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The One-Legged Girl and the Apple Orchard

If BT could cast a line up to heaven, my Nan would be the first one on the blower.
‘Tom, bring me that phone.  I want to speak to Him.’
‘You mean God?’
‘No, not Him.  I mean Him: your granddad.’
She’d get me to read out the number as she dialled it.  I can picture her now: glasses perched at the end of her nose, hunched over with age, repeating and verifying each number as if she had just learnt to count, thumping each digit on the keypad with a wrinkled finger, mumbling something angrily incoherent as it connected.  Before He even answered, she’d begin ranting as if ten years without him had never passed.

My Nan likes to moan.  If words were air miles, she could live on the plane. 

‘Me hips are digging in and paining [sic] me like daggers, I can’t hardly walk, me eyes don’t work properly, and what’s more, if I want to see anything clearer than a shadow, I’ve got to hold my bloody eyelid up!  Then there’s this damn perm that’s as flat as road kill and doesn’t look much better besides; the arthritis, the high blood and not getting no sleep.  What else is there?  Oh, and I can’t save bugger all.’
‘Your mouth’s still running smoothly though, Nan.’
‘Ha! I bet you wish that would stop working as well.’
‘That would be nice.’ 
‘It won’t be today.’  
 ‘I thought as much.’
‘But I’m doing my toilet well.  You know: the…other one.’
‘Glad to hear it.’ 
‘Really well.’ 
‘It’s like−’
‘Spare the detail, Nan.’
‘And also: the TV broke last week.  That’s another thing.  All these bloody things going wrong.’ 
‘Your TV didn’t break; the SCART lead came loose.’
‘That wasn’t me.  I couldn’t watch The Cube.  What was I supposed to do?  I ask you.  I was close to phoning the TV people myself.  Is whatshisname on tonight?’
Phillip Schofield?’
‘No, the other one.'
‘Simon Cowell?’
‘Noel Edmunds?’
‘Deal or No Deal.’
‘Is he the one with the beard and the shirts?’
‘No, not him.’
‘Simon Cowell?’
‘Yeah, him.’ 
I scan through the TV listing, ‘No, he’s not on tonight.’
‘Bloody TV.  I suppose football’s on again.  Or rugby.  Bloody rough game, that is.  I don’t see much sense in that.  All that pushing and shoving.  Where’s the fun in that?”
‘No football or rugby tonight.’
‘Your Granddad used to love watching the cricket.  And the tennis.  Pointless game.  All that back and forth.  Still, the world would be a right bloody strange place if everyone was the same.’

The role of the grandson affords certain privileges.  For one, Nan still gives me pocket money: six pounds each and every Thursday.  To refuse it is to risk upsetting an elderly lady.  That’s £312 per year – any more and I’ll have to start declaring it.  She’s a very generous Nan, but she likes to – should we say - get her point across.  When it’s just me visiting, she likes to have a moan.  But when mum goes to visit, she turns into Linda Blair at the holy water-flicking phase.  Hide the crucifixes.   

Mum’s an only child.    
On a Tuesday after school, mum, James and I would go to Nan and Granddad’s for tea.  As a kid, we’d listen to her “I said, she said” quick fire stories based on her latest disagreements while sat on a very rudimentary wooden bench I shared with my Granddad, who always sat in a very learned silence to the left of me.  My brother would sit at a foldout table (on which she’d put on a cold buffet every Tuesday for tea) by the door and my mum on a stool in front of the cooker.  Nan always stood when we went to visit, partly because there was no room left to sit and partly to assert her dominance.  She always stood by the sink in case she had to dry that single drop of water that spilled from the tap.  As the alpha female and perennial cleaner, she rubbed stainless steel clean of its shine.  Spoons would be dulled by her persistence.

You could still see your face in her cutlery, but the image was so blurry that you wouldn’t be any the wiser if a stranger had been staring back.    

My Nan and Grandad’s kitchen was a lot smaller than ours; you could get from one side to the other in less than two paces.  By contrast, the living room was like a storeroom of conveyer belt prizes.  It was by far the biggest and most comfortable room in the house, boasting one long three-seater settee and two single-seaters, a matching footrest, a colour TV and video, a piano, a selection of wines and spirits complete with glass decanter, a small trolley with a tea service, and everyone had unlimited access to it, just as long as Nan wasn’t home. 

And Nan was always home.    

Nowadays - at the grand old age of 87 - stories about the past are few and far between, and even fewer still are told with fondness.  But there is one story dating back to the 1930s that always manages to raise a smile. 

About the one-legged girl and the apple orchard. 

If you have a Nan called Mary who used to live in Avening Road, I know someone who would dearly love to talk to her.  They could happily reminisce about the fun they used to have with your nan's false leg in the apple orchard! 


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