Iris Margaret Graham 1922-2014: Tea, Cake and Cards

It is now a few weeks since my dear Nana passed away and it seemed a safe time for me to reflect on my relationship with her and share some of the things she taught me.

My Nana managed to make it to her early nineties and while she had faded in recent years, she always knew who we were and could be enticed to enjoy life a little even as the quality of it faded.

She had taken to hardly eating anything but could usually be enticed through treats she never could have had as a child – dates, strawberries and good fruit cake predominant among them. The last few years present requests has been for my Lovely wife to work the baking magic on cake, with extra glace cherries, because my Nana always liked those. My Nana had never been one for possessions, but a box of chocolate liqueur chocolates always seemed to meet the need at Christmas. That was interesting for me, as she hardly touched a drop of alcohol and always warned me off it, but providing it was wrapped in dodgy chocolate and sugar, all seemed to be fine.

All this sweet stuff would be would be washed down with a constant supply of tea. Nothing written about my Nana is complete without the mention of tea. I felt misty eyed this week when in clearing out our loft I came across several albums of PG Tips cards – in the days when opening a packet of the Chimpanzee sold tea (wince at the terribly inappropriate adverts, younger friends ) that gave you one or two cards each box to go in your collectors album. I do not know how long they ran for – but I have a few starting with ‘Inventors and Inventions’, moving on through ‘Olympic Greats’ and of course ‘Wonders of Wildlife’.

The fact that most of these albums are almost full (and like most collecting schemes you often wondered if it was deliberately impossible to complete them so that is no mean feat) speaks to my Nana’s ability to consume tea (possibly egged on by an excited card collecting grandson).

Incidentally, I even had cause to use one of them to look up the inventor of Cats Eyes as part of a discussion with the lovely wife on the subject of incredibly simple but amazingly clever inventions.*

Going back to sweets and chocolates; they were a part of who my Nana was to me. As a child when we would go round I always knew that there would be a bowl with some Quality Street or Roses in it, or possibly some chocolate éclairs. If I did not take advantage of the delights these posed they would be pushed at me before I left. There was to be no escape. At Christmas, alongside the more expensive presents from my parents there would always be a plastic bag from my Nana, filled with the things that really make children happy – a collection of chocolate bars and sweets (OK, there would be some fruit and nuts in there too, but we can brush over those).

It was a small but reliable treat, and I miss it.

I think that apart from being just naturally generous, my Nana also had it hard and that crafted this delight in treats. From a poor South Tyneside family, she was the second eldest girl and their mum died while my Nana was about 11. So with her elder sister they effectively had to take over the maternal role while her father struggled to make ends meet. They really had nothing at all, rent money included, so I think in later life she always appreciated what she did have – and in the gentlest of ways remind me of just how lucky I was. But never in a preaching way and she never, ever complained about her own life.

In fact, laughter was the usual thing that came out that she talked about the hard times. She might have been a tiny woman with a backbone of iron but my Nana had a wicked sense of humour. There were some stories that, even in the difficult last few years, that if brought mentioned caused her face to light up and she would begin to laugh.

Until she had to wiped the tears of laughter away and fortify herself with more tea.

I’m saving a few of those stories for next week, when I will reveal (and I do not think she would mind one jot) that maybe desperation in her younger days had once caused her to slip over into (very) petty crime…

So next week, the tale of the Great South Tyneside Turnip Robbery will be told.


*Cats Eyes were invented by a certain Mr. Percy Shaw in Yorkshire in 1934.  Well done him.