My beloved mum used to put on silly voices and invent preposterous names to get on LBC radio. She especially loved Brian Hayes and I was also an avid listener to his show prior to working with him on BBC Radio 2 many years later. I could spot her a mile off. One day she started with a super-posh voice, calling herself Myrtle. “Air, hair lair Brahn. MARvellous to spick choo.” (say out loud and it’ll make sense). “Hello Margaret” sighed Brian Hayes, realising once again that he and his researchers had been duped. Brian Hayes was famed for his ascerbic wit, often brusque manner and no-nonsense attitude to some of his callers. Whenever Mum rang in, he was flummoxed and often silenced (which was when I realised it was Mum on the end of the line). She once called in to talk about how cleaners should be allowed to wear trousers rather than skirts. Her reason, I thought was a practical one and for modesty. No, Mum’s reason for the tirade was because she’d seen the Queen wearing trousers, had written to Buckingham palace to tell her to wear trousers to the next Royal occasion and was trying to start a trend. No amount of Brian trying to explain that Her Majesty always wears gowns was going to convince her. Sadly, years later I could never tell Mum that I was producing Brian’s Radio 2 show in case she turned up and caused havoc. I nearly cracked once when she mentioned him and sighed whistfully … ” I wonder where’s he ended up … I did love him so.”
This morning I was being interviewed by Ben Jackson on BBC Radio Leciester about my new book, “Granny Franny’as Big Red Bus” and it reminded me just how wonderful radio is. I didn’t put on a silly voice, but I was channeling Mum in some ways, because it was her sheer exuberance for new things that partly inspired me to do what all my friends thought was total madness – to learn how to drive a bus. With lots of my friends bemoaning the lack of new material with which to inspire their children to read and the fact that so many bus drivers have faced such difficulties throughout the COVD-19 crisis, I thought that the time was right to re-create the sense of fun and adventure of driving a bus – through the eyes of an old lady who is constantly surprising her grand children. And yes, she buys and learns how to drive an old London bus and gets herself into all sorts of scrapes trying to get back in time. Luckily the book has piqued a lot of interest and is getting some lovely reviews. Ben Jackson on BBC Leicester asked me how I’d approached writing and illustrating the book myself and after half a second to think about it I realised that I’ve done what I always do and jumped straight in and learned along the way. One of my professional artist friends remarked on how clever it was to create illustrations that look childish and rough, like a child would draw. Errr … yes, of course (splutter), that’s exactly the feeling I was going for. Nothing to do with the fact that I’ve never really drawn in my life and the pictures do look child-like because I’ve never had any artistic training. Thank goodness for my beloved husband who’s eye for detail is incredible. He helped me with perspective, authentic bus features and continuity. Without him my scene where Granny Franny rocks up to a wonky, out-of-proportion Buckingham Palace would have haunted me.
I’ll let you into a secret and if you’re reading this Jenny, I apologise. I got completely lost once while driving a party of very posh “air hair lair” wedding guests from the Guard’s Chapel in Birdcage Walk to Piccadilly Circus. You’re not allowed to drive buses in the Royal Parks without a licence and I don’t think I had one. The day was a driving nightmare as the Extinction Rebellion marches had closed Parliament Square and most roads suitable for buses. There was only one thing for it, so I took a deep breath, warned the conductor and drove past the front of Buckingham Palace and through the Park, hoping that the width restriction I saw coming up wouldn’t force me to do a U-turn. We made it and that little scene might just have inspired one of the scenes in the book which always amuses the children who’ve read it.
It’s been so lovely to be on the other side of the radio microphone for a change and even lovelier to have seen that a few grannies are now buying the book for their bus-loving grand children. I think what’s intriguing people is that a step-nanny like me realised a lifelong ambition to drive a bus, had fun doing it and is now using the whole process to help put back. Mum would have been so proud of hearing me on the radio and I know she would have jammed the switchboard trying to ring in to tell me to get more sleep.
Ding, ding, ding – Granny Franny’s Big Red Bus is available via www.grannyfrannysbigredbus.com and on Amazon.