Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The two nans

Nan and my other Nan lived next-door to each other for much of my childhood.  I would like to say they were the best of friends, chatting over the garden fence, having cosy coffee mornings  and lending each other sugar  - but that would be a lie.

In fact it would not be an exaggeration to say that they hated each other with a vengeance - difficult to deal with as I spent six out of seven days a week living between their two houses.

Nan was a vivacious brunette (slightly less-blowsy Elsie Tanner for vintage Corrie fans) always dressed in the brightest of colours with lashings of red lippy and a generous spritz of scent.  She lived with her three sons, four cats (could be more - depending how many 'strays' came through the garden), one dog,  two budgies and two chipmunks.

Nan was a divorcée - this was still frowned upon when the Nans first encountered each other.  Despite unfortunate experiences she still sought true love and to help in her search she had numerous boyfriends - few of whom were satisfactory.  Satisfactory boyfriend material meant they should be: romantic (i.e. give compliments, presents, flowers), smartly dressed (in a slightly louche sports-coated way), good looking (in Nan's world this ran the gamut from Omar Sharif to Clark Gable - moustaches being obligatory).  Nan was wild, flirtatious and a great raconteur - especially after a few port and lemons.  To her everything was black and white.  She was never indifferent to people; if she disliked you she would really hate you, but if she loved you it was with devotion.  Until my mid-teens I truly thought she could solve any problem I had from dodgy eyesight (eat more carrots and don't war your glasses to strengthen your eyes) to unrequited love (find someone who appreciates you - then he'll be sorry).

Nan-next-door was about five years younger,  always dressed like an old lady in either drab cross-over aprons or dresses and sensible shoes, her brown hair tightly permed.  Nan-next-door was married to Grampy, a taciturn man who knew who was boss (and it wasn't him).  Her life was centred around her home and family; going out - apart from annual holidays or the odd family wedding - was morally reprehensible in her eyes.  Needless to say she did not approve of Nan, who she said was a loose woman and all the respectable husbands in the road needed protecting from her (and themselves).

Although Nan didn't have a live-in man she had no interest in the male residents of the road; this was because  they had allotments, wore bicycle clips, sleeveless pullovers and  liberal applications of Brylcreem.  Nan wanted someone more sophisticated; she had a boyfriend called Ralph, who owned a red setter dog and drove a jag - more Terry Thomas than Morse, but there are some great photos of him leaning against car with slicked-back hair and very baggy trousers, usually with the dog at his feet. The attraction of Ralph, I suspect,  was a cross between his car (very cool, red with  leather seats) and his dog - Nan had a matching red setter called Rufus.

Nan thought Nan-next-door dull and provincial, deplored her taste in clothes and disliked being portrayed as the nearest thing to a lady of the night in their road.  She was in fact rather proper and her 'gentlemen' were allowed no liberties.

Their mutual dislike increased exponentially when Nan's middle son and Nan-next-door's eldest daughter decided they should become an item.  It must have been like Romeo and Juliet, but with real-life Montagus and Capulets insulting each other over the Forsythia hedge; for example -  'Slut - all that red lipstick!'  'Thick ankles' (Nan's insult of choice).  The worst happened and they became related by marriage.

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