Early memories, so hard to come by, like authentic antiques in the junk shop of our mind. I remember my grandparents house down the wrong end of a telescope. A wonderful house, Heather House, at the end of a wide sand-gravelly road; two wooden gates with a modest crescent drive and a pink cherry blossom tree in the front. My grandfather was called Dudley and he was born in Landsdowne Road, Dublin. He trained to be a doctor and served in the First and Second World Wars. He was awarded the Military Cross. My Granny was called Sheila and for some reason she seems to merge in my mind with the Queen.Visits to my Grandparents in those early days have a magical quality to them … And having had children myself now, I can understand why. There is nothing quite so happy and satisfying as a house with three generations under one roof. Breakfast around a big round dining table with sunlight streaming through the windows. Full English with tea served with toast and marmalade afterwards. Great Aunty Ethel, the sweetest soft-spoken Irish lady who lived out her later years in a London hotel, applying butter and marmalade to each individual bite of toast. Most of all I remember my Granny getting the fire going in the morning and the dust floating like a million diamond universes in the sunbeams coming through the windows. Sherry before lunch and in the afternoon, tea in the porch with a silver teapot, a Victoria sponge and cucumber sandwiches without the crusts on. My Granny Sheila truly was the Queen. Before I go to bed I must just mention the garden which extended back to a rockery with steps up to a broad swathe of lawn which ran to a rough patch at the end with fruit trees and daffodils in Spring. On the right handside of the garden was the rose garden and a massive sweet chestnut, and on the left, the garden shed and vegetable beds. A gate at the end of the garden opened into the woods and then out the other side on to the path into town. When we crossed over the railway, we always stopped to watch the steam trains go by. Several years ago I went back to visit on the way home from scattering my father’s ashes. Pines Road was just the same and at the bottom, Heather House. In my days the pebble dash had been a pale brown fruitcake but now the finish was quite white. When my father died, I asked his brother Peter about my Dad and his parents. He told me that the two boys went off to boarding school when they were five. Just before the Second World War started, their father was posted to India and Sheila went with him. My Dad said goodbye to his parents when he was nine and didn’t see them again until he was 16. Peter told me that ‘when they came home we didn’t really know them’. In their stead, the headmaster and his wife, Ronnie and Margot, became surrogate parents. Many years later, when my parents separated and then divorced, my father reconnected with his old family and eventually married Joanna, the headmaster’s daughter. They were very happy and when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was she who nursed him. Hornby, that was the family name. The Hornby family brought my father into the world and they nursed him out again. At the end of the day, I was popped in the bath and Granny would kneel down and soap me. And then after a story and a hot drink I was tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle. But not before prayers. I don’t prey now but then I knelt and recited: God bless Mummy and Daddy
Make Jonathan a good boy.
Amen And downstairs the murmur of adults talking.
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