Sunday, June 3, 2012


Some thoughts on being a Grandma.

 I would like to start by saying ‘Hip! Hip! Hooray!’ for one of the most celebrated grandmothers of our times – Queen Elizabeth II, whose Diamond Jubilee Britons are celebrating this weekend.
(As you can see, the Queen, like me, favours purple, isn’t afraid to be white-haired, but that’s as far as I dare go with the comparison).

Once upon a time the only connection between a grandma and the word ‘hip’ would have been a replacement op. But time passes and things change, and groovy grannies of all kinds from ‘hip’ to ‘cool’ are now to be found all over the world, though quite a few traditional grans survive in quiet pockets of civilization..
In some cultures, grannies remain relatively unchanged, though the world – or Europe at least – has recently held its collective breath while watching the admirable efforts of a group of Russian babushkas’ to win the 2012 Eurovision contest.

In the event they came second, but in my opinion, their cheerful performance will be remembered with affection long after we have forgotten what the Swedish girl  (who won) looks like.

There are hip grannies out there, blogging away from Pondicherry to Arizona, from Spain to  Sydney, from the Greek Islands to the Outer Hebrides to the Outback and the Arctic Circle. Google ‘granny blogs’ and at least 30 million come up!
And they all have something interesting to say – not necessarily about cookie recipes and the cute sayings of their treasured grandchildren.
There are many, many granny recipes on the Web to be sure and quilting and crochet seem to come high on the list of granny accomplishments, but that’s not a bad thing. Somebody has to keep those precious skills and traditions alive, and who better than grandparents? 

Quilts by my sister - also a granny

Crochet by my daughter-in-law

Time can be an enemy, and forces parents to take short cuts and spend less time on telling stories and doing all the different voices.  drawing cartoons, teaching little girls to knit and little boys to make kites. Most grandparents, however, do have some time to spare and to spend on their grandchildren – a fact that my own father pointed out to me when explaining how much he loved being a grandpa. ‘Time to watch them learn and change and develop’ he said – ‘I never had time to notice how you changed and when.’

When I became a grandma for the first time, it was as if I took on a role I had always been waiting for.

My body was now the perfect shape for the accommodation of a baby’s needs, I slipped back into the easy balancing of a baby on my hip, burping it over my shoulder, persuading the toddler to eat with tricks its fraught mother had no time for –(open your mouth Mr Ferryboat, here comes a truck full of baked beans!).
Grandpas display similar skills -

But being a grandmother, while reviving maternal skills already acquired, uncovers new talents too. Like playing Angry Birds, and mending a broken Buzz Lightyear, or unravelling the strings of a marionette. (You can tell I speak from experience).
Quite simply being a grandmother is a unique human experience and I can quite believe that grandparents have played a major role throughout the centuries in the development of the human race and its cultures.
Grandparents represent safety to a child – their embraces are confident and comforting, their voices are reassuring, their patience is endless.
Phew – what a responsibility! But what a proud heritage.

These days there is pressure on grannies, as there is on everyone else, to be hip/cool/trendy/computer friendly/a Facebooker or a Tweeter.

In some countries, like Britain, America, Canada, Australia for example, today’s grandparents grew up absorbing change and moving with the times. But in countries like Greece and Turkey, let us say, where the past is far closer to the present and in some cases has never really gone away, the role of a grandmother can be very different.
Head of the family, the Greek matriarch, the Yiayia, expected children and daughters-in-law to kiss her hand when visiting her, and this custom still applied when I came here and married. Yiayia's word was law. In Corfu, many country grannies still wear head-to-toe black and sit in a corner giving orders and advice. Town grandmothers spend a lot of time at the hairdresser’s, dyeing their hair constantly lest one grey hair escape and become a badge of age. They dress smartly, deal in gossip, and lament the passing of the days when they were the ultimate matchmakers. 

The Corfiot country grandmothers used to – and in a few cases still does – look like this.

 My own grandma looked like this

Seen here with her daughter and two sons
While my mother-in-law and her own mother looked like this

But they all reflected the times in which they lived.

Today's grandma looks like anyone else - only the sensible shoes, the specs  and the  big handbags give them away.

As a grandmother of the 21st century, with a life spent in two very different cultures, I like to think of myself as neither over-traditional nor over-trendy. I appreciate the comfort of modern clothing and find it a relief that I no longer need to squeeze my feet into stiletto heeled shoes in order to be fashionable but uncomfortable. I don’t care.  I  sometimes feel I am attached to my computer by an umbilical cord, and I have tried reading with a Kindle and enjoyed that too but I feel no compulsion to be cool
Certain things defeat me now though – like getting into those irritating packages of pens and batteries, opening certain types of bottles. Fliptop cans are a blessing but childproof medicine packaging is not.
Well, no-one ever said life would be perfect.

