All four of my grandparents had died by the time I was eight; on my father’s side before I was born and on mum’s about a year apart, in 1968 and 1969. Step forward, Eva Davis. Eva had already reached pensionable age by the time I was born. She was married to Ernest, and they had no children of their own. They lived diagonally opposite to me – in a little bungalow they’d christened Evern – and Mrs D, as I came to call her, became my ‘surrogate’ grandmother.
Dear Mrs D
Simon here. Do you remember how I used to trot down your pathway and tap at the kitchen window – to peer in and find you, more often than not, wrestling with the weekly wash? After a few seconds, you’d spot me and shout: “Ah, here comes my boyfriend!”
My earliest memories are when you looked after me – on the occasions when when mum and dad had to return to the Midlands for mum’s parents’ funerals. I think I led you a merry dance, refusing to wash behind my ears:
Me: “my mum doesn’t make me wash behind my ears.”
You: “I don’t care what your mum does, I’m looking after you now, and you damn well will wash behind your ears.”
I also recall driving you bonkers by repeatedly ringing those cowbells you had hanging in the hallway and whizzing round the tiny figures of the man and woman in the barometer.
As I grew, I revealed a minor talent for impressions and, whenever you and Ernest came over to our house for dinner, I would put on a little show – I think Eric Morecambe was my best attempt, together with a disturbingly accurate rendition of Cliff Richard’s 1968 Eurovision entry, Congratulations, complete with knee actions! I also – rather bizarrely, looking back – created a dog museum in my bedroom. I’d assembled all sorts of books, china ornaments and general paraphernalia concerning our canine friends. I used to charge 20p entrance fee and, as far as I recall, you were the only one who ever had the misfortune to visit it. To add insult to injury, I insisted you did so every time you came over and, at one point, I remember you kicking up a fuss about having to pay the 20p on every occasion!
I always scuttled over to show you anything I’d bought. In 1975, I proudly presented you with my first album, A Night At The Opera. I remember handing you the album sleeve, you reading the title and saying: “Ooo, that’ll be nice…” (thinking it was a night at the opera, rather than A Night At The Opera, if you see what I mean). However, over the years, you went on to become almost as much a fan of Queen as I was – not that you had much choice – and I know you particularly enjoyed the hard-rocking number Tie Your Mother Down. Respect!
Despite your years, you looked after Ernest unflinchingly when he became so ill. Then, after his death, you stayed on alone in that house, despite a car accident and a hip replacement, and reached the amazing age of 100. You were stubborn, though: I remember that time you fell in the garden and waited there all night rather than press the button on the emergency pendant you kept round your neck – “I don’t want to be burden” was your excuse! Eventually, you had to go in to a care home and Christopher and I would come over on Sunday mornings and push you round the block in your wheelchair, for a bit of much-needed fresh air and sunshine. You maintained that your eyesight had gone, although I clearly remember you being able to instantly distinguish between note denominations when giving Christopher a bit of pocket money. In fact, I swear you even knew the serial numbers! Christopher and I still laugh about that to this day.
So, thank you. Mrs D. We spent many hours in each other’s company over the years and had some good times together.
Simon, your ‘boyfriend’