Alison and Nain
Right, so my object is a figurine from Singapore and it’s of a typical Japanese lady, I would say, erm holding a pink umbrella. And she’s got all these decorated flowers all around her, holding her hands out and with the, the typical face, and a big erm apron . . . material down the back that folds; I’d say it’s a bit like angel wings really. And erm, I inherited it from my Grandmother because she . . . it was a figurine that my Dad bought in Singapore in the ‘60s. He was there with the navy between 1961 and 1963 and erm so, he was only in his early twenties. And whilst he was there he became, they advertised for pen pals, and my Mum was somebody who responded to the advert to be a pen pal. So it ties in nicely with my Mum because when he came back from Singapore, with this present for my Grandmother, it was actually the first time that he met my Mum. And they met together at the Kings Cross station as my Mum was going backpacking around er Yugoslavia with a friend. So it kind of ties in nicely really. Erm . . . and it was a figurine that she always cherished. So yes.
I value the object because to me it symbolises my childhood. It always stood on a table in my Grandmother’s living room and next to it was a photograph of my parents (when they got married) in the back of a taxi; a black and white ‘60s picture, taken in 1965. And on this table there was always photographs and other little memorabilia that my Grandmother had picked up over the years. And myself and my cousins and my brother, we could never touch this table, erm, but we were allowed to look at it. So as a small young girl, almost at eye height with her, I used to look at her and used to feel that it was quite
enigmatic, cos I could never touch her. But I used to often dream what country she came from, ya know? Where did she come from, what was her story? And as a child with imagination, I used to dream many things so . . . erm, so because of that, because of the childhood that I used to spend in Wales with my Grandmother (well Nain actually is the Welsh name for Grandmother), it symbolises all those childhoods that I’d stay with her because my Dad was away in the navy. And er yeah, just lots of summers in the 1970s.
My Grandmother lived to a great age. She was ninety-four when she died. So it wasn’t as though her death was unexpected. So you could say that as she got older and you contemplate what was going to happen, I’d always thought that when the time came, that if anybody ever asked me was there something that I could have to remember her by, it would be the figurine.
When my Grandmother died, erm . . . ya know my cousins, my Dad and his brother, obviously sort of sorted out my Grandmother’s house and all her effects. Erm and this, this figurine was the one that my Dad gave to me and erm, yeah it means so much. So I s’pose when I come to talk about my Grandmother, it’s the one thing that I would choose; there would be no other option. I have other things from her and various objects and bits of clothing and er etc, but it would always be this one; there would be no other one.
Yeah that’s what she was. She would do anything for anyone.
The fact that she has such mystery about her, erm the object. Or I, my perception has always been she has such mystery. But she came away from a far off land, and my Grandmother ya know, part of my Dad’s family, they were all Welsh. So I consider myself to be half Welsh. Erm yet she comes from this land that is far away from where I live here in Dorset, but she held so many memories for me that there’s that strange connection. It’s this mysterious object, it. . . my Grandmother wasn’t mysterious but she was so full of enigmatic stories and she could just tell the most amazing things. And the stories that she would talk to us about: the war and how she coped with life and . . . she was a never ending stream of just such interesting amazing life histories in what she did. Erm, and it kind of encapsulated in the figurine. Doesn’t look like her, but yeah.
Well I came to own it because obviously my Grandmother died. She was born in 1918, died in 19. . . 2012, and erm . . . yeah. How did I come to own it? I owned it because she died. It could never have been an object that I could have had to keep when my Grandmother was alive because it was my Grandmother’s, and because it was given to her from my Dad as a young man. My Grandmother cherished everything that all her sons ever gave to her, and her family was really important to her. Her youngest son died in his thirties and erm, I would never have dreamed of having it when she was alive. But I’m just privileged to have it when she’s, when she’s dead. And it’s something that sits on the chest of drawers in our living room and I glance at it and I look at it. I’ve never dusted it (it’s a year and a bit that I’ve had it) cos I kind of think that it’s probably got dust on it from my Grandmother’s house, and all the memories that go with dust and how did it get there? Erm and also she’s had her head knocked off at some point and glued back on, and I think a finger glued back on. And I don’t think I ever would. It’s the kind of figurine that is very different to what we have in our house. Erm, I s’pose some might call it garish. And it’s most definitely not my husband’s cup of tea and he’s joked about actually smashing it, but he would never smash it because of what it means to me. Never. But erm, yeah it’s at complete odds, but I like it.
