Great Grandma Barmcake.

The most incongruous things spark off memories of people. In films, a piece of sappy music, a sunset or the smell of a flower stop the picture-perfect heroes in their tracks. None of the things that set me off down memory lane are particularly poetic, and they would be a total flop in a film scenario. Imagine Julia Roberts on screen, dramatically wiping back a tear and saying “I’m sorry, darling…… my emotions got the better of me. The sight of that slug reminded me of when I negotiated with my grandmother to bring my plastic ice cream tub of pet slugs into the house for the night”.

A limited number of simple things can catapult me headfirst into my childhood each and every time I see them. I think about Grandpop when I see an unusual postage stamp or a globe. My Grandad when I see a chocolate easter egg. My Aunty Laura (-my maternal grandmother, who refused to be called grand-anything at all-) when I see ladybirds, slugs, Ryvita or melted chocolate ice cream.

I think about Grandma when I see swallows and house martins, whisky and the colour purple. I particularly think about her when I’m ironing. Halfway through one of P.F’s shirts this week, I realised with a lurching tum that Grandma would have celebrated her birthday this weekend. She would no doubt have pulled out a bottle of Vimto and a pile of baps, and whopped together her legendary sausage barm cakes. Great Grandma Barmcake – or GGB for short – positively rocked in my son’s esteem after he tasted this bread bap stuffed full of sausages, covered with whatever sauce floats your boat. Mini-Bigfoot admired her to such a point that he felt bad about asking me to unpick the Noddy sewn on the woolly hat that she had sent him for Christmas years before, so that he could continue wearing it to school at the age of six without his schoolfriends taking the mickey out of him.

I saw her every summer as a child when she got on the train and crossed Britain to see us, and I have a huge pile of memories. Memories like asking her again and again to tell me how it felt to work on a sweet factory production line and not be allowed to eat any. Like watching her iron a shirt in less time than it took Flash Gordon to get to planet Mongo. Grandma reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to me at bedtime, with her throaty smoker’s voice and comforting mancunian accent. Chatting on the back step in summer as she smoked her cigarette and sipped her small daily glass of whisky and water, whilst swallows and house martins looped and screeched through the evening sky above our heads. Seeing her carefully picking coins out of her purse for our «spends» to buy sweets at the weekend.  My pride when she enthusiastically ate the breakfasts I took her in bed, only for her to admit with a chuckle – once I had grown up – that she couldn’t stand the milk and honey that I systematically put in her coffee and on her toast.

Back in 1980, St Winifred’s school choir spent a staggering 11 weeks in the charts with the ultimately cheesy « Grandma we love you ». By the time it had been N° 1 for two weeks, it was driving my mother up the wall (incidentally, I must remember to fix a date with my sister to line the kids up with their cousin and sing it to their grandmother, just to see how she reacts now that she is a grandmother). The song was force-fed to us on local radio, enchanting grandmothers nationwide – except mine, who grinned and told me I was a “daft bugger” when I sang it to her in my own off-key, off-the-wall way a good ten years later.

But one little piece of this song has now taken on a certain significance: “And one day, when you’re older, you’ll look back and say: there’s no-one quite like Grandma, she has helped us on our way”. There was certainly no-one quite like Grandma, and she’s still helping me on my way. Every time I hesitate about the right thing to do, I apply her sound philosophy on life:  « Always look after number one, ‘cos no other bugger will ».

Sometimes I take a sneaky peek at the sky to see if she’s sitting on the edge of a cloud, with a whisky glass in one hand and a Silk Cut in the other. I hope so. Happy birthday, Grandma.

30 thoughts on “Great Grandma Barmcake.

  1. As a Lancastrian myself, who knows what a barm-cake is and has eaten many a one filled with sausages, I absolutely loved this, MM. Thanks so much for pointing me to it. My Grandma was of an earlier generation and a very different personality, but the shrewdness, common-sense and readiness to call a spade a bloody shovel were the same. 🙂

    • I think Grandma would have loved to chat with you over a barmcake and a glass of Vimto. Another of her corkers, which I regularly use, is “Bugger that for a game o’ soldiers”. You can’t knock a good dose of Lancastrian common sense…..

