BY KAREN BYROM
We’re delighted to bring you a new series of Life & The Wadhams, featuring the younger members of the family. Not yet met the Wadhams? Read the background on My Weekly’s best-loved family, then come back and enjoy the next generation’s adventures as Mike and Polly Wadham’s elder grandson, Alex Clark settles into a new life with fiancée Natalie in the flat above the antique shop his grandfather used to own.
They’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first baby – but have become a family of three sooner than expected when Natalie’s mum Carol comes to stay!
Alex Clark considered himself an easy-going kind of guy. Brought up in a large, noisy family, he’d learned early to share his toys, his room and his turn for his parents’ time and attention. But at 24, he felt he’d earned himself a little space and the exclusive attention of his chosen partner for life before their baby appeared in September.
He certainly hadn’t factored Natalie’s mum, Carol into the equation.
“Don’t mind me!” she trilled as she emerged from their garish orange-hued bathroom – he hadn’t got round to painting it yet – clad in just a short towel.
Alex blushed beneath his beard. He’d known Carol for years, but he’d never get used to seeing her en déshabillée!
She, on the other hand, didn’t seem to mind, though Natalie, always sensitive to her beloved fiance’s feelings, was quick to remonstrate.
“Mum! Go and get dressed for goodness’ sake. We’re due over at Elderslie Terrace in an hour, in case you’d forgotten.”
“Of course I hadn’t!” Carol grinned. “I can’t wait to see all your family at last, Alex. What a brilliant idea to celebrate Ruby’s second birthday with a garden party so that we can all go. I’m so glad I’m living here with you and can be counted as part of your household.”
She disappeared into the tiny spare room, leaving a trail of drips from her wet hair behind her.
Taking advantage of her absence, Alex threw himself down on the sofa beside Natalie, reached his arms around her expanding waistline, and was just drawing her towards him for a much-needed kiss, when –
“Natalie!” Carol reappeared still draped in her towel. “Can I borrow your hairdryer again? I just can’t find mine at all.”
“Not surprised, in all that mess,” Alex muttered below his breath as, with a sigh, Natalie extricated herself from his arms.
“I’ll get it now, Mum …”
Just over two hours later – for, of course, it had taken Carol that amount of time to get ready – they were finally ensconced in the garden No. 23 Elderslie Terrace, the large family home with granny flat incorporated where Jim and Pinky Clark lived with their younger three children and Pinky’s parents, Mike and Polly Wadham.
It was a beautiful day and the whole family were out in force to celebrate Ruby’s birthday. The lively toddler – a huge surprise for Jim and Pinky eleven years after their son Matty appeared – was in her element, chasing terrier Tyson around the garden, splashing in the paddling pool that had appeared as a birthday gift, and demanding that Natalie dress her dolly’s hair in pigtails.
Polly Wadham looked round in contentment.
“We’re so lucky,” she said, squeezing husband Mike’s hand, “to have so many of our family around us.”
“And guest,” he said wryly, nodding in Carol’s direction. She’d had one glass of Prosecco too many and was regaling Jim, Pinky and 17-year-old Jennifer with yet more tales of her travels in South Africa, which she’d had to cut short. “Does that woman never shut up?”
“Never.” Alex had appeared beside them, plate so loaded with sandwiches, sausage rolls and birthday cake that his grandma wondered, not for the first time, how he managed to stay so thin. “She never shuts up,” he added bitterly. “And she’s never not there! It’s driving me nuts.”
“Oh dear.” Polly cast a sidelong glance at Mike. He understood their elder grandson better than anyone – perhaps he could offer some advice.
“Well, it’s not altogether her fault,” Mike pointed out. “After all, she can’t get back into her own home until her tenants have moved out.”
“I know,” Alex said guiltily. “And I feel rotten for moaning. But honestly, Grandpa, you should see the mess of our flat. It’s bad enough having to live with the last tenants’ décor, but at least it was tidy. She brought three suitcases with her, and her stuff is scattered in every room.
“Not only that, she keeps ordering more stuff online, so now there’s boxes and bags everywhere, too. The woman’s a shopaholic.
