Nana Turner - My Inspiration
It was late on a Saturday night in January 2002 and I was thinking back to my Grandmother’s eccentricities when I first started writing. Let me explain…
My grandmother, known to me as Nana was the most wonderful person I could have ever known during my childhood. She was so funny, not just with what she said but by her whole being and ways she did things, and I remember many times when I was very happy when around her. Although we mostly lived at opposite sides of the country, I often visited to stay with her for a few days. Even when we were apart, my thoughts were often with her, usually with a smile on my face.
To give you a small idea of what she was like, I remember once, when I was only seven or eight years old, we had gone shopping together in a new supermarket that had opened in her local high street. It took less than ten minutes before we were thrown out due to Nana's methods of checking the freshness of bread. She would pick up a loaf and squeeze it to see if her finger and thumb met in the middle. Of course, if she found one that felt fresh, then she would always pick the one next to it to buy - well she didn't want the loaf she had just squeezed as it had a dirty great hole in it! A security guard had seen this mad woman who was wrecking all the bread in the bakery section by squeezing them to destruction and promptly asked us quite firmly to leave.
Another thing with Nana was the fact that she never admitted to having the odd cigarette when no one was around. She never realised that I had often spied her first thing in the morning, having a crafty fag, as she called them. Every morning she would wander downstairs into the kitchen with her eyes barely open, moving more from instinct like a zombie, usually knocking over a couple of cups and plates as she fumbled to the back of the cupboard for her hidden packet of secret pleasure. With her uncontrolled flame ginger hair, which looked as though someone had set off a small bomb in it, she would bend over the gas hob with the cigarette held tentatively in her mouth, and light it with the help of an ignition button on the side of the cooker.
Imagine her surprise one day when she pressed the button and her cat leapt from its rather strange choice of a bed on the hob and with a screeching noise ran around the kitchen in a desperate attempt to put the flames out from it's fur. Don't worry, the cat was shocked and a bit singed but not harmed. Nana however, learnt in her morning daze to sweep the top of the cooker with her arm to check for the cat before lighting up again, sometimes with quite comical results. Quite often from that day on I would be woken up at 6am by the clattering of pans that she’d swept from the top of the cooker, which hadn’t been cleared away from the day before.
I had moved with my parents down to Cornwall when I was eleven years old, and because of that, seeing my Nana who lived in South London was less frequent, but with that did add more quality when we were together. When I was old enough to drive, the first trip that I took just a week after passing my test was the three hundred miles to go and visit her. My first car that I could drive, although not my first car because that disappeared down a mineshaft that opened up underneath it, was a Morris Minor. It took just over thirteen hours journey time and I didn’t arrive until 4am in the morning. But she was up and ready for my arrival having spent the hours waiting for me baking cakes, which was nice of her although all I wanted to do was go to bed and didn’t feel hungry at all. However, she demanded that after such a long journey that I would need to eat before resting myself. It wouldn’t have been quite as bad if she knew the difference between sugar and salt. Quite often her sugar bowl container would be filled with salt, and her salt-pig filled with sweetness. Of course a whole load of salty cakes were not my idea of pleasure at the best of times.
Going back, when I was younger, I always had a bowl of my favourite porridge oats for breakfast when I stayed with her. It was a porridge that was very big in the 70’s and allegedly after consuming it, it would give you glow that lasted all day. Well, it might have well been on that very same stay with her a day or two after the salty cakes when I had come down for breakfast; she produced a packet of this porridge for my sustenance. When I looked inside the box, the contents were moving with millions of weevils. Apparently she had kept the same packet of cereal that I had requested as a child for all those years, just in case I wanted it again. This brings me on to the useful tip that she lived by. As she used a packet of food or drink - or for that matter anything, she would cut the packaging down to the level of what was left so as to save on storage. She never did understand why her dried food went soggy, her cartons of orange juice went off or that the cereal was full of tiny insects.
Another amusing time was when I asked her how her tortoises were keeping. She had kept three Egyptian tortoises, one of them over a hundred years old for as long as I can remember, and during the summer days; she would let them free in her back garden to roam around and feast themselves on her vegetable patch. Every time I went to visit, I would ask her how she was doing and as part of that greeting I would ask about the tortoises.
"I've locked them away for the day in the shed because they have been very naughty; very naughty indeed!" she ranted.
It appears that a group of youths had climbed over the wall into her back garden the day before and kicked over her plant pots, smashed up her fencing, broken panes of glass on the greenhouse and generally vandalised her property. Nana however, believed that her harmless tortoises had had a funny turn and inflicted the damage. It was actually very amusing, so we never did tell her what must have really happened, even after she went to the box that she had imprisoned them for the day and demanded that they tell her that they were sorry.
Anyway, back to the real reason I’m telling you this. A few years ago, I arrived at hers for a couple of days away so that I could take in the sights of London. I had unwittingly made the mistake of leaving my mobile phone attached to my belt instead of hiding it, something you really try not to show her unless you had a lot of spare time on your hands. Like an eagle she noticed it almost instantly and as with anything technical that she had not seen before, she wanted to know everything about it and how it worked. After a lengthy lesson, I explained that the voices were transmitted using radio waves. When she asked what would happen if someone stood in the way of the radio waves, I tried to explain that it didn't matter, the radio waves would just pass through the body.
"You mean someone could be talking through me right now!" she exclaimed.
"Yes - it's quite likely," I said with a giggle.
"Impossible!" she replied dismissing the notion as complete nonsense. She turned around and headed to the kitchen, mumbling under her breath as she went. Nana always cooked when she had something on her mind.
It was less than ten minutes that had passed when she burst into the room where I was watching television; and with her hands clasped around her stomach she shouted, "It's true, it's true - I can feel them talking through me right now."
It was the famous 'mobile phone day' that got me started with thinking about things moving through living bodies, the glow that you get from porridge oats, added with Nana’s constant questioning about anything new, mixed with her general life force that gave birth to the story 'Something Brand New'. Even the vandals that had wrecked her garden and poor old defenceless animals getting blamed for things that weren’t their fault played a part, and that Saturday evening the writer in me started to develop. Since that day I have written many stories, I get up each morning and escape into the books I create before joining the rest of the human race at work.
Sadly, my Nana passed away in September 2001, one day before the terrible attacks on the World Trade Center. In some ways I am glad that she never got to see those horror images on the television or in newspapers because as an emotional person it would have affected her in the same way it did I. There is so much more that I could tell you about Nana, but instead I'll just say that she was a wonderful woman and as I'm editing my first novel again, years later, I still have a missing hole my heart for her.
Nana Turner - My Inspiration
Copyright © 2012 - Fred Deakin