What I like about it, is the complexity and the intricacy in all the flowers that are arranged on it. Erm, the way she looks; she’s kind of like staring off into the middle distance. The way her hands are open, they’re not clasped together, they’re open as though beckoning I think. Erm do I dislike anything? No, even though I think my Grandmother glued her head on rather strangely. Erm, I like the fact that it’s like that because
actually it shows to me how much my Grandmother treasured it and how much it meant to her, cos perhaps some people, I don’t know, would have just discarded something when it’s broken. But she didn’t. And that’s my Grandmother all over, she er, she would mend things. She would make do and that was just the spirit that she was. And I kind of like to think that I’m something very similar. Erm, when things that I treasure . . . I don’t, I don’t get rid of them. I would mend them.
My Grandmother was somebody who I spent a lot of time with in my childhood, with my Dad away. She would, we would either go out to Wales to stay with her, where we’d play with our cousins, or as we got older into teenage years, she would come down and stay with us during school holidays, as both my parents worked. Erm, so we spent a lot of time with her. And then when I had my own daughter in 2000, for several years I would take my daughter up to Wales, so that she would get to know her Welsh family. And then as time wore on and more elderly she became, I’d probably say that the latter part of her eighties she developed quite erm, dunno if you’d call it dementia, probably. Erm and she would start to, to not recognise things. So a difficult memory I have . . . would be of phone calls, where I would ring her up and I would say, "Hey Nain, it’s Alison" and she didn’t know who I was and she’d be at the other end of the phone and she’d go, "Who?" and I’d say "Nain it’s me, it’s Alison" . . . and then as the conversation would wear on, or my one sided conversation, she would eventually say, "Ahhh Alison, bach, Alison!" And that would be, that would be okay. My Dad would always say to me, "It’s okay, I can, I can speak to Nain for you". That was sad.
A memory that I have of her, always her face fills my, my memory, my brain when I think of her. But th. . . always, always, always the first thing that I think of is erm back in the ‘70s, and she would have a kitchen that would be filled with sunlight (and erm must’ve been after the time I think that Bob Marley died) and she’s stood by the cooker and she’s cooking lunch and Bob Marley’s 3 Little Birds is playing on the radio. And always in her kitchen, she always had the radio on, which is something that I’m, I’ve always got the radio on myself and I think I’ve inherited that from her. And er, and she’s stood with her apron on, stirring something at the cooker. And she is dancing and singing to Bob Marley’s 3 Little Birds. So she would have been in her . . . sixties, late fifties, sixties, something like that. And yeah, I’ve always, when she died, the day she died I played it, repeatedly.
I’m not religious, however my Grandmother was very religious and eh, she was a Welsh Methodist. And the fact that my Grandmother and my father and my uncle, I would say that they’re all quite religious. But the fact that she had such a strong faith sort of sustained her throughout all her years. When she could, she’d go to church twice on a Sunday. Erm and even up until the later years when she, before she could actually, before she was housebound, she would still go to church. And it was something that she relied on sooo much and so heavily. She wasn’t dogmatic but it helped her get through the death of her husband, her son, her mum. All that happened in the, the ‘70s. And I think the fact that my Grandmother had such a strong faith enabled me to be at peace when she died, because I knew that she was at peace. Because it’s something that she’d followed through and she knew where she was going. Erm, so I don’t have a faith perspective but the fact that she did helped me cope with her dying, if that makes sense?