“And when she’s not online shopping, she’s Facetiming her friends in the flat. She never goes out for a walk – it’s Natalie and I who have to go out to escape her.”
“What does Natalie say about it?” Mike asked. “Have you told her how you feel?”
“Not much.” Alex shrugged. “I don’t want to upset her.”
“You know,” Mike said, thoughtfully, “your grandma and I had a similar situation when we were not long married. My aunt Clara, who’d brought me up, came to stay when she’d broken her leg, and then later suggested that we all move in together. That’s when we bought this house.” He waved his hand expansively.
“I’ve heard about Aunt Clara,” Alex said. “Wasn’t she a bit of a battle-axe?”
Polly snorted. “That’s one way of putting it! She ruled the roost with a rod of iron, and kept me firmly in my place – along with your uncles Jonathan and Drew and your mum, too. Oh, she could be an interfering old bat.”
“So why did you put up with it?” Alex asked with interest.
Polly took time to think about it.
“Because although I often loathed living with her, I loved her, too. Not at first,” she added hastily. “In the early days, I only put up with her for your grandpa’s sake. But she was family, and we owed her a duty of care, and soon we couldn’t imagine life without her.
“We had to make a lot of adjustments, of course,” she went on. “But you know, Aunt Clara had to make compromises, too. I’m sure if she’d been fully fit she’d have preferred to continue to living independently – especially when the children were young.”
“She used to long for peace and quiet – but she never refused to help out,” Mike agreed. “She was a splendidly on-hand babysitter.”
Polly nodded. “We never had to worry that the kids wouldn’t be safe with her – nor that they would play her up. And of course, we could never have afforded this house without her.”
She eyed her grandson quizzically. Had he taken on board her comment about duty of care? And would he consider that Carol perhaps had her own challenges? That as a divorcee whose only child had left home, she might be lonely, and substituting companionship with shopping and gossip and a little too much Prosecco.
She didn’t want to start preaching – she wanted him to work it out for himself.
But would he? His generation was so different to hers and Mike’s – they’d had an unquestioning respect for their elders that seemed to be missing in so many youngsters today.
She needn’t have worried. Alex’s face suddenly relaxed into his usual happy grin.
“You loved Aunt Clara because Grandpa did,” he said. “Natalie loves her mum, and wants to do what’s best for her, and so that’s what I’ll want, too. I’ll try to remember that I’m probably as much in her way as she is in mine – that’s what you’re trying to say, isn’t it?”
“Son, what we’re trying to say is that family is everything.” Mike clapped a hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “And as you’re marrying Natalie, Carol is your family and in the words of you youngsters, you’ll just have to put up and shut up. That’s what you say, isn’t it?”
Alex grinned. “I’ll put up and shut up, boxes and all.”
Alex’s resolution lasted till the following morning when yet another delivery driver appeared at the door, groaning under the weight of a large cardboard box.
“What’s your mum been buying now?” He hissed at Natalie, looking around in vain for somewhere to deposit it.
“It’s for me! It’s the paint!” Natalie squealed, glancing at the label. “It’s arrived.” She ripped open the box to reveal two large tins of pale grey emulsion. “Not that we can start decorating the spare room as a nursery until Mum moves out, of course.”
“And that won’t be long, darling.” Carol appeared, waving her phone. “I just heard from the letting agency – my tenants are moving on at the end of next week, so I can get back in my house.”
“Mum, that’s great news!” Natalie rushed to hug her.
Alex’s ear-to-ear grin was wiped away by Carol’s next words.
“You know,” she said, looking round, “this flat is really too small for a growing family. And having a garden now is more important than ever, when we can only meet other folk outdoors. I realised that at Ruby’s party yesterday.
“So I think when I move, you should move with me. What do you say?”
Join us again next month for more adventures with The Wadhams: The Next Generation.
We hope you’re enjoying this new series of Life & The Wadhams – look out for an instalment every month. And of course, don’t forget you can read the very first Wadhams story from 1961 here.
You can also enjoy more of E.M. Holland’s original stories from the 1960s in Life and the Wadhams, The Best of the 60s, a collection of 30 stories following Mike and Polly from their days as newly-weds to parents of a happy family of three. It’s available from our shop now!