Grand Tales #3 Pancakes and Morals
The kitchen is filled with childhood smells this morning. I’ve just made a small batch of a famous chef’s Drop Scone Scotch Pancakes, though they aren’t hers. She’s dead wrong about that. They’re (minus the orange zest?!) a post war classic recipe that mums and grans across the nation were making long before she was. They’re as much my granny’s as anyone’s and that is now all I can smell. My grandmother’s kitchen.
One of the first memories I have is wearing an orange and yellow checked pinny that my granny had made for me, another lost item I lament.
In her kitchen, on a chair, spoon in hand stirring. She’s touching the griddle on the electric stove with her bare finger and I am warned this is not for me to do. The first sizzle of pancake batter and I’m excited, I know that this one, the first one will never be as brown as the rest and I also know that this first one is definitely mine. We make pancakes weekly for a PROBUS social club and she liked them to be right for the men.
The memories that spring forth from this are: being allowed to lick the spoon, always getting a teeny pancake with the last of the batter and the way that golden syrup flows off a spoon in golden rivulets.
My grandmother, being a touch renegade, always used to allow me to do things that other people wouldn’t let you do.
Licking the spoon was one of them. She had no fear of a raw egg.
I think this came from being a farmers daughter, though I can never be sure. All I know is, sore tummies were not a thing I was afflicted by and so I deem it sound.
She used to give me half a stick of Wrigley’s Original Chewing Gum, before they ruined it and occasionally, if she was bending that way, half a Juicy Fruit.
She always had seven staple things in her handbag. A purse, a mirror, lipstick, a pen, a tissue, a string shopping bag, and a packet of chewing gum. I know this because like any child, I would empty and fill her bag over and over until she stopped me.
The strict rule in my house about chewing gum was: My friends and their cousins might be allowed Hubba Bubba, but I was not! Ha!
Ok, den. Smirk, Smirk.
She’d let me sit on the arm of the chair, she’d let me be in charge of the remote control and frantically flick through channels, all while I chewed on the glorious gum.
Everyone needs a private life to one extent or another, even children.
She’d make me pretend to still be 5 on the bus so we could skip my fare and so we lived on in happy oblivion skittering from park to park and breaking small rules along the way.
I’m reading the sign on the bus “Smoking is pro-hib-it-ed” and she’s saying, “My that's good reading for 5.” I am just five and a quarter so it IS good reading, but I’m three months older than the conductor would like me to be, eh?
But for all her renegade ways and her cost cutting enterprises… Isa had a line, as I found one Autumn afternoon, one that was not to be crossed.
And as I cooked the pancakes, all the above, and this memory was what flashed through my head.
I remember that it was Autumn because I had toggles on my duffel coat that were opaque and inside each was a flower trapped in the resin. I was wearing it that day. I remember that because of afterwards.
It’s a simple memory and so i’ll tell it straight.
We were walking home from her bowling club and/or adjoining park. On the way to the bust stop there was a house with a plastic bag outside it. In the bag there were party poppers. I think hundreds, but realistically, just fifty or so. I did a thing without thinking, imagining it was a small indiscretion like illicit chewing gum.
I hung back and took two from the bag.
When I skipped happily to show my granny and that’s when I felt the slap. Now I want to make it VERY clear. My grandmother never once hit me in her life. But that’s what I remember, It felt like a slap. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve remembered wrong and it was a slap, but if you ever met her, you know well that it wasn’t.
Anyway, at that moment the weight of her anger and great disappointment hit me like a slap and I learned a valuable lesson.
It was the first, and last, time she ever made me cry. Apart from when she was dying.
This was actual stealing, and it was not allowed.
Now some of you may argue that dodging a child’s fare on the Corporation Buses is also stealing, and perhaps it is, but find me someone that hasn’t once dodged a fare, or hoped to, and I’ll either call them liar, or lament them for you.
I can’t remember a time that I felt the weight of someone’s anger hit me as hard as at that moment.
In that moment I realised the difference between fun and trouble. You could break some of the rules of the world in a gentle way as long as it wasn’t doing great harm.
But stealing something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, was right off the table.
I felt her silence on the bus all the way home.
I looked at those toggles until they had burnt through with my stare.
And then the strangest thing, or the expected thing, or maybe just the final message happened. When we got off the bus we stopped in the square outside the high flats, she pulled the poppers from her bag. In the melee we hadn’t returned them!
And then, benevolently, because she loved me, she popped them for me.
When she asked was it worth it. I shook my head a little weepy.
They were such a disappointment and always have been.
I can scarcely stand to have them in the house.
We never mentioned it again, not so far as I can remember. But she stopped being frosty and I know that I was forgiven for my minor sin.
We started paying my fare on the bus soon after that and I enjoyed hearing the coins fill the hopper.
Such a funny world we live in now.
You can buy party poppers (500 of) for £2.29 on Amazon, I’d never once had access to one before in my life before that day. You mostly use a bank card to pay for the bus, so no more clinky hopper noise all along the journey, buses are no longer bright orange and Wrigley’s gum can no longer be regularly found in it’s lovely silver wrapper, they also killed the Kit Kat and the Caramac in this way too, just saying.
Though, some things do remain the same, mainly (the message of the piece) that stealing things is wrong, though there is always a three month boundary between paying and not paying for your child to go on the bus and it remains a fact that children should NOT touch hot items on the stove.
Also, pancakes… there will always be the delightful warmth of post war pancakes and the memories they bring, however random they may be.