This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
Once you are all grown up – or pretending to be – you are supposed to have imbibed certain guiding principles. Through the well intentioned and much repeated words of parents or teachers or possibly through osmosis, you are expected to become a grown-up and play by the rules. But by whose rules? For myself, I have Granny to thank for much of what would nowadays pass as timeless words of wisdom.
But in the event, as my life has unfolded, there are certain of Granny’s pearls of wisdom which I would like to drop firmly back into her lap with a wry smile and a respectful, “Turns out I didn’t need these after all, Granny. But thank you and I know you meant well.”
“You can’t miss what you never had”
High on the list of Granny’s golden guides to living life well was, “you can’t miss what you’ve never had”. What rubbish. I’ve never been what page 3 would refer to as a ‘stunner’ and I’ve missed being a head turning beauty all my life. OK, I’m possibly the best side of average on a good day but I’ve never, ever been anywhere near beautiful. And I would love to experience what life would be like with men falling over themselves to open doors, buy me flowers, propose to me with embarrassingly huge engagement rings before whisking me off to their luxury Mediterranean island hideaway for lots of sun, sea, sangria and that other thing beginning with ‘s’.
Yes, I know I’m an impossibly shallow creature but hey… a girl can dream, can’t she? Christian Dior said, “Happiness is the secret to all beauty.” But I’m afraid I beg to differ. Beauty is the secret to all beauty. It can be made even more radiant by a dazzling smile but beauty can’t be eradicated by a grumpy expression. Beauty is gifted blindly to you by your genes. Beauty simply is. And good luck to those of you who possess it. I just hope you are aware of your great good fortune. I do my best with what I’ve got but I just want someone to look at me the way I look at cake.
“Sit still, listen quietly and learn”
Another of Granny’s mantras was, “Sit still, listen quietly and learn.”My reward for achieving these three goals and impressing the assembled adults with my good manners was ice-cream cornet if Granny judged it was warm enough (it was a well known fact in that far off time that ice-cream on a cold day would result in a tummy upset). Or a bar of chocolate if the weather wasn’t up to ice-cream. Incentive enough for the average grandchild back then to be on her very best behaviour and I grew up sitting quietly and listening respectfully to the grown-ups.
Now I understand that whilst listening and empathising are both intensely useful skills; it’s also necessary to speak up firmly and say what you mean clearly. Granny would find me embarrassingly ‘uppity’ nowadays, I’m sure. But then she didn’t have to deal with cold callers and people pushing in front of her in queues. Modern ladies need a robust helping of assertiveness and the occasional sharp elbow in order to survive. So whilst I’m more than happy to sit quietly and sympathise with a friend going through lousy times, I’m also happy to speak up loudly and clearly if I need to because I firmly believe that I deserve respect and consideration.
“Make friends with children from the ‘right’ families”
Granny was also keen that I make friends with children from with the ‘right’ families. Back then, this meant those who came from church going, upwardly mobile and socially acceptable backgrounds. Making friends with those who came from the wrong sort of families was very much discouraged. Now however, I’m pleased to say that my friends come from every walk of life.
They are all smart, warm, funny ladies with whom I can be totally open and honest. Women with whom I can share, laugh and be completely honest. We have a kind of conversational shorthand and get into things quickly and easily. And they all have a ready sense of the funny and sometimes the absurd side of life. Wonderful, witty and wise they are the friends who offer advice and support but are not offended if I go my own way. I need people like that in my life and I have largely found them through reaching out and making friends with not a thought in my head as to whether or not they were the right sort of people.
In fact, two of my closest friends would never have met as children. One of them was privately educated and hailed from the decidedly posh end of the city whilst the other came from the dodgy side of Dodgeville. Both of them are good friends of mine and I thank my lucky stars to have two such vivacious, clever, and caring women in my life. Women I would simply never have met if I’d held true to Granny’s firmly held beliefs about the right sort of people.
“The red thread”
Interior decorators have a phrase, ‘the red thread’ which alludes to the style and/or the colour which runs through and knits together your whole house. Looking back I now see that the red thread running through all of Granny’s well-intentioned words of wisdom was simply ensuring that I grew up to be the best possible version of myself. And with some updating to allow for modern sensibilities she got an awful lot of it right. Things like always saying ‘please and ‘thank you’, being ready to offer a helping hand and listening to other people’s point of view. After all, I’ve never learnt anything new from people who agree with me.
So thank you Granny, for everything you lovingly taught me. I’ve benefited from each and every one of your words of wisdom. And other than a few modernising tweaks here and there, you were right about more or less everything. Except that the whole thing about eventually growing out of my sweet tooth is not working out too well. And I’m afraid do miss what I’ve never had. Much as I love my life just as it is, it would be fabulous to live in Paris and for every day to be a good hair day.
Talking rubbish – another of Border Belle’s erudite posts. CLICK HERE TO READ