Sometimes I think I overdo things – I’d done a trio of Bisto gravies, as they’d say on Come Dine with me, chicken, lamb and veggie. But the family were coming for Sunday lunch and we were in celebration mode: granddaughter 1 had finished GCSEs; granddaughter 3 had passed her year 6 SATS and was moving on to secondary; their dad’s 50th birthday was soon and my 72nd just passed. My daughter rang: ‘Do you have any honey?’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but you don’t need to make or bring any food.’ You see I’d done lamb for granddaughter 3 and her dad, chicken for grandson and his mum, quinoa and butternut squash stew for the veggie sisters, roast sweet potatoes (for granddaughter 2) and Aunt Bessie’s Home Bake Yorkshire Puddings, broccoli and carrots (for everyone) – all a bit of a juggling act and I felt like a little lie down. But there was pudding to make and it was another trio, of chocolate of course: home-made brownies (you could tell they were authentic by the lumps of white flour where I’d got fed up doing the folding in), Ben and Jerry’s Whatalotta Chocolate ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, for granddaughter 1 and her dad, you understand.
‘We’ve brought Chocolate Land here for your birthday, mum,’ said my daughter as all six of them crowded through the front door. ‘You mean like at the top of the Faraway Tree?’ I asked excitedly. She explained: ‘After lunch we’re going to give you a relaxing chocolate body butter hand and foot massage and granddaughter 2 is going to make a cocoa, avocado and honey face mask too’. Aha, that’s what the honey was for. ‘Is the recipe off the internet?’ I asked without thinking – granddaughter 2 likes to experiment. ‘And I’ve made you a chocolate birthday cake, gran,’ said granddaughter 3 and she opened the tin she was carrying. She’d obviously spent a lot longer than me on the folding in as it was puffed up and very chocolatey – oh my.
There weren’t many leftovers and at last I got my lie down on the bed. But I was feeling a bit tense – I mean, how many grandparents would really want their grandchildren to handle their gnarled old feet (well, mine are anyway)? ‘Are you sure you want to?’ I asked granddaughters 1 and 2. ‘Don’t worry, gran, they’re fine,’ said granddaughter 1 – she’d given me a pedicure beauty kit for Christmas and promised a personal foot massage, but I’d managed to avoid it until now. But both sisters did seem unfazed by my feet and with one at my left and the other at my right, they began to smooth on the Chocolate Body Butter – and, bless my soul, I started to relax.
At my top end, my daughter put a cucumber slice over each eye. ‘It gets rid of dark circles, gran,’ said granddaughter 1, but I felt like a salmon on a platter at a posh buffet. ‘What does the cocoa do in the face mask?’ I asked granddaughter 2. ‘It’s anti-oxidising, gran,’ she replied. My daughter started gently smearing the goo on my face – then, oh god, I froze – were there any whiskers on my face that had escaped my scrutiny? You know, you think you’ve plucked them all out, but then a shaft of sunlight reveals inch-long thick black, and now white, hairs that have sprouted up like mushrooms do overnight. A friend recommended those wax strips, but ripping them off hurt like hell and brought me out in bumps. And I ran out of wipes they give you to get rid of the leftover sticky wax and had to avoid kissing people in case our chins got stuck together. Someone told me about threading, but that sounded like prolonging the agony to me. I’ve already asked my daughter to make sure when I go dullally to please, please tweeze me as the Beatles might have sung back in the day.
The face mask smelt deliciously of chocolate with avocado tones as they say on wine bottle labels. ‘Is anyone else having a face mask?’ I muttered at my daughter through closed lips. She took the slice of cucumber off my left eye and I squinted around like a cyclops. Oh help, granddaughters 1, 2 and 3 and her had all been transforméd – they looked like those slimy aliens who lived in the Grand Canal in Venice in that Dr Who episode. The cucumber slice went back over my eye – it had work to do.
‘Where’s grandson? I muttered again, as I waited for the goo to work its miracle. A small hand removed the slice of cucumber from my right eye and a page of joined up writing was shoved in front of it: ‘To gran,’ I read, ‘I know your be wonderring were I am but I’m waching minecraft whos your daddy baby blows up the house love from grandson’ (3 kisses and 2 hearts). It continued: ‘wait how do you put the voleom up (3 kisses and 2 hearts) wait again but how do you do the thing to stop the video again’ (3 kisses and 3 hearts plus a Gruffalo footprint) – I got a new laptop recently, but if grandson doesn’t know how to work the volume or the video thingy, I certainly don’t.
Grandson disappeared again, but he came back a bit later with a hand-crafted birthday card. He’d drawn me on the front, the paisley pattern on my top painstakingly replicated and the dark brown cocoa face mask and cucumber slices scrupulously coloured in. But he’d made me look quite glamorous and when my daughter scraped the goo off my face, my skin was glowing and as soft as silk, thanks, no doubt, to the anti-oxidising properties of the cocoa. I felt almost as if I could appear in that L’Oreal Age Perfect ad instead of Helen Mirren – well, I can dream.
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.