She made the best Lancashire Lemon Fingers I’ve ever tasted; moist with a crust of crispy baked sugar on top. Puddings were always called a “round robin” because of the huge array on offer – chocolate torte, trifle, cakes and more. No one could choose just one dessert, so they’d opt for a “round robin” of them all instead.
Roast dinners were the best, all of us crammed around the table in the dining room, on dining chairs and stools, deckchairs and cushions. It was loud, with lots of laughter, my grandad at the head of the table, asking, “What’s for pudding?” before he’d even taken a bite of his chicken.
Bustling. She was always bustling. Bustling around the kitchen with an apron on, stirring things and taking hot trays out of the oven, making cups of tea and passing them through the hatch, or spreading butter on pieces of bread for sandwiches. You’d try to help and she’d pretend to smack your fingers away. “Don’t you be silly, I’ll get it for you, what would you like?”
New Year’s Eves were so exciting. The cakes would be wheeled in on the dinner tray, as cushions were placed on the floor because we couldn’t all fit on the sofas or the arms of the sofas or the chairs. She would have a special high-backed, upright chair because, “I’m an old bugger and I can’t get up otherwise”. Then the charades would begin. For a game that required no talking it was always very loud. We could stay up late, eventually all snuggling down on a makeshift bed upstairs somewhere. Cousins together. You could hear my grandad’s predictable snoring two rooms down.
Summer holidays in North Wales, in the family mobile home. Lancashire Lemon Fingers would be brought along, packed carefully in paper in a tupperware container. She knew we loved them so made them specially. Gin rummy, whist, rummy, snap. The cards came out on rainy days in the caravan. She always had time to play, even if she was bustling (she was always bustling) around the kitchen area with an apron on. I never remember her angry or impatient. Not in all my thirty years.
She liked a rude joke. She enjoyed a little swear. That naughty chuckle would come out – she’d laugh until she turned red in the face. We hunted out the birthday cards with the funniest jokes on them. Her favourite was the cartoon of the old lady at the bus stop.
I liked to do her hair. Even as a three year old she would let me play with it. I’d try to put the rollers in. Later, she’d sit patiently while I blow-dried it. Once, I made her look like a silver-haired Meat Loaf. “Sorry Nana,” I said. She just shrugged, “It’s clean duck, that’s the main thing.”
You couldn’t stay in a mood for long. Someone would always be in a mood. With such a big family there was bound to be one. But you’d just get ribbed and then they’d say, “She’s got a bag on again” so you knew you weren’t being taken seriously. Then she’d offer you a cup of tea and a Lancashire Lemon Finger and the teenage grump would lift. You were five again, wanting to climb on her knee and twiddle her ear while you sucked your thumb.
She loved Peter Kay. And Coronation Street. You couldn’t ring when Corrie was on. And if Peter Kay was on the telly you could hear her laughing from the end of the street.
That laugh is the one I will remember most. A breathless chuckle while she turned red, her eyes screwed up and shoulders shaking.
Laughter and Lancashire Lemon Fingers. Cups of tea and gin rummy. Ferrero Rocher at Christmas and birthday cards with a fiver slipped inside. An apron and tea towel never far away. A cool box packed tight with sandwiches and flasks of tea and homemade goodies – even if you were only going out for a couple of hours.
She’s not gone, because she’ll always be here as I remember her. Bright and alive with laughter and warmth.