I’m trying to get my head round the fact that my grandmother actually gave birth to me. If you’re born with all your ovarian eggs then your mum will have developed hers in her own mother’s womb. No surprise then that the resemblances between the generations of grandmother and granddaughter are often remarkable. My Nanny Ellis was a one-off. She couldn’t pronounce my name properly and called me “Zoh-nee-yer”, much to Mum’s annoyance as it was ‘too Northern’. Mum was born in Sheffield and miraculously lost her accent when she left in her teens. Occasionally the odd word would slip out to show her roots and it would be hilarious to see her clap her hands over her mouth, widen her eyes, giggle and go completely quiet. A very, very, very rare thing, my mum going silent.
Nanny Ellis was in and out of mental institutions during her life which meant that my aunties and uncles were never together for long as they were farmed out to relations or, in Mum’s case, to foster carers. Was Mum having any of that? Not on your life. She’d escape at every opportunity and on one occasion managed to stay in France for a fortnight, according to her diary. They weren’t a very bonded mum and daughter as far as I could gather. I never once saw them hug each other or kiss each other hello or goodbye, but they were always very respectful. Well, nearly always, as Mum took great exception to the neat littles old lady dresses that Nanny Ellis used to love. Mum would turn up with fashionable slacks and colourful tops for her, but no. Nanny Ellis liked pale blue, beige and cream. Mum had flowing red hair when Nanny Ellis had short, mousy hair. Mum was glamorous, slim, curvy in all the right places and often mistaken for a British film star of the day. Nanny Ellis looked like an Ewok. In fact, all my aunties and uncles looked a bit like Ewoks, apart from the furry faces. Nanny Ellis was 4’8″, completely spherical, wore pebble glasses, was very deaf and shook her stick at people. She also thought that I lived at the BBC as she’d heard my name every-so-often on credits.
I once told Mum my theory that Nanny Ellis had actually given birth to me and she pondered it for a while before bursting out laughing at the audacious concept (her words, not mine). Then she thought very hard about her own grandmother who was tall, red-haired and eccentric. I’d never heard anything about her before and there it was – proof that the similarities between grandmother and granddaughter aren’t that peculiar after all. We say things like “it skipped a generation” when we marvel at how we may have our grandmother’s eyes or her talents, but it didn’t really skip anything if we were partly formed formed in her body.
Happy Grandmother’s Day Nanny Ellis. Thank you for giving birth to Mum and thank you for making me too.