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  • My Dad's Mum, my Granny, Phyllis, was known to all of her ten grandchildren as "Barnham Granny"

    She was an amazingly resourceful cook. My cousin Kate & I both strain with guarded but keen desire for her old handwritten recipe notes. They speak of how to create peppermint creams within the confines of the rationing that became her commonplace in World War II. My aunt used to tell me of tuck boxes sent to her at boarding school, filled with sweets, made from complicated substitutions of cornflour, essence and glycerine.

    My Granny lived in a toll cottage, on Lake Lane, in a tiny Sussex village called Barnham. She and my Grandpa retired there, and lived opposite a bakery - Holt's bakery. (Which has since been demolished and turned into townhouses. Such is life.)

    She was a strong woman.By the time I came along, nearly the last grandchild, she had aged and mellowed. My fondness for her was, quite simply, beyond measure. She had a grin that warmed the whole world. My perpetual memories of her were her beautiful voice, her huge bust and the cigarette the was her constant companion. She was a coffee aficionado. Of her and her gurgling coffee machine, and her laugh: I was so fond. With her red hair and her cuddles and her protection, I was so comfortable.

    She smelled so good. Of baking, of tea rose, of cigarettes, of coffee. She was strong and tough and gentle and simple and sophisticated all in one hit of loveliness. I search for photos of her - the snaps never do justice to her persona, at all.

    But due to the nature of her proximity to the bakery, her bread baking days were done! She could concentrate on less arduous baking; and quicker treats, often with me at her side. She taught me so much.

    She served tea. High teas. Jam tarts, and scones. Fruit cakes and iced fancies - sugar & butter and eggs and fruit in the 1970's were a long way from rationing, and she made the most of it! And sandwiches, made from bread from the local bakery across the lane.

    Always at the dining table, we would wait for her to slice extra bread. A whole fresh loaf. A 2lb loaf, no less, to entertain her grandchildren. It was often slightly stale. How was that? It was still delicious, but a little stale? My sister and I were reminiscing over this the other day. How did we buy fresh bread and then eat stale?!

    But she would hold that bread under her arm like a baby, against her bust, and slice the most perfect thin slices. No squashed crumb. She evidently had had years of practice to get the tension and pressure just right. Never a nick or a cut, and certainly she never caught her cardy or her pinny strings with the end of the knife.

    Just perfect slices of easy bread.

    I miss her. I bake for my children, and I miss her presence. I yearn for that comfort, those stories, that smell and that smile. In the spaces in between, as I bake, I wonder how she would look upon us all?

    She was, quite simply, the best thing since sliced bread.
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