It was while I was writing about one (in)famous party-giver that I recalled there was one in my beloved’s family. I know, it’s hard to believe, but actually she wasn’t related to any of them. It was my beloved’s step-grandmother, who never married his grandfather. She had merely changed her name by deed poll, though that never seemed to bother anyone, apart from the Outlaw (mother-in-law).
Grandma and I bonded early on, not just because of our shared love of my beloved, but because I recognised a kindred spirit – one who enjoyed the finer things in life. She had lived a pretty glamorous lifestyle with my beloved’s grandfather who died in the mid-sixties owing the taxman money. He left her just £1,000.
It wasn’t a significant sum and Grandma wisely invested it in a round-the-world cruise, stopping off in Australia to see her brother. Thereafter, she continued to work for the family business in a clerical capacity until it was dissolved in the early 1980s at which point she was in her 70s, an age when most are happily retired – but not Grandma.
She became a dental nurse! She worked full-time for her dentist and much enjoyed meeting lots of patients. When the dentist decided to work from home, Grandma would make the daily two-hour journey on bus, tube and train out to Buckinghamshire. His patients duly followed. Probably feeling they couldn’t complain given Grandma’s circumstances, some kindly gave her a lift. She and the dentist retired at the same time, she was now in her early eighties.
We both loved spending time with her and enjoyed taking her out, particularly to tennis events. We took her to both Wimbledon and Queens tennis tournaments. She was a huge John McEnroe fan and I managed to secure her a personally signed, photograph which had pride of place on the mantlepiece.
During Wimbledon fortnight, she would unplug the telephone to watch the entire day’s transmission, treating herself to smoked salmon sandwiches, strawberries and cream and the odd glass of champers. Grandma believed, as do I, that there’s no event that cannot be improved by a glass of champagne.
As a child, my beloved had spent many a happy hour being spoilt by his paternal grandparents and we were now happy to return the favour, though it was difficult as Grandma was such a generous soul. She was always top of the list for any of our parties and, despite being many years older than most of our guests, she was younger in heart than many. And, although we didn’t refer to it much, we knew she had a much younger toy boy who lived next-door.
Aside from her legendary ability to drink anybody under the table – whisky was her favoured tipple – and her reputation as a great party giver, she was a very kind person, exceptionally good listener, always upbeat, positive and forward thinking. As she headed towards her 90th birthday, we noted she’d become a bit absent-minded and easily confused. She’d always steered well clear of doctors, so I had to register her with a nearby surgery who offered to send round an elderly female doctor to check her over. I suggested a younger, good-looking male one would get a much better reception. They obliged, but it only confirmed my suspicions, Grandma had early stage dementia.
She asked me what it meant and what would happen to her. I explained and she said she’d like to stay independent for as long as possible and I promised that would happen. I organised help for her from social services and she stayed in her apartment for a further 18 months. She went into hospital for a small infection and broke her hip falling out of bed. I then managed to get her into a lovely rehabilitation centre, it was more like a hotel than a home, and from there into a retirement/nursing home as she could no longer live on her own.
Initially, the home my beloved’s cousin and I had selected was reluctant to take some one with dementia. But Grandma was a very calm and happy patient, so they agreed to accept her. She had a lovely sunny, single room, overlooking the gardens. She thought she was on holiday, and staying in a hotel, and we didn’t dissuade her otherwise when we went to visit. She passed away in her early 90s from lung cancer after a long life, well-lived. She’d had a 20 a day habit until she forgot she smoked, but the damage had obviously been done.
Her funeral was a lovely celebration of her life attended by family and friends with Il Divo singing “I Did it My Way” – very apt. I’ve no doubt she’s now on high, charming the birds from the trees, still giving great parties with her toy-boy in tow!