We’re carving out pumpkins on the kitchen table at my daughter and son-in-law’s house when the lockdown announcement comes.
“Can we go trick and treating now?” asks my four-year-old granddaughter.
“Not this year,” says my daughter gently. “The world isn’t better yet.”
“But we want to,” frowns three-year-old George.
“Tell you what,” suggests my son-in-law. “Why don’t you two go outside with Mummy and Gan Gan, shut the door and then knock on it.”
So we do. Rose is wearing her Elsa fancy dress outfit and George is Spider Man. Not very ghoul-like but it was their choice. “Let’s knock together,” suggests my daughter diplomatically before they argue over who should go first.
The door opens. “It’s Daddy!” they squeal, going along with the game. “Trick or treat?”
“Treat,” he says, giving them a sweet each.
“Now who wants a bedtime story?” I ask.
They scamper back up inside. I’m impressed at how good Rose and George are at accepting the rules. And I’m not just talking bedtime.
When I get home, there are several messages from friends…
“Looks like you’ll be joining us then,” emails a granny of mine from Liverpool whom I’ve known since university days.
I have to admit that my heart is sinking at the thought.
Yet another part has been feeling guilty for some time that I’ve been able to live a full granny life with my little ones – unlike my shielding Liverpudlian friend who hasn’t been able to see her 11-year-old grandson for some weeks.
It seems that the corni virus (as an elderly relative calls it) has been a big dividing line between some grandparents.
Another of my granny friends has a sister who hasn’t been able to see her young grandchildren in Spain. “We’re very close and talk every day on the phone. But I can’t mention anything that involves the children. It’s not that it would make her jealous. It’s more that it would make her sad.”
Oh dear. It’s so difficult, isn’t it? I’m really touched that many of you have seen this column as a safe space in which to email me about your grandparent problems during the virus – and also about issues which have nothing to do with the pandemic. So please keep staying in touch. It helps us all to feel we’re not alone.
And this is where baking comes in!
I’ve never been a great cook as my children will tell you. I’m not entirely hopeless but the family joke is that I have six main dishes to my name and one of them is take-away pizza!
So I decide that now we’re going to go into lockdown again, I ought to make the most of our time and have another baking session with little Rose and George. They love cooking! Luckily, my daughter is an enthusiastic cook and does quite a lot with them at home. But I don’t think I’ve done enough.
That’s why, last Sunday morning, I suggest that my daughter and son-in-law go out for a seaside walk while I had the “babies”. The adults can’t get out fast enough! Meanwhile, Rose has already pulled a chair up to the kitchen table and is leafing through my cookery book.
“Can we make chocolate brownies?” she asks.
George meanwhile is at the sink, waiting for me to lift him up so I can wash his hands. He’s clearly been trained well!
Chocolate brownies! Great idea. Now where’s the demerara?
Perhaps I should say here that when I married my second husband, I found that his diet had existed mainly of cakes. That’s a slight exaggeration but not much. This is another reason why I don’t bake very often and why I don’t have certain items in the cupboard.
Luckily there’s half a packet of icing sugar hiding at the back. Maybe that will do instead.
“Can I weigh it please?” asks Rose.
“No,” cuts in George. “I want to.”
“How about half each?” I suggest.
Whoops. It’s snowing everywhere! Never mind. They’re busy checking the scales.
“What are ounces?” asks Rose with a puzzled expression.
“‘It’s what we had when I was little,” I explain, pressing the conversion button so it comes up with grams. (Why do I still find it hard to get my head around decimalisation when it comes to weighing things?)
I check the recipe. Six eggs? We only have two left after grandad’s scrambled egg that morning. Never mind. That’s one each for them to crack.
“Are we allowed to eat them when they’ve gone on the floor?” asks Rose, eyeing the yellowy mess by our feet.
“Yes,” I say. “I’ve just cleaned it.”
But then I have second thoughts – what if I give them food poisoning? – so only one egg goes in the mixing bowl.
“Yummee,” say Rose and George in one voice as I produce the chocolate powder. Something makes me check the bottom of the tin. I have to get my glasses to read the small numbers but there it is. 21/04/2020.
Oh oh. If I wasn’t cooking for the children, I might have risked it.
“Never mind,” I say. “We’ll melt chocolate buttons instead.”
