Adam Bird

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Friday, 7 December 2012

The Lady in White Gloves

Nanny Bette

Someone approached me once, a colleague whilst I was working at Safeway, “Your nan isn’t it, the Lady in White gloves, what a character! She’s been asking after you.” I had never considered it before, how she was known to others, to complete strangers. I just knew her and loved her as my Nan, a lady who sadly passed away this week at the fine old age of 93.

In looking back, as one does when one is faced with the reality of such news I cannot do anything other than smile. The cherished memories that I have of her are of humour and laughter, drawn from her character, - that word again which defines us as individuals, along with personality, of which undoubtedly she was one.

That same colleague of mine, after I had confirmed my relationship status asked the inevitable next question “Why does she wear white gloves?” And the answer was to help combat psoriasis, a dermatological disease that caused her serious discomfort with itching around her hands and fingers, which was by far the worst affected part of her body.

In fact, it was her treatment in hospital at Joyce Green that was my first memory of her, clouded and monotone as early memories are, walking along a dark corridor and saying hello to the lady in the bed. But as we grew up and became more aware about who she was and who we were to her, our childish imaginations crept in. We may smile wryly about it now, but had Nan known about them she’d have told us not to be so stupid and perhaps we’d have offended her ever so slightly. Jessica and I, whenever presented with food prepared by her hands would inspect it thoroughly, in case flakes of dried skin from her hands found their way into our meal, the very thought of which repulsed our squeamish young minds.

It wasn’t just her white gloves that made her stand out, the way she spoke and her sayings stood her apart from anyone else I’ve ever known. She was born in Newton Abbott, Devon, in 1919 and was the youngest of six siblings. The Symons family come from a long line of Devonshire and Cornish ancestory and the west country accent was still evident in everything she said. I never tired of hearing her greet me with “oh, hello cock”, or “how are you my old cockle”, greetings that were delivered to people she would meet out and about as I watched in wonder at their reactions to being call ‘cock’, however endearing its original intention.

Those out and about moments, it was when Nan was at her best. Sociable, outgoing, bubbly and unashamedly embarrassing for all the right reasons. On one occasion, on one of our many childhood visits to Greenwich Park, where she’d drive us to in either one of her proud new Renaults, we were walking from the bottom of the park, up the hill back to the waiting car. She made one of her “Hello cockle” introductions and engaged with an American couple walking in the same direction as us. By the time we had all reached the summit, life stories had been exchanged as well as telephone numbers and almost certainly a request on behalf of Gramps (“that old bugger”) for some stamps!

They were by no means the only ones. Long friendships and acquaintances made were the result of random conversations and meeting of people built up over time. Restaurateurs from Sheerness where Nan and Gramps were one time frequent visitors or nurses at hospitals when Nan was visiting for treatment. Both of which bring other memories flooding back. Like during a hot valentines double date when Stephanie and I partnered Nan and Gramps to Sheerness and Nan walked out of the toilet with her skirt and half a length of toilet paper tucked into her knickers. “Ooh I flashed everyone me drawers” she said, her face lit up in laughter as Stephanie walked her back discretely from where she came.

Or at the eye hospital in Maidstone, talking to the nurse, “me gal” about her wedding, which Nan seemed to know more about than the blushing bride-to-be herself. In fact, I wrote about that episode at the eye hospital previously, about her bravery and courage as I sat by in witness to a glaucoma injection into her eyeball. How I had gone white, shivery in fear holding her steady hand as she faced what appeared to be my own worst nightmare. I called her the bravest women I’ve ever met and I stand by that even more so now.

During those more difficult times, at the hospital when she was having minor repair work or later on when things were at a level much more serious it was difficult not to imagine Nan in her earlier years. The Nan who on picking me up from school and asking me what we had for dinner and singing “Meatballs” in a high falsetto when I replied with the answer. Or the Nan who loved and cherished two of her closest companions - Bleepy and Indy, two dogs who meant the world to her and made nonsense of the term ‘man’s best friend’.

In passing, Nan leaves behind seven children, thirteen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren, all of whom she had memorised the names, if not the faces. When Layla was born, the news went around the family that Jessica had given birth to Lala, which wouldn’t have been quite so funny had the teletubbies not been at the height of their fame. If she ever wanted my attention when my back was turned she would call for me “David, Raymond, Delmos, oh Adam I mean’ and the same would apply when talking to Oliver, whereas Steph, just to make things easier would be forever known as “my Gal”.

It didn’t matter though, whatever she called us, whether she got it right first time or third time lucky, we all knew who she was. Whether it was Mum, Nan, Nanny Bette, Betty or simply The Lady in White Gloves, she was a women who didn’t shrink into the background, she called a spade a spade and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She was never embarrassed easily and proud to be who she was supposed to be and never tried to be anything else.

I’m left now with memories, wonderful memories of the times we shared, the childhood trips to the park, to the beaches, the smell of a brand new Renault. I’ll remember Marmite on fresh cut bread for breakfast and the promise that Olay is the elixir of life. I’ll remember her accent and the sayings that will sadly pass along with her and I'll have forever the sound of the singing of her voice saying, “Hello my love” whenever I entered the room which was a comfort softer than any blanket.

Sleep well Nan, The Lady in White Gloves. A name someone gave you for want of a better description. A name that wouldn’t have better described anyone else.

All my love, David, Raymond, Delmos.... Adam I mean x



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