Diary Of A Modern Gran: The Past & The Future

Lady chasing pram Illustration: Istockphoto

I won’t deny it. It’s been an emotional week. My sister and I spent last weekend sorting through some of the things in our father’s house after his recent death.

It’s a very strange feeling to walk into the home where until not that long ago, Daddy would be sitting in his chair and tinkering with his iPad. It’s amazing to think that he was still able to do that at 99.

Now his chair, with the red tartan throw, is sitting there empty. The bungalow has an unlived air about it. My sister and brother-in-law have already done an amazing job but there are still documents to go through as well as books, china and general bric-a-brac.

“Oh my goodness,” we say to each other when we come across a china shepherdess figure. “Do you remember this?”

It had belonged to our grandmother in whose house we lived in, during the first ten years of our parents’ marriage.

How on earth do you sort through everything and decide what to keep for nostalgia’s sake? There are no easy answers.

In the end, we make two essential piles; one for each of us. This includes the desk which my father wanted me to have and which had belonged to our grandfather who had died before I was born. He’d gone to sea at the age of 15 from Cardiff docks and become a master mariner. Our grandad had loved reading and had passed this passion onto my father who in turn (along with Mummy) had passed it onto us.

My sister, who has always had a gift for sewing, has our grandmother’s sewing table. I am constantly amazed at how passions and talents run through family generations.

It’s horrible having to go through his things. I expect Daddy to walk through the door (leaning on his walker frame) any minute, demanding to know what we are doing rifling through his precious possessions.

Yet it has to be done. Achoo!  There is so much rubbish and dust that we are all sneezing. We also need to go through our list of charity collection services.

After I get home, drained with the emotion of it all, not to mention the exhaustion of a six-hour each-way trip (seven on the outward journey, thanks to a cancelled train), I am determined to sort through our own house.

When my time comes, I can’t let my own children have to deal with piles of old birthday cards and out of date MOT certificates and goodness knows what else.

“Why don’t you sit and have a rest?” says my husband kindly.

But I can’t. I’m going through my study like a dervish, binning things left, right and centre. Tomorrow, I’m going to start on all those boxes under the beds.

“I felt the same when my mother died,” says a granny friend when I tell her. “In fact, I decided to sell some things – even if they weren’t much – so the children could have the money now. It’s more practical than hanging onto everything for sentimental value and it will make things easier for them when I pass on.”

She has a point.

Meanwhile, my father’s desk has arrived, thanks to the man I’d hired to deliver it. The only way I’m going to fit it into my study is to get rid of the sofa bed where the dog sleeps while I work. (I appease him by putting down a thick doggy mat instead.)

As soon as I sit at it, I imagine my father doing the same and my grandfather before him. It gives me comfort. It feels as though they are both saying, “It’s all right. We’re still here.”

Jane and Julia cycling

Jane and her friend go cycling

I don’t usually take time off during my writing week but after this emotional time, I had a “girls’ day out” on Thursday with one of my best friends who happens to be a granny too.

We hired bikes from a local farm shop (we weren’t sure that our own would last the journey!) and set off for a five hour ride along the coastline, including a ferry trip.

A blast of fresh air and a lovely chat during a pub lunch was just what I needed.

The following day, I went to my grandchildren’s summer camp show. “Gan Gan,” call out Rose and George when they see me at the end.

My heart warms. Life is for living.

Now I’m going to tackle those boxes under the bed not to mention my pile of handbags which are full of old receipts and hand-san bottles, loose coins from the days before the virus when we used more cash and goodness knows what else.

I’m going to be ruthless in giving/throwing away unwanted things. At least I will try to be. After all, it will make life much easier for future generations.

Have you had experience in tidying up your parents’ homes after they’ve gone? Do you have any tips? Have you started to do your own tidying up to save your children having to do it? We’d love to hear from you. Please email moderngran@dcthomson.co.uk.

Ask Agony Gran

“My daughter and her husband have rented a cottage for a week in the Lake District and have invited his parents to share it with them so they can ‘spend some time with
the grandchildren’.

“I can’t help feeling it would have been nice if they’d invited me too. Neither I nor the other set of grandparents live near them, so it’s not as though they see them less than me. I’ve always thought we got on quite well when we’ve seen them at Christmases and birthdays.

“I don’t know whether to tell them I’m upset or leave it.” Name and address withheld

Jane says:

I can see why you feel hurt. I might feel the same.

But it might help to look at it from another way. Perhaps the cottage isn’t big enough for you all. Perhaps they simply want some one-to-one time with one set of grandparents. Maybe they plan on inviting you next year.

If you do say something, what do you hope to achieve? It might make them feel guilty or upset or annoyed. Family arguments are to be avoided in my experience. They rarely lead to harmony.

I don’t know what your financial situation is, but could you suggest that you and they have a break in the autumn half-term together? This doesn’t mean going to the expense of going away. Perhaps you could stay in each other’s houses?

At the end of the day, it’s the children we really need to think about. They need to build memories with different people in the family and sometimes that means at different times.

But there’s nothing to stop you building your own memories with them.

So go ahead and talk to them about that autumn date!

Grandparent Tip

“My nine-year-old granddaughter is learning French. I didn’t do it at school myself, but I’ve signed up for an online course so I can start myself! We’ve already had quite a lot of fun chatting in French on the phone. We don’t live near each other so it gives us something else to talk about! Annie

We love this idea, Annie. Thank you.


Thanks to G from Birmingham who sent this in:

“Your column about wanting dancing lessons when you were little reminded me of how I always wanted to play the guitar! Recently, I found one in a second-hand shop. My teenage grandson – who plays himself – is teaching me chords. I love it and it also gives us special time together.”

Thanks also to Cathy, one of our regular readers who emailed in response to our piece on what to do with the grandchildren during the summer holidays.

“I’m going to see if two of my grandchildren are up for a bus ride in the summer holidays. I’ve got a bus pass and I’m not afraid to use it!”

Family News

Financial incentives and also fines should be given to children to encourage them to behave well at school – and outside school – according to a government ‘think tank’.

They should also carry identity cards.

What do you think about that?

Do email us at moderngran@dcthomson.co.uk.

The Funny Things They Say

“My grandson is learning to swim in the local pool. He’s in the younger class and the older one is on the other side of the pool.

“I don’t understand why our group isn’t not as fast as the  others,” he told me. “We do doggy paddle. They can only crawl!”

Thanks to Jim for sending this in. It made us chuckle.

Where To Take The Grandchildren

The Spirit Of Invention exhibition at the National Archives, London, is taking place every week, Tuesday to Sunday, until Oct 29. Nearest station: Kew Gardens.

Marvel at 21st century inventions like expandable children’s clothing (which get bigger as they grow!), robot jellyfish, a hoverbike and more! There are also craft activities where children can make origami flowers, their own top hat and Lego models. You can also learn about Victorian inventions. And it’s free!

For more details, visit www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.

Children’s Book Of The WeekYippee! Rabbit book cover

Each week I pick a wonderful book that you might want to share with your grandchildren.

My selection this weeks is YIPPEE! Rabbit by Jo Ham, Walker Books. £8.99. For 18 months plus.

This is part of a lovely series of books about Rabbit whose energy knows no bounds! In this book, Rabbit has a great time playing indoors and outdoors. The eye-catching illustrations and story line were a big hit with our young tester reader.

Coming To Find You book cover

Jane Corry is a journalist and novelist.

Her new novel COMING TO FIND YOU published by Penguin, is about two women living in the same seaside house, 80 years apart.

Available in supermarkets, book shops and through Amazon.