Nice, Dallas, Turkey, Germany and more – every day something utterly awful happens which makes our family trip to London a couple of weeks ago seem full of innocence and naivety. The referendum seems eons ago now but back then the plan was to get out there after the Brexit vote and the appalling increase in racist attacks which had left some members of the family not wanting to leave the house. So we were heading towards Parliament Square on the tube to join in a celebration of our long relationship with Europe.
‘Are we under the ground?’ asked grandson as he looked up from my phone which I’d given him before we’d gone into the tunnel. He gazed at the blackness rushing past the windows and then back at the phone. ‘Gran, gran, I need to download Draw Stickman Epic and you need to delete some apps – the memory’s full up,’ he said. Oh god, how did that happen? I’ve only downloaded one app, BusChecker. Grandson swiped at the screen a few times. ‘Look, gran, look,’ he cried, excitedly, ‘I’ve deleted some apps already.’ Please god, not BusChecker, I was thinking – I can’t so-and-soing well remember how I got it and I’ll be knackered on the way back and need to know when a bus is coming.
We got off at Waterloo and wow, masses of people were milling about under a cloudless sky. My daughter’s partner strode off to the left towards the London Eye, Oh nooo, we’re not going on that, are we? I don’t do high. And isn’t Parliament Square to the right? But, oh god, keep up, old girl, I told myself, you don’t want to lose the rest of the family and, oh dear, do I need a wee? But I homed in on granddaughters 1, 2 and 3’s heads bobbing in and out of the crowds and trotted after them. Their mum was striding along close by holding one of grandson’s hands while he was using the other one to do Just Dance moves while prancing about oblivious to the forest of legs around him.
We arrived intact at a crowd of people in front of a tent with red, yellow and purple flags fluttering in the breeze above their heads. What’s all this? I thought – someone was speaking – aha, now I understood, it was a celebration of the International Brigades – people from the UK, Europe and around the world who’d volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War alongside Spanish people, such as my daughter’s partner’s dad, against fascism and the dictator Franco in the 1930s. So for my daughter’s partner, it must have been very poignant to be there with his children and their mum – and to talk about solidarity within Europe and internationally – all very moving, particularly in the current situation.
The sun was beating down and granddaughter 2 shared her bottle of water with us. But in her fight against family infection, she instructed us to hold the bottle aloft to avoid contagion and to squirt the water into our open mouths like baby birds being fed – she can be a bit dramatic. Then, at last, at last, granddaughter 1 needed a wee like me so we went, like miles, to find a loo but we didn’t have the change for 50p a pee and we had to go even further to the Festival Hall where to wee is still free, thank the lord. Back we sped dodging and diving the crowds to find the family on the move. Oh dear, now I was feeling a bit peckish – us oldies wake early, have an early breakfast and need lunch around 12 or we fear pegging out. It was getting on for 3.
Ok, we made it together to Parliament Square and OMG, it was Carnival City! There were just thousands of people, some playing guitars, others dancing and singing, some waving flags, laughing and shouting greetings at each other in different languages while balloons wafted up into the clear blue sky. And, most importantly, the whole family thought it was fan-tast-ic. Yes, people were celebrating our relationship with Europe – let’s face it, most of us are related in some way or another in our families now, like mine, or from the past – well, my great grandfather was found wrapped in a blanket on a doorstep in Paris so the family story goes – and back to even before the Romans arrived.
‘I’m hungry,’ said grandson – me too, I was thinking. ‘Let’s head for Leicester Square,’ said his dad. Oh nooo, the busiest, bustliest blooming place in London. But off we trooped again while hordes of people were still streaming towards Parliament Square. I glanced enviously at grandson perched on his father’s shoulders, but I didn’t think I’d quite make it up there. ‘A McDonalds,’ he shouted happily from on high, but the two Veggie Sisters veto-ed that – they were holding out for a Pret a Manger. ‘Burger King,’ shouted grandson triumphantly and he and his dad disappeared inside for chicken nuggets. What’s this? The Veggie Sisters followed – well, needs must and they needed the loo. ‘A Pret a Manger,’ exclaimed their mum pointing at the horizon across Charing Cross Road. Oh god, can I make it? I asked myself. Pull yourself together, woman, I replied. So I did and got there with granddaughters 1, 2 and 3 and their mum, hurrah! But, oh god, to eat my hand-crafted BLT I had to haul my old body up onto a ten-foot high stool while loud rock music was force fed into my head. And they call it progress.
I just about managed to stagger up to Tottenham Court Road tube to go home – ok, I was knackered, but everyone in the family, including me, was happy – it’d been a great day – job done, you’d think. But if we thought things were uncertain then, just over two weeks later, the sun seems to be shining on a world that seems increasingly tumultuous, insecure and very scary. I’m getting on a bit and have had a life, but what does the future hold for our children and grandchildren? I just don’t know any more – does anyone?
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.