      • My mum was from over them hills, the rest of us were immigrants from Yorkshire. My Granddad used to make bacon butties, which contained everything including black pudding. they were so big you had to eat some of the bacon before it was possible to close the sandwich and attempt to eat it.

        And of course a big mug of strong tea.

      • Bacon butties absolutely rock. I prefer them dripping with ketchup. I reckon your granddad’s butties must have been stuff for heroes… As for the cup of tea, I’ll have one in the afternoon but I’d prefer a bottle of Bishop’s Finger with my bacon butty, please.

  2. I love it to bits,,, makes me think of my Grand mom and Grand ma one a Scottish Lady that could have replaced the Queen Mother in my eyes and the other a pioneering lady who thought nothing of hitch hiking to visit her family a 1000 miles away… what memories… wonderful share…

    • Her grandchildren always bear it in mind – it doesn’t exclude taking care of others, which was something else she was very good at. She lived in Moss Side – one of the areas of Manchester that had (and I believe continues to have) a reputation as being a tad rough. A real diamond.

  3. What a super lady…and how right you are that it is the small things that bring back memories.
    My mother’s mother’s neighbour – stoutly Surrey – also used to say ‘bugger that for a game of soldiers’ so I wonder where that phrase came from originally…

    My grandmothers were from a different generation and were about a generation apart from each other; the Scots one was a holy terror – the devil had no chance to make work in her household where an idle hand was unknown except on the Sabbath when it was obligatory; the English one believed in children being seen but not heard to which end they were to be stuffed with cake and sent into the garden, so both were more remote than your Grandma, but your post has brought them both back to me, as vivid as in their lifetimes, so, with the Scots one’s eye on me I’d better get off my backside and do something about the state of the floors…

    • “Better seen and not heard”? Grandma was the one who got us revved up most of the time. My grandfather was of Scottish origins too – very calm and quiet and loved eating sweets in his chair. My other grandfather was an Irish professor and my grandmother was a Welsh nurse who would fart noisily, then grin and say “better an empty house than a bad tenant” to anyone who happened to be in the vicinity.

  4. Aw, what a sweet post! She sounded like a great lady 🙂 And I love her advice – so true! (I think I’ll call everyone ‘a daft bugger’ for the next few days – I like that very much) 😉

    • She was a force to be reckoned with. I regularly call strangers daft buggers when I’m driving – it’s a lovely thing to roll of the tongue (preceded by a loud “Ee by gum” to make it more credible). Gosh, that reminds me of a song by the Goodies – “Black Pudding Bertha”. I loooove the Goodies. (MM runs off to listen to it on You Tube).

    • She was a diamond. I shudder to think what my grandchildren will say about me. My kids say I will be a wild-eyed barmpot who plays with playmobils and takes photos of the other inmates at the old people’s home, à la Rain man. Suits me fine.

  5. As someone who grew up without a Gran, I see that there’s a lot I missed out on. I shall make notes, however, for when I’m a Granny and can call everyone a daft bugger. I plan to be like the old lady who will dress in purple with a red hat and eat three pounds of sausages in one go – seems a good a role model as any 🙂

    • Oh, yes! Sounds like fun. Don’t forget the chip butties too. Can we sit on a bench together and stone the pigeons? Then we’ll race each other with our Zimmer Frames and the last one back to the residence has to clean the others’ false teeth.

      • Stoning pigeons is already a hobby of mine so I’ll look forward to making this a team sport. I’m going to start training now for the Zimmer Frame races as there’s no way I’m cleaning anyone else’s false teeth!! 😉

        This is how I imagine we’ll be as old Grannies:

      • Excellent. May the best woman win. I bags first turn putting laxatives in someone else’s hot chocolate. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put wheels on the heels of my K’s lace-ups.

  6. What a great post. It made me think about all the things I remember about my two Grandmothers. Sadly not too much of my paternal grandmother, but lots about my maternal one who I remember spending lots of time with during holidays/weekends. I always loved staying with her.

    • Hi, Elaine, Queen of the lemon drizzle cake! Hope life is treating you well.
      Isn’t it weird how our brain keeps childhood memories intact? Yet every day we are building memories for someone else… Sniff.

      • Oh yes, life is treating me very well, and very busily (is that a word?). I sometimes think about the fact that we are making memories for someone else – and it’s often the inconsequential things that they remember, rather than the ‘big’ things that we think they will!

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