20 Dec, 2009

Family life

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

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Snapshot: My Welsh grandparents

Grandma balances me on her knee; Grandad, informal without his jacket, sits on a deckchair. Where were we? Was it the garden of the bungalow they retired to? North Wales was their final home together.

Over 6ft tall, Harry Bailey was a “flamboyant giant”, and a grocer’s apprentice when he met Jenny Jones, 5ft 1in and working in service. She was one of five Welsh sisters, brought up by the eldest when their mother died. But lack of opportunity did not lead to lack of self-respect. In one post, she took umbrage at the lady of the house, who wiped the telephone receiver on taking it from the maid. “You have no need to do that, m’lady. My breath is young and sweet.” Small wonder the job was short-lived. She called for a taxi, and departed head high. “Has Jones got private means?” m’lady asked the butler.

Marriage, naturally, brought an end to the living-in jobs. By now Harry had joined the Church Army and was sent from one poverty-stricken northern town to another. My uncle was born in Newcastle upon Tyne; my mother in Kingston-upon-Hull. From muscular Christianity it was a small step to trade union activist and a long residence in Rochdale. Where better than the birthplace of the Co-op?

A settled life did not change their behaviour. Grandma gave food to the homeless at the door. Grandad used his free time constructing wireless sets to give to the neighbours. He worked in the garden, happily producing vegetables for the table, but unwilling for his flowers to meet the same fate. He protested, but she held out.

A pair like this were bound to have an occasional spat. Once Harry asserted himself by picking his little wife up and putting her on the larder shelf where she drummed her heels and shrieked until she was rescued.

Her protests were in vain when retirement came, and Grandad decided they would retreat to a quiet hillside. Grandma was Welsh, true, but not from that area and she felt the isolation. I remember being taken to visit them, driving through the Vale of Llangollen. When we arrived, a corduroy rabbit was sitting in the window waiting for me. I still have him. Grandma died before Grandad. Harry Bailey’s surname is no more. K Tuckton

Playlist: The girl in the pub missing her child

Mother & Child Reunion by Paul Simon

“No I would not give you false hope/on this strange and mournful day/But the mother and child reunion/is only a motion away”

When I hear this song, I am transported back 30-odd years to a grimy little pub in a small Sussex village. I was about 21; my son, aged five, was in care. I was an in-patient in what was then called “the nuthouse” by the people in the village – not because I was mad, but because I’d had a breakdown when my father tried to strangle me. But that’s another song for another day.

I’d escaped that day and I wanted to get drunk to forget. There was a jukebox in the pub, and a darts match. I played Mother & Child Reunion on the jukebox over and over again, getting sadder, and more drunk, with every playing of the song. Someone kept coming round offering me dried-up sandwiches. The words of the song were cutting into my brain – as I longed to see my own child.

They must have finally cottoned on as to where I was from. Hushed voices. The darts stopped flying. I picked up the glass, smashed it against the jukebox and put it into my own arm. Mayhem broke out. Someone threw me to the floor. Blood was spurting everywhere. Someone sat on me, pinning me down. Still the song played on.

The ambulance came and took me to hospital. In those days they stitched you up without anaesthetic “to teach you a lesson”, they said.

My son is now a wonderful, happy man with a family of his own and he is still the most precious thing in my life. As for that girl in the pub all those years ago, I can barely recognise her – until I hear that song and my soul weeps with utter sadness. I wish I could meet those people who were in the pub that day and ask them to forgive that young girl by the jukebox missing her child. Anonymous

We love to eat: Cheese crisps


Cheddar cheese

A frying pan


When using the sandwich toaster one hot summer day, my Dad and I noticed that the cheese that had dribbled down the side of the toasted cheese sandwich and melted on to the hot plate, formed a crispy residue that was much more delicious and crispy than the cheese inside the actual sandwich. With a flash of insight, we realised that the frying process that the cheese had undergone had released the natural oil of the cheese and created a crispy, golden cheese crisp, which, when we had peeled it off and cooled it, proved to have an unrivalled, concentrated cheese flavour.

We decided that this was too good an idea to pass up, and promptly proceeded to create these cheese crisps deliberately, rather than as a byproduct of lunch. Taking one inch squares of cheese, cut fairly thickly, we spaced them out in a frying pan and left them to fry. The cheese, as it melted, spread out to create bubbling volcanic puddles, with darkened crusty edges and a soft, gooey centre. Around each cheese lake was a spreading pool of yellowish oil, which was burnt off from the cheese. We turned off the heat and waited for the bubbling to stop, and used a spatula to remove each cheese crisp.

After the crisps had cooled, they were ready to enjoy. It was chewable, yet still crispy, and the air bubbles inside of the cheese had swelled the cheese crisps, making for a unique texture. The flavour of the cheese had been magnified. We never get tired of their unique flavour. Isambard Dexter

We’d love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Make do and mend, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email family@guardian.co.uk. Please include your address and phone number

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