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Friday, 28 November 2014

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There’s no-one like Grandma to sort out a child

Poor woman. Two Co-op carrier bags in one hand, a small person dragging on the other and soaked to the skin – she looked done in. I’d have told that wet, sulking little girl at the bus stop all of that – if I’d had more courage.

“Yes, the lights are on. But it isn’t Christmas yet.”

She was shouting to be heard above a howling wind as she shuffled towards the bus stop in a thrashing downpour.

“I hate you!”

The small person – difficult to tell whether boy, girl or drowned rabbit – was in a mighty strop.

“Yeah well, join the club,” the woman snapped back, yanking at the child to hurry him/her along.

The little one wriggled into one of those punishing slow twirls only an under-seven can perfect, digging in stubborn heels to slam on all brakes. Hardly graceful but very effective to show who’s boss.

One of the Co-op bags burst, spilling its contents over the wet pavement. The bus pulled away. The woman sagged into a stoop of defeat.

Chasing a couple of onions and a can of tomatoes towards the gutter, it crossed my mind to suggest brightly that next time she ask for one of those sturdier bag for life thingamajigs.

They don’t last quite that long, to be honest. Nothing lasts for life – not even stroppy kids. But they don’t let you down at bus stops. The bags, I mean. Kids, I suppose, often do.

But as I handed over her scattered groceries, I switched from offering helpful advice.

Best not antagonise the child further.

This was one scary kid. The scowl hinted another temper-tantrum might be in the offing. And I don’t do scary kids.

“Can I help at all?”

“You can deliver this one back to her mother, if you like. She hates her gran.”

The smile was weak and weary. The child was sullen.

“But thanks anyway.”

Strike day. I should have known. Grandma heroically in charge while mum’s at work and teacher’s marching for a pension. And this is what she gets for her pains.

“School been closed?”

She was stuffing onions and a tin of corned beef into her handbag.

“Can’t say I blame them really,” she said, finding room in a coat pocket for a soggy packet of crumpets.

“It was the selection boxes in Spar that set this off. Someone can’t wait for Christmas.”

“It is Christmas!” The child was now kicking the wall of the bus shelter, making it rattle.

They’re a much underrated resource, grandmas. Undervalued and largely unappreciated, I’d say.

Always there in a crisis, never likely to turn down any reasonable no-notice request for rescue from domestic disaster and, on the whole, largely uncomplaining, though they are rarely paid a penny for their invaluable efforts and endless care.

How do families manage without grandmas? They aren’t for hating.

They’re not even for disliking just a little bit. Certainly not for the sake of an early selection box when it isn’t yet Christmas.

I’d have climbed up onto my Love Your Granny soapbox and preached loudly with pompous authority – had I not been terrified of the mini-monster arranging her face into a snarl.

She may have been small but she’d a temper on her like Stromboli in a storm and I never was any good with volcanic children. Particularly not the kind who kick.

With close to a week’s groceries crammed into her clothing, this long-suffering lady looked like an over-stuffed mattress as she waited for the next bus to Carlisle, her tempestuous grandchild still hanging from her right hand.

How she was going to board the bus, find her purse under the onions to pay the fare or manoeuvre herself and the volcano into a seat was beyond imagination.

It would surely have been easier to buy a selection box, surrender to early Christmas and have done with it.

“Well, good luck,” I said, getting ready to amble off toward home.

“Hope you get a nice quiet evening.”

The child was looking up now with something you might almost describe as an approximation of a smile.

“And you, young lady – look after your grandma. I wish I still had mine.”

She did smile at that. She was pretty when she smiled and a warm gust of family and season of goodwill rushed into the damp bus shelter, lit by twinkly lights draped across the Marketplace and Moot Hall.

“Bye – and have a good Christmas.”

“See! Told you!”

Lord, I could have bitten my tongue off.

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