Lala, third from left, with her mates in Italy, 1958.
Lala, my mum’s mum, Winifred, who lived in Newport on the Isle of Wight.
We lived with her and Ernest, my grandfather, from when I was six for a couple of years.
She was probably the loveliest person I ever knew and I think of her a lot.
She was from Darlington, and was a nurse. She was one of six girls and a boy.
My mum Rita, was funny and intelligent, not so given over to sentimental stuff and probably a bit frustrated at having 3 children and one on the way (Dudu) when we got there. Halbery House, a paradise of trees and a real railway line.
But Lala was a glorious, kind and generous soul. I christened her Eyelye, because one of the songs she used to sing as a lullaby was ‘I li-li- Like You Very Much’ made popular by a fruit-headressed singer called Carmen Miranda. This got changed to Lala by Shar or Nigel pretty quickly.
I inherited and passed down ‘Lulla Lulla Lulla Lulla Bye Bye (Do You Want The Stars To Play With?) to sing to Chloë and Phoebe. I feel a bit weepy just thinking of it. Also she sang “Lullabye of Broadway”, and others. All beautiful tunes that have stayed with me. ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ and ‘Daisy Daisy (give me your answer do, I’m half crazy oh for the love of you.)’
In the morning she’d treat us to ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’. Mum would be making breakfast and getting me ready for school. She probably thought she could do without a constant cabaret, but honestly the memory of her is so indelible. All those songs are late arrivals but welcome additions to my DNA.
I don’t think she ever told us off. She was so sweet, so genuine, and probably slightly eccentric, but when one of her sisters came for tea (Blanche, or Eve, or Cecilia, or her brother Lou and their husbands and wife) they would sit in the front room and drink tea and laugh and chat for hours.
Us kids always had the left over sandwiches, which we didn’t look forward to much because they stank of tobacco. And they were probably filled with fish paste, a hideous sandwich filler made by Shippams which was truly disgusting.
She was a great cook, and passed down her rich Northern cooking to our Mum, who could carve beef you could read the paper through. And the gravy. It was the best ever. Really.
She was so sentimental, but even at my tender years she’d tell me what she was reading. They were usually biographies whereas my mum loved whodunnits.
She’d recite poetry: Thomas Hood’s I Remember (I remember the house where I was born.) was a favourite, along with lots of Tennyson…
Her husband Ernest was bedridden with a dodgy heart. He was quite frail and not so evenly good natured as Lala, but he was apparently a really good teacher, and when I met my lifelong friend Pete Matthews when I was 16, his dad told me he was the best teacher he ever had.
She was a heavy smoker though, and she died in her early 70s ( not before having had a great trip to Venice and sending us all postcards, she was so thoughtful).
I think death was on her mind when she recited some Tennyson in our kitchen at Portsmouth when I was a teenager:
‘Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea…’
I said it sounded as though she’d be having a last drink before she’d set off.
She laughed and said she’d never thought of that, and that I’d cheered her up and would always think of it when the lines occurred.
That was typical.
I never met a more gracious, optimistic person and I treasure her memory.
“If you’re worried and can’t get to sleep J dear, just roll all your worries up like a ball of cotton wool and throw them away.”