyptic, odd and not terribly interesting but took itself very seriously. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, which was very well-written and very sad. I didn’t feel alienated from the main character despite my misgivings about her behaviour and this says a lot about the book.
When I came home, I polished off The Quickening by Julie Myerson in the bath, lying and reading until the water got cold – it was gripping but, looking back, there were several holes in the plot, like dropped stitches in knitting.
Granny and I read in the silent companionship you can only have with someone you have known and loved for most of your life. The grandfather clock ticked behind our books: the comforting beat of our family’s heart. The house which was the palace of my childhood has grown smaller. I can cross the parquet flooring in three steps rather than skid across it for miles on my knees. The weeping willow’s green and yellow embrace is long gone; we used to eat under it in warm weather, slim leaves falling into potato salad and orange juice. The beehives are silent. The goat shed has become a compost heap. The chicken run is now a vegetable garden. The blackberry bushes, where I pretended to be a giant squashing tiny people, were cut down many years ago.
There is still the same comforting smell – of lovingly polished china, curling photographs, red velvet curtains faded to coral. The music box on Granny’s dressing-table, weary yet determined, can spill out the first tune I remember hearing. The summer house is baked as solid and fragrant as a loaf, with the warmth of a thousand suns. I step into this house and become ageless. I sit in its lap and let it rock me to sleep.