Getting ready for the off

Granny on the frontline


I lost my blood pressure pills the other day – the ones lots of us oldies take to keep us in the land of the living (a questionable benefit, some might argue these days). You see, I’m off to see my son and his family in Argentina soon and although I know I’m lucky to be able to go, it’s a long way and I get a bit agitated before the trip. It’s not just about the 24-hour journey to get there, but also, as other globe-trotting grandparents will recognise, lots of conflicting emotions are milling around in my mind: the pang of leaving the Essex family in the mayhem leading up to Christmas and this year I’ll miss grandson starring in the school nativity play – no, not as Joseph or that Archangel Gabriel, but as the talking donkey, like the cool witty one in Shrek. But then there’s the joy of getting off the plane and seeing my son and his wife waving and their two children jumping up and down excitedly as I wait for my suitcase. But that’s all tinged with knowing that I’ll have to say goodbye later and I guess, at my age, there’ll be a time when I won’t be able to get back there to see them again.

Anyway, I wasn’t off for two weeks but I like to be prepared and I’d somehow lost the pills doing stuff like scrabbling about for travel insurance stuff, pairing up socks, counting out knickers, taking things already in my suitcase out and then putting them back in again, like Eeyore putting his burst birthday balloon in and out of the empty honey jar. And I’m always a bit on edge about the Chocolate Angel Delight for my son since at Buenos Aires you have to put your suitcase through a machine which detects meat (it’s Argentina after all) and milk products. On the Angel Delight packet it lists a couple of chemicals that ‘contain milk’ though it went through ok once before. But dare I risk it again? Not without taking a blood pressure pill, I was thinking.

Oh yes, the stress was rising and also I had to get Christmas presents for my daughter’s family before I went. But, halleluya! I’d had a rare light bulb moment – I’d get them each a gift card – sorted. But, hell’s teeth, I remembered, teenage granddaughter 1’s birthday is just before Christmas and giving her two gift cards smacks of desperation. ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ I asked her at the earliest opportunity. ‘Oh gran, I don’t know,’ she sighed. ‘I haven’t thought about that yet.’ ‘Could you think about it sort of now?’ I said, glancing at my watch – only 14 days, 7 hours, 24 minutes and 32 seconds until I was off. On to granddaughter 2: ‘I was thinking of a gift card for Zizzi for Christmas’ – she’s vegan and they do vegan stuff. ‘Oh gran,’ she said, ‘I don’t really like gift cards.’ ‘What would you like then?’ I asked. She shrugged and gave me one of her winsome smiles – bloody nora. Next came granddaughter 3: ‘Guess what? You can get gift cards for Superdrug and they sell Zoella stuff, don’t they?’ I said, enticingly. But being granddaughter 3, she said she’d research gift card options on the internet and get back to me. ‘Could you do that like soon?’ I said – well, the clock was ticking. ‘I was thinking a WH Smith gift card for grandson for Christmas,’ I said to my daughter. ‘Well, mum,’ she said, ‘I might need you to come in with me on something for him.’ Aiiiiii, tick tock tick tock.

Meanwhile, my grandson in Argentina was whatsapping me and I suspect his dad has been schooling him in the dark arts of buttering up your gran, e.g. ‘Gran, I love you very much and I’m looking forward to the surprises you bring in your suitcase.’ Hmm – I usually get little stocking filler things for him and his sister to hide in my suitcase among my clothes. And his sister was doing those stream of consciousness calls she does with me via Skype planning stuff we’ll be making for Christmas – it’s all do-it-yourself out there – and she’s a huge fan. But the thing is, brought up from birth on a diet of Scooby Doo by her dad, she’s a huge fan of halloween too though they don’t celebrate it much in Argentina. I’d whatsapped her the scary photos of her cousins spattered with fake blood for trick or treating – halloween is big out in Essex. ‘Well, gran,’ she began c. 8,000 miles away, ‘I’ve decided we’ll have a Halloween Christmas.’ She took a deep breath, ‘and we’ll have stockings but not trick or treat and I’ll do your face white and mine too and you can shake a packet of flour over me as I appear out of the gloom…’ Hmm. ‘Wait, gran, wait,’ and she left me hanging, returning to read out in hushed and spooky tones from Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, one of the books I’d hauled over the pond in my suitcase: ‘…in which Jack and Annie are transported to King Arthur’s realm where invisible beings, giant ravens and mistaken magic spells have a castle in uproar on halloween night…’ Oh god, that’ll be us making giant so-and-soing papier maché ravens then, and there I was thinking I’d done Halloween 2016 and I’d already mentally moved on to making crackers out of the insides of toilet rolls…

Btw, I found the pills in my sponge bag where I’d put four boxes of earplugs – I’m a light sleeper and there’s a lot of wildlife up there in the Andes in the dark: the odd cat on the roof miaowing mournfully at the moon; a chorus of guard dogs howling woefully like the hound in that Sherlock book and the buzz of the fridge going off and on below the wooden balcony above the kitchen where I sleep on a mattress on the floor with my granddaughter. And, oh joy, there are new additions to the family this year: three chickens and a cockerel whose dawn chorus, I suspect, from a home-made coop at the bottom of the garden, could be enough to wake the dead – ok, great for a Halloween Christmas, you’d think, but not so good for a jet-lagged gran after a 24-hour journey from Blighty.

*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.


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