“Can we eat them too?” asks George.
Why not. The great thing about being a granny is that you don’t have to say no. “But don’t tell Mummy,” I say. I’ve already exceeded their chocolate quota this week.
Now it’s whisking time. Except that it’s been so long since I used my mixer that the electric whisk bits seem to be out of line and make a terrible grinding grating noise that’s even worse than the hard rock music which my husband is playing in the next room.
“I think it’s broken,” says my granddaughter eying it suspiciously.
“I think so too,” I say ruefully. “Never mind, we’ll do it the way that my mummy used to. We just mix it all together with a wooden spoon.”
It so happens that I have plenty of those. One each in fact. So the three of us stand round the bowl having a good old splosh around. (Looks like I might have gone a bit heavy with the three tablespoons of warm water.)
“This is fun,” chirps George.
It is! In fact, for a good half an hour, I’ve almost forgotten the corni virus and have been enjoying granny quality time instead.
It’s also educational. “Now don’t touch the inside of the Aga door,” I remind them as I put the tin on the lower shelf. “Or you could get burned.”
I might not be a great cook but I am very hot on safety. My grandchildren have a conventional electrical cooker at home.
“Wow,” says my daughter when she and her husband get back from their walk. “That looks amazing.”
Actually it doesn’t look bad if I say so myself. We cut it into slices. My husband, drawn in by the smell of baking, is practically salivating. “May I try a piece?” he asks.
His face sinks as he takes a bite. “This is an unusual recipe,” he says, swallowing with an effort.
“Gan Gan put chocolate buttons in,” says Rose.
“And i-sing sugar,” adds George.
The taste wasn’t quite what I expected. I’m afraid I had to bin the lot. Never mind. It gave us all a laugh. And that’s what we need right now.
But that’s not all…
This is where the mermaid and robot come in!
Last Christmas, my daughter gave me a voucher for a pottery painting workshop. I never got round to using it because of the first lockdown and it’s due to expire soon. The workshops aren’t being held now because of the restrictions on numbers inside. But instead, the wonderful owner is dropping kits round so people can do them at home.
We’ve got a mug each to paint and also a jug. “Why don’t we order two more things so Rose and George can do it with us?” I suggest. “Look! There’s a mermaid and a robot on the website!”
So we all settle down for a painting session at our place. Honestly! I’ve never heard them so quiet in my life! George has his tongue between his teeth in concentration and Rose is painting her mermaid’s hair with a precision that’s worthy of a professional miniaturist.
The only sticky point is when George decides his robot has to be all blue which meant there isn’t enough for the grown up mugs. But the kind pottery lady has given us some more and now my daughter and I have decided to have a girls’ evening on Tuesday so we can concentrate on our own works of art. Then they all go back to the pottery lady who will glaze them and send them back to us.
In fact, it was such a success that I bought another set for my sister and her grown-up daughter. It seems we’re all getting extra crafty during this time.
On a different note, here’s a wonderful piece of news to end on. One of my children’s favourite authors when they were little, was Shirley Hughes. I still read her books to Rose and George. They particularly like the story Dogger, about the little toy dog who goes missing. Now, ten years later, Shirley Hughes has written a sequel! It’s called Dogger’s Christmas and I’ve already ordered my copy.
In fact, I might even have a sneak preview before I pass it over to my husband to wrap it up. (He’s much better at this than I am!) Just thought you might like to know in case you’re looking for children’s books as presents.
The funny things they say…
Finally, thanks to one of our readers, Wendy, who said she enjoyed the column about funny things that little ones say. She emailed with her story.
When my son was little, we went for a walk in the snow. Much later in the day, he asked us, “What is a virgin?”
For a moment we couldn’t think where this question had come from.
Then we realised that on our walk, we had passed a drive which had untrodden snow and that someone commented it was virgin snow!
Children hear more than we realise, don’t they?
If you want to tell me about your life as a grandparent, do email me email@example.com
Jane Corry is the author of five top ten best-sellers. Her latest novel I Made A Mistake is about Betty, a grandmother who lives with her son’s family. Published by Penguin, £7.99 in paperback and also available as an e-book and audio, narrated by Emilia Fox. http://bit.ly/IMadeaMistake OR https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Made-a-Mistake/24376830