For Jeannine

A little while back I wrote this post all about my grandfather and how influential and wonderful he is. Today is another very special day, for a very special person, and sadly I’m once again at the other end of the country in inconvenient ways, but I wanted to take a second to share everything I remember and love about Jeannine (my wonderful grandmother).

Jeannine is French. She likes to pretend she isn’t, by living in the UK (and other places that aren’t France) for a significant portion of her life, and by speaking perfect English, and by having various quirky English habits, but she can’t escape it. Two things I quickly learnt as a young child were that the French accent is pervasive and emphatic, and that if you’re an angry French lady there’s really no reason not to let the entire world know it – because they’ll probably end up doing what you want them to.

These are the experiences which helped me understand what it means to be a strong woman. Jeannine is the matriarch of our little family, but also of a much wider dynasty of crazy French folk who followed her lead and took up residence in various parts of the UK. She’s a trailblazer, and an icon. She came to live with my grandfather after the second world war, before moving to Borneo, Afghanistan, and numerous places in between. She learnt fluent English as well as  mastering bits of other languages – before I began my undergraduate degree I discovered she had learnt Farsi (which unfortunately didn’t help me at all in my dreams of Arabic language perfection).

She is an artist, and holidays when I was little were filled with sitting up in her studio or in the summerhouse at the back of the garden, throwing paint at pieces of paper and wishing I could create such delicate masterpieces as her paintings. She knitted, and I had a blue cardigan/dressing gown which I wore for years and years after I grew out of it. Alongside the paining and knitting there was tapestry and crochet, and all kinds of other creative pursuits which I keenly tried to imitate.

Later, when I was old enough to hold sensible conversations, we moved into chats across the breakfast table on every subject imaginable. I’ve taken lots of inspiration from her book choices, which are infinite but all somehow educational, meaning she now seems to have a knowledge of just about everything, from Indian colonial history to the Wimbledon Ladies’ finalists of the last 20 years.

And then there were (and are, because they are still there, being played with by her hoards of great-grandchildren) the games. Woofits “Happy Families”, pick-up-stix, snakes and ladders, and a funny little ludo set which retained its pieces like no board game I’ve ever seen. And a box of tiddlywinks, which I never quite mastered. We’d play for hours, graduating on to proper playing cards when we were a bit older. Bridge hasn’t grabbed my attention, but the range of other games I learnt did.

When I lived in Spain, only 3 short years ago, she even came to visit me. We walked around the Alhambra, saw all of the decorated displays, and by the end I was probably more tired than my grandmother. But then, like Geoff, she never liked being called grandmother because it made her feel old, and it is as if she has spent my whole life proving that point to me. She reads this blog, skypes her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and emailed me from her iPad to congratulate me on passing my Masters. I live in the hope that I’ll be so young when I’ve got great-grandchildren of my own.


Happy Birthday Jeannine!

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