Mrs. Patton opened Ellen’s exercise book with a feeling of anticipation. She had taken the easy option after school started again in September and set the English class the usual “Summer Holidays” essay as homework.
Ellen’s English was very good considering her first language was Welsh and her mother seemed to organise the kind of holidays that Mrs. Patton would have enjoyed herself. Settling back in the sofa with a cup of tea, she started to read Ellen’s homework as she would a magazine article, knowing there would be very few mistakes in it.
Gran dug the garden
It’s hard to explain. She isn’t really my granny but I don’t feel right calling her “Babette”. She’s married to my step-father’s dad who I can Gramps so it just seemed right to call her Granny when they got married. She’s much younger than Gramps and they live in France. She’s French but her English is brills as she is a teacher, not for kids unfortunately but to grown-ups who need it for their work. Of course, Gramps is English so she gets lots of practice.
I went with my cousins, step-father’s brother’s kids so it wasn’t really a family do at all except Gran says that everyone is family – she adopts people but then she’s a bit weird. No, correct that, she’s stark, staring bonkers but in a nice way. She rides a motorbike and has one that is ex-French army despatch-riders. She let us bomb around the garden on it while she played the music from The Great Escape so we could pretend we were Steve McQueen trying to jump the barbed wire. We didn’t, of course, and even falling off didn’t hurt.
One night she got out a couple of kitchen rolls and two bags of flour. We kids were given big spoons and she showed us how to make flour-bombs. When cousin Ma(rk asked why she just smiled that big crazy grin of hers and said “You’ll see. It’s a secret.”
Next day, right after breakfast, she took us out in the huge garden and said
“Boys against girls OK?”
We didn’t know what she was talking about so we just nodded. Gramps put himself on the boys’ side and we had a huge bag of flour-bombs each. This was war! Nobody got hurt but we ran around throwing the bombs we’d made at each other and Granny kept score. After ten minutes we were all head to foot covered in flour and hysterical with laughter. My mum would have gone mental but Granny just shrugged and said “what are washing machines for?” She was right and even the boys helped hang the washing out because we’d had such a good time pla ying war.
The next day Gramps was up early and by the time I got outside he was up a ladder on the walnut tree fixing up a rope. When I shouted up to ask him what he was doing he did one of his “deaf old man” tricks and didn’t answer. So I asked Granny and she genuinely didn’t know but asked me to help her by going up for croissants at the bread-van. I like doing that. My French is quite good now with skiing every winter and I love getting the chance to use it. The man at the bread-van calls me “ma biche” which is nice, it means “my female deer” and he gives me the two kisses. Their village is so small there are no shops, just a bar so the shops send vans around. The bread-van comes every day, the butcher twice a week and the general store every other day. The old people in the village don’t have to drive the 15 kms to the shops. Gran does because she likes chatting to people. Oh boy does she like chatting! We had to go into the cigarette shop and drag her out after a quarter of an hour because she had got talking with the proprietor.
We found out what Gramps was doing when he came in rubbing his hands and asking for a test pilot. As Gran used to be in the Air Force she said she was best candidate but I think Gramps had arranged it with her.
What he’d been setting up was a commando slide from the top of the walnut tree to the end of the garden, in the vegetable patch. We were going to slide down the rope using a wire coat hanger, which Gramps had altered, as a handle.
Granny got up the ladder, grabbed the wire and did a pilot impression “Roger, Roger red leader, we are go here.”
It was a shame that Gramps hadn’t tightened the rope quite enough at the other end. Gran set off on the rope with an ear-splitting whoop and then the rope bent, she got closer to the ground and then her knees dug two furrows through the carrots in the veg patch. She fell sideways swearing in French and English. When we all ran up to see if she was ok she rolled onto her back, laughing hysterically and shouted at Gramps
“Think the rope could do with a bit tighter, Skipper.”
We had a great holiday and we were almost sorry when our folks came to pick us up, especially after Gran made “magic popcorn” for little Georgina. She put the corn in the hot oil then hopped on one foot saying “Hop hop hop, pop pop pop, popcorn please!” and pointed at the saucepan – like magic it started to pop and Georgina was convinced that Gran was a good witch.