Few grandmothers of my acquaintance now spend their  retirement grooming their cat and growing gooseberries, observing the neighbours from behind twitching net curtains or crocheting antimacassars.
Today’s granny is more likely to be writing a blog, buying books from amazon, selling antique clothing on eBay or diving for Roman wrecks in the Ionian Sea.
One granny I know of celebrated her 93rd birthday by going dog-sledding in Norway, another marked the occasion with sky-diving.

A British magazine recently ran a feature article describing the various categories of grandma, separating them into GlamGran, GoogleGran, WiseGran, GrannyGreenfingers, etc. I think that grandmas these days, are, just like their daughters and daughters-in-law, multi-tasking, independent  women, as much at home with an egg whisk as a harpoon or a Skype phone or a mouse.

Let’s not forget that grannies are not perfect, though. They have a fearsome reputation for interfering, for knowing best. They reserve the unassailable right to tweak and tug and criticize, to pull the hems of our miniskirts down, to cast disapproving glances at our hair and make-up, to switch off our mobiles. My grandmother, called for some obscure reason Ladgie, used to make me sit up on straight backed chairs, carry books on my head and would not allow me to whistle the Trumpet Voluntary or tap out with my fingernails the William Tell Overture in her hearing. Pity, because I was rather good at both. But Grandma ruled, OK?

Being a grandparent today can be a curiously liberating experience. No-one is quite sure what to expect of you now, so you can do anything you like and get away with it. The whole question of fashion, for example, becomes redundant. You can dress for comfort at last, with Velcro shoe fastenings, elasticated waists on pants and skirts, fur-lined Crocs and fleece tops, and the occasional; foray into high-camp retro evening wear. No-one dares to criticize any more, many, even, feel envious of your freedom.

Grandmas and grandpas are gone before you really appreciate them, gone before you have asked them all those questions about the family that in later years you will struggle with the Internet to unravel. When you, too, are a grandparent, you will wish you had asked while there was still time, why no-one ever talked about Uncle Charlie, or why one of the family names is French and means Christmas, or why Great-Grandma spoke Turkish, and why there is an old photo on Grandma’s computer of a girl in antique clothing who looks just like you.

My unforgettable grandma - Ladgie

Thoroughly Modern Granny
I have a little Granny, she’s really very old, but also unconventional in a most unusual mould. She doesn’t wear spectacles perched upon her nose, She’s into contact lenses and varnishes her toes. Unlike some other Grannies, who are home before it’s dark, She dresses in a track suit and goes jogging in the park. And when I wish she’d sometimes stay and tuck me up in bed, She’s off to study yoga and standing on her head. Some Grannies sit in rocking chairs and crochet shawls indoors, My Granny jumps upon a horse and rides across the moors. She goes on day trips with her gang, the over 60’s club, They racket round the countryside and end up in a pub! And on the homeward journey, like a flock of singing birds, They harmonise old favourites with some very naughty words! I love my little Granny, I think she’s simply great, If that’s what growing old is like, I simply cannot wait.

I do not know who wrote this but I find it very charming and very true,

Yoga gran

I'd like to close with a photo of my Dad, surrounded by his grandchildren, radiating happiness. It's not only grandmas who get all the fun!
                                  But -


  1. Absolutely fabulous! I loved all the references to grannies, I like to think I am as hip as some.

    I shall read again and again, forward it to friends, pin it the wall! Lovely.

  2. Lovely!! I smiled with a tear in my eye!!

  3. Really enjoyed this and of course forwarded it to my mum, a grandmother of nine! I know she will approve of us kissing her hand when we see her and treating her word as law! Seriously though, I have always felt sad that my kids have only one Yiayia, our Greek one died 10 years before my first baby was born. Her greatest wish was to see her younger son married with children, but it was not to be. A grandmother's job is a difficult one, at least in these days of nuclear living, as advice can be unwelcome and Yiayias have to button their lips frequently. Let's treat our treasured grannies with more respect.....

    1. Thanks Miri! Always good to hear your opinion, which I respect so much!

  4. A thoroughly enjoyable read I am not a grandma myself but my younger sister is so I know she will enjoy this as much as I did. Thank you for sharing not only the prose but some fab photos too, Lesley


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