Wednesday, 16 June 2010


These are my paternal grandparents Ernest Sidney King and Lilian Rose King who hailed from and lived in Coventry all their lives. However every summer they climbed into their Bedford Dormobile and followed John Betjeman's Shell Guide exploring various corners of Britain. They held little truck with 'abroad', though they once managed a weekend in Versailes and on another occasion, a day trip to Calais. They flew only twice in their lives - to see we grandchildren in Northern Ireland when they were getting on a bit to manage the long drive up to Scotland to make the ferry (and they were pushing 70 by the time we were born)

One of the high points of their travels was reaching John O'Groats.

My grandfather (second right) enjoyed chess. He also acted in plays put on by his engineering company Brico, and had roles in JB Priestley's 'An Inspector Calls' among a number of other productions. He was a quiet and highly dignified man who announced his presence with the sweet scent of a herbal tobacco pipe, but if you asked him something he would immediately light up and go to great lengths to explain it to you. No one dared to open the Coventry Evening Telegraph each night before he had read it and commented wryly on what the powers that be ('they') were up to now. He handled all his possessions with a kind of reverence, as if they were the most precious objects, and was of that generation who would warm up the television set (never the TV) for ten minutes before watching it. He once became quite animated when I used his Parker pen nib to slit open the cellophane around a jigsaw - as if I had committed the greatest act of negligence. I was careful to ask permission to use his things first ever after. I know now that he grew up in a very impoverished family, often going to bed hungry as a child, though many who survived WWI went on to make quite a success of their lives including my grandfather. When he retired from work as a factory Foreman he was given a huge music centre in an unwieldy walnut cabinet and a large early colour box television set in matching walnut, so they must have thought a lot of him.

This is my grandmother Lil in her younger days. She always had a lucky streak with the bingo and won at least as much as she lost, including sometimes bizarre prizes such as candlewick bedspreads. Each of her sucession of cats was trained to walk down to the end of Loudon Avenue to meet her at 4.30pm precisely and accompany her the rest of the way home. She liked to fancy she had a sixth sense and told me that when she and Ernest were walking home one evening after a wartime bombing raid, she had a bad feeling and insisted they walk a mile out of their way to go home. Grandfather was reluctant but eventually agreed. Later on a bomb went off in middle of the street they would have normally walked home down. She was full of stories about everyone in the street, who'd died and who hadn't, how the bodies were laid out on the green after the bombing raids, and was somewhat proud they were the last original residents from when the street was built in 1926, though I took her story about having a miscarriage after the hun flew low over the garden and smirked as she saw his swastika, with a pinch of salt as the explanation for why she'd only had my father. One of her proudest moments was getting a job in the Co-Op department store Offices at the age of 64, when they didn't take on anyone over 60 at that time. This she had done by claiming her birth certificate had been 'lost in the blitz.'

My grandparents were also very green

The cornerstone of their marriage seemed to be the joke that one year Grandpa asked Grandma what she would like for her birthday. She had replied 'a goblin', meaning the brand of vacuum cleaner. What she got was a garden gnome.

Like most of their possessions the vulgar fellow was lovingly tended with a fresh coat of paint every year, presiding over their garden pond for more then 40 years. Like most of their possessions, it saw them out.


Matthew Pass said...

What a lovely reminiscence (sp?). As a recent recipient of two gorgeous kittens as an anniversary present, do spill the beans on the training methods!

Steve said...

Love the goblin anecdote. It's bizarre what our grandparents set their hearts on, isn't it. My nan always wanted a nest of tables and was overjoyed when she got a set. They had pride of place in her living room for years.

Nota Bene said...

I love the fact that you know all this...I remember and know much less about my grandparents...

rb said...

Ah lovely, makes me wonder what those who come after will say about us.

Wisewebwoman said...

I have a similar pic of my rellies and a van like that, Laura.
I love the picture of her reading the paper and he sitting on the 'travel rug' with his cuppa. Like they were at home in their parlour.
What interesting lives. I love how you write about them. How he treasured his possessions.
Yes, sadly, in the last wee while I've heard a few stories about children going to bed hungry. Breaks one's heart.

Steerforth said...

What a lovely portrait of two people who sound as if they epitomised all that was good about Britain in those days. I love the photo of them sitting in front of their van.

Please share more of your family photos and memories.

The Sagittarian said...

Lovely memories, Laura. I have great affection for 'olde stories'...and you did give me a chuckle with that garden gnome story! Thats the sort of thing my own father would have done.

teeni said...

I love when you write about your family. You have such a wonderful style and it is so easy to read and picture in my mind's eye.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Sorry Matthew, my grandma never divulged her top-secret kitten-training techniques. Though I understand a few of her earlier kitties worked for The Resistance.

Steve, yes indeed. What WAS it about nests of tables?? All my grandmother's generation seemed to be crazy about them and covetous of one if they did not possess such.

NotaBene. Thank you. I guess I remember so much as I lived with them for 6 months as a teenager and then went on to be a bit of a carer to my grandmother when my grandfather died.

RB. Well I guess I don't have to worry on that score since I haven't procreated, but I'm sure you're doing your utmost to have nice things said about you!

WWW. Thanks. And how astute of you to notice that my grandparents seem to have transplanted their parlour along with their van. Or rather behave on holiday much like they did at home with just a change of evening paper for exoticism! I do think it's a shame how so many of our possessions are so throwaway now though and find myself treasuring clothes and bits of jewellery long after fashion.

Thanks Steerforth. I will try, though my next supply of photos is probably dependent on my next parental visit to raid the suitcase!

Thanks Sagittarian - I look forward to hearing your own family stories soon (no harm in starting with the dead rellies who can't answer back, I always find!)

Thanks Teeni. A little too simplistic perhaps but then they did live simpler lives. We only seem to have developed complicated emotions in the last 20 years or so! ;- )