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  • We used to call her Grandma Buggins. A joky name for a scary thing. The last time I met her I was only four. Had age softened her? It must have done.

    My father kept the visits short and intermittent. On our last, she had made a special treat - blamange made with the curdled milk from her ancient, whistling fridge. My mother took pity on me and ate my helping whilst Buggins disappeared into the recesses of the house.

    Buggins, of course, was delighted and immediately presented me with another.

    You see - my father laughed at her. She was a joke. A bogeyman from his childhood.

    My grandfather however was quietly furious with her. Had been furious with her since he was three years old.

    It was a common disease in the 1920's. Parents lost children; children lost parents. The latter was true in my grandfather's case. Aged three he lost his mother. By all accounts she was rather beautiful, a musician with long elegant fingers. TB is no respector of fine pianist's hands or a sweet face however and a stout, no-nonsense, novacastrian TB nurse moved in for the final stages. Grandma Buggins.

    As grandpa remembered it, the transition was seamless. One day, his mother laid in bed, the next an empty white sheet with hospital corners and Grandma Buggins' feet firmly installed under the table. Then, a speedy wedding - the haste perhaps unseemly. But nothing issued, nothing scandalous. Life continued.


    Grandma Buggins burnt every picture of his mother in the house. Nothing remained. Even from the wedding pictures, her face was neatly excised. I can remember my father weeping when he told me this.

    Undoubtedly, she was a hard woman and had had to be. She was a child of the Dickensian Newcastle slums and she let grandpa know it. Relentlessly. Thirteen children to a family. Factory work. Bairns frozen in their cots. I know she walked to school in the winter without shoes. Bare feet on the frozen cobbles walking the miles to the school that probably took her out of those very same slums. Why should he have something she didn't?

    And yet?

    Years later I would hear my father's voice raised in a fury over a messy room, an inconsiderate word or frustrating car drive - a torrent of Novacastrian abuse would well up, breaking the dams. Undeniably, her voice.

    "Stop clarting about!.... You daft apeth!.... Stop looking so glaiket!....Will you stop your f****** yammering!"

    She passed something on. Her terms of rebuke, still ripe after all these years.
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