She was such a lovely woman. She and my grandad were landlady and landlord of The White Bear pub in Hounslow, west London, when my mum and dad met. Later they owned a nearby guest house, which is the setting where I first remember her. We have a large family and have such fond memories of Christmas and New Year parties at the guest house, with uncles, aunts and cousins everywhere I looked.
Nan and Grandad were fabulous entertainers and always loved hosting get-togethers and parties. They retired to a big house by the seaside in Southbourne in Dorset, with enough bedrooms for us to be able to have many more big family Christmases together. They bought a pianola and boxes of music rolls which fascinated me; I would spend hours pumping the pedals. We’d head down to their house the summer to enjoy a day at the beach. At just the right moment, nan would pull out choc-ices from the deep freezer or find a big box of sweets that we could take one from. They were such happy times.
Whenever I think of my grandparents, this photo is the first thing that comes to my mind. It was taken on Christmas Day in the late 1980s. (That’s me in the background in the blue top.) My nan and grandad look so content, so happy that they had their family around them. I don’t think they knew someone was taking the photo at the time. It’s my favourite picture of them.
At my wedding in 2004 I had that photo in my mind and asked our photographer to take one of my wife and I in a similar pose. It’s a bit exaggerated, but I wanted to somehow capture the happiness and love of life that they had in their photo.
Sadly, my grandad passed away in Christmas 1991, leaving my nan on her own. He left a big hole in our lives. Nan kept going, re-learning to drive so that she could get around town independently, and still having lots of us over to visit.
She had such a wonderful sense of humor. As kids, a family joke developed where my brothers and I gave our mum the nickname ‘Mumm-Ra’, after the character in the Thundercats cartoon. Of course, the natural extension of this nickname when applied to your nan is ‘Nan-Ra’. Last Christmas, a card dropped through our door from my nan which gave me such a chuckle.
As I grew into an adult, life got busy and I feel — I know — that I didn’t pop down to see her enough. But when I did see her it was always lovely. There was nothing quite like talking to Nan about the times before I was around, hearing about her life and the things that had happened in the pub. When someone passes away, the hardest thing is knowing that you won’t be able to talk to them again.
When her great-grandchildren started to appear she picked up the nickname ‘Nanny Seaside’ which everyone now seems to call her. Nanny Seaside, we’re missing you already.