She absolutely adored my daughter. Erm, and she’s got many grandchildren now actually but my daughter was her second grandchild, er first grandchi . . . sorry, great-grandchild. Her first great-grandchild was a boy and my daughter was her first great-granddaughter. And the, the holidays that I spent with her, with my granddaughter, my granddaughter? My daughter erm . . . and I suppose I’ve got a beautiful picture of my Nain standing with my daughter and a bridge - Menai bridge, beyond which (if anybody knows Anglesey) it’s a very picturesque place. And my daughter’s only about six months old and my Grandmother is laughing and my daughter is smiling, and her hands are held upwards. And yeah, it’s a beautiful memory.
Well I suppose if I could say one more thing it would be . . .
it would just be, I love you.
When she died, it was because she’d had a fall at home. She’d never, she didn’t die of an illness. She didn’t die of anything. She just, she had a fall and she hit her head. And erm, she was taken to hospital where they declared there wasn’t really anything they could do for her because of her age and erm . . . so she died and there was an inquest held to determine the cause of death. Because sometimes, although somebody can
fall and hit their head, they can decide that there was other natural causes that led to them falling and hitting their head. But there wasn’t and the coroner said that she died as an accident. So that’s always a little bit sad cos she was ninety-four and she didn’t suffer from anything. She had no illnesses. I think, yes the dementia was setting in and y’know arthritis, and the normal things that would happen when you, when you get older. But she didn’t have any diseases. She just fell and hit her head. And that, that was a very sad part for all my family because that was the bit that they just felt, well ya know, it just came unfairly. But then equally my Dad and his brother I think felt that she didn’t suffer in any way. She didn’t, she didn’t have an awful illness that she was aware of things happening to her and she knew. But she wouldn’t, she wouldn’t really have known.
Yeah she was just such an amazing strong women. The tales that she used to tell from when they were on Anglesey during the war and how they used to keep the rabbits. And she would, she was somebody who always wrote lots of written records. She didn’t keep a diary but she kept notebooks of absolutely everything she ever bought. And she would show me her cupboard and it would just be filled with books and notepads. And to me it was almost like a social history cos you could look back through and see precisely what a woman of that day needed to buy, or anything. And erm, I can remember one time she kept this purse in her drawer and it obviously meant something to her. It was a purse that she’d had since the war I think, and she’d say to me, "You know Alison, I would go to my drawer and get the purse out and it would be empty" and so as she’d be telling you this, she would go to the drawer and get the purse out, open the purse and it would be empty. And she said, "And I would have an empty purse and I would have three boys that I needed to get food for and to clothe but I didn’t have any money." Ya know? And she was just really resourceful. And I think everybody at that time, everyone helped each other out. People would grow stuff, and yeah everyone did. But we certainly grew up knowing the hardships that everybody faced during the Second World War. Yeah, that was very strong, yeah. And equally I can remember tales about how she said they, she . . . the house that she lived in that I knew of, they’d lived there since my Dad was maybe ten, or I think that before early teens, about that age I think. And of course there was no hot water. There was no, nothing ya know, they would have a bath in front of the fire. In the tin bath. All of that ya know? By-gone-era.
My Dad didn’t learn any English ‘til he was twelve, he only spoke Welsh ya know? The biggest joke in the family though was that my Dad’s family, they’re all Welsh, yet my Grandmother was actually technically English, cos she was born in Liverpool. But my Dad only found that out several years ago when they were organising for her to have a passport cos they were taking her somewhere. She was going somewhere, I think to Australia or New Zealand. New Zealand I think, to see her sister. And he always tells a tale that I was the one who found her passport or birth certificate and said, "Ohhh, do you not realise, Nain’s actually born in Liverpool?!" But it wasn’t me! It was somebody else in the family. Erm yeah, she was actually born in Liverpool. She never considered herself to be English, no. Just so happened she was from Liverpool.