Explosions, lava lamps and Jamie Oliver

Granddaughter 2 (aged 10) arrived for her sleepover with her hair a subtle shade of red (a wash-in wash-out holiday treat). She was disappointed since she’d wanted it to be less Cheryl Cole,’You’re worth it’, more in-yer-face, Jessie J. I had a fleeting frisson of fear – would she want to concoct a stronger hair dye with mashed beetroot, body lotion and such? No, she didn’t – but she’d brought along a large box entitled Horrible Science Explosive Experiments. Help! Don’t get me wrong, she’s a complex delight of daring, caring, creativity and spontaneity and although she doesn’t plan things (unlike granddaughter 3) she does like to keep to a similar programme of activities – the programme stays the same, the activities don’t e.g., last time she arrived with a bath bomb kit complete with rubber gloves and goggles.

We leafed through the experiments and – hurrah! – one was described as providing ‘hours of peaceful watching’: a homemade lava lamp. I was well happy – lava lamps were the rave in one of my comfort zones, the 1960s. Granddaughter 2 humoured her old gran – she tinted the oil red with food colour (for the lava), poured it over the water, and sprinkled salt on top. But globules came there none, nada, nicht. Unfazed, she gave it a good shake and – success of sorts – shot through with red, it looked like some sinister liquid you’d find lurking in the cellar of the Adams Family. The volcano experiment appeared to have more potential. She poured a mixture of vinegar, bicarb and red food colour (ditto lava) into the plastic crater provided. Oh dear, it just sort of oozed. A mad professor glint in her eye, she gave it a good shake. Result! the foam shot up – whoooosh – 10 feet in the air and – even better – on the way down it spattered us with vinegar like two pieces of battered cod. Lovely.

To granddaughter 2, cooking is a kind of scientific experiment – she’s not keen on recipes (too limiting) or measuring (too much like maths). But she and her dad are fanatical fans of Jamie Oliver and sit on the sofa gazing at him as if he were the Second Coming. So on she went to make Jamie’s Mango Ice Cream Surprise. I was a tad worried about the ‘Surprise’ element, but to allay my fears she said, reassuringly, ‘Mummy makes a Tuna Bake Surprise and a Cheesy Bake Surprise’. (I should perhaps say that her mum does not quite share her daughter’s, and partner’s, obsession for Jamie O.) She expertly blitzed together a ripe mango, yoghurt and ice cubes and ‘whacked it’ in the freezer. For lunch, she made a kind of Chicken Kiev (another blast from the past, the 1970s): chicken breast with garlic Flora (v. healthy) fetchingly tied up with string. She put ‘this little bad boy’ in the oven for ’20 sweet little minutes’ and served it up Jamie-like, with a side salad and homemade garlic bread. Yummy.

We ate lunch in front of the Great British Bake-off, held in a tent at Scone (pron. Skoon, I know, I lived there once) Palace. They were, of course, making scones (pron. skons, ditto). Apparently, you can over-knead the dough, but, we agreed, how can you get that aeriated over a scone? In my student days, I worked in the kitchen at Scone Palace (it was open to the public) making rum truffles. Unsold left-over stale cakes were smashed to pieces, melted marg, cocoa powder and rum flavouring were added. You squidged it all together until it oozed out between your fingers, then rolled it into balls and doused with chocolate vermicelli. Not quite Mary Berry.

The evil hour arrived for The Fruit Game (inventor, you’ve guessed it: grandaughter 2). Oh, the horror! But, I told myself, it might get rid of the lingering smell of vinegar and it was hot. ‘Thirty rounds, gran?’ she asked. The sprinkler spun round, water wizzed out, we got wetter and wetter. The banana sailed back and forth, mushier and mushier.  And I won! Well, I was reserve for the under-12s rounders team (that’ll be over half a century ago, then). But I think she’d been dropping the banana for the hell of it, just to get drenched counting to 10 (slowly) under the sprinkler. She had to change her clothes, but had only one pair of knickers so I lent her a pair of my m&s ones (a bit baggy) and she put on a narrow-but-stylish skirt stitched by her aunt. We sallied forth arm-in-arm to Kfc (for a Boneless Banquet as a holiday treat) and then her sandal broke. Oh dear, nobbled by tight skirt, broken sandal, and concentrating on keeping the baggy knickers up, she laughed ‘I’m a disaster, Gran’. Disaster she ain’t, fantastic fun she is! Since I was celebrating the fact that my blood pressure pills had worked, I allowed myself three pieces of Original Recipe. Once home, with an eye on cholesterol (I’m on those pills too), I boiled some cabbage and poised them MasterChef-ish on top.

She turned on ‘Your face sounds familiar’ and some soap celeb attempted to be Rod Stewart singing ‘Do you think I’m sexy?’  No, I didn’t – not a patch on Rod. I’m a bit of a fan, had all his LPs in the 80s and granddaughter 2’s family gave me his book last Christmas – and he’s almost a neighbour of theirs in Essex! ‘You have to hear the original version,’ I said. We capered about, wiggling our bottoms, me singing along –  ah yes, I can still remember the words to all his hits. I tried to introduce her to other tracks, but her eyes were glazing over. Well, I thought, he is nearly 70 – how did that happen?

The next day dawned and I put her knickers (washed but still damp) in the microwave to dry. As they went round and round, steaming a bit, we had breakfast watching ‘Come dine with me’ from St Albans (crikey, I’ve lived there too – how weird is that?). ‘Mummy’s menu would be Tesco’s Harvest Crunch, followed by Cheese on Toast, then Apple Crumble’, she volunteered. She couldn’t say what her menu would be – I think it would be an ‘off the top of her head’ or a ‘by seat of her pants’ situation.

Well, all good things come to an end and and we packed up the Explosive Experiment box into one of her sparkly bags until the next time. Maybe I’d got off lightly this time since she’d decided not to go to the park where she likes to climb trees and hang upside down from a branch. But – lucky old me – and I mean the ‘lucky’ bit most sincerely, folks – I’ll have the chance to do the same again. Well, not quite the same – but then it never is with granddaughter 2.

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